Earthmovers

Most of us are familiar with the ramparts built by ants to protect their underground homes from inundation. As I am waiting for tracks to dry out after rain, so I can get out, I am hoping they don’t mean these ants are expecting more rain.

But these tiny (and very bitey) little insects are moving soft sandy soil.

Unlike their fellow earthmovers, the termites, who, despite being called white ants, are more closely related to cockroaches than to ants.

Termites create cities of hard-packed mounds, towers and pinnacles from their own bodies.

They excrete the wood that they eat and use it to make the ‘mud’ of their fantastic constructions. And it’s estimated that they’ve been doing it for 150 million years.

So hard-packed is the material that it has often been chosen to use for earth floors. It would seem a shame to destroy such an artistic creation as the multi-turreted one above.  But how do they decide the intention of shape and direction? Or is it random?

Do the workers ever rebel and follow their own design bent? Like this questing Leunig curl?

As the termite king and queen remain in their chambers, they never get to see the handiwork of their workers, so whims could be perhaps be indulged…

Smart spit?

Any odd spots of inappropriate colour on a plant always catch my eye.

These two white blobs on the old casuarina outside my gate drew my attention.

There were only the two, but I knew what these were because my sister had a larger version in one of her garden trees not long ago and we had both searched for the identity. (A Slime Mould had been my first guess.)

It has many names, including Snakespit, Frogspit and Cuckoospit. In fact, it’s not spit at all, but the secretions of the Spittlebug.

Spittlebugs are not actually bugs, but the nymphs of true bugs called froghoppers… because they hop.

They feed on the xylem of plants, the water-conducting tubes from roots to leaves. A spittlebug has to pump up a great deal of this fluid to survive… up to 300 times its weight in an hour!

The nymph is usually upside-down, and pumping so much fluid means it excretes a lot of waste from its anus. As it does, it also secretes a sticky substance from its abdominal glands, whips air into the mix and creates the froth. This covers the nymph, hiding it from predators. The froth also makes a nice humid ‘house’ and shields the bug from rain.

Clever, eh?

Rainy day life

In between showers and heavy downpours I nipped out to check the mail box and found this bright creature held fast to the front of it by a small spider web. After taking a photo, I freed its legs and sent it on its way.

Next step of course was to find out what it was.

Turns out it is quite historic, being the first insect to be described from Australia, after Cook’s first visit.

It is Chrysopolus spectabilis, or far less appropriately called Botany Bay Weevil.

‘Diamond’ and ‘sapphire’ feature in other less used names, but ‘weevil’ persists. For me that is unfortunate, as it  carries baggage of unpleasant connotations of bulk flour ruined by weevils. But they never looked like this!

In fact, this insect feeds on wattles, on acacias, and I have several varieties planted nearby.

My front verandah is partly protected from the rain by the Ornamental Grape vine. It seems it offers protection to certain wildlife as well, for the amount of dark pellets dotting the railing and decking has grown very large.

Naturally any creatures are sheltering on the undersides of the large leaves, so shaded and not great for photos.

The culprit is the Hungry Green Caterpillar, common enough, with ‘horns’ and a faint yellow stripe, and after wading through hundreds of Caterpillar I.D. shots, I am no longer sure just what sort of moth or butterfly it will be. Any suggestions?

The older ones have turned brown and seem stiffened and bent… perhaps no longer eating or depositing small balls!

Also sheltering from the weather was this charming Green Tree Frog. They are also a widespread and common type, but this one is the first I have seen here, and very welcome!

I see this one has chosen a spot with a view out from beneath the leaf roof! Handsome and clever…

Bereft Butterfly

As the ornamental grape has lost all its lovely pink leaves, I tackled the pruning of its woody infrastructure, always a little trepidatiously, but knowing from experience that it will shoot even more vigorously if I prune it hard.

And besides, the best cuttings are good for striking more plants, and the bulk of them dry to make good kindling for the fire.

But not everyone was pleased by the removal. A few grasshoppers lost their hiding places, and this lone butterfly seemed quite upset as more and more of the thin twiggy veil was cut away.

Then it landed on the railing and stayed so still for so long I worried it was stunned somehow.

It has the unfortunate name of the Common Eggfly. Most unfair for such a pretty and dainty creature. And if it’s common in general, being found from the Torres Strait and Northern Australia all the way to Sydney, it’s the only one here! 

When it did fly off, it seemed agitated, fluttering in and out of the remaining vine. Had it laid eggs there?

Hopovers

I know nothing about grasshoppers or locusts and really had only seen the small green ones on vegetables sometimes. But at present I have several sorts inhabiting my larger plants.

These gorgeous green ones do not have wings, so they must be at nymph stage, and they have eaten large holes in plants like arrowroot.

This one on a small citrus tree has the beginnings of wings. It appears to be resting there rather than eating the leaves.

But this small yellow and brown hopper has clearly been busy munching up strength for whatever comes next.

And then I notice more in a casuarina tree, whose needle leaves do not seem like a good food source, nor even camouflage for this bright lime green hopper.

As my eyes adjust, I see several very different and much larger members  of the hopper family in the casuarina. Much better camouflage, even for such bold patterning as this fellow has.

I will need to be on guard for what this group of hopovers turn into next. I wish I knew more or had time to make more sense of this family’s lives.

So far I can afford the bits they take from my plants. I cannot yet say I have a biblical plague of locusts.

Covid-19 is quite enough.