What’s around – mid December 2012

cicada on wall
Yellow Tree Buzzer, Pauropsalta eryei

July’s rainfall total was 106mm, all of which fell between the 10th and 16th. Since then, i.e. in the last five months, we have had a total of only 10mm, the last of which was 0.4mm on Nov 18. Dry season indeed!

That said, temperatures and humidity have continued to creep up over the last month, and plants and animals alike have begun to anticipate the coming Wet. Our lawn has started growing again, the poincianas are flowering, the ball-of-fire lilies have flowered and the Carpentaria lilies have sent up stalks and leaves.

Probably the most notable change in our insect world is that Christmas beetles have arrived (mid-size brown and green ones, anyway; I haven’t seen the big golden ones yet, or an elephant beetle).

brown butterfly with white markings
Blue-banded Eggfly, Hypolimnas alimena, on banana trunk.

The first cicadas are here, too, and tiny grasshopper nymphs. Mud-dauber wasp numbers have increased, with Delta, Sceliphron and an unidentified red and yellow species of Eumeninae all building their nests.  The paper wasp nest I showed in September is still occupied but has hardly grown, as there are still only a couple of adult wasps at it. Blue-banded and Resin bees are around, too – one of the former met a sticky end at the hands (proboscis?) of this robber fly.

There have still been no mozzies to speak of. That is not a disappointment.

The hang-on-through-the-dry-season fauna is still hanging on: Lynx and Jumping spiders (but hardly any others), Green ants and Rattle ants, Leaf Hoppers (Flatidae) and a few other sap-sucking hemiptera; and Tiger craneflies,  Dolichopodidae, Soldier flies and hoverflies.

Ant-lion on frond
Ant-lion on ponytail palm

Of the butterflies, we are seeing Yellow Migrants, Pale Triangles, Junonia, Blue-banded Eggfly (a picture showing the blue bands is here), Common Eggfly, Cairns Birdwing, Zebra Blue and Magpie moths, but all in small numbers.

There are always ‘strays’ – critters which are new to me (still!) or which I know but rarely see. A tiny, gangly wasp in the former category is here, and the ant-lion at left is in the latter.

This time last month and last year.


What’s around – mid November 2012

small fawn moth on leaf
When there are so few insects in the garden, even these dull grass moths get their portraits taken

Just to show how little has changed (again!), I will recycle last month’s report, showing the alterations:

I have been away for much of the time pretty busy since my last monthly survey of insect life in my garden but so little has changed that this is still a very easy report to write. We have had less than 1mm only ten millimetres of rain in the last month so everything in the garden, having recovered from the abundance of nectar when the trees flowered, has gone back into has remained in maintenance mode, i.e. most of our usual species are around but only in small numbers. The only changes I’ve noticed since last month are that we now have a few Migrants and Pale Triangles among the butterflies and some Blue-banded Bees amongst the wasps and bees more sightings of the Ulysses and hover-flies but even fewer sap-suckers. Everything is still hanging out for some real rain.

This time last year we had been drier and hotter for a while and grassfires were a worry more spiders and bees but the story was otherwise similar.

What’s around – mid May 2012

Caper Gull butterfly
Caper Gull, aka Australian Gull, Cepora perimale

There’s a reason we talk about the Dry season: in the last six weeks we have had one day with 16mm of rain, two days with less than 1mm, and 40 days with none at all. Temperatures have routinely been  16 – 20 overnight and 30 during the day in mid-April dropping very slightly to 28-29 now. We tend to exclaim ‘What gorgeous weather!’ fairly often.

Birds are drifting into town (where people at least water their gardens) because the countryside is drying out but no amount of watering quite compensates the insects for the lower temperatures and the lack of rain.

  • Spiders are doing best. This season seems to be orb-weaver heaven – Austracantha, Silver Orb Weaver and (especially) St Andrew’s Cross are doing very well. I discovered Argiope picta six months ago and now that I am aware of it I am seeing it reasonably often.
  • Butterflies: Cairns Birdwing are courting, while Ulysses and Orchard Swallowtail pass through the garden regularly; and there are lots of Eurema and quite a lot of Junonia hedonia, a few Clearwing Swallowtail, Common Crow, Common Eggfly, Lemon Migrant, Hesperidae and Caper Gull (aka Australian Gull), Cepora perimale.
  • Moths: a lot of small moths flitting around the grass during the day and attracted to house lights at night, but nothing bigger.
  • Wasps: the colourful little parasitic wasps, Braconid and Ichneumonid species, have returned in small numbers after being almost entirely absent for months, and I have recently seen a couple of new small paper wasp nests after a similar absence. We’re still seeing some mud-daubers (Delta arcuata), too.
  • Bees: Resin bees and some blue-bum Amegilla species. I posted about Carpenter Bees recently but haven’t seen them since then.
  • Flies: yes, mostly the tiny green long-legged Dolichopodidae, plus a fair few hoverflies, lots of bluebottles and some crane flies.
  • ‘True bugs’ (Hemiptera): hardly any.
  • Grasshoppers: a few Giant Grasshoppers, adults and sub-adults, but no very small nymphs.
  • Cockroaches, slaters and termites: lots in the compost bin and underground respectively, as always.
  • Beetles: none to speak of.
  • Others: A few ant-lion pits have appeared in the now-dusty soil under the mango tree, and I have seen some tiny mantis nymphs, but that’s about all.

Similar surveys a month ago and a year ago.

Dry season – fire season

Castle Hill viewed from the Common
Castle Hill from the Common

Looking back across the Town Common to Castle Hill I saw a plume of smoke rising from beyond its lower slopes. It was my second fire for the day, and a reminder that we are well into our dry season.

As the season advances, all the grass and other low growth that was so lush in the Wet dries out, dies and becomes fuel for any spark. We get a series of grass fires around the city – on Castle Hill itself, on Mount Stuart and its foothills, in road reserves and beside railway lines, and on private property. They are not usually much of a threat to life and property – most of them are quickly contained, and others in rough country can be allowed to burn themselves out – but they are always of some concern.

My first for the day was on Cape Pallarenda just a few hours earlier. I mentioned turning back from the Cape track to explore the Common, and the grass fire (below) which had started near the track not long before was the deciding factor. I considered walking around it, but the small risk seemed unnecessary with so many other places to explore. I didn’t hear any more about it, so I assume it didn’t do too much damage.

Grass fire on Cape Pallarenda
Grass fire on Cape Pallarenda