Friday, 18 September 2015

Litte Bear Moths

Every year about this time Little Bear Moths streak around the base of our oil palm (no, I did not plant it) around 9.30 am. Their flights are so rapid that they could easily be missed and certainly do not appear to be moths. Individuals dart back and forth and occasionally a "cloud" of a dozen or so moths hovers for a split second, then they are gone.
Oil palm with bromeliads at base. 

Every so often a supposedly tired individual alights on the bromeliads that adorn the base of the palm allowing a photo if one is careful and lucky.

Little Bear moth, Synechodes coniophora Turner

The overall appearance of the moth suggests beetles or flies of the family Bibionidae, most notably Plecia ornaticornis, often associated with Mullerian Mimicry complexes of many insects.

The moths are apparently interested in the stumpy bases of old palm fronds.
Note the old bases of the palm fronds where the larvae apparently live 

The Brachodidae is a small family related to both Clear-winged moths, Sesiidae, and Sun Moths, Castniidae. About 135 species have been named (Kallies 2004) distributed in all regions except the Nearctic. They are all day-flying but every so often, one turns up on the light sheet. I have seen another species at my place but it was not near the oil palm.

The moths are active for a few days, then they are gone.


Kallies, A. 2004 The Brachodidae of the Oriental Region and adjacent territories (Lepidoptera: Sesioidea). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie, Vol. 147: 1-19

Thursday, 17 September 2015

R. I. P. Mrs Cassowary

Yesterday we had the sad news that Mrs Cassowary's body had been found on a property not far from our house. We had not seen her for about 3 weeks and have been wondering what has become of her. An autopsy may reveal the cause of her death.

This bird was unusually placid and often appeared with the male and with the chicks from time to time. This is the second adult female cassowary to die in this area in the past year. The other female was hit by a car on Black Mtn Road.

This leaves the male cassowary, and his sole chick, as the last adult in the area.

Cassowaries have been the subject of many entries on this blog. Simply search for "Cassowaries" and you can access all of them.

The autopsy reveals that the bird had a perforated bowel and died of blood poisoning. There was nothing in the gut to indicate what cause her malady.

At least she was not shot nor attacked by dogs.

Friday, 24 July 2015


We have been having an odd winter. We had several  cold nights where it got down to 6-7C. Now a few days later, it has warmed up to 16-18C over night. As a result some of the biota are a bit confused.

One forest organism that seems to have taken advantage of the warm night is the Bridal Veil Fungus, Phallus industriatus (Phallaceae).
 Warm, moist conditions seem to suit this odd fungus. Innocuous enough from a photo but it has a awful smell. For a couple of days I smelled what I thought might be escaping LPG gas, then I recalled the smell of flowering Amorphophallus bulbifera but it is the wrong time of the year for this plant. I searched the usual pots but could find no bulbifera.

Then I stumbled on the above-my first encounter with the Bridal Veil Fungus. The "veil" is usually intact, but after a couple of days with turkeys and birds about, the veil has become detached. This one measures about 10 cm.
The smell attracts flies, especially Blowflies (Calliphoridae) which feed on the juices of the plant.
 In so doing the spores of the fungus attach to the fly and as it moves around the rainforest the spores detach and spread the fungus to additional habitats.
Blowflies are not the only flies that feed on the fungus. Here a Drosophila species has also been attracted to the food source.

The odour of this fungus is so strong that campers have been known to abandon campsites due to fetid smell.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Full Frontal

Nope, not from Star Wars

For those bent on anthropomorphism, this is an appealing face.
It is actually the head of a female of Macleay's Spectre, Extatosoma tiaratum (Macleay), Phasmatidiae; Tropidoderinae, for those who are technically minded. Note the mouthparts on "top". This is the normal position for the insect hanging from the leaves and branches high in tree tops.

Females are large insects:
They measure 140 mm or more in length and can weigh 30-40 g. This species is known from a few populations along the east coast of Australia from central New South Wales to the Daintree of far north Queensland.

Females have short wings and are incapable of flight. Instead they spend their entire lives in tree tops where they feed on vegetation and rely on their protective coloration to avoid vertebrate predation. 

Males, on the other hand, are mobile and have fully developed wings and can make flights at night.

Females, at least, are long-lived. Captive individuals have lived for more than 18 months and have produced more than 1000 eggs. The eggs are broadcast by flipping the abdomen. They may take 5-8 months to hatch and once they do, the first instar nymph looks and behaves much like an ant. It moves quickly from place to place until it detects a host plant that is suitable for its development. Once this happens, it ascends the plant and moulting occurs. It undergoes 6-7 moults, gaining in size after each. If several nymphs select a small tree or shrub, they can easily defoliate it and expose themselves to predation ending their progression to adulthood.

Females can produce eggs that hatch whether they are mated or not. Those eggs of unmated females become females; mated females produce eggs of both sexes. An interesting paper dealing with this topic if by Schneider and Elgar (2010). Among other things, mated females laid more eggs over a 7 day period than those that were unmated.

Eggs of this species were probably smuggled out of Australia. Because the insect is large, spectacular and easy to keep, and can be raised on a variety of non-Australian plants, it has made it into the pet trade in North America and Europe.

We have found males of Macleay's Spectre at lights from time to time during the wet season but have never discovered nymphs or females until recently. The above tattered female was found on our house. It was missing one wing and had a slightly damaged abdomen suggesting it had escaped predation. We attempted to keep it alive but it eventually died. The abdomen was mostly empty of contents--there were only a few eggs. So it must have been at the end of its life. This is just one of about 20 stick insect species found around Kuranda. Many have specific food preferences, others will eat a variety of plants.


Brock, P. D., Hasenpusche, J. 2009. The Complete Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia. 204 Pp. CSIRO Publishing Collingwood, Vic.,

Schnieder, A., Elgar, M. 2010. Facultative sex and reproductive strategies in response to male availability in the spiny stick insect, Extatosoma tiaratum. Australian Journal of Zoology, 2010, 58: 22-233. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Crickets in the Rain

Late autumn rains bring out the calls of many creatures in the Queensland rainforests. Crickets are contributors to many of the loud sounds we hear after dark. Mole Crickets commence calling on dusk from burrows in the ground. Their calling is low and guttural and continues for 10-15 minutes, then it ceases. They are followed by a number of other cricket species. Among them are the impressive burrowing crickets of the genus Cephalogryllus. At least 13 species occupy the eastern coastal eastern coastal forests of Australia. Each area or mountain range seems to have its own species, and there are some sympatric species. A single species has been described from Western Australia.

Cephalogryllus sp. probably tau Otte & Alexander is commonly heard around Kuranda. Further study is needed to establish its correct identity since a series of different-looking males have been dug from burrows in Kuranda.

This is a large cricket, some 25-27 mm in body length with very sturdy hind legs that are probably used in shaping the burrow. The wings are short and used solely in sound production; the crickets cannot fly. These crickets live in the ground and males sing from the entrance to their burrows on wet nights from February until August. There are many males per unit area in the rainforest but their calls are not synchronised. As a result the background is a continuous din of cricket calls. The ambient "din" can be heard in the recording presented here. The tape recorder was positioned about 16 cm from the entrance to the burrow.
Calling ceases at some stage late in the evening, probably as a result of decreasing ambient temperatures. Females have not been found wandering around after dark as one might expect. The purpose of the calling song supposedly is to attract females for mating. Perhaps, these crickets sing for other reasons, such as territoriality. By morning, the burrows are closed and the occupants remain underground during the day.

A Noisy Little Fellow

A couple of years ago I was tricked by the call of the Common Nursery Frog, Cophixalus ornatus, It sounded much like a cricket and I spent a lot of time looking for the wrong perpetrator.
It took ages to locate the caller because it was well concealed and highly ventriloquial. The frog was hiding in the base of a bromeliad and it emerged, ever so slightly, on wet nights to produce its song. The calling song is very distinctive and can be heard at the link. Most people who live in the Kuranda area are familiar with this call but few have identified its source.

The frog seems very small in comparison with the intensity of the sound it produces being 25 mm in body length. These frogs are a bit peculiar in that they lay eggs in moist leaf litter and the tadpoles develop wholly in the egg with a tiny froglet eventually emerging. The feed on small insects.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Another Australian "Chameleon" Grasshopper

There are not many grasshoppers that are known to change colour once they are adult. Most grasshoppers have nymphs (juvenile stages) that illustrate a range of colours and patterns but once they undergo the last moult to adulthood, that is it; they all are very similar in appearance.

A notable Australian exception is the Chameleon Grasshopper, Kosciuscola tristis Sjostedt. This grasshopper is a member of a genus comprising five species that inhabit grasslands in the southeastern portion of the continent. K. tristis occurs in alpine regions above tree-line at elevations usually greater than 1680m. Hikers often see individuals basking in the sun on granitic boulders, so it is a relatively well-known species.

It is remarkable grasshopper because adult males can gradually change colour in response to temperature. Males are black at night or on cloudy days when the ambient temperature is low but they respond to higher temperatures by slowly turning blue.
The Chameleon Grasshopper
 Kosciuscola tristis Sjostedt; Acrididae; Oxyinae; Praxibulini
a male
Females are usually greenish yellow and show little response to temperature change.
 Kosciuscola tristis Sjostedt; Acrididae; Oxyinae; Praxibulini
a female

As unusual as this might be, there is an unrelated grasshopper in northern Australia that also changes colour but probably for different reasons.
Valanga sp. 1; Acrididae; Catantopinae; Cyrtacanthacridini
a newly adult female

The above grasshopper has recently moulted into the adult stage. After a short period of time the greenish yellow on the thorax will spread to the entire body rendering it a greenish yellow appearance.
Valanga sp. 1; Acrididae; Catantopinae; Cyrtacanthacridini
an older female

The above is an adult that has undergone the change from grey to green. It was found in a very dry, overgrazed pastureland with limestone outcrops on reddish, rocky soil 45 km NW of Chillagoe, Queensland. This appears to be a range extension for the species. It was previously known from a few localities near Lakefield on Cape York, Qld and along the coast adjacent to Groote Eylandt.

It was with considerable interest when I received a photo for identification from Keith and Lindsay Fisher that had similarities to V. sp 1. It was found around their place in Julatten, Qld. Note the resemblance of the colour pattern on the pronotum to the first photo above.

One of the identifying characteristics of Valanga sp. 1 is that it has bright red hind tibiae, whereas, V. irregularis has dull hind tibiae and the spines are generally tipped with black. Theirs was one of the many colour morphs of this latter widespread species.

V. irregularis frequents gardens, orchards and a number of agricultural and horticultural crops. V. sp. 1 prefers life on shrubs or in tree tops and is of no economic concern.
But why does V. sp. 1 change colour so dramatically after becoming adult? No one knows. Here is a ready-made study for a student looking for an unusual project. 

Here we have two Australian grasshoppers that have biological characteristics displayed by no others anywhere in the world. Just more examples of a fauna that is unique and worthy of further study and protection.