Chameleon moth

Large purple moth
Moth from above
Large brown moth
Moth from behind

I have known for a while that the apparent colour of butterflies and (I assumed) moths could change quite dramatically according to viewing angle. My favourite examples of it were the Common Eggfly – (1) and (2) – and its cousin the Blue-banded Eggfly. But then I turned over a board and found this moth – yes, the two pictures show the same moth on the same board under the same lighting.

From above, gorgeously patterned purples, blues and blacks, and from behind, a pleasant but dull red-brown: my new favourite example of the phenomenon.

It’s not really a ‘Chameleon Moth’, by the way. That was just what I called it while I was finding out the correct name (thanks again, Graeme), Speiredonia mutabilis, but the real name does mean something similar – ‘mutabilis’ is, roughly, ‘changeable.’ It doesn’t appear to have a genuine common name.

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.

The very red dragonfly

After my Morning on Mount Stuart I arrived in town at morning tea time. It was too nice a day to sit indoors without good reason and I still had some coffee and fruit with me so I stopped off in the parkland beside Ross River, looking back up to Mt Stuart (the lookout mentioned in my previous post is at the foot of the radio towers).

View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland
View of Mt Stuart from Ross River parkland

The insects were enjoying the sunshine as much as I was: innumerable tiny grass moths, so many that a dozen would fly up at every footstep; a couple of larger moths, Utetheisa and Nyctemera; half a dozen species of butterfly, including the Bush Brown and Eurema I had seen on top of the mountain; a couple of kinds of spider; a native bee, Amegilla sp., with its distinctive blue tail; green ants (I felt them before I saw them!); and several dragonflies.

One of the dragonflies was the reddest possible – bright red abdomen, thorax, face, eyes, and even some of the veins in its wings. Another, about the same size, was a dull orange-tan. When I got home I discovered that it was the female of the same species (the fine dark line down the abdomen, with wider blotches, was the confirmation). Here they are, then – the Scarlet Percher Dragonfly, Diplacodes haematodes, male and female. As usual, clicking on the pictures will take you to a larger image.

Bright red dragonfly, Scarlet percher male, on dry grass
Scarlet percher male
Scarlet percher dragonfly, female, on dry grass
Scarlet percher female

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.

Netizen science

Moth Noctuidae? 4057

Digital technology has made good science accessible to amateurs again, as both learners and contributors, 150 years after a gap opened up between scientists and the lay population in the nineteenth century. In entomology, for instance, authoritative online sources of information are plentiful. Amateurs can learn from them and – almost immediately – contribute to them. Encyclopedia of Life is a good example.

I took up insect photography when I bought my first DSLR camera, late in 2008, and opened a Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/photos/malcolm_nq/ – as a way of sharing the results. Flickr ‘Groups’ bring together people fascinated by any topic you can think of – as broad as ‘Animals’ and as narrow as ‘Naked Mole Rats’ (okay, I made that one up – but you can start one yourself if you’re interested and there isn’t one already). That is the source of the moth above, and clicking on the image takes you to its original location.

I can also put my content on my own website – here, for instance – and search engines will find it for anyone who needs it.

My photos in Bugblog will normally be linked to a larger version of the image, either on Flickr or on this site.

Afterword, 25.4.11: Another benefit of this way of doing science – people will help out with expert advice when they see a gap. In this case, Graeme Cocks saw that I hadn’t identified the moth at the top of this post and emailed me to say it is “Noctuidae, Catocalinae,” (that’s family and sub-family, for those still finding their way around classifications) and tell me they are, “just about to become abundant.”