Thursday, 3 July 2014

National Moth Weeks Approaches

Dear All:

Have had hard drive problems recently but things are getting back to "normal".  regret that I have lost all my blog mailing lists.

 Arctiidae: Scaphidriotis camptopleura
 Crambidae; Pyraustinae; Agrotera amethealis 
 Noctuidae; Catocalinae; Avatha discolor
Eupterotidae; Eupterotinae;  Cotana serratonota (female)
 Notodontidae; Thaumetopoeinae; Epicoma contristis
Cossidae; Zeuxerinae; Endoxyla mackeri 
 Cossidae; Zeuxerinae; Endoxyla mackeri 

 Crambidae; Acentropinae; Magarosticha sp
Hypertrophidae; Eupselia sp

Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Tale Of Two Katydids

To a biologist, this is an interesting story showing the value of morphological, cytological and behvioural characters in solving a taxonomic anomaly.
Alinjarria elongata Rentz, Su and Ueshima, male

In the second volume of my Monograph of the Tettigoniidae of Australia I described 15 species of the genus Hemisaga. This and several other genera were accorded a new subfamily, the Austrosaginae. This subfamily occurs in the southern portion of Australia. Hemisaga does as well but there was one species that was a distributional odd-ball.

examples of the genus Hemisaga:

 A male of Hemisaga lunodonta Rentz, a species from Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia
A male of Hemisaga pericalles Rentz, a species from the south coast of Western Australia near Albany.

There was a single record of a female of what appeared to be a Hemisaga from Mataranka, Northern Territory. This locality was thousands of kilometres form the nearest record of the genus. One might first think that the specimen was mislabeled. But this was not so, and especially not so because it was collected by my predecessor at CSIRO Entomology, Dr KHL Key. Ken was meticulous record keeper and had exhaustive fieldnotes. When they were checked, this odd katydid was recorded as collected in a grassy area near the motel.

I described it as Hemisaga elongata noting that is had a suite of characters that was not found in other Hemisaga species.

In 1999 a trip was made to Mataranka and the species was rediscovered. Males and females were found mostly in Sorghum grasses at night. And it was found in other areas such as in the Palmerston Developmental area not far from Darwin. Here it was found in the shrubby vegetation behind the mangroves. This katydid seems to specialise in feeding on other katydids. In both localities our observations indicated a preference for Caedicia species.
 A female of Hemisaga elongata. Note the very slender shape fo the katydid.
A male of Hemisaga elongata. Note the elongate male cerci (claspers), the inspiration for the  name.

The story continues.

Local collecting trips conducted after moving to the northern tropics in 2003 took me and Jadon Van Pelt to the mixed open woodland north of Mt Malloy. To my astonishment, we found what looked like Hemisaga elongata. After several trips to the area, we found a small number of individuals over a period of two years. This katydid was an adult in July and August-during the dry season. The herbaceous vegetation was dry and grasses were dead. Not many other katydids were around but several grasshopper species were still present.

The Queensland species was found to be quite distinct from H. elongata. In fact there was enough evidence to place both species in a new genus, Alinjarria. [Alinjarria is derived from an aboriginal word meaning  "north", an allusion to the distribution of both species.] The common name for the genus is "Imitators" based on the deception that it was a member of Hemisaga. The species was named Alinjarria jadoni Rentz, Su, Ueshima in honour of Jadon who found the first specimen.

But this put a species on each side of the continent in the northern tropics. No other member of the Austrosaginae occurs in the tropics. Further study was warranted.

All of the austrosaginae katydids reported in the monograph had eggs that had distinctive "caps". Eggs of both A. elongata and A. jadoni lacked caps. In addition, the karyotype of both species demonstrated Alinjarria was different from any known species of Hemisaga.
Male of Alinjarria jadoni.

Using the morphological, both structures and the egg morphology, it was obvious that Alinjarria was not and austrosagine but a member of the subfamily Listroscelidinae. This subfamily has a number of genera in the tropics and all are known to be predators. Austrosagines, on the other hand, feed on seeds and fruits. So biologically Alinjarria was also better placed in the Listroscelidinae.

This blog was prompted by the discovery of A. jadoni in mixed woodland near Mutchilba, Queensland.

Metzger Road near Mutchilba, Qld.                        Buck Richardson photo

This area is not dissimilar to the habitat where Jadon's Imitator was originally collected. It is regularly "prescribed burned" so there is a minimum of native shrubbery and most of the herbaceous vegetation and grasses are introduced species.

Female of  Alinjarria jadoni from Metzger Rd

The vegetation was "crackle-dry". Daily rains along the coast have not penetrated inland very far. The katydids were not what one would consider common. Two males were found on the 25 May. Another trip was made on 28 May and a slightly different locality was searched. The vegetation looked the same but the katydids were not found. We returned to the original spot and 2 females were located at sunset. This was a sufficient series to validate the species from an area slightly west of the type locality.

The challenge now is to trace the westward distribution of A. jadoni. With this katydid appearing to be quite rare, this may take some time.


Rentz, DCF. 1993. A monograph of the Tettigoniidae of Australia. Volume 2. The Phasmodinae, Zaprochilinae and Austrosaginae. With contributions by D. Colless and N. Ueshima. CSIRO Pp. 1-386.

Rentz, DCF., Su, Y.-N., Ueshima, N. 2007. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae. A New genus of Listroscelidine katydids from northern Australia. (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae; Listroscelidinae). Transactions of the American Entomological Society, 133: 279-296.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Last Throes of Summer

Here in the tropics we approach the Dry Season with cooler temperatures, lower humidity, less rain and fewer insects- It's almost winter in the tropics.

Harbingers of the end of the wet season are some of the following orthopteroid insects.

Meet the Mundurra Fierce Predatory Katydid, Hexacentrus mundurra Rentz.
 Males hang upside down and stridulate from dusk from low perches in open areas of grassland and mixed vegetation. The incessant song continues until late in the evening when tmeratures drop. The sound is loud and travels for a great distance. It can easily be heard from a moving car.
 This species is a true predator and it seems to specialise in subduing other katydids.
Females look quite different from the males. The wings are just used for short flights or gliding, whereas, the males wings (tegmina) are modified for sound production. Males can also take short flights when necessary. However, the escape technique is to drop deep into the vegetation and remain still until the danger passes.
The Giant Rainforest Mantis (at least 60 mm in length), Hierodula majuscula (Tindale), Mantidae; Mantinae seems to show up at the lights for only a few weeks at the end of the season. I have never seen nymphs around in the garden so I assume it drops by on its nocturnal excursions. The spines on the forelegs can deliver a painful prick if this species is not handled carefully.
The most surpsising drop-in is the Migratory Locust, Locusta migratoria Linnaeus, Acrididae; Acridinae; Oedpiodini. This large locust is thought not to fly at night and but I have found it at light in Kuranda sporadically over the years but only during May. I have recorded it in May 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2014. On our last trip to the Daintree, it was very common and large numbers of individuals would take flight when disturbed during the day. However, after dark many were found sedentary in grass and none were attracted to our lights. This species is a grass feeder.

The only plague of recorded for this species in Australia was 1974-76 during favourable years. However, overseas this species is a major pest of rice, corn, sorghum and related plants.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Flying Sticks

Click on the photos for a larger size

Anyone travelling up the coast from Cairns to Mossman in far north Queensland can't miss this Osprey nest.
Perched on a pole along the busy highway, a perfect nest is taking shape. The local electricity folks seem content to leave the birds alone. It seems ideally placed-not far from the ocean and there are a number of flowing streams a short distance form the site which is otherwise surrounded by sugarcane fields. There are a number of other nests along the same highway. But we noticed some activity around this nest and stopped for a better view.
Sure enough a head popped up. We thought they have bubs in the nest.
One of the adults cruised by giving us the once-over.
A nice bird against the blue sky. Then it disappeared for a while.
The bird returned carrying what looked like a snake. What a catch! And we are here to watch it.
But it didn't dangle like a snake. It was a stick.
But not only that, it was carrying a stick in one foot and some twigs or muddy grass in the other.

It flew low of over the nest and dropped the bunch of grass, then circled around and dropped the stick. The grass hit the target but the stick missed.
All this happening with cars whizzing past at great speed and incredible noise. The birds just carried on with business as usual.

So it seems the bird on the nest was the female and she was doing the house-keeping while the male was gathering the nesting material. In a month or so we will check on the occupants again and keep you posted.

Check for live cam:

Thanks to Dave Weissman for the link

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Thing of Beauty

Lindsay Fisher  took this photo of a rare yellow morph of the Serrated Bush Katydid, Paracaedicia serrata Brunner. Odd colour morphs of this and other katydids appear from time to time. In fact, a pinkish morph, photographed by Jack Hasenpusch, was on the cover of the Guide to Australian Katydids.
P. serrata is normally a green katydid.
This katydid lives in the coastal rainforests of northern Queensland. It probably lives well off the ground in dense foliage. It, like many others of its subfamily, probably feeds on foliage. It frequently comes to lights after dark.
It gets its specific name from the serrated appearance of the hind femur. The serrations are actually stout spines. It is a robust species and large (approximately 60-70 mm in length) and would present formidable opposition to a bird or lizard that attempted to subdue it.
The structure of the thorax with its expanded musculature is responsible for its hump-backed appearance. This results in its strong flying capabilites.
Eye colour and patterns on the head of katydids are generally species-distinctive but taxonomists studying dead bugs are usually unaware of the colours because they are not preserved with most preservation methods and they also fade with time. This is a disadvantage because they are not only beautiful but add sets of characters that can be used in classification.
The morphology of the male clasping organs provide one of the most distinctive features of katydids. The teeth fit into equally distinctive pockets on the abdomen of the female. This has been called the "Lock and Key" theory in the distant past. If the key is not of the structure to fit the pocket, then there is no successful copulation. This is probably true most of the time but it is the odd occasion when a mating takes place between members of different species that hybrids can result.

Of interest to a limited number of readers is a recent proposed name change to the classification of katydids. Formerly the family to which this and the greater majority of katydids belong is the Tettigoniidae. This family has been divided into many subfamilies and from time to time these subfamilies have been raised to family status. In general, these escalations have been ignored by taxonomists.

This katydid is a member of the subfamily Phaneropterinae and has been once again elevated to family status, now the Phaneropteridae. This changes the status of hundreds of genera. This change was based on a suite of morphological characters borne on extant and fossil species and DNA analysis. Four subfamilies are included in the new Phaneropteridae: Mecopodinae, Phyllophorinae, Pseudophyllinae and the Phaneropterinae. Only time will tell if taxonomists accept these changes but the evidence seems overwhelming at this point.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cyclone Ita: The Aftermath

Cyclone Ita visited Australia via the Solomon Islands where it did considerable damage due to winds and flooding.

It built up strength hitting the mainland north of Cooktown as a Category 5 storm, the maximum on the scale of 1-5. Once it hit the mainland it tracked south very slowly causing much chaos to tropical crops like bananas.

The cyclone lost strength once it was over land and continued its southward journey as a Category 1 storm. The "eye" passed over Kuranda. But at that stage Ita had done its deed. The rain stopped, the wind stopped and that was it. There was just a shower overnight.

Rainfall at Kuranda during the storm: 181 mm 12 April; 206 mm 13 April; 14 mm 14 April.

Cyclone Ita travelled inland well to the south of Cairns and then eventually tracked out to sea over the Whitsunday Islands where we visited just a week before.

Damage around Kuranda was spotty. It was a major catastrophe if a tree hit your house, but just a nuisance otherwise.

The creek at flood. It passage was slowed due to fallen trees and shrubbery but it is back to normal now.
this was the extent of our damage-a small tree across the driveway.

The tree that fell on this garage missed the solar panels in the front.

But others were not so lucky. This large Black Wattle, about a metre in diameter fell onto a house down the street. Fortunately, the owners were away and there was little subsequent rain. Considering the size of the tree, there was relatively little damage.

Max and Philip standing on base of tree.
An awful site for the owner when they return from their trip.
Huh, what cyclone?

In precis, the cyclone was much more restrained than we expected when it came ashore north of Cooktown. There was relatively little damage to the Cairns business district.

Friday, 11 April 2014

A Few Notes On An Aussie Icon

The sulphur-crested cockatoo, Cacatua galerita, can be found all over Australia from sea level to tree-line in the high mountains and on adjacent islands. Four geographic races have been described. They also occur in New Guinea and on many islands such as Aru, Waigeo and Misool.

Cockatoos are popular pets. They can live for many decades and are often included in wills. They can no longer be exported from Australia but many make the northern pet trade through illegal exports from adjacent non-Australian territories and breeding by aviculturalists. They attract handsome prices outside Australia.

Cockatoos have a very loud, raucous call-probably a protective "strategy" that puts off potential predators. They cause mega-damage to fruits and nuts and farmers are allowed to shoot pesky individuals.
Cockatoos are quick to recognise potential food sources. They can descend on a bird feeder and empty it promptly. They have a great fondness for chewing on wood. Garden furniture is at risk when cockatoos are around. The wander around on roofs and chew on molding and shutters causing great economic loss. Resorts plead with visitors not to encourage the birds as they will often chew on furniture and even enter rooms in search of a free meal.
Cockatoos, as well as Rainbow Lorikeets, will gladly join you for lunch.

Some bold individuals even take to the trash bins!

A Sad Note
Within a group of cockies, you will often find one or two rather moth-eaten individuals.

Birds that look like this are suffering from Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease. This is a viral disease that is usually fatal. Some birds have an immunity to the ailment. It manifests itself in several ways. The bird's dander, the powdery coating on the feathers, is destroyed and the birds lose the ability to keep the feathers clean. So they always appear dirty. The feathers are affected. The shafts seem to not allow the feathers to open. There is feather drop and the topnotch is often lost. Birds acquire the infection in the nest and if they develop more or less normally, they eventually suffer diarrhea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

One of the sadder aspects of the disease is that the beak is often affected and can even fall off. When this happens, the bird's ability to feed is greatly limited.

Many parrot species can be affected by PBFD and it is disappointing to see a pet develop the symptoms and have to be euthanised.