Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Hot summer

A female Cabbage White Pieris rapae feeds on a dandelion flower

It's January, mid-summer in Canberra, and it's hot. So, I have been a little quiet recently, keeping cool and getting back into working at the desk. I try to take short sorties into the local bush, but most days I'm happy to sit on the veranda and watch the birds come and go in the garden. Then, while sitting there I counted six species of butterfly flitting between the plants, searching for food plants for themselves or to lay eggs on. So, I thought I might grab a few quick shots. No, the sunshine is so hot that the butterflies are all flying almost non-stop and at speed. They are not easy targets.

A female Common Grass Blue Zizina labradus feeds on a clover flower

The male cabbage whites were chasing one another through and over the bushes, then I spotted a female feeding on the dandelions on the lawn. One down. Next the blues, but they are so tiny and they really chase one another, fast and in unpredictable twisty flight. Fortunately this seems to take its toll on the males as they stopped every now and then to sun up and re-charge. No chance of close approach though, a long lens shot only. Similarly for the one female I saw and captured as she supped from the clover.

A male Common Grass Blue takes a short break to bask in the sun

The butterflies are certainly pretty to see, from our perspective, but the most stunning lepidorteran in the garden at the moment is a great big caterpillar, a Batwing Moth caterpillar. This one has grown to over 10 cm and the adult when it emerges has a wingspan well over that. They will emerge from their cocoons at the end of the summer, early autumn.

Batwing or White Stemmed Gum Moth Chelepteryx collesi.. Every spine hurts if it sticks into a predators skin

It is a few years since I saw one of these in the garden, which is good and bad news. Good for me as these insect larvae are protected by a mass of spines which break off into our skin if touched. And they are very irritating when they do, as they are very difficult to see and remove. A bit like pieces of very fine glass. But, then bad for the caterpillars as their main food plant in the garden, the tall red gums have been rather sickly in recent years, due to dry weather and an infestation of lerps (Google that, they are a fascinating life form and a rich source of food for birds).

Six true legs stretch forward, searching for a hold

These caterpillars have such dense spines/hairs around their thorax and head that it is difficult to discern exactly where the head is. It is a tiny section set low, beginning somewhere just in front of the legs. The best clue is their tiny black eyes which catch in the sunshine. But their mouth-parts are so swarmed by hairs, not much else can be made out. Then, of course, like so many caterpillars it is tricky to tell which end is which, as the tail resembles the head, or is it the head that resembles the tail...

A tiny beady eye looks out from beneath all those hairs

This one was not on a gum tree, but wandering across some old cut branches. I reckon that it had fed enough for that stage of its life and it was looking for a place to tuck into while it metamorphoses into an adult moth. Their cocoons are also prickly as they push those spines out thorough the casing. That is a very annoying habit for anyone like me you tends to climb trees. The cocoons are well camouflaged and too easily laid hands upon. Ouch.

So, til autumn....

Now which end was which again?