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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Beetling about the Bush (1)

The great British-born biologist JBS Haldane famously (if perhaps apocryphally) once said "If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles." He was referring solely to the sheer, mind-squashing numbers of beetles (and stars). It is estimated that there are some 400,000 beetle species in the world; compare this to a mere 60,000 of all vertebrates put together, half of which are fish. 

This Leopard Longicorn Beetle (Penthea pardalis), from near Cooktown in north Queensland,
shows some key beetle characteristics, including the segmented antennae and the hard, often colourful,
wing covers called elytra. Its larvae live as wood borers in Acacias, but adults, like this one, are
rather good at chewing bark and wood too.
I'm a big fan of beetles, but I hope you'll make allowances for my ignorance of their taxonomy in particular, given the size of the task. Nonetheless I hope you find it worth while just to meet a couple of the ones in my photo files. One that is familiar to anyone in south-eastern Australia is the ominously named Plague Soldier Beetle, a snappily-dressed surprisingly soft-bodied beetle in the family Cantharidae. The 'plague' refers to fact that they sometimes gather in very large numbers on flowers, especially Leptospermum and Eucalyptus, for both mating and feeding. People can be intimidated by them, but in fact they play a significant role, both as adults and larvae, in munching through vast numbers of 'pest' insects including aphids, plant-chewing caterpillars and other larvae, grasshopper eggs etc. 

Plague Soldier Beetles, Chauliognathus lugubris, swarming at the
Australian National Botanic Gardens.
Better known predators of aphids and scale insects in particular are the Ladybirds, family Coccinellidae; like the soldier beetles they too can form vast mating swarms at times.
Hunting prey on a Snow Gum leaf in Namadgi National Park
in the Brindabella Ranges above Canberra.
Harmonia species - what a delightful name!
Another group of beetles which superficially resemble ladybirds are the tortoise beetles, or paropsine beetles, genus Paropsis in the leaf beetle family Chrysomelidae. However they have an entirely different lifestyle, munching on eucalypt leaves as both adults and larvae. Gum leaves must be among the most appalling food in the world, with some hideous toxins, plus tannins which bind with the proteins to make the essential nitrogen unavailable to browsers. Tortoise beetles not only evade the toxins but somehow - and we don't know how - unravel the proteins from the tannins. Very few animals in the world have managed that.

Paropsis beetles, larvae and adult, doing what they do best and most -
eating eucalypt leaves.
As you will have deduced from the (1) in the title I foresee more about beetles in posts to come, but for now I'll end with a shot I quite like of a small beetle which, until this posting I'd not been able to identify - but which I now know is an Orchid Beetle! Well, derr... (Thanks Denis - see Comments below.)
Orchid or Dipodium Beetle, Stethopachys formosa, yet another Chrysomelid,
on Hyacinth Orchid, Dipodium punctatum,
New South Wales south coast.
Not here just to look aesthetic, it does serious chewing on orchids, to the chagrin
of greenhouse orchid growers who don't moderate their visitors!

5 comments:

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Ian
The last one is easy. It is an Orchid Beetle!
Seriously, that's what it is called, and I first saw one on a Hyacinth Orchid, in the Shoalhaven region.
"snap".
http://australianmuseum.net.au/Orchid-Beetle
The Orchid growers hate it, because the larvae burrow into stems of their Dendrobiums, etc.
But it is native and naturally occurring, as we have both seen.
http://peonyden.blogspot.com.au/2009/01/hyacinth-orchids-2-species-plus-orchid.html

Beth said...

Hi Ian, the lava tube beetle is in fact a bug (Hemiptera). A kind of Harlequin bug I think.

Cheers,
Beth

Ian Fraser said...

Thank you Beth - I am embarrassed by the depth of my mine of ignorance about inverts, though I do try and they definitely delight and fascinate me. Can I check future doubts on them with you? And are you
the Beth of Duffy fame?

Beth said...

Hi Ian,
Yes I am the one and the same! And please don't take my comment as any kind of criticism - the depth of your knowledge is astounding! I'm really enjoying your blog and please do feel free to queries through (you may even like to come and play in the insect collection some time?).
Cheers,
Beth (from Duffy)

Ian Fraser said...

Absolutely no criticism assumed - we all want to get things right, and I'm grateful for any help I can get. And I'd LOVE to play in the collection some time; I would learn heaps too!