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#1164-1179 - Insects from Wongan Hills

#1164 - Monophlebulus sp - Giant Mealybug

Obviously, this is a really small Giant Mealybug. It even has two adorable little black eyes at the front. Really cute, for a mealybug :)

One of the first species I saw on the WA Naturalist’s Club weekend field trip to Wongan Hills, in the Wheatbelt. Overall, it was oddly low in insect variety, but I suspect the long wet cool winter we’ve been having delayed the emergence of many species, despite the start of the wildflower season.

#1165 - Junonia villida - Meadow Argus

AKA Albin’s Hampstead eye in the UK, where it has occurred only as an accidental import. Native to the Australian mainland, as well as in Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, Lord Howe Island, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Tuvalu, Samoa and the Cook Islands, most often in grasslands and open areas. The ‘Argus’ part of the common name comes from the mythological giant with one hundred eyes, referring to the many eyespots the butterfly has on its wings.

The caterpillars have a wide-ranging diet that can include many native and introduced plants.

Dingo Rock near Wongan Hills

#1166 - Hylaeus sp. - Masked Bee

One of only three - three total individuals - native bees that I saw on the entire trip. Everything else was feral honeybees. This was rather perturbing.

Anyway, this Colletid bee was semi-comatose on a Black Toothbrush Grevillea in the Reynoldson Flora Reserve outside Wongan Hills.

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Hardlight: I'm not Lawful Good, I'm Lawful Capitalist

Fireflash's player: Hopefully I can stay awake for this session. What happened last time?
Hero Shrew's player: Apparently we have to overthrow the Despot of Undersconsin.
GM: That was a throwaway line!

Hardlight: Maybe I can have the Centurion CEO as a rival.
Hero Shrew: So, out of the two of you, which do you think is Tony Stark, and which one is Justin Hammer?
GM: Because we've got some bad news for you.

Hero Shrew: We did kinda screw the pooch on that whole Six Teens thing. Maybe we should do some public appearances, and prove we're not completely incompetent?
Flux and Fireflash: ..... No.
GM: I can't stop laughing.
Hardlight: Oh, come on, parties, orphanages...
Hero Shrew: Children's hospitals.
Hardlight: What could go wrong?

Fireflash: If I ever find the journalist that started calling me Fireflash...
Police Contact: I'd probably have to arrest you.
Fireflash: You'd never find the body.
Police Contact: ....
Fireflash: I'm joking!
Police Contact: Maybe, but if he ever goes missing you're a suspect.
Flux: So, how is that hole you're digging coming along?
GM: Seems to be a party trait.

The police do have more info on the hooded dead's head figure that's been killing Voodoo Crew, including video of him strolling through heavy gunfire, only to falter and go down to Voodoo Crew heavy soldiers with shotguns. And despite having his head blown off, and being more full of pellets than a bag of sheep manure, the killer turns up again a few days later. Tear Gas has no effect either.

Police Contact: San Fransisco is supposed to get this kind of shit!

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#1157 - Hirudo medicinalis -  European Medicinal Leech

@purrdence gets back to Australia in a few weeks, but I’ve still got a good variety of species that she photographed to work through, here. Such as this leech, that they saw in the Bavarian Alps.

Leeches are parasitic or predatory annelids, the best-known of which attach themselves to a vertebrate host, slice open the skin with razor-sharp jaws, inject anticoagulants and anesthetics, and suck out blood. Other leeches are voracious predators of smaller invertebrates, frog eggs, and the like. There are terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species. Fun Fact! Charles Darwin’s first published scientific discovery was identifying the egg of a skate leech,  Pontobdella muricata.

Leeches were widely used in Europe before the Four Humours theory of disease was thrown out as the dangerous nonsense it was. So widely, in fact, that ‘leech’ is a old slang term for doctor. 

It wasn’t much fun for the leeches, either - over-collection reduced the Medicinal Leech to a fraction of its former population, and the loss of horses as hosts and artificial water supply for cows means the species is Near Threatened, and legally protected over much of its range.

On the other hand, they have made a comeback for recovery after microsurgery - the leeches’ anticoagulants and hunger for blood are actually quite useful in increasing bloodflow in the areas affected by the surgery (although you have to beware Aeromonas infections, and make sure the leech doesn’t wander off deeper into the wound after she’s had her fill).

On the other, other hand, leeches have more recently made a comeback in alternative medicine, which just goes to show that there’s no bloody stupid idea that Supplement, Complementary and Alternative Medicine practitioners won’t use.

#1159 - Bombus sp. - Bumblebee

@purrdence again, at Overloon in the Netherlands.

Bumblebees are almost entirely a Northern Hemisphere genus, although there’s a few in South America, and they’ve been introduced to Tasmania and New Zealand. The largest bumblebee species in the world is B. dahlbomii of Chile, up to about 40 mm long, and described as “flying mice” and “a monstrous fluffy ginger beast”. Unfortunately it’s threatened by the introduced buff-tailed bumblebee, which has spread by 200km a year, bringing diseases that the giant bumblebee has no resistance to. :(

Since there’s some 250 members in the genus, I don’t hold out high hopes of IDing this one. The generic name is derived from the Latin for humming or buzzing, and common names have included Humble-bee, and Dumbledor (yes, really).

Most bumblebees nest underground, often in disused rodent burrows (or occupied ones, if you’re Beatrix Potter writing The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse). They are primitively eusocial - a nest will be started by a queen in the spring, and by autumn will have between 20 and 1200 inhabitants. At first the queen prevents her workers from laying any of their own eggs through a combination of violence and pheromones, but as the weather starts to cool she gradually loses this control, and her daughters start producing their own drones. New queens and drones get booted out in autumn, mate, and either die of the cold if male, or bulk up to pass the winter somewhere safe if female.

Bumblebees are, on the other hand, more tolerant of cold weather than any other eusocial insect - two species live in the Acrtic (one parasitic on the other’s nest). Their thick insulating pelt and ability to increase their own internal body temperature is crucial.

Bumblebees can sting, but aren’t usually aggressive. This doesn’t protect them from predators such as bee-wolves, badgers, great grey shrikes, or European Honey Buzzards.

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#1149 - Andricus quercusstrobilanus - Pinecone Oak Gall

Photo by @spatheandspadix, the Punk Botanist :) They saw this interesting gall on a Swamp White Oak and my google-fu was strong enough to dig up an ID. Andricus quercusstrobilanus is a Cynipid wasp, but all the photos of that species that I’ve turned up are of the distinctive galls it makes on Swamp White Oaks, Bur Oaks, and Overcup Oaks.

Here’s another Andricus, anyway - cute little nuggets, aren’t they?

Andricus quercusradicis, Wiesbaden, Hessen, Deutschland - photo by Fritz Geller-Grimm

#1150 - Achatina fulica - Giant African Snail

Ange Marie saw this outside her room while in Bali, and it’s quite lucky they didn’t try to bring it home, because it’s horrendously invasive. And threaten native snails. And spread plant pathogens. And spread parasitic helminths and nematodes. Bad news all round, really - which makes their ubiquity in the pet trade an epic facepalm, since they thrive in mild climates as well as in their native West Africa. Also, people eat them, and they’re sacrificed by practitioners of  Candomblé

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#1143-1148 - Stuff Purrdence Saw

#1143 - Asbolus verrucosus - Blue Death-feigning Beetle

Purrdence was in Washington DC this week, and among the places she visited was the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Naturally, she posted a bunch of photos to see If I could recognise them. It helps that people like @speciesofleastconcern and a good fifth of the other blogs I follow post North American insects.

This large beetle was an Ironclad Beetle, if I recalled correctly, but checking ruled out the Zopheridae, the very robust beetles usually called iron-clads. So I fell back to my other suspicion, a desert-dwelling Darkling Beetle. That time, I was right - Asbolus verrucosus is native to Sonoran Desert and other parts of the US SW, but has become quite popular in the pet trade for their robustness, longevity, and ease of care. The common name comes from their habit of playing dead if disturbed, and the blue pruinescense is a water-proofing wax.

#1144 - Extatosoma tiaratum - Macleay’s Spectre

AKA Spiny Stick Insect,  giant prickly stick insect, spiny leaf insect, or Australian walking stick

A very large and placid Australian species, that has also found a role as a pet and exhibit worldwide. In the wild it eats eucalypts, but in captivity overseas they’ll eat bayberry, bramble, hawthorn, oak, photinia, raspberry, rose, and salmon berry. I don’t know that have it on in the photo - it’s certainly not a eucalypt.

The eggs are flung away from the parent with some speed, and are coated in fats and oils that make them irresistible to ants. The ants carry the seed-like eggs back into their nests, eat the fats and oils, and dump the egg on their refuse pile, where the stick insect can develop in peace, away from the heat, parasites, and predators.

The infant stick insect strongly resemble a spider ant (Leptomyrmex) including in colour, and holding their abdomens up over their body. This protects them as they run for the nearest eucalypt.

Photos by @purrdence, at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian.

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#1141 &1142 - Some Moths from Facebook

#1141 - Coequosa australasiae

Photographed by Scott Hanley in Nambour, a town in SE Queensland.

Coequosa australasiae ( formerly Brachyglossa banksiae ) is found in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, where the caterpillars feed on eucalyptus leaves. The caterpillars are very large, have huge butts, tiny forked heads, and are covered in small warts. This is not a very pretty description, but they are a pleasant shade of green. The moths then pupate in leaf litter.

#1142 - Comostola laesaria

Another sighting by Scott Hanley in Nambour. Formerly Eucrostis perlepidaria 

This small and pretty Geometrid moth is found in Eastern and Northern Australia, Borneo, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan,Thailand, and the Bismarck Archipelago, where the caterpillars eat the flowers of many plants including mangoes, paperbarks and longans.

#1139 & #1140 - Parasitic Fungi

#1139 - Akanthomyces sp. - Entomopathogenic Fungus

Jolita Burneikis found this on a Kurrajong at Captain Creek, Queensland. Not surprisingly, she was a bit baffled as to what it might be, since it wasn’t entirely clear if it was animal or vegetable.

It’s neither - it’s a large hawk moth that’s fallen victim to a parasitoid fungus.

Akanthomyces is an anamorph of Cordyceps - a form taken by that notorious organism when it has parasitised hawk moths, spiders, and certain other hosts. If it has sprouted from another host - or even from a caterpillar - the fungus might look completely different, and be described as a different species. Genetic studies have also split off some the Cordycipitaceae into a new family, the Ophiocordicipitaceae.

That confusion aside, there’s some 400 species of Cordyceps and related fungi, mostly in tropical areas. The majority infect invertebrates, but a few infect other fungi. Some are infamous for their ability to control the host. The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis species complex, for example, infects ants who will climb up and clamp their jaws to the underside mid-vein of a leaf, and promptly die. The the fungus will sprout from the neck of the ant, at just the right height and humidity to spread the spores over any other ants that might be crawling around below. It seems as though the ascospores hatch as soon as they find themselves in a host’s throat, punch out through the pharynx walls and into the brain, and start taking over its behaviour.

In the case of the moth in the photos, the unfortunate moth settled into a resting position, got a good grip, and died. The fungus promptly consumed the wings and all internal tissue, and sprouted from every chink in her exoskeleton.

I’ve found another Cordyceps, years ago - a vegetable caterpillar. These burrowing caterpillars sprout a long club-like growth from their heads after infection. I’m not sure how the fungus manages to infect a caterpillar that spends its life underground - perhaps the spores infect the caterpillars after they hatch, and before they burrow, and the infection stays with the caterpillar in the months or years until it’s ready to pupate, and only then takes control.

#1140 - Entomophthora muscae - Fly Destroyer


Last November I was getting out of my van, glanced down, and saw something odd clinging to the underside of a rusted metal bar at ankle height. It was a housefly, apparently stuck to the metal by its mouthparts.

If you noticed that my last few days of posts have all been about Cordyceps, you might guess that this was the result of a parasitic fungus, and you’d be right.

Entomophthora muscae (formerly Empusa) is an obligate pathogen of flies, in a good range of families. It’s difficult to keep viable in the lab, and colonies can only be maintained by infecting fresh flies. Victims survive 5 days to a week as the fungal hyphae invade every organ. Then they are forced to land, and to start crawling upwards, and attach themselves to a surface with sticky saliva, spread out their wings and legs, and promptly die. After that, the fungus erupt from every joint in the abdomen - the white fuzz in the photo - and the spores are fired out into the surrounding countryside. The wings and legs are held out the way for just that reason.

If the spore lands on another fly, good for the fungus, but it has a another trick up its sleeve - if it doesn’t find a host immediately, the spores wait a few days and sprout into a simple tower, grow more spores at the end, and have a second chance at infecting a host. According to some sources, sometimes these secondary spores manage a third go, before any food reserves are exhausted.

Funnily enough, the Fly Destroyer is quite vulnerable to high temperatures, so I wasn’t expecting to see it in an Australian summer, as happened with here. In fact, infected flies can cure themselves of the infection by resting in hot areas.

Coolup, Perth

Hero Shrew missed one session of the adventures of Edge City's newest superheroes, which was probably just as well, since they were up against Armadillo, and there's only so much property damage Hardlight can talk his way out of.

GM: There are things that Bruce Wayne finds out simply because he's *Bruce Wayne*.
Hardlight (ooc): I'm likely going to spend a few XP on some Smoozing skills.
GM: That would require you buying off your "Terminal Foot-in-mouth Disease" Disad.

GM: So, let's move past where we left off, cause a recap would cause the smut meter to explode...

The Team has been spending the last few weeks in their day jobs:

Flux: Go to work during the day, Fight crime as a solo vigilante at night..
Hardlight: Fighting evil by moonlight...
Flux: Don't you dare!

Hardlight: My usual stuff involves a... surprising amount of paperwork. I don't have a Lucius Fox to handle all my day-to-day drudgery.

Fireflash is bored out of her mind and flipping through her phone when she finds a live video feed. ECPD's CAESAR mech suits just got taken out by a guy in someone in proper power armour.

GM: It's a Classic Supervillain Rampage!

Dude is Liefeldian in the sheer amount of guns and blasters he's pulling out of his armour to shoot things indiscriminately.

Hardlight: This looks like a job for...
Flux: The Insurance underwriters who are having to assess all this damage!

Hardlight: Since I don't really want to handle the G-Forces you pull while hanging onto you, and I can't do the Banjo Kazooie thing, shall we take the car?
GM: And what car is this, might I ask?
Hardlight: The Nondescript one made of Tissue Paper that doesn't cost any points?
GM: Ah.

The ECPD are taking potshots at the villain with their sidearms, to little effect.

Fireflash: Well, we can stay here, or we can go and do something Really Really Stupid.
Flux: You run a diversion, I'm going to try and fix these Mechs!

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Star Wars, in which some scum and villains attempt to make some filthy lucre at the edge of Imperial and Hutt Space. There's no way this can end badly.

Forvuk Zayk: Dressellian brute
Fendri: Bothan pilot of our Corellian freighter.
Fakybe: Chandra-fan con-artist and engineer.
Fnord: NPC engineer that works for the starport on Fomos.
R4W9: Our rescued Astromech

Forvuk: How big can stealth fields by made? Big enough to hide a Peace Moon?
Fakybe: Don't think so.
Forvuk: Maybe the Peace Moon wasn't blown up at all.
Fendri: I saw it explode.
Fakybe: You did?
Fendri: Well, I saw footage of it.
Fakybe: You saw footage of it. Think about what you just said - you saw footage, provided BY the Empire. Although for that matter, how DO we know the whole thing wasn't faked? The Imperials SAID the rebels blew up the Peace Moon - but that's not really that plausible, is it? An installation would have defenses, wouldn't it? How DID a couple of rebel X-wings managed to blow it up? Must have been an inside job. Controlled demolition!
Fendri: Proton torpedoes can't melt durasteel beams!
GM: And why would they build an installation as big as the Peace Moon anyway? It would be easier to convert a moon into something that can fire a super-thermal laser through hyperspace.

Things have been happening on Fomos - the Imperials have been confiscating every droid on the planetoid, and according to Rick of Rick's Cantina Alderaan, they're being stored in a warehouse, or a Lambda-class shuttle nearby. This 'training mission' by the Imperials is getting stranger and stranger. At least Forvuk's obsession about the massacre of his family on Drelkh is useful, since Fakybe goes to the trouble of inviting the Imperials to the audience-involvement screening of a classical bombastic war movie, with musical interludes by those Trade Federation marching droids, and improvised saxophone solos. This might seem like a non-sequitur, but it's all part of Fakybe's plan - as he takes complimentary drinks around to the officer's table, he gives them a polite warning about Forvuk's intentions to ask them about Drelkh, and gets told to warn him off.

Forvuk: You didn't ask them about Drelkh.
Fakybe: Not directly, but I DID prove myself helpful and polite, and a useful intermediary between the Imperials and any alien species they don't want to talk to or be seen talking too. Of course, it doesn't pay to be TOO subtle about it, or the GM doesn't notice what you're up to.

Then complications arise in the form of Captain Trex, a Trandoshan slaver and bountyhunter. He is highly pissed, since the Wookiee Lowrickk, that medical droid, and a pilot named Pash, stole his personal ship as they fled servitude to Trex's bosses in the Hutt dynasty. He wants a word with us, since he already knows Lowrickk and the droid paid us to take them to Fomos. It's abundantly clear that we don't get to decline the invitation for a chat. Happily, Fakybe can tell them the exact truth - we haven't seen the Wookiee and the droid or their contact since the thing with the pirates, we've never even met Pash, and the Imperials have gathered up all the droids on Fomos anyway.

Fakybe: But there's still some smugglers on Fomos that were involved with the pirates - why don't you ask them?

In a best-case scenario the bountyhunter's gang and the surviving smuggler-pirates will have a shoot-out with each other - but we probably won't be that lucky. We do know where Dario Blunt and the other surviving pirates hang out too - perhaps some careful sniping will ensure a shoot-up?

GM: Remember what the Imperials told everybody - massive reprisals if any Imperials get hurt. Do you REALLY want to start a shoot-out downtown?
Forvuk: Yes.

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Pathfinder, in the freeport of Magnimar, where persons unknown have used an undead cow to spread Anthrax through the populace. We found the cow, but have mostly used the chaos as cover for burglarizing.

Dramatis personae -

Tannis Oberech: Bastard son of a noble, but mostly just a bastard.
Harshal High-seeker Stasny: Corrupt barrister.
Ys: Freelance elf assassin
Zin: Kobold trapsmith and master of disguise.
Gillert: A poet who fell into the company of people mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

GM: The Pathfinder's Society think they've found a cure for the plague.
Tannis Oberech: Let's steal it.
Harshal: Quite. We can't have them profiteering from the misery in Magnimar. So let's steal it and sell it ourselves.
Tannis: Or we can use it to discredit the Society.
GM: Tricky.
Tannis: How about if the cure actually makes people sicker?
GM: ... and you have a source of the spores.
Day Z the Undead Cow in her crate: MMrRRRRUUMMMMMMM.

We want to invest in property - one option is the large boat that ran aground east of the Irespan, destroying every wharf in the bay and still a menace to navigation. The other option is one of the empty warehouses that used to supply those docks. Now we just needed to get the best possible price of aforementioned property.

GM: Ys has Diplomacy and Harshal has Intimidate.
Harshal: Ys is an assassin - you don't want them to be scary, you want them to seem harmless right up until they stab your enemy in the spleen. Whereas I am a lawyer. 'Your Honour, he's intimidating the witness' 'Correct.'

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