Local insects and animals – Eastern bearded dragon

Recently I happened upon a life or death situation in the middle of the road. An Eastern bearded dragon (a young one of about 20cm long) had made his way into the road to soak up some precious late Winter/ early Spring sunshine and a young Butcher bird had spied him. The Butcher bird had swooped down and began the attack by trying to blind the unfortunate lizard. Luckily for the lizard, a hungry magpie had heard the Butcher birds excited squawks (he was also a young one) and decided to come and take the easy meal away. When I came on the scene I saw a frenzy of black, white and grey feathers with the occasional flash of greyish scales and a tail. I leapt out of the car (after pulling over to the side of the road) and picked up the tiny lizard, to the great confusion, disappointment and disgust of the two birds involved and continued on my way home.

The poor little dragon burrowed into my neck under my chin looking for a safe, warm place to hide all the way home and I felt very protective.

Once he was home, my daughter and I had a look at him and we both thought he had probably lost his eye on that side. So we popped him into a cage near the fire with some warm water and some hot rocks to lie on (well, my daughter did, I just went back to work).

As it turned out, he didn’t lose his eye. The lid was damaged, but the eye underneath was OK. Once he had warmed up a bit, we washed the eye out with warm water and had a really good look at it, he didn’t like it much, but it did allow him to open his eye.

Over the weeks he has recovered quite well. He has had his sore eye washed out daily with clean water and been offered all sorts of yummy food. He eventually decided to start eating live meal worms and has now moved on to spinach leaves and corn. He will be returning to the wild very soon as his eye appears to be healing well.

Local insects and animals – Orchard Swallowtail butterfly

This is the later instar of the caterpillar

We found an alien caterpillar on Sid’s mandarine tree, so of course we took multiple photos and tried to find out just what planet this interesting specimen hails from. We eventually discovered that this is the caterpillar of the Orchard Swallowtail butterfly. These little munchers are identified as a pest because they eat the leaves, flowers and sometimes even fruit of citrus trees. At the moment Sid is coping with the load of life relying on him for sustenance, but we will remove some of them if it looks like he is suffering. Meanwhile, we are watching the different instars of development these caterpillars go through with interest. They begin life as tiny, spiky dots who eat their way up to larger spiky lengths of bad attitude who have a disagreeable colour scheme and shoot two red stinger looking things out at you from their head end if disturbed. Eventually they lose most of the spikes and become a lovely shade of green and silver before spinning a chrysalis and gradually losing their identity to become a butterfly (just like Mum or Dad).

During this adventure I have discovered that both caterpillars and butterflies are very hard to photograph. Most of our captures are blurry or not at a useful angle, please forgive me.

The female Orchard Swallowtail caterpillar, looking a little worn
She is laying an egg in this shot, and looking a bit offended to be on camera too
This is about the second or third instar
Just about ready to pupate
A chrysalis all ready to hatch out in Spring

Local insects and animals – Red backed toadlet

While we were out collecting fire wood, we came across a bright little frog (or more accurately, a toadlet). My daughter found a bright red blob of a frog under a piece of wood on the ground, it was raining at the time which seemed to make the colour even more jewel like. I quickly took him into the humpy and tried to find out what kind of miracle he was. Eventually I decided to take a few photos and return him to his home (before he charged me with kidnaping).

It turns out he is a Red backed toadlet, a fairly common species in our area. I have never seen one before, but I’m glad to have met one now. They are a ground dwelling frog that takes advantage of the damp places in the bush preserved by having bark and debris laying on the ground. They spawn into muddy holes and the tadpoles are washed into puddles or waterways when it rains. They take two months to develop into frogs. Nature is indeed amazing.

These amazing little toadlets are not rare or endangered, but they do deserve to live undisturbed and respected. We will be leaving some damp, mulched areas near the dam in future. Places where these little frogs can lay their eggs uphill from the water and have the rain wash their babies into a water source that will hold for two months. We may get to see more of these little living rubies in the future.

Local insects and animals – Large Mason wasp

This gorgeous girl has been building nests in my craft room. She is a Large Mason wasp or Potter wasp. These chunky insects are native, solitary and non aggressive (just like me). I hear this girl humming to herself all day while she builds her nest, happy in her work. It would be lovely to be able to make a deal with these builders and get them to build our mud house for us.

These wasps catch caterpillars in the garden to seal into their nests and feed their babies. I find this part of their life particularly gruesome as the grubs are alive, but paralyzed when the babies start to eat them (so glad insects don’t grow huge enough to eat us any more). I wondered why all the Cabbage White moth caterpillars had suddenly disappeared, maybe this girl was to blame.

If you see these B52s of the insect world, please leave them be, they may be ridding you of pests you didn’t know you had.

Local insects and animals – Agriophara plagiosema

The Butterfly House website says this is Agriophara plagiosema, an inconspicuous moth species that doesn’t even rate a common name. To me, moths seem to be endlessly surprising and beautiful; they sit in plain sight with their intricate patterns and colours and go largely unnoticed by everybody. There are so many species and variations that each moth really does qualify as an individual based on appearance.

Moths are a useful part of our ecosystem. Moths pollinate many plants, especially night flowering types. They also provide food for birds, lizards and marsupials. I once raised a Muscovy duck on moths and other night insects by turning on an outside light and catching the swarms of insects in a plastic bag (I then popped the duckling inside the bag, providing food for the duck and entertainment for everyone else), that duck became a massive lump called Baby who looked about the size of an average cattle dog.

These days, we leave a small light on outside to attract interesting insects and the geckos and frogs are quick to come and enjoy the bounty. This little beauty is just one example of the diversity around us all the time.

Local insects and animals – Dainty green tree frog

I couldn’t resist sharing this beautiful sunset with you. The sky was glowing with orange and pink light, so much so that the air seemed to have an orange tint to it. The evening was just cool enough to be pleasant and the day’s work was done… heaven.

With all the rain we have had over this Summer (so lovely to be able to say that), the frogs are beginning to breed up again. They sing from the dam and yard every night; calling for mates while the puddles last. Every bucket and bowl left out to fill with water is hosting tadpoles of one kind or another.

I found this pretty little frog on the clothesline beside the front door. She is a Dainty Green Tree Frog.

An internet photo for comparison

I love having so many different kinds of frogs around the humpy. It indicates a healthy environment (even if it is messy). We encourage the frogs by leaving containers for them to breed in, placing piles of rocks near the water for adults to hide in and sometimes we feed the tadpoles lettuce and fish food if they are in a smallish container.

Local insects and animals – Green tree frog

 
 

The green tree frogs are back!!! We haven’t seen them here for years. First the extended dry period then the massive fire season seem to have knocked the population down so much that spotting a tree frog is cause for excitement.

Green tree frogs were once so common here at the humpy that we had invasions of froglings hopping through the humpy some nights as they left their spawning dam and went out into the world in search of adventure. After finding a tree frog on the pillow at bed time once or twice, we invested in mosquito nets for the beds that were tucked under the mattress to keep them out. In recent years we have missed seeing them around. I am so pleased that we have a few popping back up.

They eat mostly insects, but have also been known to gobble up the odd gecko and sometimes baby mice. In return, a lot of creatures eat them, black snakes love the taste of tree frog, as do brown snakes and pythons. Our ducks will chase them if left to their own devices too (we have rescued more than one big frog from the duck pen). They are mostly seen at night moving from their day beds to the hunting ground, or around the dam when it is raining, looking for love in the karaoke bar.

I love the sound of tree frogs calling from hidden places in the afternoon, it always predicts that a storm or rain is coming. They call in the rain; singing a song of joy and coming fertility until the rain has no choice but to fall on them (and us).

 
Apparently, this poor frog is depressed. She is a brown colour which means her mood is not good. Who knew frogs are like mood rings?

We have plenty of places a tree frog can hide and stay damp in the humpy garden. If you don’t have any place for them to hide outside, they will find a way into your house and look for a place there; they are particularly fond of flush toilets (everyone wants a house with a pool), behind paintings and under pot plants. Outside they like plants that have big leaves, damp pots and piles of rocks or old wood.

This girl is in need of a good meal and a quiet pond to swim in.

I find tree frogs charming and quirky, I know some people are afraid of them and find them ugly, but I can’t help but see the stoic joy they find in settling into the perfect place for the day, the glee they exhibit when they find a huge moth to eat and the self satisfaction of their measured hop…hop…hop on a tin roof at night. Welcome back Australian tree frogs, we missed you.

Local insects and animals – Satin bowerbird

It is the time of year when nature gets busy. There are babies everywhere; chickens, ducklings, firetail finches, blue fairy wrens, goanna, black snakes…the list goes on. Most residents of the humpy are finding a mate (or sticking with the one from last year) and settling down to raise a family. Not the Satin bowerbird though; he fancies himself a player. Satin bowerbirds are regarded as pests in our area, they are one of the main reasons all our garden areas are locked up like Fort Knox (along with possums, they are the most garden destructive species I know). They eat any fruit and vegetable plants they can get to and love red fruits (tomato, strawberry, capsicum and yes, even chilli). I find them annoying and fascinating at the same time.  

The mature male is a shiny blue/black colour, they are really very beautiful. The female and any males under about five years of age are a greenish yellow, mottled colour with the most extraordinary violet eyes I have ever seen.   The breeding behaviour of the Satin bowerbird is what makes them so very interesting. The male Satin bowerbird builds a bower; basically a well decorated clump of grass. He finds as many blue, silver or otherwise shiny objects as he can to decorate with, endlessly fussing with the placement of ornaments. Bowerbirds will steal pieces from other male’s bowers. When I was a child there was a certain blue plastic hammer (about 30cm long) which used to migrate from bower to bower every year. It was something of a game to find the bower with the hammer. I still marvel at the determination of those males; carrying a toy larger than themselves over distances of up to a kilometer. I wonder if that blue hammer is still being passed around. All of this effort is designed to attract as many females as possible. These birds have even been known to paint their bower with crushed berries and mud (mulberries beware).   The female comes down to see his bower (several times in fact) and if she aproves of the bower she will stay to watch his mating dance (he flutters around and makes whirring noises then dashes back and forward, some even roll over. Then… if he is lucky…she will mate with him. After which she leaves to start her career as a single mother and the male continues to try to attract more females. This has evolved as a very efficient way to spread genes as females do not choose the same male to mate with every year.   At some point between the house viewing and the stage show the female will go off and build herself a messy stick nest (the bird version of a humpy) so as to have somewhere to lay eggs after mating. These nests are not easy to find and I do not see baby bowerbird very often until they get to the leaving home (or fledging) stage. Judging by the number of surviving young I believe that female Satin bowerbirds are very good mothers who rarely lose their young.   The natural diet of the bowerbird is native fruits such as figs, wild raspberries, lilly pilly and other berries. Of course that means they eat what we grow in our gardens (being fruit based as well). Their role in the environment is to spread seed so that new plants can grow. To that end their digestive system is somewhat messy; they eat a lot of fruit but digest only parts of it, they then poop the seed and some partially digested waste out in a sort of spray pattern, usually from a fairly high branch. This means that plants such as wild raspberry can have its seed distributed to new locations. This charming habit also makes raising a baby bowerbird (or any other frugivore) a messy, smelly job. They do tend to be friendly, intelligent and endearing as well though.   The females often  forage for dog biscuits and other protein rich foods while feeding young. I have seen some taking meat scraps from the chook pen now and then also.  While they are undoubtedly a source of destruction and annoyance in the garden, the Satin bowerbird is a valuable part of the ecology and is important to our biodiversity. If you find a bowerbird eating your dog biscuits in the spring, spare a thought for the single mother lifestyle she leads and let her have a few.

Local insects and animals – Textured emerald moth

While at work recently one of the kids came racing up to show me a moth that had landed on her bag (a common occurrence). I admired the colours, took a few photos and had an ‘I wonder…’ conversation about what and if moths eat. The moth was moved to a nearby bush for safety and I was left wondering what sort of moth it was. We (myself and a small group of kids) were amazed by the beauty and depth of the colours and patterns in the wings.

This morning I began my search to answer that question;

An extensive stroll through the database of the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House yielded a few likely suspects and an image search on Google images confirmed it; the beautiful insect was a Textured Emerald moth.

Apparently adult moths drink nectar and other liquids through a proboscis and are quite fond of sweat because of the salt content, while the larvae eat leaves from various plants.

This is another example of the diversity of life around us that we are so often unaware of. If this moth had not been drawn to my attention by a child I would have been oblivious to this tiny scrap of beauty.

Note to self; always take the time to look when a child shows me something and appreciate beauty when I find it.

I wonder if I could weave fabric like those wings?

Local insects and animals- Blue banded bee

A while ago now (at least a couple of months), I found a sweet little bee buzzing to get out of a window at work. On close inspection it appeared she had blue stripes. This was a Blue Banded bee, one of Australia’s 1500 species of native bee.

These little bees are solitary; meaning that the females will dig a burrow for herself and lay her eggs alone. They can often be seen living in bee villages as they will dig their burrows close together, however they do not co-operate with other bees and do not form a hive. I guess you could say they are anarchists as they don’t recognise any form of government.

Blue Banded bees are essential to Australia’s ecology as they pollinate certain species of plants using ‘buzz pollination’; they essentially shake the pollen out of closed pollen capsules by holding the flower and trying to fly off. They are also very efficient at pollinating the solonaceae family of plants; tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, potato, etc. Without these little bees we would not have the huge tomato crops we have in Australia.

They are eaten by the usual list of birds and reptiles (which varies from place to place) and have one really interesting parasite; the Neon Cuckoo bee. The Neon Cuckoo bee is also a solitary native bee, the females of the species lay their eggs in the burrows of the Blue Banded bee. When the egg hatches it eats all the food gathered by the Blue Banded bee and the intended recipient dies of starvation.

Because the Blue Banded bee builds a burrow to lay her eggs in, she needs a nice, malleable clay base. I try to leave some areas of bare soil in my garden especially for these little bees as mulching heavily reduces the real estate market for burrows. They have also been known to burrow into mud brick and cob buildings, and can cause a lot of damage in large numbers.

This particular bee was a female; apparently females have four blue stripes and males have five. Another difference between the sexes is that males sleep by clamping their mandibles (jaws) around a stalk of grass and hanging like fruit for the night while females will either sleep in their burrows or curl up inside a flower or leaf bed.

This particular bee was carefully eased out of the window space she found herself in and released into the wider world. I was happy to have met her close up and even happier to be able to help her on her way.