Saturday, 29 December 2012

Have A Green New Year

Phyllophorella queenslandica Rentz, Su, Ueshima: Tettigoniidae; Phyllophorellinae
Queensland Small Hooded Katydid

It's been a bit dry around here in recent weeks. Many of the small rainforest seedlings have succumbed and some of the larger trees are in a wilted state.

But we had a shower of some 6 mm of rain and this has certainly spruced (is this the word in a tropical rainforest!) things up a bit.

A recent trip to the Daintree region, which was also dry, revealed some nice green katydids.

The head above and the two below are the Queensland Small hooded Katydid, reported before in this blog. The unique stridulatory mechanism of the members of the this subfamily is documented in the blog and in the published paper below.

 Phyllophorella queenslandica Rentz, Su, Ueshima
Phyllophorella queenslandica Rentz, Su, Ueshima, male
 Acauloplacella hasenpuschae Rentz, Su, Ueshima, male: Tettigoniidae; Pseudphyllinae; Phyllomimini
Sue's Leaf-mimicking Katydid

Note the resting position with the tegmina and wings slightly spread concealing the soft bits. The katydid ids nocturnal and spends the day either on top, but more usually under, leaves. It is ever alert and at the slightest disturbance, the claws are embedded in the leaf and the tegmina and wings are contracted as below. This provides the katydid with a good grip and helps to prevent it from being "swiped" off the leaf by a passing bird or bat.

  Acauloplacella hasenpuschae Rentz, Su, Ueshima, male: Tettigoniidae; Pseudphyllinae; Phyllomimini
  Acauloplacella hasenpuschae Rentz, Su, Ueshima, female: Tettigoniidae; Pseudphyllinae; Phyllomimini
 Acauloplacella hasenpuschae Rentz, Su, Ueshima, female: Tettigoniidae; Pseudphyllinae; Phyllomimini
 Ducetia japonica (Thunberg): Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae
The Pacific Ducetia
This is a widespread species across tropical Australia. It is one of several katydids that can be found in disturbed habitats such as along rainforest margins or under powerlines that are routinely cleared and there is an abundance of new growth and grasses. It seems to be a preferred food of the predator, Hexacentrus mundurra Rentz.

 Mastigaphoides haffneri Weidner, female: Tettigoniidae; Pseudophyllinae; Simoderini
A common katydid of the rainforest understorey. It may also be in the canopy but no one has looked yet.
 Mastigaphoides haffneri Weidner, female last instar: Tettigoniidae; Pseudophyllinae; Simoderini
This species could easily be called a "Dinosaur Katydid"!
 Kurandoptera purpura Rentz, Su and Ueshima, male: Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae

You have seen this katydid before in this blog. It was described from Kuranda as the generic name suggests but it has a broader range, extending from near Innisfail to the Daintree region, Queensland. This is the first known record of the species from the Daintree.
Wavy-tail Caedicia flexuosa Bolivar; Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae

If this species is correctly identified, it has a very unusual distribution for a katydid. It was described from New Guinea as indicated in the Orthoptera Species File. No other phaneropterine has a similar distribution. But the photos seem to match up. Like so many other katydids, further investigation is warranted.
 Caedicia webberi Rentz, Su Ueshima, male: Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae
Webber's Caedicia

 This easily-recognised katydid has a relatively broad geographic distribution for a katydid in the tropics from Tully to Iron Range, Queensland. The bluish green colour and the series of spots on the abdomen combined with the tiny yellow spots that protrude from under the pronotum on each side and yellow on the top of the eye are not possessed by any other katydid.
 Ephippitytha kuranda Rentz, Su, Ueshima, male: Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae

Previously known only from Kuranda, this is the first record of the genus and species from the Daintree, Queeensland.
 Phyllium monteithi Brock and Hasenpusch: Phasmatodea; Phylliidae; Phylliinae

NOT from the Daintree, but from Kuranda. Each year a specimen or two this species is found on low vegetation. But they are always males. Someday a female...........
                                                              Biroella sp., young female; Morabidae; Biroellinae

I reported on this genus last year. It is one of the icons of the northern rainforest that most people who study grasshoppers want to find. There are few in collections because it is thought that these grasshoppers spend most of their time in the canopy. [There is a good honours study awaiting someone who may want to spend time in James Cook University's Rainforest Crane located in the Daintree, not far from where this photo was taken.]

Rentz, DCF, Su, Y-N, Ueshima, N. 2008. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: New Phaneropterine Katydid from Queensland Rainforests (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae). Zootaxa 1964: 1-39.

Rentz, DCF, Su, Y-N, Ueshima, N. 2009. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: The Phyllophorinae (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae; Phyllophorinae). Zootaxa 2075: 55-68.

Rentz, DCF, Su, Y-N, Ueshima, N. 2010. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: Australian Pseudophylline katydids (Tettigoniidae; Pseudophyllinae; Phyllomomini). Zootaxa 2566: 1-20.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Nymphid follow-up

The recent blog depicting the green larva of a member of the Neuroptera family Nymphidae elicited a response from my friend Ms Densey Clyne. She pointed out that she recorded this behaviour in her popular book the Garden Jungle.
I have this book on my shelf and should have recalled her mention of this and other neuropterans. If you can find a copy of the book it is well worth reading. Her former garden in Turramurra, NSW, just north of Sydney, provided a wealth of biological observation. Her observant eye was continually at work documenting the comings-and-goings in her suburban garden. Her photos are outstanding and this combination, and her pleasant personality, lead to stints for several years on Burke's Backyard TV show.

Densey has kindly allowed me to use her photos of Osmylops pallidus, photographed in her garden many years ago. It appears to be the same species as depicted in this blog.
Densey Clyne photo
The larva is very similar , if not identical to the one photographed in Kuranda. The jaws are agape but secreted beneath the head.
Densey Clyne photo

This is the pupal case formed after the larval stage was complete. It is on the underside of a leaf.
Densey Clyne photo
The adult Ruby-eyed Lacewing, Osmylops pallidus. It strongly resembles a green lacewing but differs in several respects. 
Green lacewings, like the one above, probably in the genus Italochrysa, have a different body plan. The antennae are much thinner, and the wing venation differs between the two families. And, of course, the larval life styles are very different as is their morphology. in addition, some nymphids lay eggs on stalks in horse-shoe like rings, interconnected to one another. Lacewing eggs are laid in less elaborate fashion. In the case of O. pallidus, Ms Clyne reports that the eggs are in contact with the leaf each on a long stalk. The stalk is bent to form a hoop at its tips with the egg fixed directly to the leaf. The hoops formed in this manner by the stalks lie parallel to each other forming a tunnel or tube inside which are the eggs, parallel to one another and in a symmetrical row protected by the encircling hoops of sticky silk. 

Now to find one of those egg masses.

Thanks to Densey and to Catherine and Maurice Tauber for help in discussing the biology and morphologyof this little-known group of insects.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Seasons Greetings

These Christmas Beetles,  Anoplognathus smaragdinus, have taken season's greetings to a new level.

These were photographed by Jack Hasenpusch at the Australian Insect Farm not far from Innisfail, Queensland. This year has seen a tremendous population explosion of these scarab beetles in his area. But in the Kuranda vicinity, a few hundred kilometres to the north, the beetle populations are normal and we see only a few at the lights each night.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Another Odd-ball

My observant neighbour, Christina, brought over this odd creature. It appeared on the bonnet of her car.
It is small, measuring about 5 mm in diameter. In general body form and jaw structure it seemed to be neuropteroid.
As it slowly moves about with its jaws agape it presents a formidable appearance.
But when it is not moving it sits motionless with the agape jaws tucked under its body apparently awaiting detection of some unsuspecting prey. The function of the gill-like structures that surround the body is unknown, at least to me.
The jaw with its "subapical hook" is not unlike that of the Ant-lion reported in the blog below.

In fact, it is a neuropteroid. A glance at the tome "The Insects of Australia" reveals a beautiful illustration of this species or something very similar.

It is the larva of a member of the family Nymphidae. This family is known from fossils as well as living forms. I've never seen an adult nymphid at the lights in Kuranda. The adults could be mistaken for ant-lions by the casual observer. This green larva is most likely a member of the genus Osmylops.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

They're Back--At Last

After several months absence Mr Cassowary appeared with this year's crop of chicks.
We knew he had a trio of chicks because they had been living near Cassowary 
House, on the other side of Black Mountain Road.
It is our understanding that this male is about 40 years old. in that time he has learned, we hope, the dangers of road crossing and that one must be careful with callow young cassowaries.
The reason for the concern this year is that the powers-that-be have decided to harvest the pine plantations on Black Mountain Road. Potential danger commenced with roadworks and attendant heavy vehicular traffic.

Now more than 10 times a day logging trucks barrel down the road using compression braking to slow down. They could never stop in time to avoid a crossing cassowary.

Compounding the danger to the Cassowaries is a Goshawk nest right over the road. The appetizers  the occupants toss out of the nest are irresistible to the Cassowaries and they venture on onto the road amid the traffic to dine on the scraps.

How long all this will continue is anyone's guess but we hope that Mr Cassowary has the ability to "understand" (Buck) the dangers of the busy road. If it means fewer visits to this side until the logging is complete, then we can live with that.

Friday, 23 November 2012

It's the Pits--For the Ants

I've been aware of the pits in our carport for a long time.
I knew that they were most likely antlions (Neuroptera; Myrmeleontidae; Myrmeleontinae) but I thought I should check just to be sure.
Each pit harbours this occupant. It usually is covered with soil and sits, covered at the base of the bit with the jaws agape. In the US these insects are often called Doodlebugs because they created doodle-like patterns when they move about on the surface of the of the ground after dark seeking better places to create a pit. They are very particular as to where they make a pit. They require dry, fine particles. They are at home in what might otherwise be considered as dust. That's why they are often found at the base of trees where it is dry.
We have pesky March Flies (Tabanidae, called Horse Flies in North America) around at this time of year and I decided to see if one would be acceptable to the occupant of the pit above. In no time it was attacked and disappeared beneath the dust.

Antlions are so-called because they are voracious and often feed on passing ants. If the ants attempt to climb out of the pit, the occupant flicks small pebbles at it until it knocks it down. Once in the bottom of the pit, it is usually a goner.
The antlion is a rather plump creature, well adapted for its existence in a world of dust. It is fairly mobile but does not really need to be since it spends most of its time at the bottom of its pit. It has the dubious distinction of lacking an anus. It doesn't need one. It would just pose problems-what to do with waste. Instead it stores its wastes and ejects, if that is the right word, this meconial mass (a word for your next Scrabble game) after it pupates.

Antlion jaws are formed by the mandibles and maxillae and the hollow projections inject inject venom into the prey. You can see the canal in the above photo quite nicely.

At the end of its larval career, which can last for several years, the antlion forms a pupa which will eventually produce at adult antlion.
From the web
Adult antlions are common visitors to light sheets because they are nocturnal. They are especially common in the more arid or open areas of Australia. Even though there are dozens of pits in our carport, I cannot recall ever seeing an adult at the light sheet. I have kept the cocoon to see what eventually emerges.

That's That

As a follow-up to the Slaty-grey Snake and Cane Toad incident, I thought I might have a great sequel when I discovered that Green Tree Ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, were intent on rendering the snake as protein for their nest.

 But it was not to be. Shortly after taking these photos, the snake was seen flying down the track in the beak of a Black Butcherbird, Craticus quoyi, never to be seen again Pity.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Sad Fate for a Harmless Snake

About 80 years ago a group ill-informed, but well-intentioned, folk introduced the Cane Toad, Bufo marinus, to Oceania, including Australia. Their vested interest- protection of the sugarcane industry.
Bufo marinus, the Cane Toad or Marine Toad

The rationale behind this introduction was that the voracious appetites of the toads would be a great advantage in controlling the cane beetles (Scarabaeidae) that infest the cane, the larvae of which feed on the roots of the plants.

The knowledge of the biology of the toads and the beetles was severely wanting. Toads live on the surface of the ground and would not come into contact with the grubs of the beetles. Well, you could argue that they would feed on the adults. Yes and no. Adult cane beetles are large, 30 mm or more in length, and only an adult toad could cope with them. And, the most important aspect of all this is that when the beetles emerge from the soil they fly away from the site and only by chance would come into contact with the toads.

Two other aspects of this untimely introduction have to do with the biology of the toads. They are voracious all right. They eat just about anything they can get down their gullets. In many places they have literally eliminated the ground fauna of nocturnal insects. Not only insect, they will consume anything they can get down. Other frogs and toads and sleeping lizards (mostly small skins) are consumed.

But they other aspect of their biology has to do with their toxic nature.
Last night I had the opportunity to observe the toxic nature of these toads. A Slaty-grey Snake, Stegonotus cucculatus (Dumeril, Bibron, Dumeril) (Colubridae) was found dead in our driveway with a cane toad in the grasp of its mouth. 

The Slaty-grey Snake feeds on a variety of vertebrates but there are many incidents of cane toads causing their deaths.

This snake was stopped in its tracks by puncturing the parotid glands of the toad. These glands secrete a  powerful alkaloid called bufotoxin which acts as a neurotoxin. It seems to work quickly.

The problem with these toads in the 80 years they have been in Australia is that the majority of Australian species have no way to deal with bufotoxin. There are no native Bufo in Australia and our fauna have had no evolutionary experience in coping with it. As a result may species have been affected by the toads. Quolls seem to be especially vulnerable with virtually every individual that attempts to eat a cane toad poisoned. This is a scenario not anticipated by the group that introduced the Cane to to Oceania--I hope.

I have left the snake in place in the driveway to see if it is avoided by the cadre of Brush Turkeys that will make their way to the front door later in the morning. Heavy truck traffic on Black Mountain Road has caused the Cassowaries to avoid crossing so they will not come into contact with the toxic snake.

And that begs the question: Can cassowaries cope with cane toads? I wonder. They eat some very toxic seeds and they do eat vertebrates if they find them.

I will keep you posted.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Mantids or Mantispids

Mantispids are strange-looking insects that look like a cross between a mantis and a lacewing. They are in no way related to the Mantodea. In fact, are not even distant relatives.
One of the many grey mantispids that come to lights

Mantids are hemimetabolous insects, that is they undergo gradual metamorphosis. Mantispids are holometabolous insects, that is, they have a larval and pupal stage in their development.
The Net-winged Mantid, Neomantis australis Saussure and Zehntner

Mantispids are members of the Neuroptera, the order that includes lacewings, ant-lions, sponge-flies and the like. They are fairly common in Australia. Greyish ones a usually found at lights were they prey on smaller insects.

The mantis-like appearance of mantispids is because they both have raptorial forelegs that are used to capture insect prey.

Mantispids were generally rare and considered collector’s items in the San Francisco Bay Region where I grew up. I can still remember the first one I ever saw. It was collected by my childhood friend, who reads this blog, Charlie Cushner . It was found at Tesla Road, near Livermore, one of the favourite sites for fieldtrips when we were both members of the Student Section of the California Academy of Sciences in the mid 1950’s. So it made quite an impression. Search as I did, I did not find one on that day and was quite jealous of Charlie’s prize. It was Chimaciella brunnea Say, a species that appears similar to a Polistes wasp.

So it was like a nostalgia trip when this mantispid turned up at the light the other night. It was about the same size and colour as its Californian relative. This is identified as Euclimacia nuchalis (Gerstaecker). It is very similar in outward appearances to the California species noted above.
Euclimacia nuchalis (Gerstaecker) 

Mantispids have a complicated life history. Many are obligate parasites of spiders. They have an active triungulin larva that mounts a spider and enters her eggs sac to feed on the eggs. Some species retard the growth of their hosts by chemical interference.

Some Australian species congregate at times in great hundreds laying small eggs on stalks. But for the majority of species, we really know nothing of their life history.

To return to our story, shortly after E. nuchalis arrived, this fellow appeared on the same light sheet. Is it the opposite sex of E. nuchalis, a variant or a different species? I have no idea. But it resembles another wasp. If is the same species, it has different genetic history to one that resembles the vespid wasp. This one looks a bit like some of the pompilid wasps that seek out spiders in our part of the world. What a complicated genetic history this little insect must have.
Euclimacia nuchalis????