Memory blob #1
1988 – depeest darkest Africa
Long long time ago, even before Facebook – there was a sense of wander seen and felt without a touch-screen. Enter 1988, my expedition to the artistically pristine giant sand dunes of the Namib Desert, Namibia, Deepest Darkest Africa…. a fabled research station called GOBABEB is in the middle of the Namib desert, on a dry river bed that separates the giant dunes from a stony desert.
This almost rain-less desert, has shifting dunes which are reborn every morning with no human footprints, but oodles of footprints made by a surprisingly bio-diverse mob of critters.
Every morning I would go into the dunes, keeping to the relatively stable knife-edge crests, up to 300m high. The perfect patterns mr. wind performs on these structures are fully mazing…
The intricate patterns of the nightly sculptor, mr wind
The wind has to obey strict laws of design. All grains on one side are fluffy loose, and the other side are perfectly aligned, according the the wind speed, humidity and mood.
The less breezy bits sometimes have grases and a few other odd super hardy plants. These are the epicentre of a complex food chain, starting with termites, fungi, heaps of insects, some lizards, snakes and the odd mammal. All living on the shifting dunes. Most active at night, but some adapted to activity during the very hot days.
Below is a sequence starting with the tunnel tracks of the larva of a darkling beetle, which swims in the sand eating tiny bits of dead plants, detritus. The adult has long legs to be able to run across the hot sand without its belly getting cooked.
The secret of this desert’s fecund life, is fog. The dunes continue right into the Atlantic ocean on the west side of Africa. Here, where it meets the hot sand, it is very deep and very cold. Almost every night a fog builds up over the water and is pushed inland, tens of kilometres, carrying a lot of moisture. Below sequence shows the ‘beach’, where I tried to swim and froze bits of the bod. Getting to here is wild 4WD territory, no roads as such, and luckily the local ranger with years of experience drove his buggy at breakneck speed over the dunes, to stay above the soft sand. Next the OMG sunsets in the interior – colours not exaggerated – and then the sunrise in the same area showing the fog that passed through at night, boiling away in the sunrise.
During the night the clever critters have found ways to capture the fog. Some beetles stand bum-up on dune crests, and as the fog condenses on their body, it drips down to its mouth. Others make a trough in the sand with the higher side facing into the fog flow, and as this gets wet, they suck the moisture off. Others wait for the few very hardy grasses to get covered in dew, and drink this, especially the larger beasties like lizards and mammals.
On the north side of the ‘river’ channel, the dunes are tamed, and a flat stony deserts spreads out for ever. The very quartzy stones are bright and unrelenting in reflecting glare and heat. Here life is not fecund at all. Critters like spiders, scorpions and lizards live here, but emerge only at the cool of night. Several hilltops emerge from the flats, with spectacular views and the odd stunted water holding, baobab-like plants, and Euphorbia plants. Sometimes, the fog gets to here too, with a wonderful gloomy feel to everything.
Life here is extremely finely adapted for survival, and being here is a treasure beyond measure. Sometimes though we need a reminder that this is an extreme habitat, with no room for error. The starkly sun bleached exo-skeleton of a darlking beetle reminds us of reality.
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Memory blob #2
2010 – Costa Rica – orchid bees
In University we did a course in Ecology, this was 1977, and not all modern theories were normal yet. For instance, geologists were still arguing about plate tectonics – if it was even real… In ecology many theories were hotly debated about why some places just boil over with species, have a seriously outrageous bio-diversity. Whatever the current best theory is, the place to see it in action is of course the Amazon (not the shop), and the tiny cute and cuddly country of Costa Rica. The humans here are so sane they have no army, and 1/3 of the place is National Parks, teeming with living amazingness, and scientists going gaga. I was one of those on several lucky visits.
This blog is about some of the wonders in the very hot steamy lowlands, on the Carribean side, while a guest at the La Selva Research Station. Too much happened here to know what story to throw a dart at, so here, in what will eventually grow to be many separate blogs about this country, I choose the story of the orchid bees. Yum.
So these bees are really really fab. And sadly most humans do not know they exist, and will never see them, because even here in the hot bed of all things nice, they never stop, and very rarely come down from the very high rainforest canopy. I was lucky enough to be here with my old frined Mr Bee, a German bee scientist/fanatic, who understands the way orchid bees think. The boy bees – most of whats dispalyed here, spend their time looking for new and exptic scents. Note the blue bee below, and see a little arrow pointing to its back leg. This extra fat ‘thigh’, femur, has an opening on top to a reservoir where they add the collected smells. Each individual boy bee is a master perfumer, creating never before odours with which they will court the very particular girl bees, up in the canopy.
Now Mr Bee came from Germany with all sorts of exotic smelly bits. Esters, plant bits smells like eucalyptus, and other odours not known from this area. Dab a little on moss, or a log, and the boys go mad, coming down from the heights to vie for the best smells. Thus we studied and photographed 9 species of these wonders, and smiled broadly at the end of each day. The rest of the time there time was a treasure trove too, for another bloggi bit, later…
Memory blob #3
So every xmas in Australia, we have heat waves, terrifying, heavy, english/american xmas dinners, turkeys the size of a volksvagen, that just do not fit with the nasty sweaty weather, family feuds, school holidays with the snotties running around everywhere, cicadas yelling like mad, cricket on the tiv, and christmas beetles ! (that was a long sentence) These large critters are scarabs of sorts. The large Scarabaeidae Family has chafers, dung beetles, other hard to common-name beetles, and shiny, often brown or green xmas beetles. Their larvae have been feeding underground on roots and stuff for a year or two, and about November they start to emerge and look for mates to make babies, and feed on various very ozzi blossoms like Eucalypts, Angophora etc. In some open woodlands in eastern Australia they can sometimes reach big numbers. Or did. Most insects on the planet are dimishing in numbers – how long has it been since your windscreen has needed a serious wash after a summer country drive … ?
The xmas beetle above is real. Honest. It is one of several species in this Scarab group in the world, that for some wonderfully random mutation reason, looks like gold – better than gold really. It moves. It is Anoplognathus aereus, and lives in steamy forests of far N QLD, especially Cape York. In the mid nineties I was lucky enough to have a two year research contract to study the insect fauna of Cape York. Every month a different entomologist from CSIRO would come up to Cairns, and we would drive up for 10 days or so, studying whatever group that person was a serious expert of. Heaven on a stick for an ento nut like me, learning volumes from each one, while having great adventures on the very eecky 4WD roads. While I am here, see two memory blob shots that show two aspects of the Cape. The waterfal is Elliot Falls, near the very top of Australia, and one of the few rainforest areas up there. Most of the Cape is open Eucalypt savannah woodland, and on the east coast, a lot is heath, like the picture with the 4 metre high termite skyscrapers.
But I digress – did you know that in the fantasyland of the cloud forests of Costa Rica, another golden jewel lives. They dont call it a xmas beetle, but it is a very close cousin to our impossible beetle. Same gold, but this show off, also has fully far-out coloured feet.
Memory Blob #4
Underwater blood suckers
It may surprise some humans, who did not grow up in the old days, always not far from a bit of bush, that ponds therein, are full of insect wonders. My own interest in insects came largely from keeping a small aquarium in my place in northern Sydney, and filling it with pond scum, and other creatures from all the great bush nearby. In those days kids had a childhood. I was not rushed from one after-school sport extravaganza, to music lessons, to rithmetic tutors, and then to another …. blah blah …blah. In the late sixties, a choice between a life of play/explore – or having to endure all these activities with stressed out parental units driving me around, luckily wasnt one we had to make. Me and other after school urchins just roamed, especially in the bush, on foot, on bicycles with no breaks, and sometimes with doggies – which then did not need a parental unit to take them out for a walk after dinner.. Home for dinner was good enough.
It wasnt just little nerd, nature obsessed me, but many small humans who thought nature was pretty cool. Because it was easy to experience first hand. The forest around Hornsby valley (in Sydney) is still pretty green today, and it was here that I started a beetle collection, obseved all insect behaviour, and kidnapped creatures to bring home to my aquarium and other enclosures. First hand is best hand.
So who lived in these wet places ? The favourite were of course, insects which were happy to dismember other creatures, or suck out their innards. Giant fish killer bugs are 70 to 90mm long, and have these powerful impaling front legs (above). They and the water scorpions (below) are true bugs, Order Hemiptera, defined by having beak-like mouth parts for sucking out prey (or plant juices). The water scorpion below sits still for hours, with a rear breathing siphon tube just reaching the surface, so it does not have to move to inhale.
The little fishies eventually come within striking range, as one did for the different species below. Nothing quite like the spectacle of an invertebrate attacking a vertebrate – a bit scifi movie stuff. Carnivorous bugs first inject the equivalent of stomach acids into the prey to liquify the contents, as they have no chewing jaws.
Then there were the Dytiscus beetles, also known as diving beetles. From tiny ones chasing mozzi wrigglers, to big shiny green ones, up to 30mm long, sometimes called ‘toe-biters’, from a habit of having a go at humans standing in their ponds. These true beetles are very slippery, and their third pair of legs are modified to act like oars, for very fast underwater swims. Like the bugs above, they have wings hidden, dry, under wing covers, and can fly away if the pond dries up.
The larvae of the giant Dytiscus beetle above, is also aquatic, and hunts for prey underwater. Note the tube at the top, which it uses as an air siphon. The adult has to come to the surface and store air under its wing cases, good enough for many minutes.
Dod-eat-dog is well defined by the grizzly situation above. A hungry diving beetle has chosen a prey, which itself is a fearsome hunter. A water scorpion. Like all beetles, it has proper, sideways acting, chewing jaws, with which it can scrunch and chew all of the catch.
Memory blob #5
How hairy can you get – part 1
We all know about hairy moths – they get heaps of flak for bad haircuts. But that is for another blob later. Here I want to show you how haircut-averse their babies can be.
Hairy caterpillars are a common adaptation, especially among the moths. Caterpillars spend all day every day feeding at gargantuan rates, and have tiny eyes which dont see much beyond the leaf, except for a ‘shadow above me’ reflex that may help them escape a predator. Some hairless caterpillars just roll off the leaf, but like spiders, they attach a silk safety line to find their way back after danger has passed. Others are so hairy that they may miss this warning, but if their hairs are poisonous, it matters less. And then there is the next step.
If you rub your hand along a hairy caterpilar, you will pick up levels of histemines and other chemicals that irritate, and hurt, and cause serious trouble to eyes. Caterpillars are shedding these hairs, so in places where there are lots, you may get them on your clothes and then they worm their way through and irritate places you thunk were safe. Other caterpillars, like the Anthela sp, below left, actually specially ‘shoot’ off their hairs if you touch them, and these are poisoned at both ends. These hairs are called urticating hairs. Nature does not waste good possibilities, so this adaptation is also found among some large hairy spiders. The pain and irritation last for days, but as always with chemical attacks, the allergic reaction is the potentially serious result.
The extra tufts, above, are very fetching, yes, and allow more colour combinations. Below are two hairies from Borneo. What is sweet is the impression they are staring at you with those cute, intense blue ‘eyes’. These are actually just sensory hair tuft mounting points, and the real eyes are just tiny black spots lower down, and very hard to find.
Well, you know that I like to keep the momentum rising to the end of a blob, so below are two creatures with real wow factor, and beyond weirdness. The white fairy palace is the caterpillar of a moth in the Family Saturniidae, a group known in Australia as Emperor moths. The structures are not really hairs but spikes, and may or may not be spiked with poisons. I did not test the theory.
OK, hands up everyone who looked at the unholy mess above and said, of course its a caterpillar of the … moth ?? and of course its alive and not just what was left after a tiger tried to eat it. Yes it is a caterpillar, of a moth, in the Family Limacodidae, and the general view is that it mimicks the very big hairy ‘bird-eating’ spiders common in Neotropical forests – which could just make its lifet safer than looking like a nice juicy caterpillar. And if it all fails, those unkempt hairs, you guessed it, just want to attach to you at the slightest touch. And are pf course laden with very irritating/painful concoctions.
Memory blob #6
These ants are bullies
The ant genus Myemecia has very large, big jawed, and aggressive ants known as bull ants. As kids in the northern Sydney sandstone forest/heath country, we found them – and they found us – often. It was a dare to see if you could approach their nest, and hassle them, as they defended their home with fierce weapons. The big jaws are only for holding on, and then they bring up the bum end and inject formic acid into you. Fabulous instant pain which burns for a few minutes just so, and then simmers away slowly . Reminds you that ants are afterall, closely related to the wasps.
The above species is from WA, with its gorgeous red bum, Myrmecia mandibularis. While both species above that, are from N QLD. Now in Tasmania they got the nastiest of all. Most species of bull ants can jump a bit, but the ‘Jack-jumper’ bulljos in Tassi, jump a lot. One second you see them on the ground, next second a searing bolt of pain starts where its grabbing on. This one is quite serious, not just school boy dares. People with allergies can be severley affected and even die from its sting. Below is a lovely Jack-jumper soldier.
Above is a Jack-jumper nest. The gravely mounds can be large, 2 metres across even, but the ants are hard to see on this mottly backdrop (spot 9 ants in this picture…). Easy to step on the nest and wander why you scream.
Now we all know that children sometimes play hard with insects – the odd fly loses a wing, the odd ant ant does not find its way home…. This hands-on aproach is not always cruel, and it does give growing minds a front seat in observing insect behaviour, and is a potential step on the path to becoming a real insect-botherer – one of them entomologists. OR, a Japanese nature film crew member.
Cover your ears children while I recount a tale of me and a bunch of very happy Japanase film humans who hired me as their insect finder/wrangler way back in 1996. I had a list of critters to have waiting for them. Bull ants, trap-door spiders, centipedes, and one very odd little request – a snap-jaw ant, or two. Look below at my Kuranda local of this Odontomachus genus (left), next to a local bull ant species (right).
Both possess fearsome jaws and quite adequate attitude problems. So you guessed it – the film crew wated to see who is tougher. We made an arena of sorts. It was even round like the real Colliseum, and Circus Maximus was set to go. Cameras rolled (literally, this was in the age of FILM cameras), and one of each was introduced into the fray. It was not prolonged or overly cruel, honest – basically because the winner – wait for it (who did you think would win ??) killed the opponent in a split second.
Let me tell you the Odontomachus story. These weird horizontally stretched-out jaws, have been ratcheted back from the closed position, by the use of special muscles with extreme elastic properties. The force the ratchet is holding back is so large, that when the ratchet is released, they snap shut in 1/20,000th of a second ! The ant is only 20mm long, and not in the hand, but the snap can be clearly heard as a micro sonic boom of sorts. And the object it snaps on, is not so much squished, as vibrated to death instantaeniously. The innards of the bull ant, inside its tough exoskeleton, are discombobulated, shaken and stirred, and demise is instant. And here, below, another lovely coloured species of snap-jaw ant, from Papua New Guinea.
OK you can let the kids back in.
Memory blob #7
On the trail of the Welwitschia, Namibia 1992 and 2019
It actually started on the first Namibian venture, in 1992, when the local ranger of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, took me on a trip out of the dune area where I was staying – and into an even more desolate area of gently rolling stony desert. No grasses or hardy Euphorbias fed by fog there, it was a fabulous moonscape.
He introduced me to the plant emblem of Namibia, the very amazing Welwitschia mirabilis. It is a so called ‘living fossil’, and has been here for at least 112 million years. It has its own lonely branch on the evolutionary tree – one species, one genus, one Family, all to itself. And to look at it, you would not say “fir, or pine tree”, and yet this is a Gymnosperm, the division of all pine type plants. All that is very well, but it is it’s quiet, noble existance against all odds, alone on super heated stony landscapes, where rainfall may be between zero and at most 100mm in a year, that really amazes. And they persevere for a LONG time – one to even two thousand years, that have so far been measured for individuals !! Then there is how they grow. When plants germinate from seed, it is usually two leaves which come ‘out of the ground’ and grow outwards before more structures appear. Welwitschia stays in this germination mode for ever – just these two leaves, growing out very very slowly. Getting more and more robust, leathery, impervious to dessication, and then fraying at the edges, so that about 4 to 5 m is a normal length at any one time on old plants.
So by now you may be wandering why this tragic insect botherer is getting so poetic over a plant. Well, besides it deserving poetic ooooohs and aahhhs, it has insects on it – of course. There is nowhere that insects have not adapted to, if a food source exists. Below are two very similar looking bugs. On the left a vego one sucking the innards from the ‘seed’ pods, and in the middle, a carnivore assassin bug – mimicking it, and feeding on it, at leasure.
On the right the white squidgy things are minute bugs, scale insects, hidden under a wax mess they produce from the plant juices they are sucking from the poor plant. These excretions are very sugary, so local ants – there are always local ants – are happy happy joy joy, licking this off for sustenance.
In 2019, on another, longer Namibian expedition, I was fortunate enough to meet a botanist who told me of the fabled ‘lost city’ type thinggi, a place where these reclusive rare plants live in localised profusion. It is an area not on any roads, but with suffucient instructions and water and such like in the 4WD, we set off to find this area, which shall remain secret. Below was the amazing scene what greeted our long slow, day’s drive.
Memory blob #8
The gnarly gnu gnashed its gnoofy teeth
I loves words with g next to another consonant – gnu is a word of the gods for me. Gnat has a place in this pantheon, and the subject matter is pretty cool. The gnats are several groups among the wider primitive fly community called midges. It is a word that has many links to living critters. At least 10 different Families of flies have the word midge in their common names, and there be much confusion about use of these names around the world. Here in Oz we say sandfly, when they are actually ‘biting midges’ everywhere else, and so on.
But lets start with the harmless ones: Below first two, from the left, are in the very large Family Chironomidae the ordinary, safe, every-day, white-bread midges – both from Australia. These midge types are about the size of mosquitoes, so are often mistaken for the nasties. The instant difference is that they do not have the long proboscis with which to bite us. The picture below on the right, is a handsome devil in the Family Cecidomyiidae, with over 6000 named species already, with many fun habits. This one is special, as I found it while expeditioning with the world fly expert, in a very damp, mossy cloud forest at 3000m altitude in Costa Rica. The same individual is pictured in his amazing 3kg tome on flies*, and as yet has no species name.
Above is a very nice blue Chironomid midge from OZ – blue is an oddly rare colour in most insect groups (except for the butterflies).
So the majority of midge type flies have damp lives. Their larvae, known as maggots in most flies, either fully live in water, or in moist, muddy, mossy, yukky habitats. One of the bestest babies are those of the torrent midge. Adults are just another midge, but the larvae live clinging to rocks in waterfalls and rapids. A fun life every day.
Not time for the bitey ones yet. One more story about harmless, but delirious ones, called Fungus gnats. The main Family is Mycetophilidae, which has ordinary looking midge type flies that feed on fungi as larvae. Below are many, attracted to this mushroom in Borneo.
The Cecidomyiidae Family has some that spend much of their days invading spider webs and free-laoding there, blowing raspberries at potential predators going past – “you cant get me, unless you want to brave the web and the spider threin…” Why the spider doesn’t just eat them is a mystery, or for that matter how their feet (tarsi) have adapted to cling to individual strands of web, and not get stuck to it, like insects are supposed to do.
And now for the nasties. The Family Ceratopogonidae, over 6000 named species, known as biting midges. It also has many localised names, due to its neferious relationship with humans and other sad animals. Sad during and after being bitten that is. In Australia we know them as sand flies – as they breed in the ‘high tide’ area of sands and soils, and so are unfairly prolific in tidal flats, mangroves, and muddy areas generally. They are super tiny – 1 to 2mm, and so even as they bite, you need your glasses on to see who is doing it. Also their bite is ferocious for their size – this is because unlike mosquitoes, which use a very fine stiletto ‘syringe’, these bastards rasp away until the blood flows. Causing maximum damage for their amusement. The gringos in America call them ‘no-see-ums’, a very apt and cute name. The tundra country of far northern lands in Canada, Europe, and Siberia, sometimes has astronomical biting midge events in the peak of the short summer. Thick clouds descend onto anything with blood, and bite so much, that animlas can die from loss of blood, and herds of animals have been known to rush into the sea and drown to get away from the little bastards. They even bite other insects, dont care what colour or temperature, the blood is.
The place where they have most become part of the mythology and mystery of a land, is Scotland. Here their official name is “those fucking midgies !!”, and it is here that I first got a chance to photograph one with my macro camera. Even the 2 times lens only made it a tiny thing in the centre, but with enough detail to see what this little brut looked like. My good friend Mr Zen, on the Isle of Skye, volunteered to be the victim studio. I of course covered myself in repellent, while he valiantly stood with exposed arm, which the little darlings proceeded to empty of red fluids.
They, like mosquitoes, only have biting females, which take up to 3 times their body weight in blood before flying off, slowly. The blood proteins are then used to make lots and lots of eggs to make lots and lots more nasties. Generation turnaround time is less than a week. Because they are so small, they can only fly when the wind is less than about 5km/hr, the walking speed of humans. Luckily Scotland is famous for wind and gales (though less so in the summer), because if it was always still, it may never have been settled.
Memory blob #9
Whats with leaf cutting…
There has to be someone out there eating leaves or we would be strangled in our sleep by voracious plants with nowhere left to expand to. Caterpillars on the whole eat more leaves than big vegetarian animals (they expand, literally, a thousand-fold in a short life of hoovering in nice green leaves). And termites eat more grasses and dead vegetation than the herds of gnus too. And then there are the ones that vause plants to make little homes for their babies. Weird growths on leaves that safely house larvae of many species of flies, bugs wasps and more. These are known as galls. Below left is caused by a sap sucking bug, the apple-like ones, and the far-out red ones, are a mystery to this observer. What is amazing is that these things are genetic engineering on the fly. The insects inject chemicals which essentially cause the leaf to madly reproduce cells in that area. Not too different from cancer, except that these growths have a particualr shape and size – they do stop growing when the egg inside has a nice enough/large enough home to live in.
But I digress. This was going to be a blog about leaf cutters, not leaf genetic invaders. Caterpillars and grasshoppers have very sharp mandibles – their sideways acting jaws. They can and do cut strips off leaves all day every day, and not blunt these tools. And of course they eat the stuff directly. What about insects that cut leaves to achieve a more complex outcome. Lets start with leaf rollers – cute weevils in the Family Attelabidae. The boy has the wonderful long front legs. He is happy as he has found a female on a leaf and she is about to cut it in a very particular, seamestress style. Before she gets too far, it was time for a bit of mating ritual, to be sure she would use this leaf to house his progeny.
The result of the careful cutting is a rolled up leaf with an egg inside, which is reasonably safe to hatch into a grub-like larvae, which will feed on the leaf from the inside out.
The most famous cutters of leaves are the stars of many a fabulous documentary, the leafcutter ants of Central and South America.
The big workers with huge sharp mandibles, cut out similar sized leaf chunks in about 10 seconds. The smaller worker is standing by to defend them both from naughty parasitic flies which try to lay eggs on their heads, while they are busy. The ant on the yellow leaf is riding shotgun to tell the flies whats what.
All this tonnage of leaves is not for direct munching by the adult ants, or the larvae, but to store in elaborate climate controlled chambers, where it all sprouts a fungus. Not any fungus, but just one species, that the ants culture carefully, while culling any others. If leaves arrive which the fungus is not happy with, this is somehow communicated to all, and no more of the offending fodder arrives in the nest. Everyone in the nest eats the fungus.
A well established nest in the pampas can have between 5-10 million ants. A University in Brazil spent weeks with lots of student workers, to see just how large and complex these nests are. They poured literally 10 tonnes of a very liquid cement into the nest and then slowly excavated the soil around the structure that this set cement created. The result was mind blowing. See these (poor screen capture) shots from the film they made. From the mound on the surface to the metropolis below. 30m across and 3 to 4 m deep, plus underground highways to satellite cities.
Visit the little video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dECE7285GxU
And on a last note here, there is one other group of insects famous for cutting leaves. They are very fast and very accurate, cutting out almost perfect circles in so few seconds, it has taken me many years to catch a photo of the critters in the act. These are the leaf cutter bees, species of the handsome native bee Family Megachilidae.
Memory blob #10
at last – an actual travel blog… October 2021
Many moons ago, in an age when humans were allowed to see the wonders of the world, I spent a lot of my time travelling through the insect hot spots of the planet. Places like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Borneo – the great dreaming sites. Mr covid came along and verbotten all that. So baby steps …. now we is allowed to travel a bit in Oz at least. So last week I packed the trusty macro camera into bambi – my bat-shit crazy Italian sports car (all entomologists are like this), and went all of 200km to an area where the plateau of inland NSW ends, and falls off via magnificent cliffs, down to sea level. This sandstone country has Moreton National Park, and here was the adventure for two sunny days. Spring is sprung and this country has reacted well to the above average winter rains. Many flowers and heaps of young lush leaf growth everywhere. Highlight 1, was finding a patch of wonderful flannel flowers – fluffy white large flowers following the motion of the sun. And providing much sweet food for visiting insects and their predators. See a vignette here:
All this and more came along to sample these fluffy flowers, eat, hunt, and die.
1 = Tiny moth in the fun Adelidae Family. 2 = a tiny chafer beetle, genus Diphucephala, which has infinite variety of metallic shades. 3 = a beetle of the Cleridae Family having a munch. 4 = a bee fly, feeding between hovering about and laying eggs in the sand nearby. 5 = a crab spider, slurping up a poor bug that landed at the wrong flower at the wrong time… 6 = baby mantis on the hunt 7 = an ant – NOT, but a longicorn beetle mimicking one of the golden-bum ants. Clever indeed.
This forest had been in the horrid fires of 2019, and now was growing madly from black tree trunks and from seeds. Many dead logs laying about, always have the odd insect to espy. The fav find here were hordes of thrips living under the bark. Normally this is an insect group of boring colourless, very tiny pests, but here were very handsome devils indeed:
Fires often trigger a mad sprout of ground orchids. Here under the flannel flowers I found many duck orchids, Caleana sp, my first time meeting with these fun devices. They look great and weird, yes, but they have a story too.
Boy wasps of the Family Thynnidae are attracted to the imitation sex pheromone produced by the devious flowers. When the wasp lands, it triggers the ‘duck head’ to stike it and push it into the interior where all the pollen is. By the time the wasp gets out, it is covered by the stuff, and carries it to the next orchid and the next and next. Deception but at least the wasp gets food along the way. Mind you it is being unfaithful to the girl wasps. In this family, the females are wingless, and the males find them on the ground, join in mating, and still joined, fly them around to nice flowers so they can feed. The naughty orchid puts a stop to that for a while. See below, typical flower wasps in mating/feeding fun
Memory blob #11
A weevil nose best
Unfortunately to many people the word weevil means this:
These minute critters are a pain in the behind, and a serious threat to food availability. The genus Sitophilus includes some mean hungry and relentless pests of grains. But the vast majority of the other 97,000 so far named species, are a hoot ! Cute, lovable, weird, comical, and infinitely diverse. They are also very important, because they are the favourite insects of my beloved. So when I travel about the globe chasing insects with the macro camera, I try to send her a picture of “your weevil of the day is ….” as often as I bump into a new one.
They are known by their ‘noses’. The sometimes very long extended mouth parts called a rostrum. At the tip are normal chewing mandibles. Below two very different examples:
Hard to believe the long one still has proper jaws at the tip, used to penetrate deep into large seeds, where it then lays its egg or two. This colourful one is from New Guinea, and is related to the European acorn weevils. The beefy one on the right is one of the many very tough, slow, ground dwelling species, that find deserts and mountains a good home, and are often very long lived as adults, a year even. This one from South Africa.
Apart from the rostrum, the other feature of weevils is their ‘feet’, the tarsi. They are often very broad and hairy, as good as a hobbit’s, and with colour too….
Like posh house fluffies or ugg boots.
Its true that the majority of the oodles of species are brown-esque, but that just makes it more fun when you find the ones that disobey the trend.
Top left = Eupholus sp, New Guinea. Top right and middle right = unknown from New Guinea. Bottom left = unknown from Madagascar, and bottom right is another Eulophus sp … yes from New Guinea.
Above, and unknown from New Guinea, and below from Madagascar.
See the trend ? The showy and diverse ones seem to make New Guinea their home. This place is so insect unknown, I do not know if it really does have a disproportionate number of weevils for its island size. But I do know that even my travels in the riotous diversity lands like Costa Rica and Ecuador, did not produce a new silly/amazing weevil every day.
Though the fellow below, from Costa Rica, qualifies. What was it thinking, sitting like this, like a puppy dog dragging its behind along the carpet when its bum is itchy…
There is no end to the adaptations that insetcs play with over time. Some last, some dont, some help, some are just neautral. I like the weevil below for using holes in leaves to insert its body therein, and imitate birdshit, to look just a tad less tasty…
The end – well it is never the end with weevils, but it would be unfair to the other 6,976 subjects I want to tell you about if I the weevils never ended. They will return in ‘son of weevil’ at a later blob.