Caterpillar season

Our Wet season is the ideal time for caterpillars since that is when their food plants are growing best, so it makes sense that the Wet is also peak butterfly mating and egg-laying time. In the last week or so I have seen lots of Migrants, Eggflies and Crows and observed both mating and egg-laying; I have also seen a few Hawk-moths and know they have been similarly busy. Here are two caterpillar stories from the last few days.

The Common Crow

orange caterpillar with black and white stripes
The very colourful caterpillar of the Common Crow, Euploea core, on a Desert Rose

Don Herbison-Evans says this caterpillar is usually found on Oleander but is also known to feed on Frangipani. The Desert Rose, Adenium obesum, is a member of the family Apocynaceae, as are both of these, so the Desert Rose is a logical addition to the list. The adult butterfly is a rather plain black and white creature, as the name suggests:

Common Crow 7733
Common Crow, Euploea core, on snakeweed (an exotic pest species, but the butterflies love it) on Cape Pallarenda.

I saw one of them alight on the Desert Rose, curl its abdomen around and lay an egg … then went and got my camera:

Egg of Common Crow 8382
Egg of Common Crow on Desert Rose

The egg is about 1.5 x 1 mm and a close-up of it is here. What will happen to it when the flower opens, I wonder?

The Hawk-moth

green caterpillar
Young Hawk-moth caterpillar on what’s left of a pentas leaf, one of their favourite foods – in our garden, at least

Hawk-moths are quite large and heavily built and so are their caterpillars but this is a very young one, about as thick as a toothpick and two-thirds as long. The tail-spine and the eye-spots are characteristic. A gallery of older individuals, both caterpillars and adult moths, may be seen here.


What’s around – mid January 2013

Temperatures have continued to edge up, but only a degree or two, to 33-34 in the daytime after an overnight ‘low’ (quotation marks for the benefit of those who don’t live in the tropics!) of 24-26C. At least we have been spared the blistering heat of inland and southern Australia’s record-breaking heat-wave. It was one of the top news stories for a week and its link to to climate change was made quite explicit. Even the business community noticed.

This time a year ago the Wet had been with us for six or seven weeks and the garden had responded appropriately as per my monthly round-up at the time. This year we are still waiting for real rain (so far we have had 15mm of rain around Christmas Eve and 30mm at New Year but nothing else) and my round-up should be an almost exact copy of what I wrote last month. I’m not going to bother writing it all again, merely note that I have seen my first Elephant Beetles of the season and a few more stray insects including the large moth below.

large brown moth
This large moth took refuge on our kitchen window frame last week. Its hind wings are a bright orange but it doesn’t pay to advertise when you’re resting.

What’s around – mid September 2012

The biggest event in the garden in the last month has been the flowering of our poplar gum, plus the paperbark, macadamia and bottlebrush. All attracted their quota of nectar-feeders – birds and flying foxes as well as insects.

The weather news is simple: we had a little bit of rain which triggered the flowering of our trees, and since then we have had rather warmer nights and slightly warmer days, with slightly higher humidity. Temperatures are now consistently dropping to 16C overnight (not 8 or 10) and going up to 28 in the daytime, and I do mean ‘a little bit’ of rain – the BoM recorded 1.4mm on August 20 and none before or since. The invertebrates have responded to the warmth and food with a surge in numbers and variety:

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera): numerous Chocolate Soldiers and Eurema; a few Varied Eggfly and Evening Brown; and visiting Cairns Birdwing, Orchard Swallowtails and Ulysses. Magpie Moths are common again, and I loved the Zodiac Moth on the poplar gum. Nearer ground level, I spotted a pretty white moth, Amerila rubripes. It does have a ‘common name’ – Walker’s Frother but it’s not well known enough to be a genuinely common name.

hairy orange caterpillars
These very hairy caterpillars fell from the poplar gum and ended up on a weirdly photogenic blue textured glass louvre

Flies and their relations (Diptera): Tiger craneflies are abundant, to the extent that I saw half a dozen mating pairs in half an hour one morning, and the orange-headed Plecia flies are also mating. Our tiny metallic Dolichopodidae are as common as ever, and there are a few blowflies too. Mosquitoes? Yes, unfortunately, but not too many.

Paper wasps on a chain of nest cells
A new, small paper wasp nest. Its structure is enough to identify the wasps as Ropalidia revolutionalis

Wasps, Bees and Ants (Hymenoptera): Honey bees came to the flowering trees and various native bees are also around. The small parasitic wasps (Braconidae) are back, and so are paper wasps and mud-daubers.

Spiders and other Arachnids: The orb-weavers suffered housekeeping agonies from the poplar gum as flower debris kept falling into their webs, making them useless for trapping prey. Spiny spiders and the Silver Orb-weaver are the commonest at the moment, with a few St Andrew’s Cross spiders for variety. Jumping spiders, Lynx and flower spiders are all to be found, too.

Others: A praying mantis was resting on our lounge-room wall last night and I have seen a few dragonflies cruising through our airspace. There very few grasshoppers of any size or variety but lacewings, both green and brown, have been attracted to our lights in the evenings. Of the Hemiptera, my little aqua-legs sap-sucker is back and I have seen a few others; not many, though, and I suspect they are waiting for more new greenery.

Last monththis time last year

Zodiac moth on the poplar gum

large dark moth on gum blossom
Zodiac moth, Alcides metaurus, high in our poplar gum

Birds aren’t the only creatures attracted to the abundant blossom of our poplar gum. As well as the Rainbow Lorikeets, Friarbirds, Blue-faced Honeyeaters and White-gaped Honeyeaters we have flying foxes at night and, naturally, insects during the day. This moth is a special visitor: I haven’t seen one, let alone photographed one, in my garden before although I have seen them occasionally around Cairns.

Zodiac moths, Alcides metaurus, are more common in rainforest than in our drier country.  They are (obviously) a day-flying species, and belong to the Uraniidae family, Swallowtail moths. They are as large as some of our Swallowtail butterflies – Ulysses or Orchard, for instance – at about 100mm. (If they weren’t, I couldn’t have managed a decent photo from ground level, even with my telephoto lens.)

Zodiac moth underside, with black and white bars
Zodiac moth underside
Zodiac moth feeding
Zodiac moth feeding


Nocturnal visitor, Agathia pisina

Green moth with brown markings
Agathia pisina, Geometrinae, Geometridae

A handsome visitor called on us last night, attracted to the lights – Agathia pisina, of the Geometridae family. Like many of our moths, he doesn’t appear to have a ‘common’ (English language) name. This page on Don Herbison-Evans’ excellent site (scroll about halfway down) shows him amongst his closest relations, many of whom are also very beautiful.

In Australia the species is known only from Queensland’s tropical coast but their range extends at least to the Solomon Islands.

Eco-artistic Exhibitions and Events – Townsville

The Butterfly Man of Kuranda 

This stunning visual exhibition displays the wonderful array of Queensland’s beautiful butterflies, beetles and moths, collected by FP and AP Dodd around North Queensland from 1917 to the 1960s. Museum of Tropical Queensland, Feb 27 to April 29, 9.30am – 5pm

I have known about this for a few weeks but didn’t find time to visit it until Monday. It was well worth the (admittedly small) effort. FP Dodd was one of the first collectors in North Qld (Townsville to Cairns), collecting from about 1880 onwards. Around 1920 he put together a touring exhibition and that is what we see here – hundreds of moths, butterflies and beetles displayed in the style of the time. No-one today would spell out an inspirational verse in tiny moths as he did, but his moon moths are unusual and very beautiful and his Hercules moths, the world’s largest, are spectacular.

The Coral Triangle

An exhibition by Jürgen Freund who is a wildlife photojournalist based in Cairns and who works with his wife Stella. In May 2009, the duo set out on an 18-month photographic expedition for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) across the Coral Triangle, visiting bustling centres of marine product trade as well as some of the most remote and breathtaking habitats on earth. School of Creative Arts JCU (SoCA) e-Merge Media Space, April 10 to May 4, 8.30am – 4pm Mon – Fri

I haven’t seen this yet, not being a highly accomplished time traveller, but have good intentions and will comment on it in due course.

Cairns 2012 Winter School – Nature Photography in the Tropics 

Experience the spectacular environment of tropical Queensland during this intensive masterclass run by James Cook University, Cairns. Led by award-winning nature photographer Jürgen Freund [see above], this is an opportunity for photographers to immerse themselves in the Atherton Tablelands, visiting majestic crater lakes and ancient rainforests during the field trip; to encounter the flora and fauna unique to the tropics: to expand their photography folios with dramatic images; to develop technical skills, learn about the legal, ethical and environmental issues associated with nature photography, and gain a certificate of credit which can be used towards a degree. Places are limited.
June 29 – July 6. Applications close May 4th.
For information: 4781 3166

That’s their promotional text and it looks good, but when I asked for a cost they couldn’t give me one. More information to come, one would hope!

(Update, 1.4.12: A glossy pdf (huh?) arrived in my inbox and gave me that figure: over $3000 for the week. For that price I could immerse myself in the  exotic life of Thailand and Laos for a fortnight, inclusive of airfares … not much contest, is there, for someone who can drive up to Atherton any long weekend. I suspect most of the customers will be southerners.)

Eco Fiesta and Smart Lifestyle Expo 

June 2 & 3. For information: 1300 878 001 Townsville City Council

Eco Fiesta, a celebration of sustainability, was hippie-alternative in its first years but it has drifted slightly towards commercialisation even as the mainstream has begun to embrace the whole greenie thing, and the festival is now almost mainstream. Music and kids’ activities complement displays and trade stands for community environmental groups, natural therapies, solar power and more. A great family day – mark it on your calendar.