Fear and loathing

It happened one day at primary school back in the 1960’s. “It’s biting me, it’s biting me!!” the boy screamed as he sprinted past me. He then collapsed on the ground in flamboyant B-grade movie style, shrieking loudly. I ran up to him and could see the culprit clinging to his leg, a very large but harmless moth which I now know it to be one of the ‘rain moths’ of the family Hepialidae (below).

Trictena atripalpis Continue reading Fear and loathing

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Gall-inducing insects

Have you ever noticed strange lumps and bumps on the leaves and stems of native plants? Galls are especially common on gum trees and wattles, and they are abnormal plant growths that form in response to invasion of plant tissue by a variety of organisms. Galls can be caused by certain species of wasps, flies, beetles, psyllids, coccids, thrips, moths and aphids, as well as by nematodes, mites, bacteria or fungi. This post concentrates on some common gall-inducing insects found in Australia. Continue reading Gall-inducing insects

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Sex, gender & difference

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus or so the saying goes. However the anatomical differences between male and female humans are relatively minor when compared to the differences between male and female insects.

“Why is this ‘ant’ attacking a ‘fly’ via its ovipositor?” an insect enthusiast asked me in an email recently (the insects in question can be seen below). The image clearly illustrates sexual dimorphism. My Dictionary of Entomology, a massive tome only owned by insect nerds like me, defines sexual dimorphism as ‘differences in size, shape, anatomical features, colour or behaviour between males and females of a species’.

Flower wasp Continue reading Sex, gender & difference

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Where do insects go in winter?

Insects are ectothermic meaning they don’t generate their own body heat, and rely on external sources to regulate their body temperature. Freezing temperatures are life threatening to many insects, so how do they survive winter?

One July morning I went down to my vegetable garden to see how the plants had survived the deep freeze (-3°C) of the night before. I wasn’t surprised to find my brassicas were covered in ice crystals, but I didn’t expect to find a cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) larva also encrusted in ice. I decided to keep an eye on it, so after the day warmed up a bit I revisited the garden to find the caterpillar happily munching on the plant. How did it do it?

Cabbage white larva Continue reading Where do insects go in winter?

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