Wednesday, 2 June 2021

An Unfortunate Caterpillar

While wandering around the garden one evening I noticed a white cottony blob about the size of a strawberry hanging from the leaflet of a Wait-A-While Palm, Calamus sp. I thought it was a mass of spider eggs but on closer examination it proved to be a caterpillar with its head protruding from what appeared to be its cocoon.

The caterpillar appeared to be struggling. It acted as if it wanted to get away from where it was but couldn't.
Further examination indicated that the caterpillar was in deep troubl.
The cocoon that the caterpillar was constructing was filled with small pupae. I placed the caterpillar, which was still alive and thrashing about, in a jar and several days later the mystery was solved.
Each of the small inclusions in white mass was a small wasp. The wasps are in the family Braconidae, a family of notorious insect parasites. You have probably seen them but did not realise what they are. Many are brightly coloured and buzz around wood piles or tree bark where they seek the larvae of a variety of insects to parasitise.

179 wasps emerged from the mass. The males measured 3.1 mm and seem to have yellow legs and antennae. Females were slightly larger, 3.2 mm, with black antennae. 

Eventually the hapless caterpillar died. It probably had this load of parasites with it all its life and just at the time it was about to form a cocoon of its own, the parasites began to emerge and complete their life history.

This is a form of biological control, albeit a somewhat non-beneficial one as far as a "control" of a caterpillar that might be potential pest. The caterpillar would have spent its larval life feeding on its host plant. The "control" comes from the fact that it would not mature and, therefore, not be able to reproduced.

Braconids of many kinds have been used as bio-controls of agricultural pests. There are many example you can find on the internet.

During my early days at the University of California, Berkeley, I came across a fascinating example of a a braconid and a Ladybeetle. The ladybeetle was a very common and widespread American species, the Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens.

The braconid, called Perilitus coccinellae at the time, parasitised the beetle with only a single wasp larva within. When it became time for the wasp to emerge, it actually tied the ladybeetle's feet to its own cocoon. The ladybeetle remained alive. The way this works is very involved. Orange insects, like Monarch butterflies, many wasps and beetles and large numbers of bugs (Hemiptera) advertise to vertebrate predators that they are distasteful, toxic or lethal. Vertebrates of all sorts-lizards, birds, frogs and some mammals avoid dealing with orange insects. This may be a learned avoidance or could be genetic.

In the case of the ladybeetle, the plot thickens. The ladybeetle remained alive during the time the wasp was completing its development within. When danger threatened, the ladybeetle opened its wings seemingly protecting the cocoon beneath it from harm. Following the emergence of the wasp, the beetle either dies or wanders away. 

Look carefully (click to enlarge the photo) and you can see that the ladybeetle's legs are attached to the wasp's cocoon beneath it. The beetle has bee there for some time as you can see from the faeces attached to its posterior.

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


 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.


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

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