Birdwings in winter

The weather has been so beautiful recently that sitting indoors to write blog posts is less appealing than wandering outside, with or without a camera.

Cairns Birdwing butterflies, Ornithoptera euphorion, are abundant here (because we grow their food plant) and always beautiful but we don’t often get a photo showing the upper wings of the males because they always (well, 99.99% of the time) shut their wings together while resting. Why? If they didn’t, they might as well be shouting, “Eat me!” to the birds. (Ulysses Swallowtails are the same, only more so. So are many other butterflies – bright in flight, camouflaged at rest.)

So here’s one I caught while he was hovering to feed, and again while resting.

Cairns Birdwing butterfly
Resplendent

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Common names and Latin names

The science community tries very hard, as described in my post about Birdwing butterflies and their food plants, to make sure each species is uniquely identified by a single Latin name. So long as the Latin names are correct, however, we can have as many local vernacular names as we like without causing significant confusion.

One species, one Latin name, many common names

One species may have several common names, even in the same language in the same region, let alone different languages and different countries.

A smallish ground-feeding black-and-white bird is a good local example, being known as a Magpie-lark, Pee-wee, Peewit or Mudlark. None of those names are wrong, and any doubts about the identity of the bird can be resolved by pointing to one or referring to its unique Latin name, Grallina cyanoleuca.

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Cairns Birdwings caught in the act

Walking around the garden recently, I came across this mating pair of Cairns Birdwings, Ornithoptera euphorion.

They were hanging in the shade of a silver wattle which has Aristolochia, their caterpillars’ food plant, sprawling over it, so their location is unsurprising.

The fresh empty chrysalis nearby and the not-quite-developed wings of the female suggest that she had just emerged and the male had seized the opportunity to mate her before her wings were fully dry and she was ready to fly off. That also is unsurprising, since it happens often amongst butterflies; the females emerge as fully mature adults, so they are never too young in the way that (e.g.) mammals or reptiles might be too young.

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Leeches

Leeches arouse, almost universally, a “Yuck!” response out of all proportion to the pain and suffering they cause.

Our attitudes to small wildlife reflect our upbringing and experience and I’m constantly intrigued (and sometimes very quietly amused) by them. Most people I know “love wildlife” but only up to a point. They might love all mammals and birds but not reptiles, for instance, or like small lizards but not the big ones. Most of them love butterflies but many are not at all keen on spiders (I agree they are not usually so pretty but I like them just as much) – and then we reach the problematic types: flies, fleas, ticks, mozzies and of course leeches.

What is a leech?

We also tend to know very little about leeches. What kind of animal are they? They are obviously not vertebrates but they can’t be insects because they haven’t got six legs, so what what are they most closely related to?

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Surprise!

When we’re birdwatching or bug-hunting it’s very easy to see what we expect to see and miss some new or unexpected creature because of it. I am sure I do it quite often but here are two beautiful little creatures that I wasn’t quite tricked by.

In each case I was lucky enough to see other individuals from viewpoints that made their identity clearer.

hopper
Not a moth or butterfly…

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