What’s around – mid September

Shield Bug on trunk of paperbark tree
Shield Bug on trunk of paperbark tree - quite well camouflaged, but he won't get any sap out of it!

Still no rain to speak of, in spite of indications to the contrary, so there is little change in the insect life except a continued dwindling of numbers. The garden is presently dominated by wasps and flies – hover-flies are doing particularly well, and we have more orange-and-black Plecia flies than I have ever seen before – while spiders are almost absent; there are no Silver Orb-weavers or St Andrew’s Cross spiders and even the spiky Austracantha have almost vanished.

Looking for butterflies I see (still) plenty of Junonia hedonia, quite a few Crows, Evening Browns and Dingy Bush Browns but (still) no Eurema. There are increasing numbers of Eggfly, both Common and Blue-banded but (curiously) all male. There are one or two male Cairns Birdwings around, too, but no females. I wonder why? My best guess is that gender balance is somehow controlled by humidity, so that there are not too many caterpillars until there is ample food for them.

What else do we have? A few sap-sucking Shield Bugs, like the one above but smarter; the occasional Ladybird and Giant Grasshopper; just one dragonfly and one praying mantis in the last couple of weeks; and quite a few tiny moths, although the only moth big enough to notice is the Magpie Moth. And so it goes … I think we’ll need some good rain before we see more activity. Latest predictions are that we’ll get quite a lot from La Nina, though not as much as we had last year.

Gotcha!

Tiny green fly in flight
Gotcha!

Keep trying long enough and you get lucky: these little flies (Dolichopodidae, Long-legged flies) have an infuriating habit of jumping at the first sound of the camera and being out of shot completely by the time the shutter opens, or just a blur. They are very fast. This one didn’t get away.

As usual, clicking on the photo will take you to a larger version.

The flies themselves are common in my garden all year. They are down in the 3 – 4 mm size range and I don’t know how many species we have. Graeme Cocks illustrates five local species out of the 320 Australian species, but they are so similar to the naked eye that I haven’t tried to sort mine out.

Crane flies

Crane fly on mango blossom
Tiger Crane Fly, Nephrotoma australasiae, on mango blossom

Tiger Crane Flies are common in my garden all year round, their staggering flight from leaf to leaf distinctive enough that they are rarely confused with wasps even at a distance. Close up, of course, their extraordinarily long legs are unmistakeable.

But I had never really thought about what they live on – and the fact that they are flies doesn’t tell me a thing, since flies (Diptera) have diversified to live on nearly anything you can think of (and a few things we would usually rather not think of, for that matter). I have seen one apparently drinking from a drop of water on a leaf (see below) and this one on our mango blossom does seem to be drinking nectar, but almost every time I see them they are either in flight or simply resting on a leaf.

Wikipedia to the rescue: ‘Adult crane flies feed on nectar or they do not feed at all; once they become adults, most crane fly species exist as adults only to mate and die.’ (That must explain why I so often see them mating. Here is a picture of a mating pair.)

Wikipedia continues: ‘Female abdomens contain eggs, and as a result appear swollen in comparison to those of males. The female abdomen also ends in a pointed ovipositor that may look somewhat like a stinger, but is in fact completely harmless. Their larvae, called “leatherjackets”, “leatherbacks”, or “leatherjacket slugs” because of the way they move, consume roots of turf grass and other vegetation, in some cases causing damage to plants.’

Cranefly drinking from water droplet on leaf
Cranefly drinking water from the surface of a leaf

What’s around in mid-May

Here we are, six weeks into the dry season: sunny days with a top of 25C or thereabouts after a chilly 10C or cool 16-18C overnight and no rain to speak of. (We have been watering our garden for a month. It felt so weird at first, so soon after months of flooding rain!) As you would expect, the wildlife has changed: no dragonflies, as I said, but what do we see?

    Butterflies: lots of Junonia hedonia, quite a lot of Eurema and Hesperidae, and a few each of Cairns Birdwing, Common Crow, Common Eggfly, Lemon Migrant, Ulysses, Orchard Swallowtail, Clearwing Swallowtail … that’s quite a long list, but in a walk once around the garden you would probably see ten Junonia, two Eurema and one out of all the rest.
    Moths: Hawk moths, usually in the evening and occasionally coming to indoor lights, and a lot of smaller moths flitting around the grass during the day and likewise coming indoors at night. Here’s one of last night’s visitors:
Can I call it a copper moth until I find out the real name?
    Wasps: paper wasps, hatchet wasps, mud-daubers (not many), and miscellaneous smaller wasps including Braconid and Ichneumonid species.
    Bees: hardly any, but occasional leaf-cutters and resin bees.
    Flies: yes, mostly the tiny green long-legged Dolichopodidae, plus a fair few hoverflies, bluebottles and crane flies.  There are more kinds of flies than most people suspect and I’ll have to put up some pictures soon.
    ‘True bugs’ (Hemiptera): occasional Hibiscus Harlequin bugs and a few others, but not many altogether.

    Grasshoppers: a few Giant Grasshoppers, mainly immature.

    Spiders: quite a lot of small ones – Austracantha, Silver Orb Weaver, St Andrew’s Cross, etc – but nothing much bigger than my little finger nail.

    Cockroaches and termites: lots in the compost bin and underground respectively, as always.

    Beetles, Mantises, Lacewings, Ant-lions: very few.

… which doesn’t mean there is nothing happening, but the garden is far less active than it was – reminding us once more just how much all life depends on water.

The very popular shrub

Black wasp on flowering shrub
Black wasp on the very popular shrub

I was walking down the roadway to the old car-ferry terminal (people who know Maggie Island will know where I mean, but it isn’t really important) and stopped at this bush because it was alive with a huge variety of insects. I stood there, snapping away as fast as I could aim the camera, and got pictures of:
Wasps: this one, another black-winged one with a yellow head, one with orange wings and legs and a black abdomen, one with orange wings and black-and-orange abdomen, and at least two black wasps with clear wings.
Butterflies: Common Eggfly, Eastern Brown Crow (Euploea tulliolus), a Pierid (yellow) I haven’t identified, and Australian Rustic (Cupha prosope)
Others: Carpenter bee, a large hairy grey fly, and a hover-fly with unusual black-banded wings. Continue reading “The very popular shrub”