Answer to the Monday Mystery: the infamous redback spider

Yesterday’s red smear looked to me like a lava field on some distant planet. Zoom out, though, and we see this:

Latrodectus hasselti

The redback spider is an Australian equivalent of our Northern hemisphere black widow. Both are in the widow genus, Latrodectus, and both build low, tangled webs near the ground. I could blather on about this fascinating spider, but I suspect you’d rather hear David Attenborough:

Anyway. 10 points go to Morgan Jackson for being the first to guess the species.

Australia buried under a plague of soldier beetles?

A mating aggregation of Chauliognathus lugubris

The insect news is carrying stories of soldier beetle swarms overrunning Australia:

A local Bondi resident, Sandra Bianchi, said she and her husband first noticed the beetles on Tuesday afternoon.

”We were looking out onto the balcony and then all of a sudden there was a swarm,” Mrs Bianchi said. ”There were millions of them. When they fly they look like little helicopters.”

When the insects returned a day later, they landed on any surface they could find – the balcony, nearby trees, even her husband’s head.

“Huh,” I thought. “That sounds familiar.”

In fact, Mrs. Myrmecos and I had driven into the middle of one such aggregation while travelling through the Australian alps last month. Long strings of acrid, stinking beetles hung off the trees and covered the grass in beetle-y clumps. I took a few photographs, promised myself I’d look up the colorful insects when I got home, and promptly forgot about the whole thing until reading the bug news this morning.

Chauliognathus lugubris, the plague soldier beetle.

Chauliognathus lugubris, the plague soldier beetle, is perhaps misnamed. Although these insects are indeed helicoptering into the Australian suburbs in impressive numbers, gardeners should welcome the swarm. Far from being a damaging plague, soldier beetles are predators of other insects, including a number of herbivorous pest insects. The adults are gathering to mate after several solitary months as ground-dwelling larvae.

Scaling the grass.

[photographic location]


Sunset on the Ovens River, Bright, Australia

I’m far too jetlagged from a 17 hour time difference to be productive today- my brain is moving in a different dimension than the rest of me- but I just thought I’d post that we’re back home in Illinois after spending three wonderful weeks visiting friends & family in Australia. I trust everyone’s holidays are going well.

Australian possums…

…cuter than American possums.

Trichosurus vulpecula - Melbourne, Australia

The evening was so dark I could scarcely see the possum with my own eyes, but my camera & fast lens stepped up last night to capture this low light photo.

As wildlife goes, the brushtailed possum isn’t terribly exciting. It is like Australia’s gray squirrel, common even in urban habitats. Still, the possum seems exotic to visitors like myself.

photo details:
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO6400, f/2.8, .4 sec

An update from Cape Tribulation

Here we are in lovely Cape Tribulation, where the Australian rainforest goes right down to the beach. I’ve only got about 2 minutes of internet time to make this post, so here are a couple photos:

Cape Tribulation
A brentid weevil, in silhouette.

Slow Blogging Ahead

Australia's Rainbow Lorikeet is a common backyard bird

Winter descends again on Illinois, bringing insect season to a close. Time to head for the tropics!

Mrs. Myrmecos and I will be spending much of December in Australia, visiting her family and photographing the continent’s bizarre ants. In particular, I’m hoping to capture images of weaver ants weaving- a behavior that has thus far eluded me. Apparently I’ve been visiting the old world tropics at the wrong time of year, when conditions are too cool for optimal nest-building.

I might try to blog a bit here and there, but mostly I’ll be taking time off. The Monday Mystery will resume in January.

Oecophylla smaragdina - Cape Tribulation, Australia

Fire Ants 1, Australia 0

Have Australians lost their fight against imported fire ants?

Despite $215 million being poured into eradication programs nationally, fire ants have claimed territory in an arc from Logan City, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, to near Grandchester, about 80km west of where the first outbreak was found at the Port of Brisbane in 2001.

Authorities now concede a new and even more expensive long-term campaign might be needed to stop them threatening our lifestyles.

I am curious as to how fire ants threaten the Aussie lifestyle, though. Do they eat Vegemite?