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