Saturday, 17 November 2018

Tidbinbilla Moths

Emperor Gum Moth Opodiphthera eucalypti  (c 15 cm wingspan)

I was out at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve last week helping with a moth survey organised by Glenn Cocking and Suzi Bond for their book on moths of the Australian Capital Territory. The site was well sheltered beneath tall eucalypt trees and I managed to photograph about a dozen species. Here is a small selection of the ones I photographed. It is the colours and form that appeal to me. Knowledge of these species is so sparse that I cannot fill out the text to tell more about them, especially their lifestyles, habitats and foodplants. Hopefully that will all be in the book.

Melanodes anthracitaria dark phase (c 5 cm wingspan)

This rather ordinary moth is worth a mention because it occurs in two colour forms; a dark all grey phase, and light phase of grey blotched with creamy/yellow.

Melanodes anthracitaria light phase

Hypobapta sp. from above (c 4 cm wingspan)

I like to see the moths' tiny faces, antennae and those big round eyes. 

Hypobapta sp. from the side/front

Praxis porphyretica (c 4 cm wingspan)

Callitera rotundrata (c 4 cm wingspan)

Cleora sp.  (c 4 cm wingspan)

What wonderful antennae.

Nisista sp. (c 4 cm wingspan)

This species looks so much like a rolled-edged leaf lying on the forest litter.

Endotricha ignealis (c 2 cm wingspan)

This species seems deliberately to hold its forequarters up on its long legs, and its great long antennae are swept over its back. 

Endotricha ignealis 

Parepisparis lutosaria (c 7 cm wingspan)

Finally, this was my favourite find of the night, magnificent colour and form.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Small Ant-blue

Acrodipsas myrmecophila

Small Ant-blue butterflies are indeed small.

Although when they fly in swarms like this one, in which there were of over a hundred individual males, they are spectacular.

This is the tree they were flying around, a small Blakeley's Red Gum sapling, with some dead wood lying around, in an open grassy woodland on the edge of the suburbs. The butterfly is a rare resident in the Canberra area, and is uncommon or very localised throughout its range from Victoria to southern Queensland.

Here a group of four adults (all male) have newly emerged from the ant nest they have developed within and overwintered as larvae. The ants are Coconut Ants Papyrius nitidus, and the butterfly larvae feed on their larvae. The ants build their nests in dead wood lying on the ground and in the base of the saplings.

Once their wings are fully extended they begin flying around the nest trees and perch on the branches and leaves, ever watching or smelling for females.

When fresh, their wings have a delicate fringe of scales.

When a few days old, the fringes are tattered and the wings themselves become chipped and ragged. The metallic blue of the bronze upperwing shows in this photo.

Two males perched on my watch as I was photographing the flock. They seldom sit with their wings open for more than a few seconds.

The females were scarcer and seemed to mate as soon as they could fly. The next time they became obvious was when they were seeking a crevice or shady piece of bark at the lower parts of a sapling to lay their eggs in.

I never saw a female sit with her wings open and this one only shows a glimpse of the bright metallic blue of her upperwing.

Once they have laid their eggs the females die. Or in this case are immediately killed and dismembered by the ants. How did the ants know to let her lay her eggs before attacking her. They were in attendance all the time she was laying. The blue of her wings is more easily seen now.

The males probably live for a week of so, competing to mate with a female, but they too can become prey. This one flew into a spider's web, she can be seen top right. Other males were caught by birds, such as Noisy Miners which had a nest in the ant-tree.

The whole flying season probably only lasts for a one or two weeks. Then once the adults have died, the species continues as several instar stages within the ant nest until the next generation emerges the following year. But what do the ants gain from the partnership? or are they simply conned by some pheromone emitted by the butterflies and larvae?

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

First Frogmouths fledging now

An adult male Tawny Frogmouth sits with one of his chicks in the nest, while the sibling sits out along the nest branch.

This one would likely have been flying about between the branches, if not neighbouring trees, over the past few nights, then returning to the nest by dawn. Perhaps, the sooner they can leave the nest at night the safer they are from predators, by separating from the group. The chicks do make a rasping, coughing call when they are being fed, and that could attract owls, for example.

When viewed from the other side, it seems like both chicks are actually out of the nest and on the branch rather than in the nest, which is just the cradle of twigs in the fork. That is all frogmouths need for a nest, enough to hold the eggs, any more twigs and the nest would be bulky and so betray the birds presence. A little is better for these birds, who rely on their camouflage for concealment.

This chick doesn't look much younger, only a day or so in difference. These shots were taken yesterday, so I am sure both chicks will have fledged by tonight, although they might still return to their nest for perhaps one more night. As it's Halloween tonight, watch out for some of these spectres flying between the trees, silently gathering moths. There is nothing frightening in nature, just fascinating.

Two Ochres

A Heath Ochre Trapezites phigalia rests on leaf litter, with its wings closed along the line of the sunshine
- so not casting a shadow to aid me seeing it. 
The butterflies are finally beginning to show here in Canberra after a slow dry spring. In the past week I have seen two species of Ochre, Heath and Yellow, but wow when they close their wings and settle on the ground cover they just disappear from view.

They are only a couple of centimetres long with a wingspan of about 3 cm, so I had to get down to ground level to capture the detail of the wing pattern.

This was the only one of its species I saw that day and it didn't seem to be keen to be out searching for a mate, or food which was sparse as there were so few herbs in flower. It has been so dry, little is growing. The habitat was open grassy woodland, which normally has a good shrub and herb understorey.

This was all I saw of its upperwings, it never held them fully open.

A Yellow Ochre Trapezites luteus flying between flowerheads.
The Yellow Ochres were just over the border in New South Wales on a grassy verge of a rough mountain road. Here some daisies provided several individuals with nectar. These are more localised butterflies in their distribution, uncommon but not rare. the heath Ochres are more common, but still have a localised distribution.

The yellow of the butterfly complements that of the daisies well, and the white spot on the underwing.

The sun was bright and the butterflies were flitting between flowerheads, so I cranked up the camera speed and tried a few flight shots. They look so different when in flight, this one still has its tongue unrolled.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Bees on blossom

The garden has been full of honey bees over the past few weeks. First they had the apricot blossom, then the plums, now they are collecting nectar from the apple trees. They really are busy little things and trying to grab some photographs of them is challenging, the fly so quickly. Here are a two shots taken with ISO settings of 4000, and exposure time of 1/4000 of a second. And they still are not frozen in action, well their bodies are but not their wings.

So I tried some slow-motion filming of them. This was more tricky as the camera could not focus closely enough to give larger images and tracking the bees before pressing record was difficult through a viewfinder. Here are the results of my better efforts. Fun trying.

The action shown in each of these clips was over in a few seconds.

And one last final clip