Cuckoos & cleptos

Most of us are familiar with the activities of avian cuckoos where a bird lays its eggs in the nest of a host bird of a different species, after kicking out the eggs that were laid by the host. We have a dozen or so species of cuckoos in Australia and some of them utilise the nests of birds half their size. The worst mismatch I have seen was a pair of exhausted Superb Blue Wrens (Malurus cyaneus) trying to feed a massive fledgling Fan-tailed cuckoo (Cuculua pyrrhophanus). The young cuckoo was never happy with the amount of food brought to it and constantly pecked its foster parents.

Did you know there are insect cuckoos too? Granted there’s not a lot of the bullying going on like in the bird example described above, but there is certainly similar amounts of clandestine behaviour. There are about 75 species in the wasp family Chrysididae in Australia, with common species being referred to as “cuckoo wasps”. They vary in length from about 6 mm to 22 mm in length and they are strikingly beautiful insects because of their metallic colours.

Chrysididae Continue reading Cuckoos & cleptos

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Cottony scales

There are about 80 species of ‘soft scale’ insects of the family Coccidae found in Australia. The ones I find most interesting are the pulvinariine soft scales which are known colloquially as ‘cottony scales’, ‘cottony soft scales’ and (my favourite) ‘cushion bears’. These common names help to describe the cottony egg sacs (ovisacs) of adult female scales. The image below shows adult female Pulvinaria dodonaeae on the leaves of a species of Myoporum.

Cottony soft scaleThe insect itself is brown in colour and the ovisac is the furrowed white mass behind. Pulvinaria dodonaeae is endemic to Australia and is not considered to be a pest. Its species name, dodonaeae, coveniently indicates some of its host plants are within the plant genus Dodonaea. One of the exotic (i.e introduced from elsewhere) cottony soft scales found in Australia goes by the name of Pulvinaria hydrangeae. Can you guess which plant it occurs on? Continue reading Cottony scales

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Night of the ghosts

Ghost moths are members of the moth family Hepialidae and there are about 150 species found in Australia. The common name “ghost moth” comes from a European species whose white ghostly males are seen hovering over open ground in a conspicuous display flight to attract females.

We have several ghost moth species at our place in the Grampians and the largest (15 cm wingspan) and most numerous is Trictena atripalpis (below). Common across the southern half of Australia, this moth and a couple of related species are known under common names such as ‘bardee’ or ‘bardi’ grub, rain moth, swift moth or ‘Waikerie’. Little wonder that entomologists use scientific names when referring to particular insects! The moths only live for one day – their only role in life is to mate and, if female, to lay eggs. The moths don’t feed or drink because they don’t have the appropriate mouth parts to do so.

hepialid moths Continue reading Night of the ghosts

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Mantis-fly image wins award

An image of mine (below) won the Image Laurel at the 2016 Horticultural Media Association Australia last night. You can read more about this insect here.

mantis-flyThe award I won looks like this:

Image Laurel

The citation from the judges was: “Denis Crawford’s Mantis-fly image has superb resolution of detail revealing a technical mastery of close-up nature photography. The result is a crystal clear depiction of the Mantis-fly that brings the insect to life.”

Below is a short video of my acceptance speech:

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I love parasitoids

To most people the word “parasite” conjures up all sorts of images from tapeworms to brain-eating amoebas to scenes from the film Alien. So a “parasitic wasp” must be something really freaky and horrible then? To us – no; but to an aphid or a caterpillar or some other target insect – yes.

Technically a parasitic wasp isn’t a parasite at all. True parasites like tapeworms don’t normally kill their hosts, because that would mean their own death. So insects such as parasitic wasps and flies which parasitise and kill other insects are known as parasitoids.

parasitoid Continue reading I love parasitoids

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