What’s around – mid January

The wet season I was greeting a month ago has been playing hide and seek ever since. We have had very little rain out of it so far, although areas around Townsville have had a little more, and have been watering our garden most weeks. Insect life in the garden has reacted accordingly: a slight increase in numbers because there’s really not much more food around, and a bigger increase in variety because it really is a change of season.

Large butterfly on pentas
My first female Common Eggfly of the season

Butterflies: some Migrants, Crows and Ulysses, one or two Cairns Birdwing and Blue-banded Eggfly, and the first Eurema and female Common Eggfly for many months; a slight increase in Hesperidae; lots of Pale Triangles; very few Chocolate Soldiers (for the first month I can remember, they don’t outnumber all the rest).

Continue reading “What’s around – mid January”

I am not a spider

Don’t look at me. I am a totally uninteresting bit of dead plant …

brownish lump hanging under a leaf… a seed pod maybe? Okay, it’s a bit odd that I’m stuck to the underside of a leaf, but if I was alive I would surely have moved when you turned the leaf upside down …

different view of brownish lump … and flashed bright lights at me. But I didn’t move, did I? So I can’t be alive. Maybe I’m a broken bit of twig. You can’t see those little sparkly spots that are actually my eyes, either – can you? But I wish you you would stop twisting the leaf around …

brown lump on tip-toeOops! I think that was a bit of a giveaway, going up on tip-toe like that. And now you have poked me with your huge finger – it must be time to bail out …

Brown spider on pebbly twiggy dirt.Right, I’m on the ground. And I match it so well you can’t see me unless I move, so I’m not going to move. In fact, you will forget that I’m even here.

What? Lights again? You haven’t forgotten? Okay – absolute last resort – dash for cover …

spider on ground, facingNow that I am safe, I can admit that, yes, I am a spider of course. People call me a Twig Spider, Plotys species (though even the experts aren’t sure which species). I make an orb web at night and pull it down again each morning, spending the day (well, most days) sleeping peacefully out of sight and out of mind. That’s the way I like it. Today was not a good day. Today was scary.

Aah! not Eeek!

The day after a post about a tiny, cute (if doughty) spider may be a good time to post this (oldish) book review. I never had any dislike or unreasonable fear of spiders myself but I know people who do … 

Lynne Kelly: Spiders – Learning to Love Them

book cover image
It's all right, the spider is far smaller than this image.

Lynne Kelly suffered horribly from arachnophobia so she set out to cure her terror by familiarising herself with its cause. From watching small spiders at safe distances, she worked up to letting a tarantula walk on her hand. This book details her healing – and learning – process.

She is now a confirmed arachnophile and her book is full of affectionate observations of the spiders in her Melbourne garden, with their bizarre hunting and mating habits, complemented by a generous amount of scientific detail. It is probably more than you ever wanted to know about spiders, but she is a science writer so it is all accurate, clearly written and well illustrated.

Allen & Unwin, $29.95, Feb 2009

Kelly’s latest project is The Spiderblogger. I did call her a ‘confirmed arachnophile’, didn’t I?

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.

Ross River parklands

View of Ross River meanders at dusk
Ross River at dusk

In the past week I have found several opportunities to wander along the Ross River parklands near home in the late afternoon or early evening. Much of the stretch between Aplin’s Weir and the Bowen Road bridge is similar to what you see in the photograph above: a relatively narrow channel meandering between grassy mounds which are often under water in the Wet season, with a high bank on the Mundingburra side.

I wrote about the Sea Eagles and other birds not long ago, but there are insects to be seen as well. This afternoon’s haul was fairly typical for the time of year and time of day: one skinny green-brown sap-sucker (Hemiptera) on a shrub, one beautiful Glasswing perched head-high on a grass head, lots of tiny blue-brown Lycaenid butterflies ankle-high amongst the grass, and one orb-weaving spider hoping (no doubt) to catch some of them.

Glasswing butterfly
Lycaenid butterfly
Family: Lycaenidae