What’s around – mid February

Green Katydid
Katydids have much longer antennae than grasshoppers. This nymph's antennae are about twice its body length.

Our Wet has been pretty half-hearted so far. We have had showers and storms but nothing like the widespread soaking rain that we expect.

If I had to summarise what’s happening now in our little world of insects, the key word would be ‘green.’ There has been enough rain to encourage all the plants to grow, and the plant-eaters – especially grasshoppers and hawkmoth caterpillars – are taking advantage of the abundant food. Not only that, most of them want to stay camouflaged and so they are as green as what they eat.

More systematically:

  • Grasshoppers: lots of young ones, plus some young Katydids (mentioned here because Orthoptera covers Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids).
  • Butterflies: Pale Triangles (some yellow form now as well as the blue variety); Common Eggfly and Blue-banded Eggfly, but all of them males; Migrants and Crows; passing Ulysses, always special; occasional Orchard Swallowtails and what looks like a caterpillar; a fair number of Hesperidae; still no Eurema or Junonia.
  • Moths: Lots of little grass moths; a few adult hawk moth sightings, and lots of their caterpillars munching their way through our Pentas.
  • Mantis: still a few Neomantis nymphs on the weed I found them on, but they seem to leave home as soon as they can fly.
  • Dragonflies: a few in the garden, lots more closer to permanent water.
  • Flies: lots of red-eyed blue blowflies (Calliphoridae), some Soldier Flies, Stilt Flies and little, long-legged, green flies (Dolichopodidae) but hardly any Hover-flies (Syrphidae). Mosquitoes are Diptera (flies) too, and they are making up for the shortfall in the numbers of their relatives.
  • Wasps and bees: a few active mud-daubers and paper wasps; not as many Ichneumonidae as there were a month ago; a few Resin bees and Blue-banded Amegilla bees.
  • Spiders: some Lynx and Jumping Spiders, and quite a lot of Silver Orb-weavers. A few adult St Andrew’s Cross spiders, and a lot more to come because I have seen hatchlings. Still no little spiky Austracantha; and still no big Golden Orb-weavers  although last year we had them from December through to June.
Jumping spider and grasshopper
This grasshopper was not well enough camouflaged and not quick enough, and the Jumping Spider got him.

Growing Giant Grasshopper

Giant grasshopper nymph (Valanga irregularis)
Immature Giant Grasshopper, Valanga irregularis

As the Wet settles in, the plants are growing like crazy and the herbivores take full advantage. When this young one has moulted another time or two, sex will become as important as food (see this photo, for instance) but the one imperative of a Giant Grasshopper nymph is very simple: Munch!

One morning on Mount Stuart

View over Town Common, 16 km away, to Palm Island, 70 km away
View from Mt Stuart over Town Common, 16 km away, to Palm Island, 70 km away

Townsville winters are lovely. The weather has been so beautifully clear recently that I figured it would be worth getting up early just to take photos from the top of Mt Stuart of the sun rising over the ocean. Then, I thought, if I take food and coffee with me, I can wander round the mountain-top taking pictures of insects and trees and so on.

And so it was. I was on the road very soon after 6 a.m. and at the lookout on the mountain almost in time for sunrise. Continue reading “One morning on Mount Stuart”

Giant grasshopper

Giant grasshopper resting on leaves
Giant grasshopper, Valanga irregularis

Valanga irregularis is Australia’s largest grasshopper (females to 75mm, males not quite so big) and a regular in our garden. Young ones grow up here, at the expense of our pot-plants, at the end of the Wet, and adults visit throughout the dry season – here is one from 2009, and here is a mating pair from 2010.

Giant grasshoppers are really quite spectacular – even more so when they take wing, but I have yet to get a shot of one in flight. A quick web search seems to show that no-one else has achieved it either, but Graeme Cocks shows the open wing of a dead specimen and that will give you some idea what they look like.

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.