Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reaching for sunflower seeds

A Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans picks seeds from a sunflower outside a window

Sunflower seeds are a rich food and the garden birds love them. This sunflower grew wild in the garden, just outside a window. The seed had been in compost that was spread into the flower bed and then germinated. So we left it and it grew into a whopper. The plant is over two metres tall and the flower is about 40 cm wide.

The rosellas can pick the seeds out easily

The only birds that can gain the precious seeds are the Crimson Rosellas. The Sulphur-crested Cockatoos Cacatua galerita tried, but the plant could not bare their weight, nor the Australian Magpies Cracticus tibicen. So, the rosellas have them all to themselves. But now they have reached their limit, they cannot reach the seeds in the centre of the flowerhead. They can balance on the flower stem or the edge of the flowerhead and pull out the outer seeds, but they can't grab onto the tissue paper-thin seed cases in the flower to reach those in the middle.

It's just that they can't reach the seeds in the centre of the flower-head
They have clambered all around the flower and now look forlornly at the rich seeds still in the head. So, yes, I had to help them as I like them.

They have been stretching from all sides, gripping onto the edge of the flower
I have cut the flower head off and laid it out for them on a garden table. My good deed for the day done.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

A spectacular garden butterfly

Tailed Emperor Polyura sempronius

This magnificent butterfly was just outside our house yesterday, well it emerged yesterday, but as a caterpillar it had been in the garden for long before that. I never knew.

Hiding in the leaf litter at the side of the yard

I noticed it as it fluttered away from me when I was in the yard, and I could tell it had only recently emerged from its chrysalis as it was weak, only scuttling across the ground and into the leaf litter lying at the base of a wall. It looked so vulnerable as there are lots of birds in our garden and it would have been easy prey if any found it. So, as it was evening I took it inside for the night, lifting it by the feet, careful not to damage its scales. It was in lovely fresh condition.

In the evening I did a bit of research.

The splendid double tail on each of the hindwings - with lovely fresh margins and scales

After a good night's sleep I took it back into the yard and offered it a split grape or a chunk of pineapple for breakfast. It chose the pineapple, well these butterflies love their fructose. After a good long sip of juice it began to shiver to warm itself up. The sun was still hidden behind some trees.

Pineapple for breakfast

Then when the sunshine came through, I popped it onto the sunny side of the tree which it had been living on when a caterpillar, a Persian Silk Tree Albizia julibrissin. It immediately lined itself up so that its back was warmed by the sun through a thin gap between its closed wings. The previous night had been cold, so it took an hour or so of sunshine to warm up and begin to shuffle about. Every now and then, it shifted slightly to stay aligned with the sun.

Lined up to capture the sun's heat on its back

While I was waiting for the butterfly to take off safely, I kept close by, keeping potential predators away, and I had a bit of look through the branches of the Silk Tree. Sure enough, I found lots of nibbled leaves, and a recently emptied chrysalis.

Tailed Emperor habitat - the Silk Tree is above and left of the table

The chrysalis was like the tiny beginnings of a wasp nest, except that it was not paper, but keratin I suppose, and see-through as it was empty. I couldn't find any others, nor any caterpillars. I shall go out for a look after dark.

The chrysalis it emerged from, hanging empty from a small branchlet of the Silk Tree
- attached by a tiny silk button

Meanwhile, as the butterfly was keeping so still I took lots of photographs. I sent a set of shots to Suzi Bond, our local butterfly person and it was she who identified it as a female by her white abdomen and large size, with a wingspan of over 80 mm.

Her gorgeous face - her eyes had a black pearl effect, her proboscis was curled tight into her 'fur' and her labial palpi, a pair of  olfactory sensory organs, pointed up like a snooty nose

That was a very pleasant morning. I had learned a lot, and taken some curious shots of the butterfly, her face and wing pattern.

On recall, during the waiting, I had seen the leaves eaten in previous years, even found a spectacular green, horned caterpillar beneath the tree before, but I had not found time to identify it properly.

I left her to sun herself on her larval food tree, but once warm enough, she fluttered down to the ground and sat there motionless in the leaf litter. She obviously felt safer there where she was camouflaged.
I had found her in her favoured resting habitat.
 I'll watch the Silk Tree more thoroughly in future, and the ground below.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Dragonfly mimic

No, it looks like a dragonfly with that long thick abdomen and large wings, but it's a mimic, an Owlfly

Whenever I go out to look for one thing; plant, animal etc, I usually find something else that intrigues me, and while out on my recent dragonfly hunts I found this wonderful creature. It is an Owlfly a neuroptera species, classified in the Ascalaphidae family. What a marvellous dragonfly mimic. I went chasing through the grass after it, believing it was a dragonfly, and although I did think the habitat was a bit dry and dense for a dragonfly I continued my pursuit. Then when it rested on a grass stem I immediately saw I was being fooled. Dragonflies do not have such crazily long antennae.

Seen from above, those antennae are so, so long and club-ended - capitate antennae,
and the abdomen looks even more dragonfly-like

I walked around the owlfly, taking shots without disturbing it, and I could not think of any insect with that body shape and body-length antennae. So I sent off some photographs to Harvey Perkins, my insect guru, and he immediately replied with its identity and congratulated me on my good find.

The posture is dragonfly-like and I was fooled until I noticed the antennae

Apart from the antennae, the Owfly's mimicry is excellent. There are wing-spots, large eyes, and the patterned abdomen, all just like those on a dragonfly.

A Tau Emerald dragonfly Hemicordata tau hangs resting - note the wing-spots and large eyes

The dragonfly above and damselfly below both have tiny setaceous antennae (bristle-like) and the owlfly seemed to hold its wings in a position part-way between how the two odonata hold their wings.

So why do Owlflies mimic dragonflies, perhaps because dragonflies are aggressive predators, and so any smaller predators might not approach the owlflies if they see them as possible dragonflies. Hence, the owlflies escape predation. But would a dragonfly attack an Owlfly I wonder.....

A Wandering Ringtail damselfly Austrolestes leda  rests on a reed stem
 - note the tiny setaceous (bristle-like) antennae, the thin lines arching up from inside the blue of the eyes