Friday, 30 March 2012

Bubbling Trees

Last week during the height of the deluge, I had a look at the light and the tree adjacent to it, a Quandong, Elaeocarpus sp., was actually spewing foam from a number of fissures. It was oozing out and dripping down the side of the tree.

The tree is healthy and not rotten in any sense. In the morning there was no trace of the foam.

If anyone has an explanation for the above, please leave a comment. I'm mystified. I suspect it is an insect, perhaps a bug of some sort, but it just does not ring true.

It's a Parapodacanthus hasenpuschorum Year!

Insect populations wax and wane. This is illustrated in the blog below on the Carabid beetle in excessive number this year.

The same can be said of the Hasenpusch Family Stick Insect, Parapodacanthus hasenpuschorum Brock. Each year we see one or two of these beautiful insects at the lights but this year many have been appearing  over a period of several months. Reasons? Who knows? They are said to feed on Rutaeceae-the orange family, with Acronychia acidula and A. acronycoides two known host plants along with Melicope elleryana.

P. hasenpuschorum is a beautiful insect with the spines of the thorax glistening and contrasting to the rest of the body. The hind wing is rosy pink. When hand held, the sticks emit a faint but pleasant-smelling odour that probably is meant to discourage predators.

Visitors to a rainforest near Innisfail thought they were seeing "fairies in the forest" when is actual fact they were seeing this stick insect flying high in the canopy.
 The spines in the thorax readily identify this species.
A male at rest on a palm frond at night.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Beetles Everywhere

This is the light sheet at my friend Jack's near Innisfail. Those black insects are a carabid beetle, Gnathaphanus philippensis. These beetles have appeared in huge numbers up and down the coast. Everyone who has the money to buy petrol has seen them on the ground in petrol stations where they are attracted to the lights. They are a nuisance around swimming pools.
Up close it's not a bad looking beetle. The grooves on its wing covers are distinctive. Carabid beetles are called Ground Beetles. They are predators and feed on other insects. Jack tells me about every 12 years, this species erupts in great numbers for a few weeks. Since the last time it occurred was at the Millennium, the locals called it the real Millennium Bug. But that distinction formally goes to a true bug, Drepanovelia millennium Andersen & Weir, a water bug described at the turn of the century.

So enjoy. It will be 12 years before you see them again in these numbers.

Thanks to Jack Hasenpusch and Tom Weir for notes.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

New Kids On The Block

We recently published descriptions of new genera and species of mostly rainforest katydids. Some are familiar to residents in the area because they see them around their lights at night and others are much less common. All are nocturnal, hiding by day and emerging after dark to feed and seek mates.
 This unusual katydid was christened Lichenagraecia cataphracta Rentz, Su, Ueshima. This means, the "agraecia" that looks like lichen. The specific name refers to the spiny appearance of the katydid. This species has been known for a number of years from a few specimens from very disparate localities. Specimens have been found in ones and twos from Atherton, Speewah, the Cardwell Range, and the infamous Mt Lewis. It took considerable sleuthing to determine its relationships but we feel we hit the nail on the head.

Note the extraordinary adaptations of this katydid that give the appearance of a bit of lichen on a branch. The expanded spines are not just for decoration or defense. They probably also serve to "cloud" the fact that this is an insect that would be perfectly edible to a bird or lizard. Aside form the few specimens that have been found by interested naturalists, we have no idea where this creature spends its time. So that may explain its rarity. It may live high in the lichen-covered trees of its habitat. It may also be just "rare".

But I digress. What are its apparent relationships.
Meet an Armadillo Katydid, Armadillagraecia triodiae Rentz Su, Ueshima. This species occurs in the Halls Creek area of western Queensland where it lives on the desert in Spinifex (Triodia sp. ) bushes. If one discards all the obvious adaptations of Lichenagraecia, such as the spines on the legs and ornamentation of the thorax (pronotum) you have basically an Armadillo Katydid. We described three species in Armadillagraecia from Queensland and the Northern Territory. Another genus, Kapalgagraecia Rentz, Su, Ueshima was described from two species in the Northern Territory and Groote Eylandt. It is similar to, but quite different from, Armadillagraecia. 

When the various morphological diagnostic characters are considered, such as the shape of the wing, which is concealed underneath the shield-like thorax, the shape of the male and female genitalic structures (yes, we look a the private parts!) it is apparent that these three genera form a distinct unit. We decided to formally recognise this by naming the tribe Armadillagraeciini Rentz, Su Ueshima.
Pronotum of L. cataphracta. Note the similar shape to that of Armadillagraecia.

 This is Ingrischagraecia iterika Rentz, Su, Ueshima, named in honour of Dr Sigfrid Ingrisch, world authority on agraeciine katydids. The specific name is derived from an aboriginal word for green, alluding to the colour of the insect. It and the remainder of the katydids in this blog are members of the tribe Agraeciini. This genus is monotypic, meaning that only a single species is known.
All known specimens of I. iterika are short-winged and flightless and are nocturnal.  They, like many  other agraeciines, are predaceous. Perhaps, they are better termed as opportunists. They will feed on a variety of foods depending on what is available.They can be observed eating on flowers, fruits or other insects. The ovipositor is suited to laying the cylindrical eggs in bark cracks. There is some variation in the colour of individuals. Most are quite dark olive.

Iiterika is known from specimens from Davies Creek, Kuranda, Mt Lewis, Polly Creek, nr Innisfail, Cape Tribulation and Mt Finnigan near Cooktown, Qld.
 This female shows the greenish face of the katydid.
A male of I. iterika munching on a cicada that had been attracted to the light sheet.
 An young nymph (juvenile stage) of I. iterika.  To be certain of the identification, one needs to raise to maturity a small individual like this one. Being fairly catholic in their food preferences, they can be reared on a mixture of unprocessed muesli combined with flake tropical fish food.

 Another rainforest treasure is Emeraldagraecia Rentz, Su Ueshima. The derivation of the name is rather straight-forward. It is named for the colour of individuals of the species. This is a small but aggressive katydid with strong jaws that can deliver a painful bite if mishandled. The long ovipositor is used to insert eggs in cracks in bark.

Two species are presently known. E. munggarifrons Rentz, Su, Ueshima has a tongue-twister of a name. It is derived from a combination of an aboriginal and Latin word referring to the distinctive frontal bits of the insect.  The other is E. windsorana Rentz, Su, Ueshima, from the Mt Windsor Tableland, Qld.
Emunggarifrons male.
 The front of the head of Emunggarifrons. This genus appears quite similar to Copiphora, a  genus of spectacular katydids from Central America. At this stage it is best to chalk up the similarity to "convergence" but further study may reveal close relationship and that the two should be combined into a single genus.
 A last instar female of Emunggarifrons. The slightly separated two pairs of wings indicate that this individual is ready to moult and become an adult.

 Another odd genus is represented by this little katydid with the minute vestigial wings accentuated by the yellow and brown colour. This is Miniagraecia Rentz, Su, Ueshima. Two species are known from localities from Mt Lewis, the Kuranda vicinity and the Atherton Tableland. The generic name refers to the small size of the katydids of both species.

This is M. milyali Rentz, Su, Ueshima. This is the rarest of the katydids we described. It seems to prefer large-leafed plants with soft stems such as gingers and aroids. During the day the katydids rest with limbs outstretched on the undersides of the leaves. This habit is deeply ingrained as they perform the same behaviour in captivity on any leaf, green or not.
Resting female of M. milyali. Note the distinctive colour of the last two segments of the the hind tarsi.

 The last entries in this are in the genus Xingbaoia. This is the new species X. irvineorum Rentz, Su, Ueshima, named in honour of the late Tony Irvine and has wife Helen. Tony was a great friend and was an inspiration to many biologists in the north. This little species is a member of another subfamily, the Listroscelidinae, a very diverse group of predaceous katydids, large and small, that occur thorughout Australia. this species is known only from the Atherton Tableland, Qld where Tony and Helen lived for many years. It is presently recorded from Moomin and Mt Baldy where it lives on or near the ground in mixed vegetation adjacent to, but not in, rainforests. It feeds on small insects.
The only other known species in Xingabaoia is X. karakara. It is larger and more robust. It is a nocturnal rainforest katydid where it maraudes the undergrowth in search of small insect prey. I find it at my light sheet where it feeds on small insects. It, unfortunately, becomes food itself when Cane Toads, Bufo marinus, are about.

That's it for this offering.

Rentz, DCF, Su, YN, Ueshima, N. 2010. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: The agraeciine katydids, two new genera from Northern Australia (Tettigoniidae; Conocephalinae; Agraeciini). Zootaxa 2417: 1-39.

Rentz, DCF, Su, YN, Ueshima, N. 2012. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: New genera and species from north Queensland  (Tettigoniidae; Conocephalinae; Armadillagraeciini trib. nov) and Agraeciini: Listroscelidinae; Requenini.  Zootaxa 3173: 1-36.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mt Lewis Revisited

Mt Lewis is wonderful area of far north Queensland near Julatten, not too far from Cairns and Mossman. The road is not bad, in fact it is pretty good and was rehabilitated after Cyclone Larry a few years ago. During very wet periods the gates may be shut. And it can be wet, especially near the top of the mountain at the end of the road.
Some 30 km from the highway at Julatten you will find "The Hut". It is usually misty and cool. Afterall, the elevation is over 1200 m.

Mt Lewis harbours rather mixed memories for your truly as you will see later. Each time I have been there, there is some "occurrence" for lack of a better word. I have visited the place several times commencing in 1988.

The forest is wet all of the time and as a result takes on a very different appearance for other rainforests in the AthertonTableland region. The trees are moss-covered and laden with epiphytes of all kinds.
Buck Richardson photo

The biota of the region is said to reflect that of ancient Gondwanaland. As a result, if Global Warming continues, some of the animals and plants on this high mountain may not be able to adapt to warming,

Buck Richardson photo
Views are spectacular when the fog lifts. Here you can see Mary Farms to the south. 
Buck Richardson photo
Mt lewis is a place where you can see native Australian rhododendrons. If you strike it just right, you can see them in flower.

Our quest this time was to find and photograph cockroaches of the family Tryonicidae. These are rather standard-looking roaches to the uninitiated but they are important. They are relics and have their closest relatives living in similar conditions in New Caledonia. 
 This is Tryonicus mackerrasae Roth, a species named by the late Louis M. Roth  for M. Josephine Mackerras who was an authority on Australian cockroaches and described many species in a series of important monographs.  Note the short wings.
A slightly larger species is Tryonicus monteithi Roth also much darker in colour.

These cockroaches spend their time under wet, rotting logs. Their feeding behaviour has not been studied. They may eat fungi, wood, dead insects or something else. They move like lightning and in the dark forest, a headlight is necessary to properly see them. 

 Other roaches seen were wood roaches of the family Blaberidae. This is Sloane's Wood Roach, Panesthia sloanei Shaw. This colourful species lives in logs where it feeds on decaying wood. It is "colonial" in that several individuals live in the same log and the young seem to be looked after by the mother. These roaches are very important in the return of dead wood to the soil.
The prothorax of Panesthia species is variously modified. This may aid in the movement through the wood and in the formation of galleries where they live. 

Wood roaches have no disgusting habits--unless eating wood is considered "disgusting". They produce no repulsive smells and can be handled without mishap. Their spiny legs, however, are very strong.

A few other organisms encountered during our eventful trip are as follows.
This snail has one of the most unusual names in the Australian biota-Crikey steveirwini Stanisic. It is a land snail that lives on vegetation. Quite a nice looking snail.
A rather plain-looking katydid, Caedicia goobita Rentz, Su Ueshima was described from Kuranda. This record extends the range and altitudinal range of the species. 

But what was I alluding to in the introduction about having mixed feelings about Mt Lewis. 

Well in 1988 I spent the night in the hut (which looked about the same as it does today) with Don Fitzsimon who was at CSIRO, Atherton where I was seconded for 4 months work in the rainforest of the northern tropics. 

In the evening I was looking around the margins of the rainforest for orthopteroid insects. I felt something get into my eye. In looking in the rear-vision mirror, we discovered it was a leech. [Mt Lewis is the "leechest" place I have ever been to. The leeches are small and occur high in vegetation, so getting one on your face is not unexpected. ] 

Well, to get it out was the problem. Don had left his glasses at home. I was panicking because I remembered vividly the stories of my colleague, the late Don Colless. He related how a leech got behind someone's eye and moved out of sight behind the eyeball.  He said the eyeball had to be lifted to free the leech. What to do on a rainy night 30 km from help. The more I thought about this, the worse I felt.

But after an hour and a half or so and much pulling of the eyelid, the leech fell out into the palm of my had. It was about the size of a small pea. That was it. No further problems.

This time there were two problems. One of our 4-member group got lost---for 17 hours. He had to endure a cold night in the rain and wind, and without a jacket. With much SES and Police help he emerged to following morning.

But I diverge. That was not the end of it. 

As James and Bruce were leaving after dark the previous evening to fetch the police, Bruce just happened to mention "If you get a leech in the eye, it is best just to leave it alone and let if fall out on its own". 

Within 10 minutes of their departure, that very thing happened--at the same place and about the same time as in 1988. I felt it enter the eye and as much as I tried, it could not be dislodged. It attached not on the pupil fortunately. I watched its progress in the car in the rear-view mirror. 

Over the course of an hour it filled with blood and finally fell into the palm of my hand. The eye remained red for a few days and there is no damage to it.

So be careful on Mt Lewis. [I'm happy we found our cockroaches!]