Walking sticks

Wildlife seems to find me. This impressive stick-insect right beside my front door was spotted by my son-in-law when he arrived.

I think this is a female Titan Stick-insect, Acrophylla titan.

She was easily 300mm long, compared here with her discoverer’s hand.

I was afraid to harm those fragile limbs in trying to dislodge her, but she was not interested in walking on to a twig either.

This stick-insect is from the Phasmatidae family. Six-legged vegetarians, they are often confused with the carnivorous Mantids — as in the Praying Mantis.

As you can see, she’d have superb camouflage on bark or branches, so why she chose to walk away from any trees or shrubs, across a wide timber verandah, and climb up a grey painted weatherboard wall I cannot imagine. She can’t fly — unless ‘she’ is a ‘he’, as the males can, but they are smaller.

Next morning she was gone, nowhere in sight. A mysterious visit by an example of amazing Nature!

Casuarina honey

For about a week I have had a constant hum in my ears. Given I was recently diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, nothing would surprise me.

But then a visitor heard it too, and sensibly wondered where the bees were. Not many plants are flowering right now, so I was at a loss.

Until I really listened to where the humming was coming from — the large Casuarina on the bank behind the house. Too high for me to see its flowers without the camera’s magnification; and they don’t look much like flowers anyway. The tree just looked a bit rusty from afar.

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But on going closer, this big She-oak is covered in golden flowers, its branches visibly vibrating with hundreds of busy bees. I would not have imagined these tiny flowers to be so bee-beloved.

I am always grateful that such a majestic tree survives within my watching area.

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Black Cockatoos love its nuts/seeds, all the bigger birds love to perch in its branches and sing, and now I know that bees love it too. Somewhere there is a hive full of Casuarina honey.

Verandah microcosm

Even without stirring from my verandah, I have a world of nature in view.

The wildlife comes to me, and this time I don’t mean rose-climbing possums or gate-leaping wallabies! These are mini-inhabitants, easy to miss, and easy to admire.

One dull day I spotted a strange blob of white on the corner verandah post. Being vertically placed, it couldn’t be a bird or lizard dropping.

Close up, it was connected to what I assume was a moth. Or was it a beetle? Does anyone out there know?

Next time I remembered to look, it seemed totally enclosed in its own white sheath, its cocoon.  If so, how did it do the last bits, I wondered? It would be like making a mould of yourself.  

But then I thought that probably this was an illusion and that it had made an ‘egg’ case and left.

It’s still there and I try to check now and then in case it’s cracking open.

On a railing attached to that post, yesterday I noticed that a seed of the Mandevilla laxa vine has begun a new life in a crack in the timber. As you see, it’s tiny now, and I will be interested to see how it goes. Will it grow too big to survive in there or will it widen the crack?

Isn’t life amazing??

Lemon tree life

On one common lemon tree in my yard — and I have raised many, never wanting to be short of lemons — I have discovered  a busy metropolis of green creatures.

This bejewelled and banded, spotted and spiked emerald caterpillar is one of about a similar six that I could easily see — the inquisitive bristling head of another is just visible to the lower left of the beauty on full display.

Plenty of evidence of leaf munching, and plenty more leaves to munch. Other caterpillars looked less relaxed, and a couple were arching, perhaps getting ready to change from the butterfly larva it really is, to the next stage, the pupa.

A few years ago I had photographed a similar knobbly green pupa or cocoon on another ‘proper’ lemon tree in my orchard and my web visitors had identified it for me as that of the Orchard Butterfly.  But I never saw it hatch, or the Butterfly.

You can see the fine ‘silk’ attaching it to the stem — and what great camouflage!

Coincidentally, while circling this tree looking for more butterfly life cycle evidence, I found my tiny New Year frog again. This lemon is right next to the hydrangea where I saw him then, so it could be the same Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog.

And then, on the same damp day, but on a different and very non-citrus tree, I was lucky enough to spot the Orchard Butterfly herself — big and boldly patterned and very still, perhaps drying those gorgeous wings.

It’s interesting that all the three stages of the life cycle are present at once. Is this usual?

Leafy visitor

I’d just cut back the woody stems of the verandah vines — the ornamental grape and the wisteria. A scattering of brown tendrils and dry curling leaves had landed on the verandah and I began to sweep them off.

Only, one decided it didn’t want to be swept and began lurching away.

It was so delicate I’d have broken it with one unwitting blow, had I not seen it for what it was — a small leaf insect, one of the Phasmid family, like the stick insects.

I do have the CSIRO field guide to these extraordinary insects, but I can’t find this one.

Flared and flattened, curled and bent, blotched and pitted — what amazing camouflage! Not much use on this drawer I was airing, so I carefully let it cling to a stick and transferred it to the brown stems and remnant leaves from whence I expect it had come. The delicacy of its feet, especially the questing front ones! 

Nature truly is awesome.

Native garden

Without the need to sow or prune or feed, native plants appear, thrive and flower on my yard, where and as they choose.

One of the most common and obvious flowering plants is the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens), whose bright clear yellow blooms are easy to spot. I have been told it is also called Snake Bush because, when not climbing, apparently its broad leaves make a good hiding place for snakes.

A better climber that takes advantage of any stalk or stem is the daintier Wombat Berry (Eustrephus latifolius var. angustifolius) to the left, with narrow leaves and clusters of pale pink flowers that develop into bright orange berries. Don’t ask me what wombats have to do with it!

On looking closer at this little pocket of my self-sown garden, I saw it had an inhabitant – a green and pink and hairy caterpillar, which I cannot identify.

Where brushes meet

brush-butterfly-1The native Brush Cherry (Szygium australe) in my garden is just opening its buds.

Somehow the word went straight out into the butterfly world, for within a day of this happening, a certain species suddenly appeared to claim those flowers.

I counted around 35 of these butterflies just on the sides I could see. They weren’t my usual Wanderer butterfly, so out came the butterfly book.
brush-butterfly-2What they are (I think) is Klug’s Xenica (Geitoneura klugi klugi, a member of the Nymphalinae family, sub-family Satyrinae). If I’m right, it’s a quaint semantic coincidence, as the species of this sub-family is also known as the brush-footed butterfly. 

Different meanings of ‘brush’ — but the brush-footed butterfly loves the Brush Cherry blossoms!

Weird woody worm

I have an old wooden stepladder that I keep in the shed. Last time I used it was to trim the ornamental grapevine on the verandah.

The other day I fetched it and placed it under a grey gum where I was mending a swing. Perhaps an hour later I went to fold it up and return it to the shed.
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That’s when I noticed the bit of woody vine tendril stuck on one corner of the top step. I went to flick it off — but then it moved. It looped its way along the step, such dressed timber not allowing it to be as well camouflaged as it ought.

It had bark-like patches and twig-like knobs; it was beige and brown and grey, with tinges of pink and green — just like a living twig. An amazing little creature.
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When it raised its head to suss out where to go next, it was almost rabbit-like with such thick antennae and a sloped face; but the rest of it was more caterpillar-ish, with three pairs of feet at the front and then a long stretch — the loopy part — before the end, where there seemed to be several pairs of feet separated by a sort of velcro gap.

But I could only catch glimpses of this occasionally; I could have sworn I saw blue under there — blue velcro? Or had its velcro picked up one of the very rare dots of old blue paint from the ladder?

It would appear to be a caterpillar of some moth of the family Geometridae, according to my Animals in Disguise book by Paul Zborowski.

I said it ‘looped’ along, but I could have said it inched along. Not surprisingly then, their common names are Inch Worms or Loop Caterpillars.
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I could only assume it had fallen from the branches above; when I placed it on the rough bark of the trunk, it stood out straight like a twig, but soon dropped to the leaf litter at the base, where it looked much more at home. Just look at those markings!

Lemon? Or leaf? Or…?

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I was walking around the lemon tree, which has several generations of fruit on it at present, trying to decide which might be the oldest and best to pick.

Then I caught a glimpse of something not quite right hanging there.
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It was green and nobbly textured like the young fruit, but shaped more like the leaves and with small paler dots on it like them.

But a closer look from several angles showed it was neither deformed fruit nor leaf.
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It was a beautifully camouflaged nursery case, a pupa, for some sort of moth or butterfly.

No wonder I find nature a constant source of wonder!

Bees on the move

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First I saw a dense cloud of insects — termites, I assumed. But the intense buzzing alerted me to look more closely. They were bees, swarming about the top of a young pittosporum tree.

Having had trouble with bees making their hive too close to a doorway before, I was anxious to see where they were going to settle.

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Then I spotted the dark shape at the heart of the Autumnalis shrub rose next to the tree. I had been on my hands and knees, weeding right there, only yesterday.

I hoped this wasn’t a permanent choice of abode.

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But I know little about bees. Next day they were further down the yard, in a seething mass on the grass below the lemon-scented ti-tree.

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Later that same day, as I planted out calamint seedlings, over the crackle of Radio National on my tiny transistor radio I heard an odd noise. A plane? I turned the radio off. No, bees, on the move again.

They seemed to be searching for a new place to land, and heading my way.

As I didn’t want to caught up in this, I decided it was lunchtime and fair leapt up the steps to the safety of indoors.

I have yet to find where the next squat is located.

Cotton caterpillar

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As I was about to pull up a wild cotton plant spotted near my big dam,  I noticed this spectacularly marked caterpillar.

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Khaki, powder blue and black, in stripes and spots and vees. Then I saw a little one further down the plant. They appear to be double-ended, with those handsome black antennae at each end.

I couldn’t possibly pull out the weed while such beauties were busy eating their way to cocoonhood.

I don’t have a caterpillar book; does anyone know what this will become?

Potting hornet

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On my verandah I have hung an antique tin tub, so rusty as to be lacework.

Having found it way down in a gully, far from any habitation past or present, I have assumed it was left behind by a cedargetters’ camp, long, long ago.

Now it is providing shelter for an Australian Hornet, who is busily making nests for her young.

She buzzes as she works, the sound being amplified as it vibrates aginst the tin. She bring small amounts of wet mud and shapes them into elongated cups with her delicate feet.

They are like half-coil pots and she is one of the family of ‘potter wasps’.

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Inside each clay cell she places paralysed caterpillars, lays an egg, then plugs the top. The young will feed on the caterpillars. Interestingly, the adults only feed on flower nectar.

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Next to that cell she made another, joined but separate. Look at the neatness of the rows of clay and the flared shaping for adhesion and strength at the ends. She’s an experienced potter.

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Next morning she had finished two and was inside an almost-completed third, perhaps placing a stunned caterpillar?

These hornets don’t attack people, as I know from them regularly passing by my head as I work when I have the window open here.

So no need to fear or remove them, and they do keep caterpillar numbers in control. Plus they make admirable pots!

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