19 de junio de 2019

Wasp Observations in Northern Victoria

This article first appeared in the Victorian Entomologist for June 2019. See the Entomological Society of Victoria



Ichneumonid Lissopimpla excelsa at Miepoll.

At some locations there is tall grass in which numerous insects will roost, like wasps. They certainly sleep in other spots too but they are quite easy to spot against the pale grass. There were common species, like the Orchid Dupe or Dusky-winged Ichneumonid Lissopimpla excelsa. Males of this species are attracted to Cryptostylis that emit the same pheromones as the female wasps and pollination occurs by pseudocopulation. There are many other species in the Ichneumonidae family with males and females usually not appearing significantly different (apart from an often long ovipositor in some of these species) but on these trips only a few species were seen.

Many female insects have a long ovipositor at the end of their bodies which is used to lay their eggs into something (such as larvae or pupae in the case of wasps). Some wasps are capable of inflicting a painful sting in us humans – these are usually species that hunt living creatures that must be disabled quickly. It is worth remembering only female wasps can sting as this is with a modified ovipositor. What they catch is actually food for their larva as the adult wasps in most species feed on flowers, which is where they are most often observed during the day (but photographing them there while busy feeding is more challenging).



Pompilidae Ferreola handschini at Miepoll.


A well known wasp family are the Spider Wasps (Pompilidae). Some of these get quite large (ones that prey on huntsman spiders) and many sport some orange coloration as a warning to potential predators to indicate they can have a nasty sting (I know, I accidentally stood on one during these trips). A fairly commonly encountered species was Ferreola handschini, which is mostly black with unusual orange “shoulders” (so is at least relatively easy to identify).

Wasps in the family Crabronidae hunt other insects, including catching flies in flight, so they are often very swift and agile flyers, and are also similarly hasty when feeding at flowers. They can feature vivid yellow eyes and among the more well known are the Bembix sand wasps, a genus with about 90 species in Australia. These dig nesting chambers in sand, when it is often easiest to photograph them. The second sand wasp pictured was a lot smaller.



Crabronidae (Bembicinae subfamily) Bembix sp. left and unknown species right, both at Burramine within metres

Probably the family containing the most familiar wasps (including the invasive European Wasp) is Vespidae, which includes Potter Wasp (Eumeninae) and Paper Wasp (Polistinae) subfamilies (among others). Below is a photo of Delta bicinctum, a not uncommon potter wasp but I have never seen a pair together. These were photographed in the morning where they had roosted in the grass overnight but they were already starting to get fidgety with my big black camera pointing at them.




Vespidae: Eumeninae Delta bicinctum pair still at their overnight roost at Peechelba East

Smaller but with a similar waist (petiole) to Delta, the attractive black and yellow Deuterodiscoelius species is not one I’ve seen before and one that hasn’t been photographed much. It too was in the morning before it had warmed up sufficiently. Also pictured are two similar black potter wasps with differing amounts of orange at the end of the abdomen.




Vespidae: Eumeninae Deuterodiscoelius sp. at Eldorado



Two similar Vespidae in the Eumeninae subfamily at Burramine

Paper wasps (Polistinae) build honeycomb nests hanging from vegetation, rock overhangs and artificial structures. Polistes humilis is widespread and common in south-eastern Australia (including Melbourne) but inland I also found Polistes erythrinus, which is dark brown and significantly larger.




Vespidae: Polistinae Polistes erythrinus at Burramine

The family Sphecidae goes by several common names including Thread-waisted Wasps. This includes the Slender Mud-daubers of which two species are relatively abundant in Victoria. Sceliphron laetum is generally more yellow than Sceliphron formosum (especially the antennae) and they have different patterns on their back. See http://museum.wa.gov.au/research/collections/terrestrial-zoology/entomology-insect-collection/entomology-factsheets/sceliphron



Sphecidae Sceliphron laetum at Burramine (left) and Sceliphron formosum at Peechelba East (right)

Another family are Thynnid Wasps (Thynnidae) where the females are wingless as they spend most of their time burrowing underground looking for insect larvae to host their offspring. The sting of these is said to be quite painful. Probably the most well known is the so called Blue Ant Diamma bicolorbut there are many more species. Many males in this family are tricked into mating with orchids that emit the same pheromone as the female wasp. Members show significant sexual dimorphism, the female is usually significantly smaller than the male as for many he takes her to the flowers for feeding. One in this family that I thought I saw quite often was a black one with yellow mouth parts however when I started to collate some images for this article I realised there were at least two species. One has dark legs and black shaded wings while the other has red legs and reddish wings. Before I noticed this I usually just photographed the first one at a site and therefore may have missed the other species (so I now pay more attention). Thynnid Wasps used to be classified as a subfamily under Flower Wasps (Tiphiidae).



Thynnid Wasps with black legs (left) and red legs (right), both at Peechelba East



mating pairs of Thynnid Wasps showing typical sexual dimorphism, both at Burramine

Both sexes in at least most Flower Wasps are winged, as are those of the similar family Scoliidae. Particularly inland I have regularly encountered the 15mm long males (excluding antennae)of the Yellow Flower Wasp Radumeris tasmaniensis but less commonly the quite large female. Both of them appear amazingly hairy. Males are also tricked into mating by the deceptive Calochilus campestris beard-orchid.



Thynnidae Radumeris tasmaniensis male left and female right, both at Burramine

So many different wasps (Australia has thousands of species), although I only saw perhaps a few dozen so one wonders where all the others are hiding. But this number also makes them difficult to identify. I am only able to get to family with most of them and I don’t know if there is a specialist that can help more. A lot probably look very similar and may require concealed microscopic features.

For all the observations I records during these three trips have a look at the following iNaturalist project I created for them:
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rr-2019a

Anotado en junio 19, miércoles 02:44 por reiner reiner | 1 comentarios | Deja un comentario

18 de junio de 2019

Dragonfly Observations in Northern Victoria

This article first appeared in the Victorian Entomologist for April 2019. See the Entomological Society of Victoria

This summer I had the opportunity to make several trips inland and spent time exploring the lower Ovens River (north from Wangaratta) and the Murray River (mostly a little downstream from Yarrawonga). Part of the reason was to try and get photographs of some inland dragonfly species that I hadn’t seen very often. Time was spent during the day to observe insects sunning themselves or waiting at breeding sites and also spotlighting at night for roosting ones. Early in the morning is also a good time to observe insects still roosting (before it gets warm enough for them) but on many of the days it became quite hot so the insects were active earlier.

The first visit to the area this season was actually an aborted trip through the alps after my camera played up. I camped near Wangaratta and while spotlighting I saw a Nighthawk dragonfly Apocordulia macrops*. Despite searching previously at known sites (as well as this location) this is the first time I had seen the species. Mine are now probably the only “natural” photos of them as previous ones are museum specimens or individuals reared from larva collected during water sampling. With a new camera and suitable weather I decided to return a few days later and this time saw two males roosting on the first night.



Nighthawk dragonfly Apocordulia macrops males.

During this trip I also visited a site along Reedy Creek below Woolshed Falls, Beechworth, where a few years ago I had seen some less common dragonflies. I again saw a few species including my first ever female Unicorn Hunter Austrogomphus cornutus*.



Unicorn Hunter Austrogomphus cornutus female left, male right

Two other species of interest were Royal Tigertail Parasynthemis regina and Stout Vicetail Hemigomphus heteroclytus. The latter is difficult to distinguish from Southern Vicetail Hemigomphus gouldii, which is much more common in Victoria. The only way I can tell is by getting a good view of the male’s appendages and refer to the key.



Royal Tigertail Parasynthemis regina female left, male right



Stout Vicetail Hemigomphus heteroclytus male, with a close-up of the tail

After returning home and looking on the map I noticed the reserve extends almost all the way to Eldorado, with numerous potential access points and camp sites, so something to visit on the next trip. When I returned I saw some female Hemigomphus gouldii (but still haven’t got good photos of them) as well as numerous more Austrogomphus cornutus.

Along the Ovens River north of Wangaratta I encountered a few of the Inland Hunter Austrogomphus australis. At one site there were two and I didn't realise at the time that one was a female – I was amazed at how adept it was catching a couple of Pygmy Grasshoppers (Tetrigidae) from her perch as they jumped past. It was only until processing the photos that I noticed it was a female – males at breeding sites are generally not that interested in prey.



Inland Hunter Austrogomphus australis female left, male right

On the final day along the Murray River I also finally managed to get some good photos of a mature female Gold-fronted Riverdamsel Pseudagrion aureofrons*, a species not very common in Victoria south of this river.




Gold-fronted Riverdamsel Pseudagrion aureofrons male top, female bottom-left, mating pair bottom-right

I did see a Twinspot Hunter Austroepigomphus praeruptus at Miepoll again (where the first modern recordings in Victoria were made), and also at a new location at Wahring a short distance away, but only males and no good photos.

For all the observations I recorded during these trips have a look at the following iNaturalist project I created for them:
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rr-2019a
* Some of the photos of Odonata taken on these trips will appear in my upcoming book to be published by the Society soon (currently in limbo with them).

Anotado en junio 18, martes 05:21 por reiner reiner | 1 comentarios | Deja un comentario

26 de marzo de 2019

Micraspis flavovittata Lady Beetle Discoveries

This article first appeared in the Field Nats News No. 295, Newsletter of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria Inc (FNCV), with modifications for iNaturalist and webification.

Lady beetles are scientifically classified in the Coccinellidae family of the insect order Coleoptera (beetles). Although there are many cryptic and tiny species, we are all familiar with the colorful beetles of around 5mm in length occasionally sighted clambering around in our gardens. The easily recognizable species usually belong to the subfamily Coccinellinae but there are look-alikes in different families altogether, particularly within leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae) — visual mimicry is not uncommon in beetles. Lady beetles can best be distinguished from others by having relatively short antennae.

According to the 1,708 Coccinellidae records for Victoria currently available on the Atlas of Living Australia the most abundant lady beetle species in our state is Harmonia conformis, which goes by various common names including “large spotted ladybird”. This native is a predatory species feeding on such things aphids and other plant pests so is very beneficial to have around. It has text-book orange base coloration with relatively uniformly sized black spots.

However not all lady beetles are predatory. Another of the most common species in Victoria is Illeis galbula. It is smaller than Harmonia conformis and distinctively yellow and black. As its common name of “fungus-eating ladybird” suggests, it feeds on mould sometimes found on plants and often found crawling in our vegetable patches on cucumber and pumpkin leaves.

One lady beetle very few people have encountered is Micraspis flavovittata (it currently doesn’t have a common name). Before this decade it had only been recorded four times until it was “rediscovered” in 2014 in Discovery Bay Coastal Park (south-western Victoria). The FNCV had an excursion to the area in December 2018, which included a successful search for the species there. Its common sibling species is Micraspis frenata (striped ladybird), to which Micraspis flavovittata is most similar to in appearance and size.

Several Micraspis species feed predominantly on pollen so are often found on flowers. Initial modern observations of Micraspis flavovittata were on and around large water-ribbons (Cycnogeton sp.) that were in flower and producing large quantities of pollen, so it was assumed the beetles at least supplemented their diets this way. These aquatic plants are quite common and widespread but despite my extensive searching of these plants throughout the state I could find no more beetles.

I had been keeping all my photos since acquiring my first digital camera in 2001 (except those that I lost through poor backup procedures). [There’s no reason not to keep all your photos as a 2TB drive costs around $100 and could store a lifetime’s worth.] In the last five years or so I had been recording my sightings on BowerBird and ALA (and more recently here on inaturalist.org). When I had spare time (usually in winter) I would go through my old images and submit them as well (if I knew reasonably accurately where they were taken).

A few months ago I was looking for a record of mine on ALA but thought it had been lost until I realized I was only half way through processing my older photos from 2011, so I started processing a few more. When I got up to mid December I found an image of a lady beetle from the Otways that, although at the time I had no idea of what it was, I can now recognize well. It was of course Micraspis flavovittata rediscovered three years earlier – “prediscovered” if you like. At the time I had nowhere to put an average quality photo of an unidentified beetle so it just sat there for seven years. Incidentally after the 2014 discovery was publicized a Warrnambool resident had mentioned they saw a similar beetle a few years earlier that nobody could identify – but they didn’t keep their photo!

This Otways site is in Aire River Wildlife Reserve beside the Great Ocean Road in Glenaire. It consists of a drained floodplain or swamp now extensively covered predominately by exotic herb species (weeds). With a variety of flowers it would appear to provide a pollen food source for long periods throughout the year and the dense coverage also provides protection from weather or other threats. Along with the swamp areas in Discovery Bay Coastal Park, this site indicates that Micraspis flavovittata favours damp to wet areas and perhaps does not tolerate dry areas and open forests. Although the the two historical sites east of Melbourne have seen significant clearing, development and agriculture there should still be places the beetle has survived too so it is still worth searching. One site in Buxton that was explored in late 2014 as a potential beetle site turned out to be the only regular location now east of Melbourne for the endangered Ancient Greenling damselfly (Hemiphlebia mirabilis).

Also at Aire River two common lady beetle species were observed: Harmonia conformis and Coccinella transversalis.

Insects need thickly vegetated areas in which to roost, shelter and hibernate, habitat often missing in our cultivated farmlands and urban areas.

Links:
2011 observation
2019 observations
earlier post about this beetle

Anotado en marzo 26, martes 09:27 por reiner reiner | 1 comentarios | Deja un comentario

22 de noviembre de 2018

Primary Tassie Objective Achieved

The main reason for visiting Tasmania at this time of year (early) was in the hope of photographing a rare endemic Archipetalia auriculata (Tasmanian Redspot). With only about ten public records available I thought it was never going to be easy. I thought they might like cascading waterfalls, like their closest relatives Austropetalia tonyana from Victoria. However a recent sighting in the south of the state by Elaine McDonald changed my mind as she found them near montane trickles in the Hartz Mountains. With this in mind my plan was to explore Cradle Mountain near some historic records and then the buttongrass plains near Savage River where I had found the uncommon Synthemiopsis gomphomacromioides (Tasmanian Spotwing) in February 2017. And I only had two days as the weather was going to turn Tasmanian.

Day One in Cradle Mountain provided fine weather but very few insects (and no dragonflies at all). Day Two still had fine weather but it was very windy (i.e. average for Tasmania's north-west). I started checking some of the swampy areas where I had found Synthemiopsis gomphomacromioides but without success until I visited a trickle flowing from a boggy flat. That's where I found Archipetalia auriculata! At first I thought I had even photographed a female (there are no in situ photos of females) but it turns out their anal appendages are not very significant — doesn't seem to bother them though. :) At this first site there were two males and then a little down the road I photographed another male. I'm thinking perhaps it was too late already for the females (the family all emerge early in the season, typically during October).

So now I will search some more for females when the weather gets better but its unlikely I will even get to the Hartz Mountains (I no longer need to) as there won't be enough fine days left during this trip.

Anotado en noviembre 22, jueves 04:14 por reiner reiner | 2 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

10 de julio de 2018

Unknown But Identifiable Fungi

This is a quick list (mainly for me) of identifiable fungi that I come across but that haven't been identified (possibly because they haven't been described yet).
RRfu2
Helotiales
Yellow cup with wavy edge and dark stipe growing on dead Nothofagus branches.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu2&subview=grid
RRfu3
Fungi
Small (~5mm long), simple, furry white clubs growing on wood or fern.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu3&subview=grid
RRfu4
Helotiales
Pale orange, stalked discs on hardwood on wet forests.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu4&subview=grid
RRfu5
Helotiales
Beige cup with hairy outside.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu5&subview=grid
RRfu6
Helotiales
White jelly cup.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu6&subview=grid
RRfu7
Helotiaceae
Rare and tiny stalked yellow fringed cup usually on fallen twigs. Same as in Bruce Fuhrer's Field Guide but incorrectly attributed Cyathicula dicksonioae/Hispidula dicksoniae. Possibly Crocicreas sp.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu7&subview=grid
RRfu8
Helotiales
Small brown cup with fuzzy exterior on Eucalyptus wood.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu8&subview=grid
RRfu9
Helotiales
Small white cup with dark olive/black outside on wood.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu9&subview=grid
RRfu10
Mycenaceae
Pinkish mushroom on trunks of Dicksonia antarctica. Strong odour of bleach when crushed. Moderately common.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=RRfu10&subview=grid
yellowfurry
Hyaloscyphaceae
Tiny discs on wood (to around 2mm) with furry yellow outer surface and brown inner.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=yellowfurry&subview=grid
greenent
Gilled Mushroom
Green mushroom with cap around 2cm but otherwise looking similar to Cortinarius austrovenetus. Possibly Entoloma rodwayi.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=greenent&subview=grid
littlewhitestars
Heliotales
Tiny white discs (to half a mm) on wood edged with bristles about as long as the disc diameter.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&q=littlewhitestars&subview=grid
Anotado en julio 10, martes 11:24 por reiner reiner | 1 comentarios | Deja un comentario

07 de julio de 2018

Fungus Unknown to Science — RRfu2

Field names are used by some for referring to identifiable species for which a scientific name is not known. As part of numerous fungi forays with the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria we have been doing so for many years. One such species occasionally found by the group was recorded as Mycena 'tiny blue lights'. We found it on the dead rachises of soft tree-ferns and having a reusable name for it allowed us to know what we're talking about and be able to reference previous sightings. Turns out that this tiny mushroom is more widespread than we knew and in 2016 it was described as Mycena lazulina from Japan!

The point is some unnamed fungi are readily recognizable — such is the case with this species. Although it may not have a name it is a yellow disc fungus (to 5mm diameter) fringed with wavy serrations and with a short, dark stipe. It is usually gregarious (sometimes solitary) and so far has only been found growing on dead branches and twigs of Nothofagus cunninghamii.

In the last couple of years I have been tagging unknown but identifiable fungi with RR (my initials), fu (for fungi — not what you were thinking) and a number. RRfu1 turned out to be Cudoniella clavus, previously unknown for Australia. I found pictures of these online while trying to identify another fungus and, once they were confirmed, was able to update my old records.

I recorded these yellow discs for the first time in 2014 and have since tagged them with "RRfu2". They appear to belong to the Helotiales order of fungi, possibly in the Helotiaceae family. As I appear to be the only one to find and photograph them they don't have a field name but 'yellow beech discs' springs to mind. They are uncommon but certainly not rare (I'm surprised nobody else has recorded them before) — I tend to find them at least a couple of times each year (actually 6 times so far this year).

Links
RRfu2 tagged records on iNaturalist
my Unknown But Identifiable Fungi

Anotado en julio 07, sábado 01:01 por reiner reiner | 1 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de junio de 2018

Micraspis flavovittata - Not Quite Extinct

Micraspis flavovittata is a rare Australian ladybeetle similar in size and appearance to its common sibling species Micraspis frenata. Throughout history it has only been observed or collected a very few times but in recent years a population was rediscovered where these beetles were observed over three consecutive springs (from 2015–2017).

With only a small known population in one fairly small location (although protected within a National Park) this little beetle would warrant top level protection as Critically Endangered if only we new more about it. Unfortunately it is so rare that we haven't collected enough information about it to allow it to be categorized at all (apart from "Data Deficient").

Earlier I was hoping to start formally surveying it from this spring but am currently unable to do so. Plus, without the right training or experience in such surveys I would have to scratch my noggin pretty hard and do more research. Perhaps one day someone will look into this and eventually it will get protection better than EX (extinct), which I fear may happen with habitat changes and a potential catastrophe (a small wildfire could easily extinguish their lives forever).

Although I have kept my eyes pealed for this beetle in my subsequent travels, including searching potential habitat elsewhere (such as in the western Grampians) I have been unable to find more of these insects. I haven't search the extreme east and west of the swamp in which they are known to reside so their range may exceed the currently known 4km by a few more kilometres. Hopefully one day someone will find more elsewhere and all will be good in the world.

Little is known about the life-cycle and food of Micraspis flavovittata, suffice to say adults feed on pollen in whole or as a significant proportion of their diet (much like Micraspis furcifera). I have observed the larva appearing to feed on parts of decaying plants, although this would require further study to verify.

Links
Micraspis flavovittata on iNaturalist
Micraspis frenata on iNaturalist
Micraspis furcifera on iNaturalist
Micraspis flavovittata on ALA


EDIT March 2019: Another population has been found, see my later journal post
Anotado en junio 25, lunes 13:24 por reiner reiner | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario