Some years ago I noted that I had seen yellow paper wasps, Ropalidia romandi, in my garden but hadn’t seen the nest, presumably also in my garden, which they were coming from. Its location could have been vital information, saving me from a nasty confrontation, so I kept on looking – with no success at all.
I finally spotted it very recently, above the roof-line of our high-set house in a paperbark tree (please visit this page if you want to call it a bottlebrush – it’s both) and overhanging the neighbours’ fence. A clear view of it was only possible from one or two locations even when I knew it was there, so I don’t feel too chagrined at missing it for so long.
Each garden attracts some different insects and spiders from its neighbours because of the different food plants and micro-habitats it offers. The difference between our old garden and our new one is most apparent in the butterflies, since their caterpillars often eat only one or two species of plant.
Here we haven’t (yet) got any Plumbago, so we have no Plumbago Blue butterflies; but we do have Cycads.
The Townsville branch of Wildlife Queensland has resumed its monthly-except-wet-season excursions and their April trip was to Turtle Rock, an indigenous rock shelter high on Hervey’s Range. It’s a site I had known about for years but never seen, so I was very happy to be able to join the expedition.
Turtle Rock is on private land between Sharps Rd and Edward Rd; access is across the paddocks from the former, a 20 minute walk which can be shortened by driving part-way (as most of us did) or to the foot of the rock (as one of us did). The landowners, the Fryer family, are happy to have people visiting the site at any time but a courtesy phone call is a good idea and may avoid any difficulties with the access track.
Castle Hill dominates the central Townsville skyline but Mount Stuart takes over that role from anywhere further up Ross River. From Mundingburra all the way up to Kelso and across the river to the university and the hospital, Mount Stuart looms large.
That doesn’t mean people visit it very often, of course, but a road leading off the Charters Towers road just beyond the city winds up to a lookout beneath the radio masts. When I drove up a couple of days ago I was welcomed by a resident peacock (perhaps the same one who met me five years ago) and, after taking in the magnificent views over Magnetic Island, the Palm group and coastline all the way to Hinchinbrook, I wandered around the loop track.
The summit is a difficult environment for plants and animals alike: very exposed, very dry, and with only a thin covering of soil where there is any soil at all. Vegetation is ‘open woodland’ with a decent covering of tussocky grass, but most of the trees are tiny. Ants seem to be the most abundant invertebrates but there were other insects to be found as well as the spiders which prey on them.
* P.S. The ant has been identified by my friendly local expert as Meranoplus sp.
Lower down the mountain
Conditions half-way down the mountain are not quite so arid and I found more creatures per square metre than on the summit.
The two kinds of paper wasps are the two commonest around Townsville. More about them here and here.
The Spiny Orb-weaver pictured, Gasteracantha fornicata, is usually seen less often than its black cousins, Gasteracantha sacerdotalis, but outnumbered them on this trip.
“St Andrew’s Cross spider” is a common name which is applied loosely to several similar species. Argiope keyserlingi is the best known, A. picta is encountered from time to time, and this one may be unknown to science – which is a little bit exciting.
Golden Orb-weavers (Nephila sp.) are usually very big and not so brightly coloured but I have seen others around 12-15mm, like this one, in Western Queensland – at Aramac and Porcupine Gorge, for instance.
We’re well into winter, now, with the solstice only a couple of days away. We don’t get as much variation of day length or temperature as, say, Melbourne or Hobart but the change is great enough to affect the activity of ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures such as insects. I have noted before that our butterflies tend to go to sleep by mid-afternoon at this time of year, and here are some paper wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) doing the same. At least they have chosen a spot where no-one is likely to bother them!
The smaller picture (just click on it for a bigger one, as usual) shows the sleeping wasps and their comb-like nest on the twigs of a spiky little conifer.
It’s not a big colony at all, and I suspect it is not getting any bigger. As I said when I wrote about paper wasps’ life cycle here, the colonies do not normally continue from year to year.
It is impossible for the adults to feed themselves and their offspring without a certain level of activity and I think these adults have been caught by the poor Wet season, which has reduced the number of caterpillars in the garden, and the shortening days, which reduce their foraging time.