Monday, 11 January 2016

A Couple of Biteys

In the past few days Kuranda residents have been well aware of mosquitoes. We like to think of our patch of the land as being largely mosquito-free.

But in the past few days, we have been attacked almost as soon as we venture outside.
The culprits seem to be everywhere at present. A quick note to my friend Scott and he identified them as, wait for it, Salt Marsh Mosquitoes, Aedes vigilax. But then there are no salt marshes in Kuranda.

The scenario is that the recent rains, after a long dry spell, have filled the salt marshes around Cairns and this has resulted in a super abundance of these flies. Winds coupled with the storms of the past few days have blown them up the range to Kuranda.

The good news is that Scott feels they are here only temporarily and will be gone in a few days time. Salt marshes are in short supply around Kuranda.

Another bitey concerns our "friends" the Brush Turkeys. If you watch them carefully you will see winged, flattened insects darting around on their feathers. They have to be quick because the birds are constantly trying to rid themselves of these pests. And you have to be quick to see them.

These are flies of the family Hippoboscidae. The common names are louse flies, wallaby flies, and  for those into scrabble, "keds". These flies are ideally suited for their task. They have flattened bodies, elongated legs with sensitive claws and a piercing mouthparts. They pierce the feathers of the bird and feed on blood.

They have characteristic flattened wings with strong venation.
Hippoboscid flies can be quite devastating to livestock. One imported wingless species species, Melophagus ovinus, called the "sheep tick", can cause losses due to aenemia and staining of the wool.

Winged hippoboscids often make mistakes! I was wearing a black teeshirt when this fellow landed on me and began darting around looking for feathers which I was not wearing at the time. I retreated into the house where I captured the fly and put it in a jar. Its activity was quite remarkable as it darted around the jar for several days.

Graeme Cocks attempted to have it identified by some European friends and they decided that it was probably Icosta australica.

Our resident male turkey still has a nice fauna of these flies darting around on his feathers.

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