Thursday, January 5, 2017

Damsels in Paradise

Welcome back! It's hard to believe that I haven't written a post since spring last year!
I did a study course to provide me with the qualifications and skills to work in a new area. It kept me busy doing the assignments and work placement but I got through it and got a job!

So, my photography and looking at my Mantid Microcosm took a low priority. I had thought that since I was never a good blogger to start with and very few followers would miss it, I would let it be but...

It's summer, there are some new and interesting insects and bugs in my garden and I couldn't resist sharing them with you. So, if you got this far, here we go!

There seem to be a lot of odonata, that is members of the dragonfly and damselfly family, spending time in my garden this summer and not just the few I've seen before. However, it seems that damselflies are very attracted to our garden this year with the occasional large dragonfly doing fly overs and driving my dog nuts. He has a tendency to chase butterflies and even flies in the garden but is OK with small birds, however large birds like Magpies and Currawongs make him crazy and he barks and barks beneath their perch urging them to get out of our yard. It seems that he has noticed the dragonflies this summer and is determined to give them the same message. It's funny watching him looking up at the trees and sky waiting for the intruder so he can jump and bark until it leaves our airspace!  But it's the damselflies that are most noticeable to me as they do not normally appear in such numbers. I'm aware of one species emerging out of my back pond one summer but these latest sightings have been flying around, perching on plants or my microcosm!

A female Wandering Ringtail ~ Austrolestes leda I think.

Male Wandering Ringtail ~ Austrolestes leda

Mating Wandering Ringtails ~ Austrolestes leda

I love the way these insects make a heart shape when they are mating. 
This one is quite fine  and small but really stood out in the early evening light.
It's a mature male Aurora Bluetail 
Ischnura aurora.
This little one was hunting over our vegetable patch and is seen here on the chives. It may be a female Aurora Bluetail but not certain. 

Mating Aurora Bluetails ~ Ischnura aurora
These didn't look the same as the one above to me but it was out in the bright sun and the previous one was in the early evening light. This pair came to my attention as they flew to this perch on a Pennyroyal ~ Mentha pelegeum plant. The sun glinting off their delicate gossamer wings. I am amazed that they can fly while in this position! 

We've had some very hot days and it seems to have brought out a lot of insects. I am sure there are more Australian Painted Lady butterflies this year and that they are hanging around longer. They are usually the first colourful butterfly I see each season, that is, other than the plain old Cabbage White which seems to be around at much lower temperatures than most so is always first and last as the seasons change.

An Australian Painted Lady butterfly feeding on Lantana flowers.

I have been sweating out in the hot sun to check what is happening in the Microcosm and have more to share but will save that for my next post. In the meantime, why don't you check out what is happening in your garden or local park? There's a lot more to see if you just take the time to really look closely. You might be surprised! 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Winter blues turn to beeautiful spring!

Welcome back! You probably thought this BLOG was abandoned and forgotten and I admit I was tempted to leave it be since I felt I couldn't post anything worthwhile that I hadn't posted before but spring has renewed my interest with all the life I see around me in the garden and my life in general is on a better track but I've been working on it. We all know you have to put something in to get something out of life and so I've been studying and keeping busy with my work which is paying off.

So, enough about me because I know you want to know how the microcosm is going and I'm pleased to say it is buzzing with new life! First I saw an Australian Painted Lady butterfly which signifies the beginning of spring to me but we also had some unseasonal very hot days, and nights unfortunately, this October and so I guess that really got things hatching and eclosing all over the garden.

I've seen some dragonflies and damsels too already and there are plenty of spiders out on the hunt but my greatest surprise was when I saw a Blue-banded Bee (Amegilla spp) buzzing around my Dianella flowers. On the second day I saw them, I could clearly hear their buzzing and was fascinated to watch them hover for a while then dart away even though it made photographing them a real challenge.

Blue-banded bee feeding on Hebes flower

Australia is inhabited by an estimated 2000 species of native bees, many of which have yet to be scientifically named and described. Despite this fact, we have never had Blue-banded (B-b) bees around here before and the only time I've ever seen them was up at Bonnie Doon, Victoria which is in the country a long way from here so never in our local area. These bees, as you will see from my photos, do not look particularly blue but apparently they can vary in shade from blue through green, pinkish and white and it seems to depend on how the sun hits them and from a greater distance, these were definitely blue and black striped. They are more like Bumble bees than honey bees and also pollinate in the same way using what is called 'buzz pollination'. They are particularly good at pollinating tomatoes and capsicum flowers.

"Tomato flowers need a special type of pollination called buzz pollination. The pollen of the tomato flower is trapped inside little capsules and the flower must be vibrated to release the pollen. Some bees can perform this trick by ‘buzzing’ the flower with their strong flight muscles." - Dollin, Ann. 2006. 

Blue-banded bee in flight 

We do not have Bumble Bees in Australia except in Tasmania where they were introduced accidentally. As the record for ecological disaster is evident with imports such as the Cane Toad and the rabbit, it is understandable that we do not want to introduce any more creatures with unknown effects on our ecology.  However, glasshouse tomato growers are keen to find a natural pollinator and there has been pressure to allow the Bumble Bee to be imported which is where our native Blue-banded bees come in. There has been some excellent research into using them in glasshouses finding that there is a 20-24% increase in yield when tomato flowers are pollinated by these bees instead of artificial wand pollinators. (Also from above link)

Blue-banded bee flying toward Dianella flowers

I've found out that Blue-banded bees only forage for food when the temperature is above 18 C degrees, with 20-25C being optimum, and are attracted to blue flowers. Happily I have lots of bluish flowers in my back garden and the warmer weather is here so I expect to see these beauties more often. However, to try to encourage them to hang around, I am going to make some nests for them. They usually nest in the ground but also in mudbrick houses and other soft mortar so I want to follow the instructions given here to make some so they will hang around and be here again next spring! I just need to acquire all the right materials so I make them residences they will want to own. In other words, my bee hotels/homes will be so good that they'll be prime bee real estate! 
I only ever saw two at a time but am hoping that more will appear or at least those will stay around! I'll let you know how I get on. It's meant to be hot again tomorrow so maybe the B-B bees will be back. 

Meanwhile, let me tell you about another one! I know I've seen this little one around before; it is a very small native bee and was feeding at the same flowers. I identified it as a Resin Bee (Megachile, formerly in genus Chalicodoma). This very small bee collects pollen on its abdominal hairs which you can see it doing in the photo below.They are called resin bees because they collect resins and gums to build partitions between their brood cells and to seal their nest holes. They build their nests in holes in timber and seal them with resin. 

Tiny Resin bee on Dianella flower gathering pollen on its abdominal hairs

Among Australia's mostly solitary bees, male bees play no part in nest building and care of the brood. Their role is to mate with the female which they ensure by  fighting other males off  and defending a good source of food. Hence, when you see a bee drive another away from its territory, it is usually to defend its foraging patch and any possible mates. The females on the other hand, supply the nest, lay the eggs and provide enough food for the larva to grow on.

I've had an interest in Australian native bees for a while but am suddenly very keen to learn more and endeavour to provide a good habitat for them. We need all the pollinators we can get!

As usual, when I start typing, the post goes in a totally different direction to what I had planned and since I spent so much time talking about bees, I think I will save the rest of my news for another post. 

I'll be back soon! 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cupping caterpillars

At the end of last summer, I found some Mottled Cupmoth (Doratifera vulnerans) caterpillars on my Eucalyptus or gumtree. I brought them in and kept them inside to watch them develop and see their metamorphosis. This is the grey form but they vary in colour from green through to red but all have a pair of yellow and green saddle-like marks on the back which often have a white arc at each end, and a black outline. They can be found all over Australia feeding on trees in the Myrtaceae family.

Cupmoth caterpillar with spines everted.

Cupmoth caterpillar on branch with its spines erect after being disturbed.

Watching these caterpillars make their cocoon was fascinating and I did manage to document it quite well with photos and video.

Caterpillar preparing to pupate - it produces silken threads to tether itself to the branch.
Caterpillar formed into a ball

The basic cup shape has been formed.
Cup-shaped cocoon with what looks like white liquid inside.

Here is a 4 minute video I made of the cocoon construction which actually took all day. I sped up the video to show what happened in a shorter time.

That was about 9 months ago and recently the cupmoths have started to eclose. Unfortunately I have not observed the actual moment they emerged from the cocoon so haven't been able to take a video or photos to have as a record however I do have some photos of the moths anyway.

Here's the empty cocooon with the pupal case sticking out. 

The empty pupal skin which I pulled out of a cocoon so I could see the shape of the skin. See the antenna shape?

Here is the moth hanging under the branch where its cocoon was attached.

The beautiful moth - I love the furry legs with white stripes and those pretty metallic wings.

Each moth has been released out into the garden and last night I put one out on the branch it was hanging on also. When I remembered to check the next day, expecting it to be gone like the others, there were two moths end to end on the twig. The one I put out must have been a female because she was attached to a smaller moth presumably the male. I guess she released the appropriate pheromone to attract a mate.

Cupmoths mating under the branch.
 Now that it is night I see that he is left alone and she has probably flown off to lay her eggs. I wonder if they will be on my tree?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Construction sites - mud wasp nest building

Firstly, my apologies for letting this go for those who have been interested in my posts. Sometimes real life just gets in the way and the energy required to put into a BLOG is not there. It is hard to explain but sometimes the task seems overwhelming when there are other life issues using up your energy so I decided not to stress and let it go until I felt ready to go on. I even considered abandoning it then the passion for all things tiny and small got the better of me and I just have to share them.
So I have a bit of catching up to do because I was still taking photos and observing life in the microcosm. And now I am going to try to give you a glimpse of some of it.

The most fascinating thing from last summer to me was the mud wasps that were building a nest to lay their eggs on a veranda pillar near the Hydrangeas. I desperately wanted to see more and capture it to share but without setting up camp below the nest, I had to take my chances when I could to see the wasp going in and out with blobs of mud to extend and strengthen the nest. These wasps catch either spiders or caterpillars and stock the nest where the eggs are laid with paralysed prey for their offspring to feed on. I didn't get to see them taking in prey so am not sure what the food of choice is for this species.

Mudwasp nest with a tunnel being repaired after rain washed some of it away .

Wasp working on extending the tunnel with some fresh mud.

Wet mud around the entrance shows where the wasp has been working.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What's hot in the Microcosm?

Summer became hotter and the garden suffered from the intense heat especially the Hydrangeas and ferns. We had several days of temperatures over 40C degrees and an extended period of no rain. Eventually, we got some slightly lower temperatures but it became humid and unpleasant to be out and about in.
We finally got some relief last Saturday night with some cooler air and a shower of rain. Some areas of Melbourne received more but ours was only an overnight thing and hasn't returned since.

Hydrangea flower after a week of  extremely hot temperatures.

Despite the heat, there is still life in the garden although it seems to vary, and I found some new creatures  I hadn't noticed before. Maybe I have just been looking with sharper eyes but I have certainly been pleased when I find a different fly, wasp or other insect that I had no idea existed there.

One such creature is the Green Lacewing larva which curiously adorns itself with debris as a kind of disguise or protection from other predators. This insect larva feeds on moth eggs and small larvae/caterpillars, scale insects and white flies. So these are beneficial in gardens, particularly when growing food crops and are used as a safe, chemical free, biological control as explained on the Good Bugs site. I have found a few of these now and the first two photos below show one that is the least adorned with debris and in fact, seemed to have difficulty keeping it on its back. The two photos below that are of another which had quite a lot of what looked like insect castings and maybe even a spider leg! Remember that these are very small and they also move around a lot so being able to see properly the details of its strange armour is not easy but as you can see, I found them fascinating and have shared my photos so you can be amazed also.

Green Lacewing larva with debris precariously balanced on its back. 

Green Lacewing larva with debris falling off with a clear view of its spiny hairs and large pincers.

Green Lacewing larva with insect or spider casing on its back

This Green Lacewing Larva seems to have a 'tail' which looks like a spider's leg to me.

Another predator which I have seen quite often flying purposefully around the garden or sitting quietly on a plant where I could get a better view and photo, was the Robber Fly. These flies are stealthy hunters of flying insects in a similar way to dragonflies and have been known to catch bees. They have strong claws and, once prey are caught, they are injected with powerful enzymes to dissolve their insides which is then sucked out through the straw-like proboscis. So as you can see, not all flies are pests.

Robber Fly resting on leaf

Th final predator I want to mention is the namesake of this BLOG; the Praying Mantid or Mantis if you prefer. I have still come across one of the green mantids like the ones that hatched on or near the Hydrangea and spent their first days of life there and they are either adult or sub-adult by now but today when I went out to pick some vegetables for salad, I noticed a brown mantid among the rocket plants. It stood out quite a bit being reddish-brown but since the cabbage white butterflies are hovering around and feeding on the flowers there, the likelihood of catching a meal was quite good.
And yesterday, nearby on the side fence, I saw a large green mantid wandering along near the top. It also stood out a lot and I was telling it (as I'm inclined to do) to move along and get onto some foliage where it would not stand out and fall prey to a insect or bird predator.

Brown praying mantid among the rocket. It was facing downward but I think it is easier to look at up the right way. 

Green Praying Mantid glowing in the late afternoon sun on the fence railing. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pobblebonks and Fluffy Bums

Summer so far has been a mix of weather from very hot to cool and rainy. Some days have been like a delightful warm spring day which suits me fine. The nights are definitely also warmer and there is much more insect activity both day and night.  I notice lots of moths fluttering around when I go out in the garden once it's dark and the frogs are calling in our backyard ponds most nights and sometimes during the day. I watched one night as a pair of frogs made ripples as they desperately tried to mate but didn't succeed. However there are tiny tadpoles in the main pond. I've also seen a frog out hunting one night and I guess there are plenty of invertebrates available for an stealthy hunter in my garden!

An Eastern Banjo frog ~ Limnodynastes dumerilii, commonly known as a Pobblebonk due to the sound they make when they call, out hunting in the garden.To hear their call see my Google+ post: Eastern Banjo Frog calling  

Among the butterflies I see in my garden at this time of year, a clear favourite despite its small size and muted tones in some light, is the Common Grass Blue ~ Zizina labradus, with a wingspan of  20mm (male) and 23mm (female) it is a delicate looking creature that flutters from one clover flower to the next. It is only occasionally that I get to see its iridescent blue highlights on the top of the wings.  Just beautiful! 

Common Grass Blue butterfly on Clover flower

In the front garden where the citrus trees and Hydrangea bushes grow, I have not seen a praying mantid for a long while. I am suspicious that the large number of spiders have devoured them all! The Spined Citrus bugs appear to be doing OK on the Cumquat tree although I think many of them may have been preyed upon also. 

Spined Citrus bug nymph - look how the green speckled abdomen blends in with the back of the leaves.

Meanwhile the Hydrangea bushes are flowering now and many plant hoppers and other sap sucking bugs are taking advantage of the new lush growth. One that is quite peculiar looking as a nymph but quite attractive as a winged adult is the Passion Vine Hopper ~ Scolypopa australis The nymphs are often known as "Fluffy Bums" and you will see why in the photo below. The adults, however have pretty lacy wings and are a nice shape. 

Scolypopa australis

Scolypopa australis

Scolypopa au

Fluffy Bum - Passionvine Hopper ~ Scolypopa australis nymph .

Lacy-winged adult Passionvine Hopper ~ Scolypopa australis.

Next time I want to share some cool predators I have discovered out in the Mantid Microcosm. See you then!

Monday, November 25, 2013

They've hatched!

No spiders this post, I promise!

Remember the eggs from last post? Well, I kept an eye on them and watched them become fairly transparent with a glimpse of the bugs inside. Then one time when looking through my lens, I noticed that some were emerging. I can't see that well just looking through the camera but when I got the photos into the computer, I could see the little bugs that were emerging. Very exciting!

Bugs seen through eggs and some empty eggshells. See the red eyes?

Newly emerged Spined Citrus bug on eggs.

View of newly emerged bug on eggs from below.

The newly hatched bugs stayed on the eggs for the first day or two, probably to allow their exoskeletons to harden.