Something special for #1500 - a freakin’ Lycid-mimicking Mantispid Lacewing!
Spotted by Karen Palmer in Brisbane - which extends the known range at least as far as the Atlas of Living Australia records go, too. The other recorded sightings there are from the wetter parts of New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.
Unlike other subfamilies of Mantispid (which may be parasitoids of bee, wasp, and scarab larvae, or ectoparasites and brood parasites of spiders), Calomantispine larvae are active predators of small invertebrates, and so are the adults. After pupation, they emerge as these stunning insects, faking hard parallel-sided wings, and displaying the same warning colours adopted by Lycid beetles, and the hundreds of other insects that pretend to be Lycid beetles.
Spotted by Jack Moya in Logan, Queensland, where it’s increasingly common in suburban gardens, paddocks and other cultivated areas.
AKAAmerican Brown Slug, and originally native to Brazil and the West Indies, but now found on many Pacific islands including Australia. In fact it was first described from New Caledonia. Also called theBean Slugsince it’s a major pest legume pods and flowers in Central and South America, as well as feeding on the foliage of beans, sweet potato, cabbage,Cucurbitasp., tomato, coffee, and the fruit of papaya. Nurseries growing mahogany and red cedar have also been affected.
This slug can transmit the nematodeAngiostrongylus costaricensis, which is pathogenic to humans.
Leatherleaf Slugs are more resistant to drought than most slugs, partly because of their thick leathery skin but also because they can burrow up to meter underground in the dry season.
#1492 - Sphaerobolus stellatus - Artillery Fungus
AKAshotgun fungusorcannonball fungus.
Photo by Tanja Hughes, in Helena Valley, Western Australia, who sent these photos to an entomology group asking which insect had been laying eggs all over her watertank. I immediately IDed them as the spoe capsules of this interesting fungus, especially since the spheres were on the south-facing side of the tank, in the shade, and they’d recently mulched that part of the garden.
Artillery Fungus grows as tiny spherical white or buff fruiting bodies, in mulch, vegetable litter, and dung. Once they mature the fruiting bodies split open at the top, and gradually increase the fluid pressure inside their cells, until it violently turns inside out launching the hard black spore capsule several meters, usually towards light. The spore capsules are obnoxiously sticky, and are a nuisance to home and car owners and landscape maintenance crews.
#1493 - Tranes sp. - Zamia Weevils
Photo by Anna Neko, in Bold Park, Perth. ProbablyTranes vigorsii,based on location.
Occasionally quite sizable weevils that are one of the specialist pollinators ofMacrozamiaandLepidozamiacycads, ancient seed-bearing plants with palm-like leaves. Cycad seeds are quite poisonous, thanks to the effort of cyanobacteria in their roots, but that hasn’t stopped people from collecting them as food (afterextensivepreparation) because if you’re hungry enough you’ll learn how to eat anything (at least once).
The other specialist pollinator for these Australian plants are thrips in the small three-species genusCycadothrips.Some of these cycad species utilise only the weevils, or only the thrips, while others use both. The weevils feed on the cones of male plants, and visit the female cones, often in large numbers. There’s some evidence that the female plants use chemical cues to attract the weevils when they’re ready to be pollinated, then drive them off again to avoid damage to the ovules after they’ve been pollinated.
There’s 11 known species ofTranesin the world, and 4 in Australia, which implies that some of them are up to the same kind of work in other parts of the world, for different genera of cycads. I just haven’t got any information on the species overseas.
This is one of Australia’s weirdest caterpillars. Not only is it a parasite, it’s also a predator, and it cocoons itself TWICE.
Spotted by Phillipa Winters down here in the SW somewhere - they didn’t give details. But they did mention is was found at the base of a treeful of ants, and that, and the orange and blue colour, was the clue I needed.
The genus is tiny, with only five known species, and it’s the only genus in the family. They’re endemic to Australia. The only study I know of about them was written by one F.P. Dodd, in 1912. The paper ‘Some remarkable ant-friend Lepidoptera.’ appeared in Transactions of the Entomological Society of London,and described his gleeful investigation of their entire life history, in Outback Queensland. They start off as minute ectoparasites of leafhoppers and scale insects, and resemble mites. After they’re large enough, they spin a cocoon. But they’re not ready to emerge as a moth, oh no. They emerge as a larger caterpillar, and get carted off to the nest ofIridomyrmexmeat ants. Where they become very bad house guests, drugging the ants with something poisonous and addictive, and eating their babies.
Then they leave the nest, resembling a woodlouse as above, and spin their second and final cocoon, eventually emerging as small drab brown moths.
Spotted by Clarence Worley in Kakadu NP, in the Northern Territory, in the middle of a bunch of other butterflies. He wanted an ID one one in the yellow circle, but as it happens the larger swarm is also a species I haven’t covered before.
The mostly black-and-white Swamp Tiger is Nymphalid found in wetter coastal areas over much of SE Asia and Australia. Its spotted and banded dark-blue caterpillars feed on a variety of milkweeds, like the other species in the genus, but the adults are equally fussy about nectar sources. TheSea Oxeye (Wedelia biflora), in the Daisy family, is very popular. Whatever they’re feeding on here is pretty popular with both species, it seems.
ThePlain Tiger,orQueen Butterfly, is found in open areas across Africa, Asia, and Australia. Since it’s found over a much larger area than theSwamp Tiger, it’s a popular target to mimic for many butterflies that don’t want be eaten. Both species use toxic cardenolides from their diet to make themselves unpalatable to predators.
#1489 - Acraea terpsicore - Tawny Coster
Photo by Tim Howell, in Collinsville, Queensland. He tried to ID it from his Australian butterfly books, but if they were published before 2012 he would have been shit out of luck, since they only started showing up around Darwin in the Northern Territory that year. Since then they’ve spread rapidly, and are now well into Queensland.
Tawny Costers are native to India, Sri Lanka and SE Asia, but over the last decade they’ve made some long-distance jumps and established themselves here and elsewhere. It’s not clear why they only did this so recently, since their diet is quite wide and it’s not like needed a particularly foodplant to be available first.
Foodplants include some extremely toxic species, and they sequester the poison as caterpillars, and advertise the fact as adults. Orange and black colouration is quite widespread among poisonous and unpalatable butterflies, so it probably didn’t take long for local predators to catch on.
#1490 - Neostauropus viridissimus - Lobster Moth
Found on a lychee tree by Suzi Simmonds, at the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland.
Extremely odd-looking caterpillars, but a number of the Notodontids are equally odd. The similar-lookingLobster Prominent Stauropus fagiis found over most of Eurasia, and has a very wide diet including the leaves birch, apples, plums, wisteria, and dozens of other trees. The first instar mimic an ant or spider, and react violently if disturbed. Older ones react like the one in the photo above.
A large solitary tunicate, up to 20cm long. Fairly common in southern Australian waters, down to a depth of about 100m. This one was washed up at Port Kennedy, Perth, after the winter storms.
Like most other tunicates, a filter-feeder with an inhalant and exhalant siphon, related to the vertebrates. They don’t look much like vertebrates as an adult, that’s for sure, but the larvae are tadpole-like and have a notochord. They may be social, or colonial, and many species are pelagic and in open ocean waters. One group, the Larvaceans, have tadpole-like adults that spin an enormous mucus house that they filter seawater through to extract microscopic plankton.
A few species are detritivores, a few are carnivorous, and some shallow-water tropical species have photosyntheic symbiotic algae. The name ‘tunicate’ comes from the rubbery tunic that they use as an exoskeleton. Its comprised of proteins and complex carbohydrates including a form of cellulose.
Fossils of tunicates are rare, since they lack hard parts, but there’s a few species that might be them from the Ediacaran period, 635–541 million years ago. A few existing species are invasive, and some species thought to be native to Europe and North America probably aren’t.
Native to the coastal strip of Western Australian, from Albany north up to around Shark Bay. I don’t have any information on their biology, and have no idea if they’re fussy about diet. There is a related genus on the island of Mauritius, apparently.
#1484 - Mantis octospilota - Eightspot Mantis
An Australian mantid most easily distinguished from similar species by the black armpits, yellow spots on the inner surface of the arms, and eight dark spots along the top of the abdomen (not visible in these photos).
North Dandalup, south of Perth.
#1485 - Gyromantis occidentalis - Western Spiny Bark Mantis
Also known as theBark Runner. I’d thought this wonderfully cryptic mantid wasGyromantis kraussi, theSpiny Bark Mantis, but it turns out it’s G. occidentalis, theWESTERN Spiny Bark Mantis. Apparently the amount of spikiness varies within the two species, and is not a good diagnostic feature to distinguish them from each other. Which is irritating where the species range overlaps. And Perth certainly isn’t in the East.
A bright orange moss in Yalgorup National Park, south of Perth, growing in thick mats after the devastating bushfire of 2016.
Also known as common cord-moss, little goldilocks,andgolden maidenhair. It’s normally green, but the distinctively asymmetrical, grooved antheridia are this spectacular golden-orange.
It grows on moist, shady, and damp soil, moist walls and the crevices of rocks. Frequently around around human dwellings and dairies, with a distinct preference for higher nitrogen levels and recently burnt sites. The species completes its life cycle quickly before weathering, microbes and other plants make the habitat - nutrient poor upper levels of the soil - unsuitable. It may also indicate the site of an old camp fire, fire pit or human dwelling.
Found over most of the world, and in nurseries and greenhouses it is sometimes regarded as a weed. It also makes a good mid-sized moss for bonsai pots. The hardiness, vigor and size also make it an excellent teaching example of a moss lifecycle.
#1479 - Melaleuca viminea - Mohan
With bonus mantid.
A Honey-myrtle endemic to the south-west of Western Australia, variable in size and form from a densely branched, small shrub to a small tree. It grows in sandy and clayey soils near watercourses, winter-wet depressions, rocky coastal areas, and flats. This one was growing in a waterside park, a few centimeters above the waterline at Australind, south of Perth, so probably counts as all of the above.
It has become naturalised in parts of southern Victoria.
#1480 - Petrophile linearis - Pixie Mops
Yet another endemic of south-west Western Australia, and other example of just how impressive our range of Proteaceae is.
The shrubs grow to about 1m tall and produce these soft, pink flowers between August and December. It occurs in south-west Western Australia from south ofGeraldtonto Cape Leeuwin, on sand, often over laterite. This one was growing near wetlands in Canning Vale, Perth.
It’s not clear what pollinates this species - insects, birds, bush rats and honey possums are all possibilities, but the latter less likely up here in the city.
#1481 - Hypocalymma angustifolium - White Myrtle
Despite the common name, also available in pink. TheNoongarpeoples know it askoodgeedorkudjidi.
Yet another endemic, originally placed with the tea-trees in the genusLeptospermum, but elevated to their own genus in 1843. Grown in gardens and used as a cut flower, but intolerant of exposed areas, poor drainage, and lime in the soil. I spotted this one at the bottom of the Darling Range, a low escarpment about 1000km long, running north-south along the edge of the Swan Coastal Plain, that is all that’s left of a billion-year-old faultline that separates the 2.9 billion-year-old gneiss and granites of the Yilgarn Craton from the much, much younger sandy limestone,travertineand dune sand that Perth is built on.
Despite the common name, the caterpillars are found onBeaumontia(APOCYNACEAE ), Peter’s Fig (Ficus petersii, MORACEAE ), Lathberry (Eugenia cordata, MYRTACEAE ), and Mickey Mouse Bush (Ochna serrulata, OCHNACEAE ) as well asCrotalaria. In the case of the last foodplant, at least, they start on the foliage, then switch to the flowers and seeds.
It’s native to Africa, most of Asia, and the warmer parts of Australia.
#1477 - Cryptanusia sp. - Mealybug Encyrtid
I had to get this photo off WaspWeb, since the photographs of the one spotted in Yanchep, north of Perth, by Shelly Jordan, were too fuzzy to use. Link to her surprisingly much sharper video here
That didn’t stop me getting an ID, since the bladed antennae are pretty distinctive, but I did have to ask around - the Encyrtidae are not a very popularly-known family, but extremely important in the field of biological control.
There’s at least 3700 described species in the family, and about 450 genera. Most are parasitoids of butterflies and moths, but details of the life history can be variable - some attack lepidopteran eggs, some attack caterpillars, others are parasites of existing parasites (and some Encyrtidae develop as parasitoids of ticks). A number are used as biocontrol agents, but some are ecological threats- the endangeredJamaican Swallowtailloses over ¾ of its young to Encyrtid parasites.
Some species display “polyembryony” in which a single egg clones itself inside the host, eventually producing large numbers of identical adult wasps. But even more remarkably, some of the larvae never reach adulthood - they are soldiers, hunting down and killing unrelated larvae, to protect their smaller clone-siblings.
Cryptanusia aureiscutellumis an Australian species - one of about 5 in the genus - used in greenhouses and indoor plantings againstlongtailed mealybug(Pseudococcus longispinus), parasitising the younger instars, or sucking out their juices. It was introduced to California for that purpose, but since it’s also showing up in Spain, it may well have spread much further than that.
A red-flowering bush in the Proteaceae, endemic to the SW corner of Australia - first described by French naturalist Jacques Labillardière in 1805, after collection by collected by Archibald Menzies in 1791.
Found on sandy soils in seasonally wet lowland areas, as well as on hills and dunes. It has anunderground lignotuber, from which it resprouts after bushfires. Pollinators include our wide range of honeyeaters, particularly thewestern spinebill, which can access the nectar with their long curved beaks, and thesilvereye, which punctures the flower tube because it’s a thieving little bastard. Honey Possums are known to feed on the nectar, as well.
The most commonly cultivatedAdenanthosspecies in Australia, and alsp harvested for the cut flower industry. Unfortunately, it’s also massively susceptible to Cinnamon Dieback, Phytophthora cinnamomi,and is also recorded as vulnerable to the fungusArmillaria luteobubalina.
In bushland in Hammond Park, Perth.
#1468 - Regelia ciliata
Another SW endemic - there’s a reason we’re a biodiversity hotspot. A shallow-rooted species growing in seasonally-wet sand. Unfortunately that’s led to it becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change, and excessive use of underground aquifers, but for the time being it’s counted as ‘not threatened’.
One of a genus of Psychid Case Moth caterpillars, with dozens of species in Australia, and more in other parts of the world, although most of the records on iNaturalist are here in Australia. I don’t know how closely that matches their actual distribution. There’s 350 known species of Case Moth in Australia, and going by the Australian Lepidoptera website, most of them are in this genus.
Psychids protect themselves with silken cases, often decorated and reinforced with twigs or dry leaf fragments, and in many species the adult females are wingless, and never leave the case. In at least one, the eggs never leave the mother, either, and her young chew their way out of her as well as the house.
I don’t have much information on the genus, specifically - most of the species I’ve found images of are yellow-winged with dark brown stripes and bands, or mottled grey, as adults, but there’s next to no information on diet.
This particular one I found on my wife’s shoulder, in a wildlife reserve in Coolup, as we were admiring the orchids growing in dense tea-tree scrub. I put it back on the nearest tea-tree, since the lichen-covered trunk of the plant was a close match for the case, apparently covered in fragments of lichen.
#1460 - Cebysa leucotelus - Australian Bagmoth
Photos by Bron King, in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. Here’s another, also in Canberra, by Erin Renfield.
One of Australia’s large range of Case Moths, and certainly one of the most remarkable. The female is the metallic blue and flame-orange one. She’s flightless, like the majority of female Psychids, but can run around with startling speed and agility. Males can fly normally.
A lichen-feeding species, found over most of Australia, and despite the common name, also in New Zealand.
AKA Acacia Seed-weevil. Both adults and larvae feed voraciously on wattle and related plants, here in Australia, and therefore one of the species used for control of invasiveAcacia and related plants in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, plants from SW Australia do very well in South Africa - e.g. Paraserianthes lophantha, known variously asCape Leeuwin WattleorCrested Wattle, andStink Bean.
Adults are usually active between September and December, but these are old photos. They shelter on their host plant or nearby, coming out to feed on the buds, flowers and young leaves of their preferredAcaciahost plant. The females will chew a small hole in the seed case and lay her eggs within. In good years for the weevil, 100% of the seeds will be destroyed.
After the grubs are ready to pupate, they will emerge, burrow into the soil, and wait six months, or until the following year, to emerge as adults. The adults themselves can survive for over a year, ensuring that the species will continue even if it’s a very bad year for wattle seed production.
Dunsborough, in WA’s SW corner.
#1435 - Listroderes difficilis - Brown Vegetable Weevil
A sporadic pest from South America now widely distributed across all Australian states. Both adults and larvae are pests of establishing canola and other brassicas, often where weeds are present - the South African plant Capeweed is ideal. The larvae feed on leaves, and pupate in the ground.
Was out at Sullivan Rock again, with the local branch of the WA Naturalist’s Club, but we didn’t see much in the way of insects, birds, or even fungi, because/despite of the appalling weather we’ve had all week. I DID give some of theBalgasAKAGrasstree(Xanthorrhoea preissii) a good shake though, because I’ve found interesting stuff in the skirt of dead leaves hanging down from the crown before. And I’m delighted to say I found these.
I’d thought it might be Balgachernes occultus, because that species is ONLY found on Balgas, so I emailed Mark Harvey at the WA Museum because he described it in the original paper. He got back to me today with an ID
“This is a species ofProtocheliferof the family Cheliferidae. Very nice.”
There’s only seven known species ofProtocheliferin Australia, but it’s entirely likely this one is undescribed. Pseudoscorpions are widely spread but poorly known, and use their pincer-like pedipalps to subdue prey (some species have venom glands), dance with their mates, and cling to the legs and antennae of flying insects when they need a lift to somewhere new. They can also spin silk to protect their eggs, or cocoon themselves during sea transport on logs, or other hostile environments. Some species are also known as Book Scorpions, since they used to do well in libraries, hunting booklice and mites around the shelves.
Pseudoscorpions have been around since at least the Devonian, and were probably one of the first groups of animals to move onto land. They haven’t changed much since then, either. Nor has human interest in these cute little beasts - they were first described by Aristotle, Robert Hooke referred to one as “Land-Crab” in his 1665 workMicrographia, and optician George Adams wrote of “a lobster-insect, spied by some labouring men who were drinking their porter, and borne away by an ingenious gentleman, who brought it to my lodging.” in the 1780s.
Sullivan Rock, SE of Perth
#1433 - Antrocephalus sp. (Chalcididae)
Another interesting invert shaken out of the skirt of those grasstrees at Sullivan Rock - tiny Chalcidid wasps from the genus Antrocephalus.
The Chalcidoid wasps are a huge group, with the superfamily including at least 22,500 known species, and an estimated half a million more yet to be discovered and described. In this genus alone, there’s over 60 known species in Australia, and 125 worldwide. It doesn’t help that the genus hasCoelochalcis, Dilla, Dillisca, Metarretocera, Sabatiella, Stomatocerella, Stomatoceroides, Tainania, Uda,andUxaas synonyms. The entire superfamily is undergoing revision, as molecular work reveals that, for example, the Pteromalidae consists of at least 8 unrelated lineages.
Most Chalcidoid wasps are parasites or hyperparasites, and this genus is no exception. They lay their eggs in the pupae of moths, and while multiple wasps may lay an egg in a suitable host, only one will develop to adulthood. They’ve been studied as biological control agents -this paper,for example, studied one species that was parasitising a pest moth in a mealworm-rearing facility.
Many Chalcidid wasps have meaty thighs, like this one. In Lasiochalcidia igiliensis, they used to hold the jaws of an antlion apart while the wasp carefully injects an egg into the throat.