Four O'clock Moth and Friends

Despite having a much wetter winter than is the norm for the tropics of Far North Queensland we've had the 'normal' dry season visitors. Including the dazzling ulysses butterfly and the intriguingly named four o'clock moth. Both feed on the Carallia brachiata plant sometimes called a freshwater mangrove but more commonly, and simply known as a 'rainforest tree'. We have a number of these plants scattered throughout the yard. None were deliberately planted but were probably seeded by birds or perhaps rodents.

Interestingly two species of Lepidoptera have taken up residence on two separate Carallia growing just 2.5m apart and yet it seems that neither species lays on the others plant. And it isn't as simple as having a single adult laying on each plant as the instars of both are in varying stages of maturity so there have been multiple eggs laid, presumably from different adults of each insect.

Noting that one plant is in shade for a greater proportion of the day than the other, my theory is that Dysphania fenestrata (a.k.a. Dysphania numana); or the four o'clock moth, prefers the shade. This is re-enforced by the fact that when pupating the Dysphania constructs a chamber by tying leaves together with silk, also the pupa itself has a casing vaguely reminiscent of the thin crinkly brown skin found on a husked pea-nut ... not very resistant to U.V at all eh?

So shade along with a 'retreat' to prevent the insect drying out makes complete sense ... at least in my head.

Below are a series of pics comparing the two species from instar, pupa to adult. (click to enlarge)

Dysphania fenestrata

Papilio ulysses

Dysphania fenestrata

Papilio ulysses

Dysphania fenestrata

Dysphania fenestrata

Papilio ulysses

Typically for Papilionidae, the ulysses instar has a striking defence mechanism. When disturbed they erect their osmeterium, which for all the world unfurl like twin light-sabres from the head of the insect and release a smell that some have described as pungent, but I disagree - to me the smell is sweet and a bit citrusy. The osmeterium of the ulysses is vivid orange however, in an orchid swallowtail it's fluorescent pink.

The Dysphania is a member of the looper or Geometridae family of moth. The adjective looper describes the method of locomotion the instar or caterpillar uses when getting around. They first clasp the stem or leaf they're on with modified back legs that resemble a baseball glove, stretch their body out to gain purchase with a set of front legs and then draw their rear up towards the head creating a loop. The boldly contrasting patterns of the adult give a clue to it's diurnal nature and is probably a warning to hungry predators that it wouldn't make a very tasty snack. The instars seem to come in two colour variations of predominantly green or yellow and I wonder if this is due to the pigmentation for the leaves they feed on as the Carallia plant (at least at this time of year), has both green and yellow leaves ... something to ponder eh?

... enough pondering - on with the post:

The rainbow/leaf-litter skinks are still plentiful and despite the fact that it's outside the breeding season they continue to engage in, what can only be described as an endless game of reptilian tag; chasing each other here and there with much tail twitching and manic head bobbing. There never seems to be much damage done and I could easily be convinced that, as doubtful as it seems, they might very well be playing - who can say?.

Something unidentifiable but obviously quite delicious 

Who's 'it'?

Just three of the numerous Carlia we have around the place

As for the frogs? Well, with relatively cooler temps they're keeping pretty quiet but there is a lovely white lip knocking around and this pensive common green tree frog turned up a little while ago - we see other species on occasion but for the most part the nights are still and maddeningly unfroggy ...

Litoria caerulea

Speaking of winter, these little Australian native welcome swallows are a common sight around the joint. They tend to migrate north in the cooler months but can be seen at any time of year here and we currently have a couple who think nothing of zooming inside and taking a break on the ceiling fans. They sit and chat away to both themselves and us (which can be a bit disconcerting if you've just stepped out the shower ...). Anyway - just this morning I had a list of things I wanted to get done, thus I was rooted to the spot staring at my coffee achieving exactly nothing when one of the swallows swooped down and settled on the brim of my cap. There's nothing quite like looking directly into the firing end of wild bird mere centimetres away to focus the mind, but before I could make any sort of decision regarding my course of action the bird flipped around so that now it was head down, gazing straight into my eyes.

He cocked his head first one way - then the other, and I swear to you, for just a moment - I was certain he was about to ask how my morning was going. He didn't (thank god) - he simply flitted off - twittering away to his partner presumably telling her that while I was definitely a bit daft, I was probably harmless ...

Welcome swallow Hirundo neoxena

Being pitied by a bird is, frankly, a little hard to take, but being completely ignored by one is damned near insufferable. The laughing kookaburra's are a law unto themselves around here and generally view the garden as a private larder - they'll eat snakes, lizards, birds (esp hatchlings), insects, frogs, scraps ... virtually anything they can grasp in their beaks and hammer into a suitable consistency for swallowing.

Like I said - they tend to ignore me, but should they deign to acknowledge my existence - they'll fix me with a steady, enquiring gaze a small smirk playing about their beak. Leaving one with the unsettling suspicion that, should the frog supply get a bit low, you may very well fit the bill - so to speak.

It doesn't help that they laugh as you're walking away either ... (how does it go? - a 'murder of crows', a 'parliament of owls', a 'flight of swallows' etc ... well, I'd like to nominate a 'bastard of kookaburra's' as the name for that particular grouping of birds ...)

Laughing kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae

I kid ... mostly ...

Now for one of my most treasured garden companions of all time - a mantis. This one is a juvenile, around 20-25mm T.L. Size aside, I watched him rock and then leap through the twigs and leaves of his world for some time. Due to its immaturity, I'm afraid I can't be sure of the species, but I think it's another Giant Mantis that I've been lucky enough to photograph and post about previously.

And finally - a little pic of an even littler creature. The omnipresent dart butterfly. I have no idea how many times I have photographed these insects - but it's easily in the triple figures. Despite this - being common is NOT the same thing as being ordinary, (although people being a bit ordinary is pretty common). Anyway - let's just enjoy the pic shall we?

Dart Butterfly sp?

Till next time and as always, take care -

Paul :)

The Lepidoptera (/ˌlɛpɨˈdɒptərə/ lep-i-dop-tər-ə) is an order of insects that includes moths and butterflies (both called lepidopterans). 180,000 species of Lepidoptera are described, in 126 families and 46 superfamilies, 10% of the total described species of living organisms. It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world, encompassing moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies, skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies.

The term was coined by Linnaeus in 1735 and is derived from Ancient Greek λεπίδος (scale) and πτερόν (wing). The Lepidoptera show many variations of the basic body structure that have evolved to gain advantages in lifestyle and distribution. Recent estimates suggest the order may have more species than earlier thought, and is among the four most specious orders, along with the Hymenoptera, Diptera, and Coleoptera ^.

My Favourite Animal

People sometimes ask what my favourite animal is - and I used to try and answer them. The problem was that no sooner had I picked one and the conversation had continued on to other subjects that I would start to re-consider, second guess and generally get trapped inside my head missing the rest of the discussion while ruminatingly chewing an ashtray.

So these days I tend to say that my favourite animal is like my favourite beer - it's the one that's right in front of me ...

I take pics using much the same philosophy. Oh sure, it's a thrill to snap a new critter - getting a new 'spot' for the garden is brilliant - but it's not the be all and end all. Building a large body of work and gleaning small insights into animal behaviour is for me, just as important.

Okay, so it's doubtful that I'll ever add much to science (except perhaps in the field of mixology, I've invented some mean cocktails in my day ... but as they're more likely to cause brain damage than any sort of eureka moment the point stands).

Still, never one to let such trifling realities stand in the way, I'll keep snapping, observing and generally making a nuisance of myself ... here are a few photo's of some of the creatures I've been lucky enough to see over the last while ... click to enlarge the pics.

Trapezostigma loewii

Trapezostigma loewii

Trapezostigma loewii

... Look down, change setting, look up - re-focus ... Dragonflies rate very highly on my favourite animal list :) and I'm not alone:

To the Japanese, they symbolise summer and autumn and are admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, Victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Purity because the dragonfly eats from the wind itself ...^ (For the Navajo they symbolise pure water) edited

Orthetrum villosovittatum

Throughout history though, not all cultures have been quite so kind ...

In Europe, dragonflies were often seen as sinister. Some English vernacular names, such as "horse-stinger", "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link them with evil or injury.

Swedish folklore holds that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls. The Norwegian name for dragonflies is Øyenstikker ("eye-poker"), and in Portugal they are sometimes called tira-olhos ("eye-snatcher"). They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant".

The Southern United States term "snake doctor" refers to a folk belief that dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are injured ... ^

Although if the jewellery of the time is anything to go by, during the Victorian period in England (1837-1901). The people took quite a shine to dragonflies. Even Tennyson got in on the act with his poem "The Two Voices" (1842).

"An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail

He was of course waxing all lyrical like about the the animal transforming from nymph to adult ... The Japanese too used dragonflies in poetry - esp in haiku. The poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) wrote haiku such as:

"Crimson pepper pod
add two pairs of wings, and look
darting dragonfly

... errr that's probably enough high culture for one day eh?

Butterflies are of course synonymous for many with the act of transformation. According to one site, native American peoples, (at least some) held or still do hold these beliefs:

The meaning of the Butterfly symbol signifies transformation as the ugly caterpillar changes into the beautiful butterfly. The butterfly is also believed to be a messenger from the spirit world. The message the butterfly brings depends their color. A black butterfly indicates bad news or illness, yellow brings hope and guidance, brown signifies important news, red signifies an important event and white signifies good luck.

To tribes such as the Blackfoot, the butterfly symbol is associated with sleep and dreams. They believe that dreams are brought to us in sleep by a butterfly. Women embroider the sign of a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin and tie it to a baby’s hair or on the baby's clothes to encourage the child to go to sleep ...^

In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together symbolise love, with Butterfly Lovers being a famous Chinese folktale.

The Taoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, once had a dream about being a butterfly that flew without care about humanity; however, when he awoke and realized that it was just a dream, he thought to himself, "Was I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams of being a man?" ...

Cool eh?. Anyway, here are a few butterflies for you to add whatever meaning you'd like to ...


Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe

Blue Tiger Tirumala hamata 

There are of course those animals that very few poems have been written about and that even today are generally shunned, or splattered, squished, sprayed and spoken badly about behind their backs, even in polite company.

The wasps.

Now I think this is a little unfair - certainly a wasp sting isn't enjoyable for anyone, (except perhaps the wasp ...SEE! even I'm doing it!). But here in Australia we have so many interesting species and while they may not produce honey, they are in many cases beneficial to ourselves and the general environment (they kill and feed their young with other critters many people find just as distasteful - spiders, and for gardeners - caterpillars).

Many also make excellent pollinators - such as this Yellow Hairy Flower Wasp Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Note the flecks of pollen 

This industrious young lady below is busy making a nest - and she is quite communal. Familiar to everyone in Australia, the paper wasps build nests with cells (much like the far more cuddly honey bee). These nests can grow quite large, quite quickly with the Queen 'suppressing' other females from becoming queens themselves (probably with pheromones).

These sisters, tend the young, find food and construct the nest. Many wasp adults feed on nectar, (or jam, coca-cola and in the Southern states of America - mint julips on the lawn HA! ... I kid ...) but the young are given protein rich meals in the form of other insects (hence no honey). And even if there was honey to be had from a wasp hive - you'd have to be bloody hungry or at the very least a conservative to get any ... ahem.

Polistes stigma

So I guess we still don't know what my favourite animal is - hey, could be it's a work in progress ... probably, it's too close to call ...

A word on 'culture'. This is NOT an anthropological blog (thank god). I try my best to be sensitive to peoples beliefs and I personally find the historical, pre-historical oral traditions of other cultures as they relate to 'nature' both interesting and often eye-opening. So you know, this blog is not intended to offend any one ... except the rich, powerful, political elite and the media that panders to them.

Oh, and Rupert Murdoch ... but I repeat myself.

'Till next time, take care:

Paul :)

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