Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Net-casting Spider

Net-casting Spider
In the quest for coolth in the house, we are having our hot and humid times, I've been leaving various non insect screened windows open as well as all the usual screened ones.

This morning this spider in its web on the kitchen bench. Its net at the lower middle of the frame. 

At 9 centimetres, this specimen about as long as my forefinger. The Brisbane Wildlife Guide tells me this is only half their size. That they are often the length of an adult hand. That could be 20 centimetres! (8 inches? I'm a bit rusty on Imperial measurements)

It was easy to move back outside, by catching it, not that it was going anywhere, on a magazine, net and all, and carrying it outside. It didn't move. 

Just as well. The one known bite by one of these caused severe reactions, says the book. Probably good I didn't read that before I relocated it onto the foliage of the sacred bamboo. 

According to the field guide it is the females that spin the net, at night, and that the net is a brilliant glowing blue 'which the spider swirls around passing prey with remarkable speed.' I wonder how the males get their sustenance?

Seen any of this sort, oh readers, who live in the sub- and tropics?   


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seeds and Flowers

I may  have showed you this shot a few postings ago.

It represents an upside down azolla water fern plant, with its roots in two bunches either side, lying on a carpet of the smae plants in one of my frog 'ponds' (baths).

Cradling what I now know are a clutch of azolla seeds.

The plant lying exactly like that when I came upon the scene, might be the result of frog activity, them trying that pond for size, the right conditions etc, and upending various plants in their haste to get out again.

A hundred percent cover of azolla fern, while keeping the water underneath pristine clean, does nothing to make it habitable for tadpoles and other water creatures.

Since the great seeding event a few weeks ago, the azolla in Pond Number 1 has been dying and is almost all gone.

I don't know why this isn't happening in Pond Number Two. It possibly gets less sun, though with the summer sun almost overhead that shouldn't make too much difference.

Pond Number 1 has fish, red tails, adults and young; some as yet mainly unseen tadpoles; a bunch of larva from a variety of species eg dragonflies and at least four species of plants. Pond Number 2 has three varieties of plants, with the 'wort' flowering.

Submerged aquatic plant

Photo not sharp in the right place, I know. But the  yellow pea like flowers, the submerged vegetation is thready and by now very large.

The flower is less than 1 centimetre wide. More flower stalks are starting.

New to me. Anyone with any idea as to what it might be? And where it originates?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Life and Death

This drowned grasshopper, fully 10 centimetres or 4 inches long, about as big as my forefinger apparently drowned in the bucket I keep under the worm farm outlet.

I wonder if its colour, not a natural tint, is the result of it being 'cooked' in the worm castings bucket, in the same way that a lobster's shell turns red when it is cooked? I'd be interested to hear any ideas on this.

The dead insect had only been in the pond water for a few minutes when two blue worms came sliding out of the body. They escaped the voracious little frog young by sliding away over the vegetation nearby.

The frog young, tadpoles, love any insect or snail or slug that falls in their pond and will suck it dry.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Favourite Gardening Tools

These are the gardening tools I have out most. The pink ribbon I found while out walking recently. It is by far the brightest pink I've ever seen and will do nicely to stop the little rake getting lost in and under piles of weeds.

The old baking tray I got in an op-shop a long time ago.  As you can see from its wrinkles and folds it's older than this sort of utensil is normally allowed to get.

It has been ridden over by at least two cars, and straightened out again, and still does not leak. It is usually the first thing I look for when I go out for a session.

However it is the best size for me, for collecting and carrying piles of small weeds to the compost bin. Piles of bark chips to garden beds. It is good as a two-handed scoop -- bark chips from a pile into a wheelbarrow. Good for mixing up a small amount of cement.

Mostly I weed by hand but this little rake is just the right size and strength to dig into the ground for hard-to-shift weeds such as deep-rooted lamb's tongues and dandelions. The 'rake' -- what else would you call it? --  I keep in the shed when I'm not using it.

What are your favourite gardening tools?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Couple of October Mysteries

This enigmatic clutch of eggs? seeds? has appeared in one of the baths seemingly laid on an upturned leaf of the azolla fern.

One wonders how the leaf was treated to make it basket-like and sit above the rest of the leaves which are floating on the water.

The objects don't look like eggs, seeming to have a point and a seed-like shape. What could possible have put them there when Azolla reproduction seems to be happening by way of little black spores.

This lomandra plant is flowering with some very weirdly twisted flower stalks. Never seen that before.

I wonder if it is the effect of a virus.

Or a mutation in the plant.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spider Nursery

Spiderlings in October
It's been four or five days since I noticed the crowd and there they are still in the nursery web. Still quite a lot of them. I thought they would be blown off their threads by the storm we had  the day before yesterday with tropical rain on a gusting wind.

The spiderlings sit clutched together most of the time. When I blow on them they run along the threads going every way, up down across, and spread out.

A few minutes later they are gathered together again in a dark clot in the centre of the webbing.

Last night for the first time this season I heard a green tree frog calling from its drainpipe home. Quite an unusual time, as the weather was dry without the threat of rain. Today, there's quite a drying wind. Normally green tree frogs start their calling in humid weather.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nature's Bounty, Nature's Waste

Spider Babies
Now that native trees and shrubs are flowering, and more flying insects are hatching to take advantage of the new food, spiders are also hatching.

Here a couple of hundred spiderlings of an as yet unidentified sort on a clutch of rose leaves. Already clumps of little bodies in places of the ones that didn't make it.

I doubt even that even a half dozen will make it to breeding age but that is how nature operates.

The next chancy step these little creatures will take is  to let themselves down or swing into the breeze on a length of their own silk, to spread.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weeding Wild Oat Grass

Wild Oat Grass
In the past few weeks, every time I jumped outside to do something physical, in contrast to the eternal writing typing sitting at the computer I was also having to do, I weeded wild oat grass.

Here shown are the seed heads, still green, still possible to stop the seed release in its tracks, I hope.

This is September, Spring in these climes.

The oat grass is doing its northern hemisphere thing, its Autumnal seed production. This is one way to tell an exotic un-acclimatised plant, that it lives a back-to-front life.

Despite my recent discovery that hand weeding severely disrupts the lives of the fungi living in the ground, I did get great satisfaction of pulling out as many of the tussocks of oats as my eye lit on.

And still I am finding them. This job isn't done yet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Butterflies Fluttering By

Jezebel Nymph Caterpillars
Early spring is a cross over time of butterflies. The image is of winter butterfly caterpillars, the jezebel nymphs.

The jezebel nymphs are constantly busy in the canopy of the bottlebrush tree. Its few flowers and the remaining blossoms of the exotic shrubs in my neighbours' yard for their adult food.

These butterflies seem to move faster than they do due to their colouring. Their outer wing colours are red, yellow and black, while their inner wings are all white.

Link to Jezebel nymph colours. These butterflies rarely sit still long enough or close enough to the ground to be photographed by yours truly.

The quick alternation of white and coloured as they flutter and skip about, sets up a gappy flight path. I imagine this is a survival strategy that makes them difficult to pick out (by birds for example) while they are flying.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

First Frog Sighting

Perron's Frog
Tidying up near my garage, I found this pale Perron's frog sleeping under the edge of a bit of corrugated iron.

Normally the warty structures are all green. The paleness of this frog led me to wonder whether this species loses its colour while it is hibernating.

Or whether it is a chameleon and can change colour according to where it is. The piece of wood hiding it was more nearly the colour of the frog.

Or whether there's a wide range of markings and that this  individual is this colour.

The fibrous bits on its back may be strands of the rope. I hope they're not parasites. Though they do remind me of the miniscule remora on some of the red tails (fish) in the pond nearby.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spring is Springing

Palm Lily Budding
Spring continues to make itself felt. Various frogs and the infamous toad are in the mood for courting. The green tree frog and the striped marsh frog both have been seen, albeit briefly, and the one that says pock, pock, pock, pock is at it all night long.

The Cane Toad, I suspect, is the one that chirrs. I'll have to charge up my torch and go hunting.

Native trees and plants are budding. This palm lilly has extended out a long stem which will soon carry its flowers. This in fact is last year's photo, though it is happening this year too.

But, would you believe, it's been raining so much I haven't had the chance to take photos, juggling the umbrella and camera has been tried and found wanting. So it looks like we're going into another La Nina summer. We have already accrued the same equivalent rain for the date, as last year when we ended up having more than two metres worth.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Currawong Corroboree

You can play spot the birds today. There are at least a dozen currawongs in this bottle brush tree (picture below). The palms you see in the upper right hand corner are their target. Ripe red bangalow palm berries. 

That day, (18th August) began sunny with a little wind. The currawongs arrived suddenly. 

Their proper name is pied currawongs. They are large crow-like birds with a hook on their beak. Mainly black, with a crescent shaped patch of white on their wings. Base of tail and tip white. They have yellow irises while magpies have them red. The quickest way to tell the difference. Because currawong habitat is open and low forest, they do well around human habitations with trees and parks nearby. 

This crew, a dozen or more of the the local mob, took over the bottlebrush tree, calling and singing at the top of their vocal (voice?whistling?) range and playing what resembled a game of musical chairs (perches) in the bottlebrush tree, while a couple of their number fed in the nearby bangalow palms. 

For some reason, it's the spring time feast today, with everyone present. At any other time there might be a bird or two feeding solitarily. This is the second year that I've hosted them all for an hour or two. The racket finishes quite suddenly and they disperse around the district again. 

I was lucky getting the photo I did because not one of them sat still for more than a couple of seconds before moving to another branch. I didn't want to go too close because they're quite wary in this mood and might have flown away and it's a privilege, in my opinion, to have currawong corroboree in one's backyard. 

An hour later it was raining. 

Spot the Currawongs

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ants Are Up

It's definitely spring now, with the ants active and native trees flowering are very close to it.

This crew of ants (none visible in the picture) are trying the patio for a change. Their new exit/entry hole is between a couple of pavers quite close to the house. I'll have to watch and see where their trails lead them to find out what sort they are.

I am hoping that they are the usual Pasture Funnel Ants that make turrets of soil in the grass and further mind their own business. They don't sting and don't tend to go into houses.

Or they could be the Black House Ant of which I have lot in various places in the house. Behind the bath. These come out and forage from a little hole in the grouting above the bath.

If I repair that hole, a couple of weeks later there will be another hole. I'm convinced grouting is a tasty treat for several insects. I know for a fact that cockroaches love grouting. Its base material is cellulose.

In the kitchen, ants will trail through the hole in the wall made for the plumbing. In the back porch, through a hole in the corner near the floor, where the walls don't quite meet. These'll tidy up the detritus left after the cat brings in a large grasshopper. Or they'll eat moths that come through the lattice

The Dome-backed Spiny Ant is shining black and despite its name does not sting or bite. The Dome-backed Spiny Ant nests in trees and shrubs where a colony will sandwich together two sturdy leaves for a home. Locally, I've seen them most often in Coolamon Trees and occasionally in the Pipterus argentus or Native Mulberry bush.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Weeds Again

Most local landcarers will say that we see at least one new-to-the-area weed popping up every year.

This one is mine. Never saw it before in my life until this winter when the yard is over run with them. These two allowed to flower just to have their pic taken.

Top height of flower and seed heads is about sixty centimetres. They spray their seeds out a good distance and these are carried on the wind.

Fortunately, they're relatively easy to pull up with just a short tap root. That was a very pleasant surprise, given that they are a lush shade-lover.

Plants using a similar niche are dandelions which have a very long tap root and so can't be pulled out by hand, as well as the lambs tongues which break off.

I can imagine them being edible, they look so juicy and green.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Time of Mosses Flowering

Moss Flowering
I don't know if it means it's supposed to be spring, but quite a few of the varieties of moss I see around are flowering.

This one on the ground, obviously.

I've also got them growing all over the bricks lining the beds of the vege garden, up and down the dead branches of the dying mandarin tree, and in the front yard (as shown in the photo below) where the moss competes with the grass, because it is almost completely shaded in winter.

Since I've begun to really look at lichens, I've also seen many more types of mosses. This little ground dwelling one is brown though its flowers are green. Most moss flowers I see are shades of brown to dark red on a mat of virulent green.

Just as it has been a good year for fungi and lichens, so mosses too have expanded their usual ranges. Though the scene below is a regular one each winter, when the moss follows the shade of the house over the yard. When in summer, there is no moss due to the hot January sun overhead.

Moss Competing with Grass

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mystery Insect

This extremely large mosquito-like creature hid itself in a cardboard gutter left over from the installation of my solar panels.

At 2 inches or 5 cm in total length, it flew away with legs dangling like something out of a horror movie.

It isn't featured in my trusty book, Wildlife of Greater Brisbane. At least, I can see nothing like it.

Checking out mosquitoes though, I can't say it really looks like them having no pointy bit at the front (probiscus) to suck up blood.

Next I checked the wasps, because of the pointy bit at the back, which I presume is an egg laying device (ovipositor) and because of the wasp-like stripes.

With the length of those legs it probably is not a damsel fly and with only one set of wings it cannot be a dragon fly. Does anyone have any ideas?

Though who has ever seen a wasp looking like this?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cat-proof Enclosure

This weekend a large-ish blue tongue lizard slithered from one clump of vegetation to the one at the back of the yard, the resident cat's favourite hide out.

Since the cat was lying by my feet and saw my sudden interest in the back yard, she was over there in three seconds.

I got the hose out and the tap on. She sprang back past me and under the house. I marshalled my materials and started to build the cat-proof enclosure I'd been thinking I would need one day.

Of course I was not properly ready and had to use the step ladder as a post. It was very wonky job. The resident cat waited and waited for me to lose interest in her movements. I tricked her, of course.

Eventually, she came out to investigate and lay by the new fence for a while. In the place I presumed adjacent to where the blue tongue hid. when the cat thought I wasn't looking she jumped up onto the fence and prepared to walk over the top to the new enclosure.

I yelled at her and turned the tap on. (The hose is connected to the tap even now.) I was able to catch her that time and shut her into the house.

The following day, Sunday, I purchased a roll wire to fasten to the top of the fence, pictured here.

Today, Monday, the cat has had a go at climbing the new style fence but lost her grip before she got to the top.

The front fence will have to be regularised, but that has to wait until my hand recovers from the hammering.

Is the cat's nose out of joint?

You bet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What I'm Weeding in July

This particular July the two varieties of chickweed are attempting to take over the Mullum Yard, and a lot of other places too, I'm noticing as I walk around town.
Chickweed Start-Up

The what I call 'cool climate' chickweed, starts up as shown. This plant is perhaps five or six days old.  It isn't flowering yet but has thrown out five straggling arms to get as much sun power as possible in a semi shade position.

In my experience it tends to grow at the edges of plantings, such as at the edge of a grassy area, or my bed of violets, or among bricks, or between a pole and the surrounding grass.

The last apparently not a close enough fit to keep chickweed out. I believe it's growing just beside the edge of newspaper I usually put down, to kill weeds, before the wood chips.

Chickweed Getting Away

Before you realise it, the chickweed is flowering and has taken over half the yard. It is difficult to weed because it grows sprawled over other plants and it is quite delicate. IE you can't get a good pull going.

It's more a matter of gathering up the mats of it and leaving lots of bits and pieces behind.  I don't know yet to what effect, whether the bits will grow, as in many other weeds.

Tropical Chickweed

The tropical checkweed is always around, but is fruiting prolifically and on longer than usual stems this year. And as the fruit as small and sticky, there are not many days that I don't pick up some on my socks, shoes and or pant legs and spread them around.

Due to the seeds and the fact that tropical chickweed usually grows over bare ground or grass, it is always easier to cover it with newspaper or cardboard, and a layer of mulch.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Feeding the Fish

You may recall my experience in the second bath-pond with the monoculture of the azolla fern and the death of all the fish in that bath.

Since then I regularly push aside the vegetation in the main pond to keep a couple of holes, ponds within ponds for the fish. In the photo to the left are two blobs to represent two Red Tails. In the shot below are another two, one a Pacific Blue Eye, in the lower right hand corner.

I feed them irregularly about once a week, with a sprinkle of aquarium fish food. It's my ploy to see them. To find out how many survive. This week I think I saw four out of the six possibles.

Only one of the two Pacific Blue Eyes and three of the Red Tails. One worrying thing is that the smallest of the Red Tails is carrying at least three parasites, a little like miniscule remoras, suckered to its back and sides. Flashes of white where there shouldn't be any.

I haven't seen that froglet since I moved it in.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mystery Insect Housing

Rolled Leaves
Many of the outer leaves of the Native Mulberry bush (Pipterus argentus) are rolled and tied with webbing making dozens of cosy little houses for some insect kind.

I haven't found any yet but I know it isn't just this bush that suffers this malady. I'm calling it that, because for the plant it isn't that good to have a hundred or more leaves out of food production. Not a lot of photosynthesis can happen in a rolled up leaf.

I'm assuming it is the same insect that rolls leaves in the different varieties of teak, crows ash and the like.

In my ignorant past I would've cut the leaves off and burnt them. It's quite difficult to stand by and just let it happen. After all, a hundred rolled up leaves means a hundred insects eating the shrub. I unrolled a couple and did not find anything other than droppings. In other words, the insects gone.

Hence I'm doing the usual, taking a look every day to see if I can see any changes, or signs of (insect) life though I can't imagine why these bugs aren't at home, with nights cold enough for frosts.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Irony in the Mullum Yard

It is ironic that these leaves and branches, that were a plant that added very little to the life cycles of the yard, should now host in amongst their litter a number of groups of fruiting bodies of a macro (meaning they can be seen without the help of  microscope) fungus I haven't seen before.

When first seen they were little funnels, dark grey with black gills. And appear to be grow in the ground, on clay, not on a substrata of wood.

The next day I found another couple of clumps and them becoming paler. The hole in the middle closed. The largest of the caps is about 10 mm in diameter and their height is between 20 and 30 mm.

Although it is July and one of the coldest months in the year, I am still finding fungi such as these quite delicate ones, as well as the less ephemeral sorts that last for a year or longer.

Monday, July 4, 2011

StinkBug Reprise

Jason wonders whether perhaps the stinkbug I discussed here, is some other insect.

Unidentified Stinkbug 
When I don't recognise something I use triangulation to make a best guess.

It is merely the process we all use to find out anything. You observe a thing and test it by running it through a couple of filters.

In this case, I watched the insect at its work. Sucking sap. It's true that I didn't show that - I've said more than once that I am still learning my camera. Usually I pick the best shot I manage.

However, the insect reminded me a lot of the bronze stinkbugs that are local pests on citrus trees. Seen below in a huddle. Not sure why they do that. It's different from the pair-mating behaviour.

Bronc=ze Stinkbugs in Huddle
Both these insects have the diamond shaped glittering bronze area on their lower backs. In the new specimen that looks remarkably, at a glance, like the drop of water that often hangs from its host tree's leaves. And notice that its colour is exactly that of the host tree's leaves.

Both these insects have that stinkbug shape, feelers, six legs, smooth back.

The Brisbane Wildlife Guide describes seven stinkbugs but not the one in question.

Brisbane Insects Site has dozens of stinkbugs, of many wonderful colours and patterns. Check it out. It's well worth it.

Though I haven't found mine there yet, there are enough other stinkbugs pictured there with one or other similarity to the bug I found, that I am convinced.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freshwater Snails

Water Snail Sliding Along Upside Down
Freshwater snails normally move around in the water either on, through and around the plants, as well as up and down the bath tub sides.

But on sunny days they sometimes cross open water. I don't know why I only see them do it on sunny days, I often stop and stare. Temperature of the water?

I know the critters in these photos look rather blobby. But I assure you each one is a water snail not swimming, but sliding, upside down along the bottom of the water meniscus.

It's an amazing sight and well worth taking the time to stare and stare into the water to see it in action.
Watersnail Grazing on Azolla Fern

I was lucky a couple of days ago seeing both these enjoying the slightly warmer layer of water at the top and both of them grazing their way to the edge of the azolla fields, then having to cross some open water to the next field.

The top critter is waving its eye stalks to the left. Its shell can just be seen rimming its "foot" at the right.

The spotted animal has just arrived somewhere and is flattening against a water lily stalk, before attempting to slide over, or rather under, it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Froglet Transfer

Stunned and Stiff from Cold
A few days ago I had another go at perverting the natural course of life.

Checking the tubs for anything new to see and talk about, I found a/the froglet lying more than half-dead, it looked like, on top of the vegetation in the second tub, trying to get warm in the fitful sun.

One of the coldest days so far with not much sun happening at all. The second tub is of cast-iron enameled white. The water in it gets pretty cold at the beginning of winter and stays that way until spring.

The other tub is made of fibreglass, I presume, and stays warmer. I had no difficulty taking a couple of handfuls of water and weeds around the little creature and depositing her on the weeds in Tub 1. Where she lay for a few minutes, then scrambled into the water below.

Into the Warmer Tub
As you can see, she is pretty skinny with a couple of ribs showing under her skin and she still has her tail.

I haven't seen her since, but have noticed that a couple of holes are forming in the unrelieved surface of weeds.

Like the breathing holes in sea ice formed by air breathers such as seals and whales. Because a froglet that size is probably at least partially an air breather.

She is already bigger than her sibling-froglets when they left the water for good at the end of January. We'll see what happens.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weeds x and n


Last week I busied myself with weeds. Plants growing in the wrong place. I have a high tolerance for oxalis, and have numbers of clumps through the yard.

It's very pretty against a house stump, for instance, or amongst a clump of violets.

But it was getting a bit ridiculous with the number of clumps in my vege garden, at last count about a dozen.

Onionweed I've never had any patience with. Because it is so similar to garlic chives, it's easy to confuse them. But I never had any success weeding, as in pulling out, either of them.  And you can see why.

Above the thick white roots of the oxalis are a bunch of about forty small bulbs, which fall off when stems are pulled out of the ground. So, the weeder unknowingly starts another clutch every time she/he pulls out stems.

The onionweed works on the same principle except that the little bulbs grow from the bottom of the bigger central bulb. And so that when the central plant is pulled out, any number of little bulbs are left in the ground to start again.

The oxalis is easier to dig out and take up in one piece than the onionweed which loses bulblets as soon as you touch it. In both species, the bulblets are very hard and I'm wondering how they'll rot down. At the moment I've got them all in a bucket of water for rotting.

Time will tell if I made a clean sweep.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Green Froglet in June

Green Tree Froglet

The sun shone and the perfect shot presented itself. That little frog I told about a few days ago, that I found in the bath with an overgrowth of azolla fern, turns out to be that one himself, a green froglet with a brown stripe from snout to shoulder.

You can just see how very advanced he looks to still have a tail. Quite a large tail too. Tail and body together about 8 centimetres in length.

And I have no idea what species he might be. The only frogs with that kind of marking in the Field Guide to Frogs of Australia are the Peron's Tree Frog and the Green Leaf Frog thought the Peron's is marbled green.

So while this is a sighting, it is not good enough a sighting for identification. Unless someone else has an idea?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unconnected Shrub

This exotic bush, that I never knew the name of, grew and grew beside my drive for all the twenty five years I've lived in this house. In fact, I brought it with me as a cutting from the flat where I lived previously.

Before I started cutting it back, it had four trunks and more than a dozen suckers busily making new trunks. Two thirds of it had crept into my neighbour's yard and it was beginning to try and encroach onto my drive.

Over the years, I've cut it back dozens of times but this time I decided to get rid of it altogether.
I've already made a couple of huge piles of clippings in the front yard and now must get a bush regenerator in to help me kill the stumps.

What is interesting about all this in relation to biodiversity, is that apart from the sap sucking creature in the second photo, I found absolutely no insect life on the bush.

And this creature doesn't appear to have made any inroads into the leaf that it is on. The leaf still as healthy as any other on the bush.

In other words this shrub is not part of the local wildlife cycle at all. Presumably because its defences are too good.

And while it did flower, I've never seen any insects trying to pollinate it. Or any fruit or berries.

It's quite a good place for a taller tree. In the extreme south of my property, so won't shade my house. It would miss most of the wires. It's between two drives. I'm thinking a caper berry tree attractive to butterflies and birds. We'll see.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Playing God in the Garden

Large Grass Yellow Butterfly
It is of course completely the wrong season for butterflies to be hatching from their chrysalyses. It's cold, wet and windy.

This one was grasping onto that bit of wood for dear life, having been blown from its perch on the end of its pupa while it was drying its wings.

When I picked up the bit of wood from the ground,  the wings were still limp and bent over. It didn't look like there would be a good outcome.

Fortunately the rain had stopped and I was able to find a sheltered spot in the vegetable garden where I wedged the wood chip between a couple of bricks.

As you can see, the wings have dried and hardened and he/she is set to go. A little later the sun came out, briefly and the butterfly was twirled away, like a little dancer, on the then gentle breeze. Maybe it will find a mate and maybe the next generation will stay in stasis for the rest of the winter. That is what is supposed to happen.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Still the Ailing Tree Habitat

Unidentified Bug
This is another of the diverse inhabitants on the mandarin stump. Its feelers are too long for a jewel beetle. It has two quite high nubs high up on its carapace. My field guide doesn't give me a clue. I don't even know its family to be able to google it.

If there's any one out there who had come across these little beasties ... and they are little, 15 mm, that's half an inch approx ... drop me a comment?

It must be the season for them because this one was one of four on the same trunk.

Another extremely interesting insect, a kind of wasp I think, turned up the day after I first saw this one.

The only photo I could get is very blurry but I assure you it's the operator's climb up the learning curve trying to catch a moving target.

I thought first that I was watching a large mosquito feeding. Male mosquitoes are sap suckers. And I had an entry for that in the Brisbane Wildlife Guide

Then I noticed that the insect had a couple of white tipped, flexible feelers with which it was feeling all over the bark surface for holes or depressions.

Whenever it found a suitable one, it curled its ovipositor under and forward and (presumably) inserted an egg in the depression.

Seeing a slight resemblance to the orchid dupe wasp, I wonder now whether this one wasn't feeling for caterpillars under the bark, and filling them with her own eggs. And so it was, when I looked it up and followed the links to this one ... a shot from the site, these wasps
parasitise moth eggs.
wpe1.jpg (47673 bytes)
The Banded Feeler Parasite Wasp

And there was me thinking the weather was too cold for much activity!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Critter Friendly Backyard

Critter Friendly Habitat
Critter friendly habitat usually looks something like in this photo. Messy. Long grass. Piles of grass clippings. Palm fronds. Plants allowed to grow where they will. Dead trees left standing, falling when they're done rotting.

Although I do admit that sometime in the near future the foambark tree, the dark green ferny looking one hugging the mandarin skeleton, trying to muscle into the middle of this little stand will have to be cut out. Foambarks (Jagera pseudorhus) grow entirely too large, up to 15 metres, and throw too much shade for a small yard.

In amongst the long grass there are skinks of a couple of different species. Lots of insects.

In the cooked mulch there will be beetle larva, worms, and native cockroaches. On the sheltered side of the mulch pile there usually are a bunch of fungi, often one of the smaller Coprinus (Inkcap) species.

Rainwater collects in the palm frond where bees land butterflies like to drink. In summer I store palm fronds bowl shape down, against mosquitoes.

The green plants, turmeric and nasturtium, support grasshoppers which in their turn support insect eating birds and a praying mantis.

The rotting drying dying mandarin tree skeleton supports three or four different types each of mosses and lichens - the jury is still out on the one which is either a moss or a lichen. Dozens of insects. Skinks under the curling-up bark. At least three different species of fungi. A still unidentified wasp ovipositing her eggs either under the bark, or into caterpillars under the bark.

Butterflies are being hatched on the bushy twigs of the tree trying to survive. An epiphytic fern wanders through the mosses. Vast herds of tiny white insects graze over the bark.

At the foot of the tree, in the mown grass, another species of Coprinus, pops up its fruiting bodies every day slightly warmer than the average.

It's a kind of a jungle!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fish Dying, Caught in Azolla Roots

Dead Fish, Snared in Azolla Roots
The Azolla water fern growing in my two 'frog ponds' (old baths) has grown roots at least 10 centimetres long and in the second bath formed a wall-to-wall carpet. I let that be a while to see what would happen with the water lilies also in there, in relation to the azolla.

In the first bath the azolla seemed not to be able to get such a strong hold. I think because of the greater diversity of plants in there. As well as the locally native water snowflakes (Nymphoides indica), smooth nardoo (Marsilea mutica), common duckweed (Spirodela punctata), ribbon weed (Vallisneria nana) and a thready wort I haven't been able to identify, there's a bit of azolla (Azolla pinata).

So, yesterday was the time to harvest the azolla. I do this fairly regularly. The result? Several dead fish caught in the mat of roots in the second bath. I guess it was an inadvertant way of getting rid of the guppies surplus to my wants.

Plus at least one very large tadpole in the metamorphing stage where they have their back legs and a tail. This one at least 4 centimetres long in the body and probably 2.5 centimetres wide. A giant. Black stripes through the eyes. Too fast to get a pic.

I have been wondering for a while what happened to tadpoles not maturing by the end of the 'season' so this could be the answer. They may overwinter and get an early start.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Coastal Birdwing Vine

Coastal Birdwing Vine
Finally I have a Richmond Birdwing Vine (Pararistolochia praevenosa) that is actually growing. This one is my third attempt and it seems I hit on the right conditions when I planted it, seen here surrounded by tree barrier against animals climbing fence. This vine is a host to the Richmond birdwing butterfly, a locally endangered species.

When I told my ecologist friend of my trials trying to grow this vine, she told me: a rainforest vine needs to have its head in the sun and its roots in the shade.

There it was. So simple and making so much sense. Finally one of my ideas, insisting on a three metre wire section in my east facing paling fence, has come to some good.

And now I will be able to build on that with more vines. The butterfly that inspired me to start growing butterfly hosts was the four-barred swordtail, a striking medium-sized black and white butterfly that was hill-topping on the Ocean Shores Lookout the same time I was there to check on the then-roadworks.

My ambition is also grow the zig zag vine, (Melodorum leichardtii) which in every article I've read, tells me it can be pruned to stay low. Unfortunately I have not yet tracked down a plant to prune or otherwise.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Arrow-leaved Violet

Viola betonicifolia
 I've been encouraging this violet to become a weed throughout my vegetable garden, for about a year now, by not pulling it out. And today I'm finally witnessing a flowering event. Two of the older plants are in flower.

This violet is an Australian native plant, or more accurately put, endemic to Australia. According to Mangroves to Mountains one of our field guides here, it is a tufted, herbaceous plant found in paperbark wetlands and mountains. Leaves to 20 cms, flowers to 20 mm spring and summer.

Though you could hardly call May spring! We haven't even had the shortest day of the year yet.

What allowed this species to spread, is its interesting ability to set fruit without first flowering! The plant develops seedcases at any time of the year, such as in the lower right hand corner of the pic just above the flower bud, that has split open and thrown the hard little seeds quite a distance.

This violet is host plant for an almost/probably extinct butterfly, the Fritillary, that I don't expect to see in my yard. Last sighting was about 30 years ago somewhere in Queensland.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not Vegetable, Not Animal

Unidentified Ascomycetes
According to the latest stuff I'm reading, newsletters on the FungiMap site, Fungi are closer in kind to animals than to plants, except for the fact they don't move to get their food. But neither do sea sponges, so I can see a likeness.

They've been awarded their own kingdom. And the Kingdom of Fungi includes lichens, they apparently are fungi in a symbiotic relationship with alga.

The parts of fungi I've been so excited about lately are fruiting bodies of Macro Fungi (so called because they can be seen with the naked eye).

The little mob in the photo, though, are getting towards the teeny weeny size people my age can't see very clearly now.

So I was very pleased that my phone camera was up to the job even when I couldn't see what it was doing. One of those point-and-click situations. The "timber" the little things are growing on, are the air roots of a bangalow palm.

These "critters" are about 5 mm tall and they are the only ones of their kind I've ever seen. Still searching the field guides for their identity. There are only eleven all told so you can see I'm a little bit reluctant picking even one to get a closer look until maybe I meet someone with a microscope.

But you see the situation they are growing in? There's a bangalow blossom in one corner. Dead blossoms underfoot. A plant trying to muscle in. Detritus in the surrounds. The lower edge of the palm forming a gallery.

The scene doesn't look tidy. And that's the thing with biodiversity. It is only a word that means diversity of life. But it happens more, ie more diversity happens when things are allowed to be untidy. When dead blossoms aren't swept up. When lawn clippings aren't piled around the aerial roots of a palm. (The word aerial speaks for itself, air? Bangalows often grow in swampy ground.)

When tree litter is allowed to rot where it falls you get these tiny little treasures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bee-eating Assassin Bug

Assassin Bug
This red and green assassin bug seems very comfortable on my rust-red and green-painted letterbox. Probably thinking it is camouflaged.

Right colours but wrong object. Like all other bugs it is a sap sucking insect, though this sort sucks the sap right out of any bee it can fly down.

I don't mind too much if he goes for the European honey bees, of which there are plenty around here. I don't think there are so many assassin bugs around a bee keeper needs to worry about them.

But I will mind, but that's nature for you, you can't stop the roundabout, if the bug goes for the native solitary blue-banded bees that so industriously pollinate my cherry tomatoes. They are the reason I have cherry tomatoes all the year round.

Here an Interesting article on blue-banded-bees, with a mug shot, explaining the reason why blue-banded-bees are so good with tomatoes. They are even being bred to pollinate tomatoes in glass houses.