Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A nice find and an old friend

Boyd's Forest Dragon, Hypsilurus boydii, lives in our forests. This one comes around from time to time and sleeps in the same spot on our Mangosteen tree. He is there most rainy nights. Where he spends the dry nights is his business! He often "assists" in the moth collecting in the morning.

The Hercules Moth, Coscinocera hercules, comes around mostly on cool nights. It has been at least 6 months since one has showed up at our lights. This one measured 22 cm across. They can get larger, especially the females. This is a male as can be told by examining the antennae and because is has "long tails". Females have much less elaborate antennae and short, more blunt tails.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Having Trouble with your gingers?

If your ginger plants a starting to die, this may be the cause. The caterpillar of a local moth, a pyraustine crambid, Conogethes pluto (Butler), bores into the stems and feeds up the centre causing the stem eventually to die. This species is common in north Queensland and also occurs in Thailand. My friend, Suzanne, has had trouble with these caterpillars for a few months and they are devastating her collection.

Other species of Conogethes, C. punctiferalis, for example, are known pests. C. punctiferalis defoliates Hibiscus and other related plants by feeding on the leaves and rolling the leaves to accommodate the cocoons. It attacks foliage and seeds of many plants. Hibiscus plants survive and eventually grow new leaves but they look very untidy when they are under attack.

The caterpillar of Conogethes pluto in its burrow in the centre of a ginger stem.
The adult moth, Conogethes pluto.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

A Nice Gesture

D. Rentz and Dylan Fluker and his painting. (Gary Wilson photo)

At the recent celebration of publication of my guidebook to Australian katydids, my young friend, Dylan, presented me with his water-colour rendition of a Dung Beetle.

Dylan Fluker is 7 years old and has a keen interest in insects. He examines the plants in his and his grandparents gardens for new discoveries. His other talents include drawing and painting the items revealed in his explorations. This painting now hangs in my lab. Thanks Dylan!

Friday, 27 August 2010

froggy Nights

The warm, wet winter has led to "froggy nights" from time to time. Here are a few visitors.
The ubiquitous Cane Toad, Bufo marinus. This toad usually spends the winter nights under logs or rocks. But because the winter has been warm, the toads have been out and about at a time of the year that you would not expect to see them.

My friend Michael Cermak tells me this is a species of Litoria. It could be the Green-eyed Frog, L. serrata or much much less common Myola Frog, L. myola, a species recently described. The two are so morphologically similar that they can be accurately distinguished only by their calls.
This is Stony Creek Frog, Littoria jungguy on our doormat. It is a common species on the ground at night. It exhibits homing behaviour as it will return over and over to a preferred site night for a few days, then apparently go elsewhere.
This little fellow decided that the foothold on a piece of exercising equipment was the ideal place to spend the day. It has been in the same place for weeks.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Aquatic Moths

An aquatic moth Metoeca foedalis (Guenée); Pyraustinae

Aquatic Lepidoptera

Crambidae (formerly part of the Pyralidae)

Most folks do not realise that there are moths that have an aquatic existence during their life cycle. This is usually during the larval (caterpillar) stage. These moths can be very abundant at times as illustrated by their appearance at lights. They can also cause destruction to aquatic plants, especially water lilies, by chewing the leaves and folding them over to conceal the caterpillars and cocoons. If you have a pond, you probably have some of these moths around. And you are probably distressed over their feeding activities because they can reduce water lily leaves to shredded, unattractive bits and pieces (Have a look at the examples on the website). And you can’t really spray them because it would affect the aquatic life in the pond. Still there are other larvae that live on rocks in the water and feed on plankton. Many have gills to supply oxygen; others have a plastron or can respire subcutaneously.

Aquatic crambids are members of a subfamily, the Nymphulinae. The attractive moths are nocturnal and deposit their eggs in the aquatic habitat. They have a rather complex life history in aquatic vegetation. The cocoon consists of leaf pieces to enclose the pupa. This stage can last for up to a month. The cocoon may be below the water surface requiring the emerging adult moth to swim or drag itself to the surface. Adults live form one day to a couple of months.

The Australian aquatic moths are under study and the identifications below are tentative.

Tetrernia terminitis Meyrick; Acentropinae
Theila siennata (Warren); Acentropinae
Talanga tolumnalis (Walker); Pyrautinae
Margarosticha euprepialis Hampson: Acentropinae
Araeomorpha limnophila (Turner): Acentropinae

Sunday, 8 August 2010


This little skipper is common around the margins of the stream that runs through our patach of rainforest. I have tentatively identified it as the Swamp Darter, Arrhenes marnas (Fielder). [If I'm wrong, my butterfly enthusiasts will soon correct me!]. There are three geographic races of this butterfly exisitng in appropriate habitats along the Queensland east coast. What catches my attention with many skipper is their resting posture. I know of no other butterflies that rest like this. But not all skippers do so.
Meet the beautiful White-clubbed Swift, Sabera caesina (Hewitson). This butterfly is much less common but does not seem to perch with the hind wings at the angle of the above. It is much less common and exists with 5 geographic races, only one of which, S. c. albofasciata (Miskin), occurs in populations along the west coast of north Queensland. The others occur in New Guinea. The larvae if this skipper feed on palms, most notably a Wait-A-While, Calamus caryotoides in the north and other more typical palms in the south.

What's This?

This is a moth, family Arctiidae; subfamily Ctenuchinae. It is a species of Ceryx, probably C. sphenoides Meyrick. It resembles a wasp or bee and is active during the day and if you are not a careful observer, you might be deceived. Four species occur in northern Queensland and there are others in New Guinea.
We see these fuzzy leaves on the ground occasionally and thought they were probably scale insects.
However, our friend Dr Penny Gullan informs that they are actually White Fly nymphs. White flies are members of the family Aleyrodidae, a group related to scale insects. Some aleyrodids are among the worst agricultural pests. Some have become resistant to pesticides and are foes in greenhouse culture of ornamental plants and vegetables. Some whiteflies transmit viruses to plants. Penny thought this might be Aleurodicus destructor Mackie, known often as the Coconut Whitefly. However, this specimen was not from a palm and this species is known to have many many hosts. This illustrates the dilemma of common names.
Sitting on a light sheet this moth is plainly visible. Imagine it amongst a mass of twigs. The wings are rolled and held at angles not seen in most other moths.
This is the same moth with wings spread. It is a species of Balantiucha. Its larvae probably excavate the underside of leaves of its host plant. These moths are quite commonly seen around lights.
This looks very strange-like something is missing.
Seen from another angle, it is even more weird.
We see the eyes and what looks like the mouthparts. Actually it's the swollen base of the antennae with the filamentous tip protruding. This is actually a sucking bug of the family Derbidae. I frequently find this or similar-appearing species living deep within leaf axils of Pandanus.

This looks like a blob on the end of a stick. Actually it was found by my young friend Benji on a plant is his garden. The swollen portion is the "head end" but its not the head at all.
The head is partially hidden under this swollen portion of the thorax. This is a balloon-head caterpillar of a moth of the family Nolidae, subfamily Chloephorinae. The caterpillar was noted in Densey Clyne's book on caterpillars, p. 24. The book was reviewed earlier in this blog. The exciting part is that we have no idea what the moth is. So we await the emergence of the moth from the coon below.
This is the cocoon made by one of the caterpillars and we will await a short time to see the results! We will keep you posted.
Residents in the Australian tropics frequently see these little spots moving up the wall. They measure a little less than 1 cm in length.
On closer observation we discover a flat case with something protruding.
What we see is a pupal case of a moth. The moth larva has constructed the case using bits and pieces found in the house (Is our house really this dirty!) and tied them together with silk. It moves around slowly finding things to eat. It may actually be feeding on fungal spores of mould which is so prevalent in dwellings in the tropics.
You can see bits of detritus that comprise the case. Clothes moths are often associated with this behaviour but we have not found any damage to clothing yet!
This is the adult moth, barely measuring 7 mm across. When you see the moths in the house, they seem to just disappear, flying erratically and alighting abruptly. They are difficult to trap because they drop suddenly and run from the threat. Tineid moths are well-known detritus feeders. They live in leaf litter and are often found in caves where the larvae feed on feathers, hair and other consumables found in such habitats.

Clyne, D. 2009. The Secret Life of Caterpillars. pp. 1-48. New holland (Young Reed), Sydney.