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Sorry for the extended delay in posting anything insect related - not only have I been very busy, there's been a disturbing downturn in the number and variety on insects I actually see. Thus, more and more of my posts are stuff I've identified for people online. Worse, the Great Tumblr Purge of 2018 has deleted about 2/3rds of my posts, so there's big gaps in what I can copy to here, and I can't recall what was supposed to go in those gaps. ANNOYED.

#1338 - Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa -  Icicle Fairy Fans

A tiny slime mold, each frond a few millimetres long. I found it on the underside of a piece of fallen Banksia bark in the Alison Baird Reserve, up on one of the two sand dunes that cross the wetland. This species is found in most parts of the world - the other three are mostly constrained to the tropics.

Rotting wood is the ideal substrate for this slime mold, but they have also been found on a burlap sack. The growth of the plasmodium can be pretty varied, including branching projections like those in the photo, or net-like walls.

#1330 - Trichia affinis

A spectacular slime mold on Banksia menziesii cone and leaf litter in the Alison Baird Reserve, up on the higher dune. After exhausting their microscopic prey, the slime mold single cells flow together into a plasmodium, which crawls off to find a good place to turn into the reproductive structures. These capsules split open to reveal soft little brush structures that bear the spores.

#1341 - Fam. Hydrophilidae - Water Scavenger Beetle



A tiny beetle at the Alison Baird Reserve, industriously exploring the paths at the northern end, when the water table started clearing the surface and half the reserve was under an inch or so of water.

Despite the common name, adults may be carnivorous or herbivorous, as well as scavengers, and the larvae are almost all predators. As you can see in the second photo, these beetle use a air bubble trapped along their belly to breath while they’re underwater.

Some are pests on fish farms. Others are predators of mosquito larvae.

#1342 - Pseudophryne guentheri - Crawling Toadlet

Photo by Doug McDougie.

Another species from the Alison Baird Reserve, but found across much of the SW corner of Australia. Up to about 35mm long, with a white belly marked with black blotches.

Crawling Toadlets start breeding with the first rains in autumn and continues through to early winter. The males excavate a burrow, and sit next to them calling for a female. Most mating and egg-laying take place before there is water in the ponds and creek lines where they breed. In the case of Alison Baird, that would be before the groundwater rose enough to clear the surface.

As many as 100 relatively large eggs are laid singly in damp depressions or burrows excavated by the males. Males can often be found on a pile of eggs, probably laid by many females. The eggs will divide and grow normally for a while, then suspend development until winter rains fill ponds and creeks and eventually flood the burrows. 

#1343 - Order Embioptera - Webspinners

Quite a surprise to find these, especially on a friends front wall, and not least because I’ve only ever seen one once before in my lifetime.

Webspinners are a small order of some 360 species, most common in the tropics. It’s not entirely clear what they’re related to. The common name comes from the silken tunnels and galleries they build, from glands in their forelegs. The webspinners, which live in small colonies and show a degree of parental care, can run up and down this tunnels, forwards and backwards, with remarkable speed. They feed on plant litter, mosses, and lichen, which i think is what they were eating here. There were similar galleries on the vertical trunk of a dead tree in the backyard as well.

Male webspinners may have two pairs of wings, with simple venation that folds easily when the webspinner is walking backwards down a tunnel, and are sometimes attracted to lights at night.

#1344 - Chrysolopus spectabilis - Botany Bay Weevil

Photo by Jennifer Thompson, at Kurnell, New South Wales.  The Botany Bay Weevil, AKA Diamond Weevil, or Sapphire Weevil, was the first insect described from Australia, after it was collected by Sir Joseph Banks on Captain Cook’s first voyage. It was described 5 years later by the Danish entomologist Johan Christian Fabricius, in his work Systema Entomologiae.  spectabilis’ translates as “remarkable” or “admirable”, which is appropriate for a large and attractive weevil.

Unfortunately, despite the name, it probably wasn’t collected in Botany Bay (or Kurnell, which is where they first went ashore in Botany Bay) since the Sydney area is too cool and damp at the time they were passing through, and Banks didn’t keep good records on his insect collections. It’s more likely he nabbed one in the Cooktown area, after the ship ran into the Great Barrier Reef and needed emergency repairs.

Found along much of Australia’s Eastern and South-eastern coastline, where the adults and young feed on a limited range of Acacia

#1345 - Cyrtophora moluccensis Tent spider

Photo by Sue Kay Walker in Petrie, Queensland.

Despite being in the same family as the more usual orbweavers, Tent Spiders build a ridiculous complicated, non sticky web, comprised of a finely-meshed dome and a cobweb three-dimensional tangle above it. It’s suspected that this tent-structure was a precursor to the vertical orb webs. 

Some Cyrtophora can change colour rapidly. Other are considered social spiders, where the offspring build along the margin of the mother’s web, until the mass of webs spreads over many meters. Common from south east Queensland and coastal parts of Queensland, and around through the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. Presumably the Moluccas, too.

#1347 - Fam. Ripiphoridae - Wedge-shaped Beetle

Photos by Sam Mayhew in very degraded horse paddocks in Burbank, QLD. The anatomy made me suspect the Wedge-shaped Beetles, and according to one of our local entomology experts, Andras Szito, I was right. Unfortunately, as he says -

“There is no-one specialised in Ripiphorids in Australia and the last revision on a subfamily (out of 5) published in 1955 - if I remember correctly. “

Further - 

“   Most of the Ripiphorid beetles are parasites of various wasps. Adult females laying their eggs on flowers and the emerging young larva will grab a wasp’s leg and the wasp will take it to her nest. In the nest the wedge-shape beetle larva will feed on the wasp’s larva. 

#1348 - Doratifera quadriguttata - Four-spotted Cup Moth

Photo by Cheryl Hodges at The Big Hole near Braidwood NSW.

Found all over the mainland. These cup moth caterpillars hatch from eggs laid under a pile of the mother’s fur, and are armed with eight clusters of razor-sharp venomous red spines, held inside folds in the body until deployed. They feed on Acacia, Eucalypts, and mangroves.

The adults are a uniform brown.

#1349 - Podacanthus viridiroseus - Red-winged Stick Insect

Photo by Kate Dani, on the New South Wales Central Coast. Species narrowed down by Matthew Connors, on the basis of the cerci. I’d thought it was the related Pink-winged Phasmid P. typhon.

 A large phasmid, found in the eastern states. I don’t have much other info on it, unfortunately.

#1350 - Mecynodera coxalgica

Les Shearim, Heathcote National Park, Sydney.

I managed to get an ID on this one - one of the Sagrinae subfamily of Leaf Beetles, because of the anatomical similarity to Diphanops westermanni, a species I’ve found here in Perth. But Diphanops is a plain brownish grey. Oddly enough, despite the resemblance, they’re not in the same Tribe.

#1351 - Diachea leucopodia - White-footed Slime Mold

Photo by Carissa Gill, of the Sunshine Coast in QLD, who found these on the a strawberry leaf and wanted to know what kind of insect egg they were. An understandable mistake - slime mold fruiting bodies are weird little things.

Diachea leucopodia is found worldwide, and is a remarkable species under suitable magnification, as in this Japanese book of slime mold photography 


#1352 - Hoshihananomia leucosticta

Photo by Garlone Moulin in Bogie North Queensland.

One of the larger and more colourful Pintail or Tumbling Flower Beetles (Mordellidae).  The name ‘Tumbling Flower Beetle’ comes from the rather clumsy efforts of the family to get into launch position for flight, when they kick off and can tumble up to 48 rotations a second.

#1353 - Strongylurus thoracicus - White-spotted Longicorn

Photo by Brendan Ward, Sydney. An East Coast species also known as the Pittosporum Longicorn, which gives you an idea what tree the larvae eat.

#1354 - Diochlistus aureipennis - Wasp-mimicking Mydas Fly

Photo by  Anthony ‘Eddy’ Edwards, in Stanthorpe, Queensland.

An excellent photo of this rare fly, that pretends to be a large wasp while it investigates dead trees. It’s likely that it’s looking for beetle grubs for the larvae to eat.

#1355 - Order Geophilomorpha - Soil Centipede

Photo by Courtenay Williams, in Canberra.

Soil Centipedes are found on all continents that aren’t frozen down to the bedrock, and on some oceanic islands, but aren’t seen as often as the larger centipedes because they spend a lot of their time underground. They’re slender, sluggish, eyeless animals with more pairs of legs than most centipedes, and 14-segmented antennae. They burrow in the soil in a manner similar to earthworms, by elongating and contracting their bodies. 

#1356 - Gasteracantha fornicata - Spiny Orb-weaver

Photo by Darren Parker, Cairns, Northern Queensland.

The yellow and black form of this rainforest spider.  Specimens were collected at Cooktown on Cook’s 1770 voyage by Banks and Solander, and described by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1775 - probably after the same visit to London where he studied the Botany Bay Weevil. It was the first Australian spider to be named and classified in the modern system.

#1357 - Opodiphthera astrophela - Emperor Moth

Photo by Sarah Hamilton. Unfortunately she never told me where she found it. Or thanked me for the ID. 

One of Australia’s large Saturniid moths, found along the Eastern quarter of Australia, where the caterpillars gorge themselves on plants including Banana Bush ( Tabernaemontana pandacaqui, APOCYNACEAE ), Butterwood ( Callicoma serratifolia, CUNONIACEAE ), Red Ash ( Alphitonia excelsa, RHAMNACEAE ), and Australian Teak ( Flindersia australis, RUTACEAE ). 

Adult males are up to 8cm in wingspan, and both sexes have a brown eyespot on each wing, as well as two dark lines across each fore wing, and a curved dark line across each hind wing. Originally they were thought to be different species -  males yellower, and the females darker and greyer. 

#1359 - Pseudabispa sp. - Fire-tailed Potter Wasp

David Wilson, South-east Queensland.

This genus of potter wasps found in Australia and Papua contains 5 species, with one (Pseudabispa bicolor) subdivided in 4 subspecies. This is probably one of them.

In morphology, size and coloration,  Pseudabispa closely resemble mason wasps ( AKA ‘Australian Hornets’ ) in the genus Abispa, and their distributions overlap. Together they’re some of the largest wasps in Australia, but the biology of Pseudabispa is not well known. In 2010, a field study near Katherine, Northern Territory, strongly suggest that P. paragioides females attack and kill female A. ephippium and usurp their nests, and and further insult to injury by then appropriating the cells the late Abispa built, mass provision them with caterpillars acquired by theft from still other nests, and close them with mud taken from the host nest. They seem previous fussy about who they’re kleptoparasitise too - there were three other species of large solitary wasps they could have harassed at the site, but focused all their attention on the unfortunate  Abispa ephippium.

P. bicolor has also been seen around balls of dry mud in the base of hollow trees, that turn out to be very well camouflaged brood cells. But the Chews (of Brisbane Insects) couldn’t tell if the larva they found inside was a Pseuabispa, or another solitary wasp the False Australian Hornet intended to oust.

#1360 - Cataglyphis sp. - Desert Ant

Apparently I’m identifying insects from the Middle East too, now. Photo by Monica Kervin, who was at Wadi Rum in Jordan. 

Cataglyphis ants are most diverse in North Africa, but a few are found up in Eurasia as well. The Saharan species are especially well-tuned for life in a hot arid environment, to the point that at one species can survive temperatures of over 55C (131F), at noon day, when all other animals have fled for shelter. 

But even these guys have to hurry - at those temperatures they only have minutes to fan out, find other insects killed by the heat, and find their way back to the nest before they fry. And do this in a sandy, windy environment, where they can’t leave pheromone tracks.

As a result, Cataglyphis ants are amazingly good navigators, calculating their position from the sun, and adjusting it each time they change the direction they’re running in. That way, they can make a beeline back to the nest when time runs out. Various researchers have tested this ability be covering the sun and using a mirror as a fake sun, or putting the ants on stilts or partially amputating their legs ( :( )  to confuse their step count.

#1361 - Megadolomedes australianus - Giant Water Spider
Jasmine Hall spotted this lovely mother guarding her eggsac, while wading in a freshwater pool with sandstone overhangs at Salvation Creek, Pittwater NSW.

The Giant Water Spider (AKA Dolomedes trux, Dolomedes cervinus, and Megadolomedes trux) is one of Australia’s largest arachnids, with a legspan of up to 18 cm. Like many others in its family, the Pisauridae, they wait for prey at the water’s edge, resting their front legs rest on the surface. They then grab tadpoles or fish swimming past, or race across the water to seize insects that fall in. Some Pisaurids form underwater retreats in large air bubbles, others make their webs in green leaves of shrubs.

Toxicity to humans is mild at worst.

#1362 - Tea-tree Longicorn Beetle - Rhytiphora obliqua

Photo by Rebecca Stroud, Armidale NSW. Formerly Lamia obliqua and Platyomopsis obliqua. 

First described by Edward Donovan in 1805.  One of Australia’s many species of Rhytiphora, and the favoured host plant for the wood-boring larvae might be an easy guess.

#1363 - Fam. Acroceridae - Small-headed Fly

Probably an Ogcodes sp. Spotted by Liz Rowe, but she didn’t give me a location.

Small-headed or Hunchbacked Flies are distinctive-looking, with tiny heads and almost globular abdomens, and many species resemble bees for their own protection. Most of the 500-odd species are poorly known, from 10 specimens or less, because they’re most often found when a spider is brought in for study, and it turns out it was parasitised by Acrocerids. 

Small-headed flies lay thousands of tiny eggs - quite often on clotheslines for some reason - and the minute maggots hurry off in search of a host. The larvae resemble tiny inchworms, and can jump. If they find a spider they grab hold, crawl up the leg to its body, and force their way through the body wall, usually at at the thinner exoskeleton at a joint. Often, it lodges near a book lung, where it may remain for years until emerging again to pupate outside the host.

Adults Acrocerids are nectar feeders with a long proboscis (sometimes longer than the rest of the fly), but they hold the proboscis tucked back underneath the body when not in use.

#1364 - Pterodontia mellii - Halloween Small-headed Fly

Posting for Sian Mawson, and photographed in Welshpool, Perth, on the 27 October. About 10mm long. It doesn’t have a common name, but I’m calling it the Halloween Small-headed Fly because of the colour scheme and time of year. Female P. mellii are mostly orange and significantly larger. 

#1365 - Another Acrocerid

Photo by Teale Britstra, in Gladstone QLD. They thought it was an Acrocerid, and it is, but I’m stuck on genus. Possibly a Panops?

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