An insect diary from the suburbs Part 1

Published 03/01/13 | by Michele Arundell

G’day Indigephiles. For the last two months I’ve been on a small game safari in the wilds of suburban Heathmont, pushing ever onwards to far corners of Melbourne. In between watching Alby Mangels brown-water rafting down Dandenong Creek and helping Harry Butler* pull his hand out of a hollow log, I’ve started a diary on some of the six legged fauna I’ve discovered out this way.

October 18 At the 100 Acres bushland in Park Orchards, Common Dusky Blue butterflies (Candalides hyacinthina) were very docile in the cold conditions, happily perching on my outstretched finger. The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on Dodder-laurels (Cassytha spp.)

October 21 At Hotchkins Ridge (Exeter Ridge) in North Croydon, Spittle Bugs were found under their frothy “cuckoo-spit” shelters on various herbaceous plants – Senecio, Dianella, Dichopogon, Stylidium etc. They were also found on woody species such as Acacia and Pultanaea.

October 27 Gum-leaf Skeletoniser caterpillars (Uraba lugens) were spotted wearing a full set of empty head capsules and apparently looking for places to pupate.

October 29 Sported beautiful sunny conditions with a slight breeze. A Vine Moth (Phalaenoides glycinae) flew into the garden and zapped around for a while in various directions, as if seeking the source of a scent it was picking up amongst the maze of chemical messages that must be filling the air on such a day. Predictably it got closer to Hibbertia scandens, an introduced species from a locally represented genus that is the main indigenous food plant of this handsome moth. After locating the plant it proceeded to lay its tiny green eggs, one at a time in a variety of places – under leaves, on branchlets and on some nearby woodwork.

October 30 I saw Painted Lady (Vanessa Kershawi) and Austral Admiral (Vanessa itea) butterflies in the garden.

November 2 It was a mild sunny day and I heard the first cicada calls for the season. At dusk, long-horned green grasshoppers made their scratchy calls. Lots of moths gathered at the outside light, as well as green lacewings and small flies.

November 5 It was a warm cloudy afternoon spent at Montrose, where great numbers of winged termites were flying around, presumably looking for places to form new colonies. Some were being caught in spiders webs and others that landed on the ground were snapped up by the Common Garden Skink (Lampropholis guichenoti), an indigenous reptile that has adapted well to some parts of suburbia.

November 8 Today a Caper White butterfly (Belenois java) flew through the garden. The indigenous larval food plants (Capparis spp. and Apophyllum anomalum) of this insect don’t occur in Victoria but in some years thousands of adults appear in Melbourne on one-way migration flights. Even though these migrating butterflies probably never return to their hatching sites and seldom succeed in breeding elsewhere, these one-way flights almost certainly have direct or indirect survival value.

November 10 I found the beautiful little iridescent blue Forester Moth (Pollianisus? sp.) in open grassy forest at Warrandyte. I haven’t seen the caterpillar of this species but the flower buds of Guinea-flowers (Hibbertia spp.) are recorded as larval food. I have also seen this moth at Antonio Park, the 100 Acres and Hotchkins Ridge. In these reserves the food plant would probably be either Hibbertia riparia or H. obtusifolia. Over at Antonio Park in Mitcham the first male Common Brown butterflies of the season were seen.

November 11 Down by the Yarra River at Wonga Park, caterpillars of the Australian Admiral were found sheltering in rolled-up leaves on the indigenous Stinging Nettle (Urtica incise).

November 22 Tonight at an outside light the first Gum-leaf Skeletoniser Moths appeared for the season.

November 29 Today a small butterfly dashing around the garden in search of flowers bearing nectar turned out to be the Yellow-banded Dart (Ocybadistes walkeri), a species whose caterpillars feed on common grasses. A distinctive feature of this butterfly is its habit of resting with forewings held erect while its hindwings are in a horizontal position.

November 30 The eggs of the Green Lacewing or Golden Eye are appearing in many places in the garden. The tiny white eggs are laid in groups on leaves, branches, fences, walls, letter-boxes, plant pots, fly-wire screens etc. Each egg is suspended from a stiff, hair-like white stalk less than one centimetre long. The larvae, sometimes called “aphis lions” are important garden predators of aphis and other small insects and their eggs.

December 2 It was a very warm dusk with the high-pitched scraping sounds of green grasshoppers set against a constant din of cicada noise. Presumably this kind of weather brings out the territorial and breeding instincts in these insects.

December 3 At Antonio Park, while collecting seed of one of the Groundsels (Senecio tenuiflorus), I found two caterpillars of the Magpie Moth (Nyctemera amica), a day-flying species that lays its eggs on various Senecio spp. in eastern Australia.

December 6 Around the outside lights in warm, humid conditions were buckets of small moths. There were also click beetles, longicorns, green planthoppers and small flies.

December 7 Again at Antonio park, I saw the first female Common Brown butterfly (Heteronympha merope) for the season. The females are recognisable by their larger size and black and yellow marks on the forewings and always emerge a few weeks after the males.

December 15 It was a great day in the garden, sunny with a light breeze. Lots of insects were on the move – cicadas, damsel flies, hover flies, caterpillars and butterflies. With the arrival of warmer weather, the conditions for insect watching will get even better. Hopefully I’ve encouraged other IFFA members to record their observations of indigenous floral and faunal interactions and they will send them in for the next issue of Indigenotes!

This article was originally published in Indigenotes No. 5, March 1987. It is one of a series written by the late John Reid during 1986 and 1987 which is being re-published in recognition of his contribution to advancing our knowledge and protection of our indigenous flora and fauna. Michele Arundell

* Alby Mangels and Harry Butler were Australian adventurers and documentary film makers of the time.