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Saturday, 13 February 2021

A Real Weirdo

 


If you observed this creature on a leaf at night you might dismiss it as snail or a slug and move on. But look more closely.

Note the legs (prolegs) which would certainly not be present on a snail or slug.
Also the "head" is not the head but actually the tail. The head of the caterpillar is concealed by the "balloon"at the other end. 

So what is this creature? A check of the Australian Caterpillar website managed by Don Herbison-Evans reveals it is a nolid moth, Chora sp, probably plana Warren. The adult moth is rather plain and inconsequential. A related species can be seen on Buck Richardson's website: Moth Identification. 

The caterpillars have been found on Golden Penda, Xanthostemon chrysanthus and Blake Paperbark, Melaleuca quinquinerva. This one was photographed at Cattana Wetlands, a lowland rehabilitated, natural open marshy area that is being revegetated with trees, shrubs and other plants that were there prior to clearing for sugarcane. If you are in the Smithfield, Queensland area, a stop at Cattana is well worthwhile. The variety of birds is amazing and you can observe an important agricultural area being changed back to its original appearance.

Thanks to Mikey (Kudo Hidetoshi) for helping with this post.


Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Incredible!

 Allen Sundholm conveyed this image of a Jewel Beetle Castiarina maculicollis found by Robert Richardson near Goonoo Goonoo, New South Wales. 

Castiarina mculicollis A. Sundholm photo

This beetle appears to be a classic example of Mullerian Mimicry. The beetle resembles at least three species of diurnal cockroaches in the genus Ellipsidion. The geographic range of the beetle coincides with that of the cockroaches.  

Ellipsidions are cockroaches that look like anything but cockroaches. They are gaudy, brightly coloured and active mostly during the day. Their bright colours and patterns stand out. They can frequently be found on flowering plants such as Eucalyptus, Acacia or smaller shrubs and forbs. The beetle is also active during the day and Jewel Beetles frequently found on flowers.

The cockroaches mingle with the bees, wasps, beetles and other insects that visit the flowers. Insects with bright orange colours, such as those found in coccinellid beetles (lady beetles), cantharid beetles some flies and a host of moths are avoided by vertebrate predators such as lizards and birds. Chemicals incorporated in the bodies of these insects render them toxic. Young birds quickly learn to avoid lady beetles, for example, after their first encounter.

The Castiarina beetle seems to be uncommon (personal suggestion by A. Sundholm). This is one of the defining features of a Mullerian Mimicry system. That is, several members are toxic and a few others are not toxic but present in numbers much less than those of the others. If the non-toxic examples became more common than those that are toxic, the scheme would not work.

Of course, the geographic ranges of model and mimic have to overlap at some stage otherwise what is the point? In the case of the Castiarina beetle, it has been found in inland New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland. One of the Ellipsidion cockroaches, the Western Ellipsidion, E. australe Saussure has a fairly broad range extending across the top of Australia from the Northern Territory across to Cape York, central and southern Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria Rentz, 2014. Therefore, several of these cockroaches overlap in their distributions with that of the beetle.

Here are some examples of the cockroaches:
Ellipsidion australe Saussure
This species seems the closest match to the beetle. Note the dark legs and the antennae, the latter of which are black to the tip. C. Rowan photo

This is the Beautiful Ellipsidion Ellipsidion simulans Hebard. Note the antennae that are lighter towards the tip. This apparently gives the allusion that the antennae are shorter than they really are. The yellow cerci and reddish legs are not shared with the beetle.

Common Ellipsidion Ellipsidion humerale Hebard, or, perhaps, an undescribed species. This cockroach has the more pronounced difference in the antennae but lacks the dark spot present in the centre of the thorax found on the beetle and other roaches. The yellowish cerci are not shared by the beetle.  D. Knowles photo


Tableland Ellipsidion Ellipsidion gemmiculum Hebard is a small species, often found in numbers feeding on grass seed heads during the day in full sunlight. It has few characters shared with the beetle.

To a vertebrate predator on the move the range of colours and patterns in Ellipsidion might just be a reinforcement to move on and avoid these orange critters, large and tempting that they may be but they could result in an unpleasant episode.

Thanks to Allen Sundholm and Robert Richardson and D. Knowles and C. Rowan for the photos which can also be seen in the Cockroach Guidebook.

Literature

Rentz, DCF 2014. A Guide to the Cockroaches of Australia. CSIRO Publications, Pp. 1-318, Collingwoood, Vic.,

Monday, 18 January 2021

Waiting for Kimi

 The Orange-thighed Treefrog

Litoria xanthomera

This orange-thighed Treefrog (Litoria xanthomera) is basking in the light rain. It may have a different experience should tropical cyclone Kimi make landfall near Kuranda.




Sunday, 27 December 2020

Holiday Katydids

 The rains have come-sort of. Adult katydids are showing up at the lights as well as on the rainforest vegetation. The first Queensland Palm Katydid was heard on the evening of 17 December. 

With the Christmas Holiday Season coming on, katydids are called Esparanzas in some cultures, the word meaning Hope. Let's all Hope that this is a pleasant season with less animosity and 2021 will be better than 2020--it just has to be.

   Garradunga Snub-nosed Katydid Chloracantha garradunga Rentz, Su, Ueshima
female

Garradunga Snub-nosed Katydid Chloracantha garradunga Rentz, Su, Ueshima
female
                              Garradunga Snub-nosed Katydid Chloracantha garradunga Rentz, Su, Ueshima
female pronotum
                                 Ingrisch's Forest Katydid Ingrischagraecia iterika Rentz, Su, Ueshima
Adult female, defensive
                                   Ingrisch's Forest Katydid Ingrischagraecia iterika Rentz, Su, Ueshma
                                                            Larifugagraecia sp.
    `                                                                Tropical Nicsara Nicsara trigonalis Walker
                       
       Tropical Nicsara  Nicsara trigonalis Walker nymph
Destructive Katydid Austrosalomona destrucctor Rentz, Su, Ueshima

Buck's Unicorn Katydid Barbaragraecia richardsoni Rentz and Su 
Purple-winged Katydid Kurandoptera purpura Rentz, Su, Ueshima
Curvy-tailed Caedicia Caedicia flexuosa Bolivar
Curvy-tailed Caedicia Caedicia flexuosa Bolivar
Serrated Bush Katydid Paracaedicia serrata Brunner 
Kuranda Spotted Katydid Ephippitytha kuranda Rentz, Su, Ueshima
Balsam Beast Anthophiloptera dryas Rentz and Clyne 


                                    



Sunday, 20 December 2020

2020 was a Bummer of a Year for This Little Gecko As Well


 The other morning I came across this incident on our front porch. A small Brown Tree Snake (Night Tiger), Boiga irregularis (Colubridae) had captured one of the many geckos that hang around for the insects that are attracted to the lights. It is a rear-fanged snake and not especially dangerous unless you are bitten by a large (2m) specimen. This one was less than a foot long. But they have a rather nasty, aggressive disposition and will bite if threatened.

Brown Tree Snakes are common in and around rainforests where they feed on a variety of prey. Birds seem to be a specialty. One must never hang the budgie's cage out on the porch or it will surely become the prey of one of these snakes. Even if the cage is well out in the open, the snake will find a way (short of flying) to reach the poor bird. These snakes frequently enter homes through open windows and doors to wreak havoc on caged birds.

It was only a mater of minutes before the snake had consumed the lizard, head first.


Almost all gone.

Greg Watson suggests the gecko is the Asian House Gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus. He also speculates that this may be the first feed of this young snake.




Monday, 7 December 2020

Australia's (and Probably the World's) Longest Insect


Ctenomorpha gargantua Brock & Hasenpusch, the Gargantuan Stick-Insect, is no doubt one of the world's longest insects. Females measure more than 50 cm from the tip of the outstretched forelegs to the tip of the cerci (claspers). The longest specimen known measured in excess of 60 cm. The one figured here is around 55 cm. Males are considerably smaller, measuring about 30 cm.


C. gargantua occurs along the coast in rainforests from the vicinity of Cairns and Kuranda and the Atherton Tableland south to Mourilyan, Queensland. Males frequently fly to light. They are probably abroad at night in search of females. Females are rarely encountered. The likely reason is that they are short-winged and heavily bodied and less likely to attempt to fly unless greatly disturbed. They remain motionless in the tree tops. Because of their size, they would be attractive morsels for birds and lizards should they take to the wing. (The Pacific Baza, or Crested Hawk, Aviceda subcristata, is known to have a fondness for stick insects). Attempts at rearing the species from eggs is fraught with disappointment. Males seems to be able to make it through the developmental stages, but females encounter problems moulting in the latter stages. This may be associated with diet or, perhaps, humidity. In any even, the Gargantuan Stick-Insect is one of the north-western rainforest's treasures and most people living in the rainforest probably have no idea that these giants are among them.

Thanks to Paul Brock for comments.

Adult female Ctenomorpha gargantua. Note short wings.
Adult male Ctenomorpha gargantua. Note the longer wings and more slender body.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

New Book

The Queensland Museum has issued a new edition of its popular Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland. Originally published about 20 years ago, the book is 50 pages larger than the first edition and is updated and a lot of additional content has been added. This  includes sections on bats, fish, crustaceans and frogs. It covers the biota from Cooktown south to Mackay, east of the Great Dividing Range. 

The book has a fresh, crisp appearance.The photographs are outstanding and the colours are true. Price $A34.95--great value.