I realise we are already well into April but illness, a broken computer and then catching up on lots of other stuff mean I am only just getting to write a post about February!
I am trying a different style this time, partly because it is already so late but also because I plan, once I have caught up, to write shorter posts more often. This will, hopefully, fall somewhere in between.
While kayaking up a stream, we saw the nest of Polistes sagittarius (Banded Paper Wasp). Paper wasps get their name because their nests are constructed from paper, which they made by chewing wood into a pulp. This one as a superficial resemblance to Vespa tropica (Greater Banded Hornet). It you look closely, you can see an egg in the top right compartment of the nest. They lay one egg in each pod and, once hatched, bring food to feed the larvae. When each larva is ready to pupate, the adult(s) close up the pod to help protect the pupa.
On a night walk, we had the pleasure of meeting a Bird-dung Crab Spider (Phrynarachne sp.). Obviously, they get their name from their resemblance to a bird dropping, which likely gives them two benefits in being avoided by predators and being well camouflaged from their prey.
We managed to see the open flower of the Taeniophyllum pusillum, which we saw, for the first time, in January.
At our place, I saw my first bolas spider (Ordgarius sp.). When I first saw it, on the underside of a Pandanus leaf, I thought it was the ootheca (egg case) of a praying mantis but closer inspection revealed a very well concealed spider. I have included a photo of an ootheca for comparison with the lateral photo of the spider. Female bolas spiders have a very sophisticated hunting. They spin a thread with a sticky blob at the end (and sometimes smaller sticky blobs along the length) known as a bolas. They produce scent that mimics the pheromones of female moths, thereby attracting male moths. Ordgarius spiders whirl the bolas quickly, starting when it first detects the moth. If the bolas hits the moth, it sticks to it and the spider pulls in the thread before biting to moth. Despite specialising in moths, bolas spiders also catch other prey that comes in range of their bolas.
A little later the same day, I saw for the first time a leaf-cutting cuckoo bee (Coelioxys sp.). They are solitary bees who lay their eggs in the nests of other leaf-cutting bees (i.e. their own family: Megachilidae). Each female of Coelioxys has a pointed abdomen to allow her to pierce the layer of leaves in the another bee’s nest before layer here egg(s) inside. The Coelioxys larvae will kill the other bee’s larvae before eating the pollen store intended as food for the host bee’s offspring. Coelioxys sp. do not collect pollen because they have no need to feed their own larvae.
We have a lot of weird and wonderful planthopper nymphs here. This one, which we saw on a night walk, must come close to the top. It is in the Ricaniidae family. The camouflage is amazing.
On one of our walks in the mangrove swamps, we cam across this spectacular spider: a Poltys sp.. Poltys spp. are very varied in the shape of their abdomens, and masters of disguise.
During the same tour, we saw another first for me: a Nemophora sp. of fairy moth (Adelidae). Strangely beautiful!
While on a nature ramble, we saw an Iridotaenia sp. of jewel beetle (Buprestidae). This was another new species for me. As their name suggests, jewel beetles, more specifically, their beautiful, metallic, shiny elytra are, and have been for some time, used in the production of jewellery.
There are many creatures here that mimic ants, either to help avoid predation or to get close to ants in order to prey on them, but this is the first hemipteran ant mimic I have seen. It’s an ant-mimicking broad-headed bug (Alydidae) and we saw it on a night walk.
Also at night, we saw a tortoise beetle larva (Cassidinae). These are quite weird. They are surrounded by cetae that help them to blend into their background: the leaves that they eat. They are topped with a fecal shield (dried feces) that helps to deter predators. The adults are stunning little creatures.
During another night walk, we saw an Ancyra sp. of planthopper. These never cease to amaze me. They have evolved to mimic weevils (aka snout beetles) and they do a pretty good job, complete with fake eyes, fake antennae and even fake snout. They even walk backwards! You might be wondering what they gain from mimicking weevils. It seems that they fool predators because, although their appearance is much like a weevil, their means of escape is significantly different. When weevils are threatened they tend to play dead and will drop directly of a branch or leaf. In contrast, Ancyra sp. planthoppers, spring off forwards, the opposite direction to the way they have been walking. Predators that have learned the ways of the weevil, will not be expecting this and the planthopper can escape.
During the same night walk, we saw the larva of a parasitoid wasp (Dryinidae) on the nymph of a planthopper (Lophopidae). Wasps in Dryinidae are solitary. The female lays one egg inside a nymph of bug in the suborder Auchenorrhyncha, which includes Lophopidae. The dryinid larva feeds on the insides of the bug nymph. As larva grows, it breaks through the exoskeleton of the nymph and develops its own hardened shell to protect itself. The nymph is killed by the process and the wasp larva spins a cocoon in which to pupate.
Also on the same night walk, we say another master of camouflage, this time in the form of a Pandercetes sp. of huntsman spider (Sparassidae). We often see spiders in this genus but usually those that are known as “lichen spiders” because they live on trees covered in lichen and have developed coloured patterns that allow them to blend in beautifully. This one is taking a different approach with pale brown and many hairs to break up its outline. You will see between her front legs that she is guarding her egg sac.
That’s it for this time. Hopefully, I will be able to post a March roundup very shortly.