Monday, December 29, 2008

Leaf Insect

As I wandered near a shrub in the garden the other day, I happened to notice a leaf flutter lightly. There was no wind at all at the time, so I had a closer look. So good was the camouflage, it took some time to locate her – I think it was a female, they are much larger than the male. Head to tail she measured 130mm and with her forelegs extended she was well over 200mm. I gently removed her to another location to get some better views, and returned her to where I found her later.

Stick and leaf insects are phasmids. They are herbivorous with simple front legs that do not have the raptorial spines of the carnivorous mantids. The shortened forewings are hardened into tegmina that always cross over right onto left.
While I was moving in to take some photos, she suddenly opened her wings to display a bright blue patch. This is apparently explained as a secondary defence behaviour to startle any predators. There are around 150 species of leaf and stick insects in Australia. Their excellent camouflage skills mean we don’t see them very often. Mostly their numbers are quite low, only breeding when conditions are just right. There are three pest species that can reach plague proportions and defoliate large areas of bushland. One of the joys of coming across such a specimen is the following research of the species and discovering many fascinating facts. For example, many phasmids simply drop their eggs to the ground where often they are taken by ants into their nests. Inside the ant nest, part of the egg is eaten by the ants, but the egg remains mostly intact and is safe from attack by parasitic wasps. There is a strong pet trade in stick insects, and probably the rarest insect in the world is the Lord Howe Island Phasmid.

Great fun!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

At Last ...

… a day away just devoted to birds.

G’day Readers,
Yesterday I went with Duncan to help with his wader count on Lake Reeve. (If you’d like to see some of the birds we saw – and a more serious report of what we found – click here.)

Overcast and windy was the order of the day, but we were both happy enough to be out birding again.
We began at the Seaspray end and were pleasantly surprised to see some water, if not too many waders. We’d just got started and Duncan spotted some waders on the far shoreline, as usual. We sloshed along the track for a bit in a vain effort to get a closer look through the scope for counting and identifying. Just then, the shire ‘mossie larvae eradicator’ came along in his machine. Despite pleadings and the offers of money from Duncan, he wouldn’t take us any closer to the birds. We moved on to Loch Sport and checked out the causeway. There was a little bit of bird activity here, along with the ‘Loch Sport Monster’- the one in the background.

We chose a spot out of the wind for lunch and had a visit from this little fellow. It appeared to be carrying a flag. As it moved around, it waved its flag up and down constantly. It would seem to be a signal of some sort, but it was a complete mystery to both of us. Can anyone out there help? (Hatchet Wasp - Evaniidae sp. Common, parasitise Cockroach eggs, the 'flag' is part of their long thin abdomen.)

After lunch we journeyed on a little further to Point Wilson, where we spent some time trying to identify the three species of Terns that were resting on a sand spit.

Although the bird count was not particularly high, the constant wind had tired us out a bit by now, so we ‘turned our heads for home’ basking in the realisation we’d seen some nice birds, some beaut landscapes and at last, some casual water in the paddocks!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Green Again!

G’day All,
Sorry for the delay between reports lately, but…

As everyone would be aware, Victoria had a nice ‘rain event’ over last weekend. Some places recorded 200+ mm. Around here there were reports of between 50 and 80mm. And, Gouldiae’s place? 30mm! A very welcome 30mm mind you, but it was an excellent demonstration of how we here in central Gippsland are definitely in a rain shadow.
I haven’t had to water the golf course for a few days now, and the place is GREEN.
Now of course, the grass is growing and the mowers are going every day.

A couple of reports ago I posted some shots of an insect that interested me. Here are some more pictures.

A bit of research, (belated), reveals that it is probably a Yellow Flower Wasp, Agromyia sp.

Some of the features that define it as a native Flower Wasp and not an introduced European Wasp are, brown wings, (cf clear), slender body of 20mm, (cf stout body of about 12mm), and no black spots on the yellow stripes, (cf a pair of black spots in the yellow stripes on the side of the abdomen).

As far as I can determine, the ones I’m seeing are the winged males, the females being wingless and soil burrowers. Their larvae parasitise other bugs in the soil. They are good at pollinating and preying on other insects. They can sting, but their toxicity is low and they do not swarm and attack when disturbed like the introduced European Wasp.

I’d better get a move on, there’s a couple of mowers to sharpen.

PS: Phoebe and mum are home and along with dad are doing well. Nice Xmas kids!

Monday, December 8, 2008


Miscellaneous – what a wonderful word. And, it allows me to post random pictures of some of the disparate things that have been happening around here of late. I seem to have been way too busy to focus on a specific subject, so here goes…

Like many others, I managed a look at the conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter a few nights ago.
Apart from the sun, these are probably the three brightest objects in the sky, and they came together recently. There are five planets visible to the naked eye, but Venus and Jupiter are by far the brightest. Venus is our closest planet and Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. Both are enveloped in dense cloud, which helps their reflective properties as well.

Early the other morning I came across seven Pelicans on the golf course dam. I’ve often seen one and sometimes a pair, so it was a bit unusual to see seven I thought. Unlike some Pelicans I’ve come across at boat launching ramps and like places, these were a little wary. (There's a pun in there for those who know me!). I had to do some creeping about the bank to get near enough for a half decent shot in the low morning light. At one point I remember thinking, “I hope there are no early golfers about to see me on my hands and knees…”

These brilliantly marked insects were in great number on our Abelia shrubs in the garden.
They have been present for a week or more now, which seems odd to me. There appears to be no damage to the plants and no other plants in the garden seem to be engulfed in them, including some other Abelias in another location.

And finally, I mentioned in the opening that we’ve been a bit busy. Broken wrists, coring the greens, watering, machinery breakdowns, and a couple of brief rain events that have caused an increase in mowing activities all pale into insignificance with the late arrival of Phoebe. Phoebe is our second grandchild, born at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne on the 4th of December. Mum and daughter are doing well. Well done Merv! It’s gunna be a beaut Christmas.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Different World

Yesterday, coming back from a quick trip down to the Latrobe Valley, I ducked into the Morwell National Park in the hope of finding some Butterfly Orchids, (Sarcochilus australis) in flower. For a short while I struggled to find them. I found a decent stand of their favourite host tree, the Prickly Currant-bush, (Coprosma qudrifida), I saw evidence of their wonderful supporting root system and only a few leaf clusters. I thought I must have been too early or late.
Eventually I came across a few specimens that had some racemes that contained some flower heads.
Such a beautiful plant. They emit a beautifully subtle scent too.

As I strolled along the track listening to a Lyrebird going through his repertoire of calls, I was thinking of how this park is less than 100 kms south west of home and is such a different ecosystem and climate.
We don't have many moss covered logs, fungi or tree ferns on the golf course!

We don't have many Stinging Nettles either, thankfully. Uncomfortable as they can be, as I was reminded briefly yesterday, they still play an important role in their own ecological niche. Why doesn't this fellow get stung I wonder....
If you are a local reading this, and you haven't been to Morwell NP for a while, or dare I say haven't been there at all, I urge you to call in one day - great little spot!