Here’s lookin’ at you, kid

Summertime is insect and spider time. Most insects zoom or scuttle past fast with little chance of me getting a photo. Wasps are busy couriering paralysed and legless spiders (sometimes larger than they are) to their burrows, so their babies can feed on fresh flesh when they hatch (ain’t Nature great? so pragmatic!). But I found this cutie the other day. It was about 6 cm long. The Australian Museum says it is the burying mantis, Sphodropoda tristis. It’s called a burying mantis because the female digs holes to lay her eggs in and covers the holes over afterwards.

[Update] The Entomolgy Department of the Queensland Museum says:

Remarkably, one of Joy’s photographs shows the diagnostic feature needed to separate the four similar species of the genus Sphodropoda to which the mantid belongs. The row of white spots on the inside of the bases of the forelegs are characteristic of Sprodropoda tristis. This species is often called the Burying Mantid, because it has been suggested to bury its egg cases in the ground, but this may not always be the case. Below is some information on the species taken from a reasonably recent paper (2005) on this group of mantids. “Milledge, G.A. (2005) Revision of the genera Sphodropoda, Trachymantis and Zopheromantis (Mantodea: Mantidae: Mantinae). Records of the Australian Museum 57(2): 191–210.”

The species is found through most of mainland Australia and  also southeast Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. This species is a shrub and tree dweller, usually found on stems or trunks. A female of this species from Brisbane has been recorded as laying its oothecae (eggcase) in the ground. This behaviour may not be obligatory however, as oothecae have been collected from the “paper” bark of melaleuca trees in the Cairns region. Females in captivity have also laid oothecae on the roof and sides of the container, although oviposition (egg-laying) was not observed.

Praying mantis

Burying mantis, Sphodropoda tristis

Praying mantis_2

Burying mantis, Sphodropoda tristis (the first photo is a close-up of this one). The broom bristles give a sense of scale.



Here’s a miscellany of other small critters. Some IDs are out with the Queensland Museum, and I’ll update those when I get a reply.

Below is the underside of a female St Andrew’s cross spider, Argiope keyserlingi (the male is much smaller). The ‘cross’ on the web is faint in this shot – you can just see a strand parallel to each top leg – but often is very clear and gives the spider its common name. Nearby is the greenish egg case with newly hatched spiderlings (the following photo), presumably belonging to this spider.

According to the Australian Museum:

The role of the cross-like web decoration, called the stabilimentum, has long been a puzzle. At first thought to strengthen or ‘stabilise’ the web, more recent ideas associate it with capturing prey or avoiding predators. The ribbon-like silk reflects ultra-violet light strongly. Such light is attractive to flying insects, which use it to locate food sources like flowers and to navigate through openings in the vegetation.

St Andrew's cross spider

Female St Andrew’s cross spider, Argiope, eating the lunch it has wrapped in a neat silk parcel


St Andrew's cross spiderlings and egg case

Just-hatched St Andrew’s cross spiderlings and egg case (top right) near the female adult

Stick insect, Woody Head

Male ringbarker stick insect, Podacanthus wilkinsoni, Woody Head

The ringbarker above is a bit worse for wear, possibly having been attacked by a bird. The Complete Field Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia (CSIRO) says this species is regarded as a pest when it congregates in the thousands, defoliating some species of Eucalyptus trees. Individuals live for roughly two years, with the female laying about 150 eggs. The one below (same species) is in better condition.


The stick insect below (found at home) is a spur-legged stick insect (Didymuria violescens), also called the violet-winged stick insect. [Update] The Queensland Museum says:

It is a male stick insect belong to a species within the genus Didymura.  Given the locality where the photograph was taken,  Didymuria violescens, the Spur-legged Stick-insect, is a likely candidate.

If you would like more information on this species the following website may be of interest:

Stick insect, Larnook

Spur-legged stick insect (Didymuria violescens), Larnook


This female orchard swallowtail (Papilio aegeus) is a bit worse for wear, but the beauty of its wings still impresses.

Papilio aegeus_top view

Papilio aegeus, female, top view

Papilio aegus_underside

Papilio aegus, female, underside

Now we are feeling the blues, in a good way. The blue-banded bee, Amegilla (possibly) cingulata, is a native Australian. You can see how tiny it is compared to the peg it sits on. Its four stripes identify it as a female (males have five).

Blue banded bee

Blue banded bee

Update: Thanks to Roz for ID-ing this gorgeous wasp (see her comment below) as the large cuckoo wasp, Stilbum cyanurum. According to Museum Victoria, they are called cuckoo wasps because they lay eggs in the nests of mud wasps:

Cuckoo Wasps visit flowers to feed on nectar. Females lay eggs in Mud Wasp nests. When the larvae hatch, they feed on the food stored in the nest intended for the Mud Wasp larva, or on the Mud Wasp larva body. If attacked by the Mud Wasp host, the intruding Cuckoo Wasp protects itself by curling into a ball.

[Update] The Queensland Museum, in response to my query, says:

[This is] a species of cuckoo wasp (Family Chrysididae, subfamily Chyrsidinae). These wasps are generally kleptoparasites. They lay their eggs inside the nests of other wasps (often mud-dauber or potter wasps) and when they hatch they consume the host wasps larva and the food resources that were supplied for its development. Hence the name kleptoparasite – stealing their food supply. The particular species is Stilbum cyanurum.

Stilbum cyanurum

Large cuckoo wasp, Stilbum cyanurum


Here’s a female fiery skimmer dragonfly, also known as the bog skimmer (Orthetrum villosovittatum). The male looks the same except for a bright pink body.



[Update] The two mating on the door of my car (below) are a mating pair of a species of soldier beetle, Family Cantharidae. The Queendland Museum says : “The likely genus is Chauliognathus but a species level identification isn’t possible from a photograph.”




The little things do count, don’t they?

Romance among the roses

A couple of posts back, I mentioned the two female Macleay’s spectres (giant spiny stick insects, Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum) in my rose bush. They’re still there and I enjoy trying to find them every day. I don’t always succeed first time as they are incredibly well camouflaged. Something so large and obvious (once you see it) can hide really well.

I also mentioned that the males are much smaller and thinner than the females, and a couple of days ago was thrilled to discover one such male attached to one of the females. He’s still around, sometimes in the act of mating and sometimes on his own. Here are some shots.

Mating Macleays_1

Male Macleays spectre

Male Macleay’s spectre stick insect

Mating Macleays_2 Mating Macleays_3


My rose bush is rapidly losing its leaves – I’ve seen the stick insects munching madly at night – but who cares? It’s worth it to have these guests.

Another stick insect

Brigitte, who lives not far from me, saw my previous post on MacLeay’s spectre stick insects and sent me this photo, taken in 2005.

Goliath stick insect; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

Goliath stick insect; photo by Brigitte Stievermann

















It’s a goliath stick insect, Eurycnema goliath, on a red kamala tree, Mallotus philippensis. It’s ‘startle’ display (according to Brock and Hasenpush’s The Complete Guide to Stick and Leaf Insects of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, 2009):

exposes the bright red underside of its fore and hind wings. It spreads out its hind legs and can strike repeatedly. This action also displays two false eyes at the base of its hind legs.

They’re popping up all over the place! Does this mean we’re surrounded? I certainly hope so. 🙂

A different thorn on the roses

I am never pruning my rose bush again! I am an indifferent gardener, anyway – I see my garden as “habitat” rather than a garden, so don’t do much with it. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

While attempting to smell my very overgrown tea roses a couple of nights ago (they have a faint but pleasant smell), a sharp-eyed friend spotted not one but two jaw-dropping creatures: Macleay’s spectre stick insects (Extatosoma tiaratum tiaratum), also known as giant spiny stick insects. I don’t personally believe in ghosts, but I rather like the idea of having spectres in my garden!

Macleay's spectre or giant spiny stick insect

Macleay’s spectre or giant spiny stick insect

Continue reading

Another titan

I’ve seen titan stick insects (Acrophylla titan) before, but it is always a thrill to see another one of these massive leaf-eating creatures.

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

This one was about 19 cm from tail to top of head.

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

Titan_3Brisbane Insects says they are the longest insect in Australia, up to 30 cm. The Australian Museum gives details on the life and times, and gives a max. length of 25 cm. Pretty darned awesome.

Tai chi with stick insect

I don’t practise tai chi, but it sure felt like it this morning when I was handling a stick insect a friend brought for me to see. She’s often out maintaining her plantings, and sees a lot of interesting insects. It’s likely to be the titan stick insect (Acrophylla titan).

The insect kept climbing up, and I had to keep moving around to prevent it climbing onto my shoulder or head. This resulted in a kind of dance that would have reminded tai chi exponents of how not to do tai chi.

Stick insect mudra

Titan stick insect

Stick insect

Stick insect auditioning for Cirque du Soleil

The titan stick insect has been measured as the second-longest insect in Australia. I measured this one as 150 mm from top of head to tail fork.

It moved in a fairly slow but determined manner. You can read about the species of Australian stick insects here.

This photo shows the serrations on the legs …

Serrations are visible on the forelegs

This one just wanted to keep walking up. When it got to the end of my fingers, it paused with its front legs stretched out in the air. If I let those legs touch something, it moved forward again. Otherwise, it just stayed in that position.

Head of the stick insect

Head of the stick insect

Tail of stick insect

Tail view

The Lord Howe Island phasmid, which I wrote about here, is related.

Preparing to hide under a leaf

I hid it under some foliage. Stick insects feed on leaves at night, and this one went into ‘stick’ camouflage position, presumably because it was still daytime – front legs stretched out together and back legs together, doing a credible imitation of a long thin brown twig.

I’ve seen bigger titans on my property, but never had a chance to take a photo before. Many thanks to Jan for bringing it around.

Phantastic phasmids

I’ve just spent a week on Lord Howe Island, about which I’ve posted before (here and here and here).  I’ll be posting about it a lot more as it is a naturalist’s paradise, and I took 800 photos, but to start off – I cuddled a land lobster!

Nursery manager holding rare phasmid - this one has been in the breeding bay for 12 months

Continue reading