Sunday, 12 October 2014

He's Back!

We have been worried about Mr Cassowary. It has not been a good year for cassowaries around here. One of the new females was hit and killed by a car on Black Mountain Road a couple of months ago. We have seen the original Mrs Cassowary on a number of occasions. And we had heard that Mr Cassowary had two chicks this year some weeks ago. But we had not seen them. This did not worry us too much as logging and council trucks have been routinely using Black Mountain Road for over a year and it would be very dangerous for an adult cassowary to cross with one of more little chicks.

Well late on Sunday afternoon he appeared with one small chick. One is better than none!

there are lots of potential obstacles for this little fellow, especially this year. It is spring and hungry snakes and lizards are emerging from their winter slumber. It is exceptionally dry and food is scarce. With each footstep the cassowaries take, the leaves crackle and this could alert large predators like the 1m+ goannas that inhabit the forest. They could easily down a small cassowary but they would have to contend with its father and this would inhibit a goanna, especially if it had some experience along these lines. Pythons could also pose a problem at night but the chicks are usually tucked well under the father as they sleep. But a disturbance, like a troupe of marauding feral pigs, might cause him to bolt and abandon the chick.

Good luck to both. If the chick survives this season, it will be a very lucky bird. I will keep you posted.

A Small Mystery Solved

A recent trip to the dry (very dry) open mixed woodland north of Mareeba, Queensland started out as a bit of  bust. there was almost no insects activity during the day. But after dark it was different. Many moths and other insects were  attracted to the light sheets.

We usually wander around whilst the lights do their work. I stumbled (literally) upon this damaged mantis ootheca and right along side it there appeared to be some mysterious
At first glance I thought they must be the puparia of a parasitic wasp, for example the Braconidae, parasite wasps that produce similar-appearing puparia once they emerge from their host. But they are usually associated with caterpillars.

I took the branch back for closer examination.
This revealed that they were not puparia at all but eggs. But eggs of what? So I contacted several colleagues, both nationally and internationally. Prof Andy Austin of Adelaide University hit the nail on the head. He thought they might be eggs of an Assassin Bug, family Reduviidae.
Sure enough, that is exactly what they are. A couple of weeks after they were collected dozens of Assassin Bug nymphs emerged.
From the tangle of legs and antennae it is easy to recognise that they are Assassin Bugs.
There were two distinct colour morphs. The golden nymphs may be newly emerged and have not yet coloured up. Note the beak. Assassin Bugs are predators and puncture their prey and suck the bodily contents of the victim through the straw-like beak.

Now why are the eggs so close to the mantis ootheca? Did Mrs Assassin Bug have a feed of the eggs and deposit her eggs right there? Both the mantids and the bugs are predaceous and very hungry when they hatch. Was there a method in her madness, or was this just happenstance? Probably the latter as I know of no other instances of Assassin Bugs depositing eggs near a potential food source. Any thoughts on the matter? And if she ate the mantis eggs, there would be no mantis nymphs to emerge from the ootheca.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Bit of Good Luck

Most gardeners, naturalists and entomologists have seen Green Lacewing (family Chrysopidae) eggs in nature. I must have seen hundreds of them but had not encountered the egg-laying female until the other night in the Daintree region of far north Queensland. Unfortunately it was very windy and it was very difficult to take the photos, shelter the female lacewing and steady the camera all at the same time. The eggs are usually laid on the underside of vegetation but they can be found on buildings, garden furniture and the like.

I managed to get some photos that are not too bad considering the less than favourable windy conditions at the time.
 After depositing an egg.
 The female actually laying the egg. An enlargement below.
A thread of silk(?) is made first followed by the egg. The eggs are on stalks supposedly to delay or prevent the hatching larvae from eating one another. One would think that staggering emergence times would solve that problem.

Once the larvae are ambulatory, they are voracious feeders. They consume any small insect they can subdue. This habit has earned them a good reputation as biological control agents. Several species are sold commercially to the agriculture trade.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Spring Moths

It is spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The days are getting longer and the nighttime temperatures are higher than they have been. But it is dry in the north. Kuranda rainfall during August was 55 mm and for all of September only 4.00 mm.

Nevertheless, it does not seem to affect moth activity. Warmer nights have yielded a great variety of species that were not present just a couple of weeks ago. Here is a very small sample.

Thanks to Ted Edwards, Ian McMillan and Buck Richardson and Donald Hobern for aid with the identifications. Any errors are those of the ageing yours truly.

For an idea of scale, the squares of the light sheets measure approximately 1 mm across.
Drepanidae; Hypsidia erythropalis

 Xylorictidae; Cryptophasa flavolineata
 Erebidae; Ctenuchinae; Ceryx guttulosa 
 Crambidae; Glyphodes margaritaria
Crambidae; Pyraustinae Omiodes chrysampyx
 Saturniidae; Saturniinae; Coscinocera hercules- Male The Hercules Moth
  Saturniidae; Saturniinae; Coscinocera hercules- Male The Hercules Moth
 Erebidae; Lithosiinae; Termessa ANIC sp. 2
 Erebidae; Lithosiinae; Asura polyspila
Erebidae; Lithosiinae; Genus ?
  Crambidae; Pyraustinae; Proedema  inscisalis
Notodontinae; Syntympistis chloropa
Oecophoridae; Oecophorinae Garrha sp. ANIC 13
Oecophoridae; Oecophorinae Lophopepla triselena
Saturniidae; Saturniinae Opodiphthera fervida
 Pyralidae; Phycitinae genus ?
 Pyralidae; Endotrichinae Endotricha sp
 Crambidae; Pyraustinae Palpita unionalis
 Xylorictidae; Genus ?
 Xylorictidae Xyloricta sp
Cosmopterygidae; Trachydora sp
Erebidae; Hypeninae Meyrickiella torquesaria 
 Oecophoridae; Stathmopodinae Zatrichodes sp
 Crambidae; Pyraustinae Pleurotypa symphonodes
 Adelidae; Nemophora panaeola
  Adelidae; Nemophora panaeola
 Crambidae; Acentropinae Megarosticha sp
 Geometridae; Geometrinae Agathia distributa 
  Geometridae; Geometrinae Gelasma orthodesma
 Geometridae; Geometrinae Metallochlora venusta
 Crambidae; Crambinae Genus?
 Batrachedridae Batrachedra sp
 Geometridae; Ennominae Milionia queenslandica
 Gelechiidae undescribed genus
 Aganaidae; Agape chloropa
 Erebidae; Arctiinae; Amerila crokeri
 Plutellidae; Plutella ?xylostella-The Cabbage Moth
This moth is a garden pest of many vegetables of the cabbage family. As far as I know, this is the first record from my home in the rainforest. Many people attempt to grow veggies and this must be the source of this species which may be introduced in Australia. There is some confusion as to the identity of the species and, therefore, the precise application of the species' name.

Geometridae; Oenochrominae Oenochroma quadrigramma