Why don’t people like us?

Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. Here we are, performing a really important, useful service, day after day, year after year, uncomplainingly, and getting no recognition for it at all. Okay, I admit that being on the clean-up crew is rarely regarded as being a glamour job, but where would you be without us? Under a big pile of very smelly decaying organic matter, that’s where. (I’m not going to say ‘shit’, because most of it isn’t. Oops! I said it anyway. Tough.)

But it’s worse than that. Continue reading “Why don’t people like us?”

What’s around – mid May 2013

Almost since I began this blog I have been writing a monthly summary of bug life in my garden (although I missed last month because I was away from home) and, having just checked what I wrote last year and the year before, I don’t feel compelled to re-do the whole survey again now since the results would be pretty much the same.

Differences? Our Chocolate Soldiers, Junonia hedonia, have been far less common for the last few months than they were in the same season in previous years; and I have found a few unusual bugs which really don’t belong in a seasonal list but do deserve posts to themselves, so I will write them up soon. Meantime, here’s a selection of creatures I have photographed recently in the garden:

Yellow butterfly
This Lemon Migrant, Catopsilia pomona, thought it was well enough hidden in the plumbago but it wasn’t – quite.
green caterpillar on leaf
An unidentified caterpillar
spiny blackish caterpillar
Mature caterpillar of the Cairns Birdwing butterfly, Ornithoptera priamus euphorion. The red horns are the “osmetrium” which it extrudes to frighten potential predators.

We’ve had a few adult Birdwings around recently and one female has been so successful in laying eggs that our Aristolochia vines (see this older post) are being eaten to the ground by the caterpillars. The first to pupate will be okay but, sadly, I doubt that later hatchlings will survive.

Very hairy brown caterpillar
We have seen quite a lot of these caterpillars recently and suspect they are falling from our poplar gum. Perhaps a Tussock Moth caterpillar.
wasp
A large wasp, probably Sceliphron formosum, foraging on macadamia leaves.
Orange cockroach
Adult Bush Cockroach, Ellipsidion humeralis, one of many native species
orange bug on leaf
Juvenile native cockroach, Ellipsidion humeralis

Cockroaches have such a bad reputation that the mere name makes people think the insect must be ugly, dirty and a pest. Not so: Wikipedia does spend most time on the pests but begins by noting that only about four species of 4500 worldwide are problematic. Our Bush Cockroach is no more ugly or dirty than a beetle, and its cousin from Western Queensland is very attractively coloured.

orange grasshopper
Immature Giant Grasshopper, Valanga irregularis, already quite big but still one or two moults away from fully-winged adulthood, on lemongrass
orange and brown butterfly
Australian Rustic, Cupha prosope, on pentas leaf

A beautiful species which doesn’t visit us very often – maybe a couple of times per year.

green spider with pink and white back
Flower spider, Diaea evanida, lurking with intent in a new-formed hibiscus leaf

This little spider pounced from this very retreat a day earlier to capture a tiger cranefly, as seen here.

Moulting

Insects and spiders can’t grow steadily like we do because their skeletons are on the outside and serve simultaneously as skin, skeleton and armour. It doesn’t grow or stretch once it has hardened so the animal has to grow a new skin underneath the old one, crack the old one open and crawl out, and wait nervously until the new one toughens. I have seen different parts of the process in different insects recently so I thought I would put a group together.

Dragonflies: Juvenile dragonflies are so different from the adult it is hard to believe they are even related. They are water-dwelling predators which fishermen know as ‘mud-eyes’ and use as bait. After several moults in this form they climb up out of the water and split open to emerge as the winged adult dragonflies we know and love. I have yet to see it happen but here is a lovely photo from SE Qld.

Cicadas: Cicadas also undergo a radical change, since the nymphs live underground, emerging as stumpy-looking bugs with strong burrowing front legs and splitting open to emerge as a winged adult. I haven’t seen one emerging but here is a cast-off skin (known as an ‘exuvia‘), and here and here are some adults

Cockroaches: We have a resident population in our compost bin and I caught this photo recently of a just-moulted cocky resting next to its old skin. Like many (perhaps most) insects, fresh-moulted cockroaches are nearly colourless as well as soft; they darken as they harden.

Mantises: I found this cast-off skin eighteen months ago but I didn’t see one in the process of emerging until yesterday. It is one of the family I have been watching recently and described here. In terms of that post, this is a nymph with wing-buds emerging from one without. One photo of it is here and another is below.

In all cases, the amount of change from one stage (‘instar’) to the next is hard to believe. Even when they don’t change from swimmers or diggers to fliers, the difference in size makes you wonder how on earth that big bug fitted inside that little skin.

In human terms  the changes would be (roughly) like changing from a one-year-old to a three-year-old overnight, then to a six-year-old, to an eleven-year-old and finally to an eighteen-year-old. What a difference that would make to our lives!

Mantis nymph emerging from skin
Neomantis nymph emerging from a skin it has well and truly outgrown