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 http://www.mtq.qm.qld.gov.au

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 http://www.jcu.edu.au/soca/JCUPRD_044204.html

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 mailto:creativearts@jcu.edu.au

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.

Hawk moths

Convolvulus hawkmoth, Agrius convolvuli
Convolvulus hawkmoth, Agrius convolvuli

Like the Rhinoceros beetle (previous post), hawk moths are wet-season visitors, with occasional strays turning up as late as the end of May and as early as the end of October. We get several species – Hypotion rosetta and some adults I haven’t identified such as this camouflaged brown one. They generally feed on the wing, like this one.

They often fly in around dusk so we don’t see them as often as we see their caterpillars, which spend all day eating their way through our Pentas plants and will do the same to Madonna lilies if given the chance. (We might like them a bit more if they liked the weeds, actually.) The caterpillars are large – here is one on my hand to give you an idea – and come in green, brown or black, often with eye-spots and usually with a horn on the tail end.

Nocturnal visitors

Black and green dragonfly, family Telephlebiidae
Dragonfly attracted to house lights

We have a constant stream of nocturnal visitors.

Most of them have six legs and arrive by air.

We don’t appreciate those which would like to suck our blood (mosquitoes are a pain), but the others are welcome enough. The dragonfly above was larger and more handsome than most and didn’t mind posing for a series of photographs, although I do think he has been unduly influenced by the trend for picking grimy industrial backdrops for fashion shoots. I mean, really, there are more attractive settings than the scrap timber stored under the house.

Fawn moth on desktop
Small moth

This tiny moth, about 7 mm long, is a more typical guest, flying into the house and landing on my desk. A look at my Flickr photos reveals the bizarre moth-fly (a fly that looks like a moth, not vice-versa) on the same background a couple of months ago and this beautiful olive-green moth on the wall nearby. If I left the windows wide open and the lights on, I could have hundreds like this instead of only tens.

Just now, flying ants are common. As I said about the Green-ant queen, warmth and moisture induce the emergence of swarms of winged ants on their way (they hope) to breed and set up new colonies. The one below failed spectacularly, coming to rest on … my mouse.

Black ant, winged
Flying ant on alien artifact

Too many moths!

One down-side of digital photography is that it is so easy to take too many photos. Its consequence, for me at least, is a lot of time spent sorting them and throwing out the not-so-good ones.

I can spend even more time trying to identify insects I have photographed, and moths are a particular problem: there are just so many of them! The introduction to CSIRO’s Australian Moths Online notes that, ‘There are about 22 000 species of Australian moths, of which only half have been described [i.e. scientifically identified] so far.’ For comparison, there are only about 320 species of dragonflies, 420 species of butterflies and about 800 species of birds, making any of them far easier for the average person to identify.

Over the last year I have been photographing moths whenever they came my way but rarely finding time to identify them. They ‘came my way’ in great numbers during the last Wet season, flying to the house lights every evening, and I was almost relieved when numbers dropped during the Dry. ‘At last,’ I thought, ‘time to sort them out!’

But I didn’t find the time, and now the Wet is approaching and the moths returning. Speiredonia mutabilis was special enough to go to some trouble for, but I can see myself getting further and further behind from now on. (If anyone wants a few dozen moth photos to sort, please apply here!) Three recent guests:

brown moth on fingertip
Fingertip moth
brown moth on window frame
Moth on window frame, about 20 mm
amber moth with 'W' markings
'W' moth, about 15 mm