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NEWS ARCHIVE

 

AUSTRALIAN INSECT FARM QUARTERLY NEWS

No 2

February 2001

Bringing you all the news from the Australian Insect Farm.


No Images for this issue

This issue:
Welcome
Survivors Eat Bugs
Dog Fighting Triangles
From Butterfly To Stick Insect House
In The Lab
Research News - New Genus of Stick Insect
Join The AIF Leaf Insect Survey
The Bug Files - How Insects Grow
Wet Tropics Story - Masters of Camouflage
Leaf Insect Survey Form

 

WELCOME to our second issue of AIF News.

Along with our regular features, this issue we look at eating bugs - Survivor style, introduce some of the AIF research projects in "Research News" and continuing from the field station (last issue), we visit the very top of the hill and list some of the many butterfly species recorded this summer.

While still in the midst of our 'wet season', the garden has seen considerable increase in insect activity especially with butterflies. A pleasant sight after a drier than usual January has been the appearance of Ulysses and Birdwing butterflies, with numbers observed daily visiting the flower beds. February brought rain, lots of it and at night the moth activity absolutely exploded with large numbers recorded.

SURVIVORS EAT BUGS!

Recently filmed in North Queensland, contestants of the American TV series 'Survivor' were fortunate to feast upon a selection of Australian bush tucker. Supplied by the AIF, a 'bug smorgasbord' was prepared with such insect delicacies as Giant Crickets and Rainforest Witchetty Grubs proving to be the most popular or perhaps it was simply a case of what went down easier.

Unfortunately we cannot report first hand as to the reaction to eating the insect as all shooting operated under strictly closed sets. However, a member of the crew involved on-site was pleased to report that all contestants survived!

DOG FIGHTING TRIANGLES

One area of the property that has always been irresistible for many butterfly species is the very top of the hill, which is approximately 100 metres above sea level.

A project started many years ago, the hilltop area was recognised as a potentially vital area for research, especially for the many insect species that are hilltop active. With careful management of existing host plants and the introduction of a selection of propagated host plants, the area now accommodates for all types of insect species not only butterflies.

Access to the hilltop is via the track up the ridge that also leads to the field station. A separate arm in the road diverts around from the field station and continues to the very top of the hill.

A regular sight when visiting this area is the activity by various Graphium species. Here males can be seen 'dog fighting', the act of darting around each other to eventually claim their resting position on the foliage. The more placid females are observed cruising in search of food and host plants.

This summer saw lots of butterfly activity on the hilltop with some of the most regularly sighted species being:

Danaus hamata - Blue Tiger

Graphium macleayanus - Macleay's Swallowtail

Graphium sarpedon - Blue Triangle

Graphium eurypylus - Pale Green Triangle

Doleschallia bisaltide - Australian Leafwing

Polyura pyrrhus sempronius - Tailed Emperor

Hypolimnas alimena- Blue Banded Eggfly

Hypolimnas bolina - Common Eggfly

Delias mysis - Union Jack

Delias nigrina - Common Jezebel

Lycaenidae - various species

As a project still in its infancy, hill top maintenance is an ongoing project with further upgrades planned for the future.

FROM BUTTERFLY TO STICK INSECT HOUSE

Planning and actually achieving outdoor work during this time of the year is often hit and miss. With the month of January being mainly fine and actually recording a lower than normal rainfall, outdoor activities were high on the agenda.

One project achieved was the renovation of our original Butterfly Flight House, transforming it to a 'Stick Insect House'. Being the largest of our houses around 7m x 14m x 4.5m in size, makes it ideal for stick insect housing.

Starting with the removal of all plant species not required such as those previously used for butterflies and therefore not suitable for this project. Many of these plants were transferred to other houses or propagated for future use. To accommodate for the species of stick insects being housed, relevant host plants (propagated in 2000) were introduced with some almost ready for insect feeding.

As stick insects are a major group under study here at the farm, we are pleased to now have a house solely for stick insect work.

IN THE LAB

As usual work in the lab over summer has mostly involved the feeding of adult insects. Except for the last few tubs of Hairy Beetles - Tricaulax species, all of the beetles have emerged.

For most including Stag Beetles, Rhinoceros Beetles and Cetonids, ova production is underway and some larvae have already emerged. With varieties of species being bred, the daily feeding of beetles becomes as time consuming as butterfly larvae.

Butterfly and Moth breeding is constant with around 8 species currently filling the shelves.

While Mantid oothecas continue to hatch, most from the first batches to emerge for the season are nearly fully mature. Most mature females have been mated with a minimal loss of males.

Scorpions have had their young with the rainforest species Liocheles, being a little later than usual this year. Most females produced healthy broods with a mortality of one being recorded.

With all stick insects in adult stage ova production is at a maximum. Shelves are slowly filling with trays of ova from various species, which fortunately at this stage are relatively low in maintenance. For now after sorting and washing they are housed appropriately to await emergence. The very first nymphs are currently emerging.

RESEARCH NEWS

Brief notes taken from a recent publication.

Cigarrophasma, A New Genus of Stick Insect (Phasmatidae) from Australia

Paul D. Brock and Jack Hasenpusch.

An interesting new species of cigar-like appearance from Garradunga, north Queensland, is described in a new genus Cigarrophasma. The single representative, C. tessellata n. sp., is designated type species for the genus.

This new genus and species of Australian phasmid from the family Phasmatidae, was first collected in 1992 by Paul Hasenpusch and later also by Jack Hasenpusch (Garradunga, Innisfail, north Queensland) in the same rainforest habitat.

Feature - Cigarrophasma

General appearance:

Reasonably long (females up to 151mm) and broad, with numerous tubercles. Hind wings dark brown and transparent chequered. Ocelli absent.

Legs:

Modest size very broadened in female and reasonably lobed.

Cerci:

Short in both sexes (1.5mm).

Description Briefs

Adults

A large fairly broad winged species.

Males:

Attractive brown, medium sized insect with spiny tubercles on mesonotum and chequered wings; 108mm long.

Females:

Ashen grey-green or even purple-brown with deep green streaks, fore wings greenish brown (light or dark), broad and ovate. Hind wings tessellated, dark brown and transparent. Body lengths recorded from 134 to 151 mm.

Nymphs

The nymphs are reddish brown throughout all stages, but colours vary depending on host food plant.

Eggs

Glossy, dark brown or black almost spherical capsule. Capsule length 3.3mm, width 2.5mm, height 3mm.

Remarks on the species

Remaining motionless in the daytime and resembling their surroundings appears to be the main defence strategy. The known distribution is limited to Garradunga, near Innisfail, north Queensland.

Etymology

This genus is based on cigarro - cigar (due to the female's cigar-like appearance) and phasma, meaning apparition, on account of its affinity with the genus Phasma. The scientific name tessellata relates to the mosaic patterned hind wings of this species.

Discussion

This is an interesting new species from Garradunga, belonging to the family Phasmatidae, in an understudied fauna. Brock (in press) describes two further species from the same locality. There still remain a number of interesting undescribed Australian species, including large insects. It is hoped that enthusiasts will try to record the life history and habits, which will considerably add to our knowledge of genera.

JOIN THE AIF LEAF INSECT SURVEY

We need your help with a most unusual Australian insect - the Leaf Insect.

As the name suggests Leaf Insects look like leaves. They do so with such perfection they can be mistaken by other leaf-eating insects and occasionally be chewed upon. With such great camouflage, Leaf Insects are not often seen.

In Australia Leaf Insects are poorly known. They have been rarely observed with records showing only a hand full of specimens taken. To date we know of three species all of which are recorded from the rainforests of northern Queensland.

What A Leaf Insect Looks Like

Although difficult to see, Leaf Insects are easy to identify. They are bizarre insects with a leaf-like appearance complete with leaf-like veins and mid-rib markings. Leaf Insects can range in various shades of green; some even have brown patches that resemble dead spots on a leaf. Both sexes have exceptionally flattened bodies with the male being the more slender. Males also have fully developed wings enabling them to fly quite well.

Click onto the image at the bottom to see what a Leaf Insect really looks like.

Who Can Participate This survey is suited to persons living in the north Queensland region. To date, records show specimens from Innisfail, Cairns, Mt. Lewis and the Atherton Tablelands.

How To Participate

If you come across a Leaf Insect and you'd like to help, make sure you keep complete notes on your sighting. We need to know such details as the location you saw the insect, when, habitat, if possible the plant species which the insect was observed on and names of any other plant species growing close by. For verification of your insect sighting, a photo or digital image may be sent.

Information collected can be recorded on the Survey Form at the end of the newsletter. It is important to get as many people involved as possible so please feel free to give photocopies or the web address of the form to any other person wishing to participate.

All replies are important. The aim of this survey is to expand the known distribution data of this species for research purposes. All personal details of survey participants will remain confidential.

Join The Survey

The Leaf Insect has been a long time interest for us.

Since 1987, we have only uncovered three male specimens. We would like to hear from any persons with information present or past which could help assist in continuing research of this unusual species. We will bring you up to date with the results of this survey in a future newsletter.

Look for the Survey Form at the end of the Newsletter.

THE BUG FILES - HOW INSECTS GROW

Key Words:

Exoskeleton - a rigid external covering for the body

Endoskeleton - a supporting framework that lies entirely within the body of an animal

Instar - the stage between moults

Moult - the act of shedding an old skin

Imago - last instar stage

Most animals have an internal bony skeleton called an endoskeleton, which forms a supporting framework for the body. For Insects it's a little different, they actually have their skeleton on the outside of their bodies. Looking nothing like a bunch of bones this hard covering over the entire body is called an 'exoskeleton'.

This exoskeleton is what holds the insect together. Without this outer covering there is nothing to hold the insects body together. But exoskeletons do not grow. So in order to grow, insects must shed this entire outer covering, which they do at various times during their development.

After each moult the next layer forms the new exoskeleton, which will soon expand before hardening and making room for more growth. An insect can only grow in size after the shedding of its exoskeleton. In most cases we don't see insects during this stage, as this is a time when they are highly vulnerable to predation so they try to stay hidden.

But some insects moult while hanging in the wide-open spaces. One such group is the Stick Insects, which can be seen in the garden feeding on the foliage of native and exotic plants. Stick insects moult while hanging from a branch.

This involves the splitting of the skin just behind the insects' head. From this small split the insect will delicately pull itself out, leaving behind the old smaller skin. At first the new skin is very soft but in a matter of hours it will be firm, protecting the insect once more.

Moulting is an important function in the insects' life cycle and for some insects it is a chance to replace a lost limb. Stick Insects for instance, having lost a leg while young (1st - 3rd instar) can actually grow a new leg. While this new leg will always remain smaller in size, it is very beneficial to have this ability.

Sometimes, things can go wrong while doing a moult and instead of replacing a lost leg with a leg, an antenna may appear. We have recorded such oddities in our Spiny Leaf Stick Insects but very rarely.

The stage between a moult is referred to as an 'instar'. The number of instars varies between species, generally between four and eight. After developing through the many instars it is not until the very last instar, called the 'imago' that an insect is an adult, capable of reproduction and flight.

In all but a handful of primitive insect orders, growth ceases at the adult stage. From a very tough rigid beetle to a soft butterfly caterpillar, it is the hard exoskeleton that protects the body tissues, provides points of attachment for muscles and determines the insects' form.


WET TROPICS NEWSPAPER STORY

Masters of Camouflage

By Sue Hasenpusch

Reprinted with the permission of Wet Tropics Management Authority.

In any garden the most commonly seen insect is a butterfly boldly displaying its brilliant colours. But not all insects are so obvious. We often don't see the other inhabitants in our gardens, and it's not only because they are small.

Camouflage, an adaptation to the environment, enables them to successfully hide. This is not only useful to avoid being eaten but can also help the hunters of the insect world.

Walking Sticks

Stick insects are experts in camouflage.

They are sometimes called 'walking sticks' because of their usually thin stick appearance and long, slender legs for walking. Some stick insects have wings while others have short wings and are unable to fly.

Stick insects are among the largest insects in the Wet Tropics. Some have been recorded at more than 30cm long, and a more recent discovery in our local northern region was measured at 50cm.

Using their ability to camouflage is the main survival key for stick insects. Once moving, a walking stick is easily spotted, not only by humans but by predators such as the Crested Hawk. To avoid being eaten, stick insects mostly live in amongst the foliage of shrubs and trees, although some species live on the ground.

Their shapes and colours perfectly blend with their chosen environment. Stick insects eat leaves, feeding mostly at night. A large variety of trees and shrubs provide food for the many different types of stick insects. Like other insects which eat leaves, this is natures' pruning at work and stick insects don't pose a problem to the trees or shrubs in the backyard. Although they can look daunting, common backyard stick insects are completely harmless and are actually very docile.

Praying Mantids

An insect often confused with the stick insect is the Praying Mantid, but in fact it is a 'carnivorous' insect, eating live prey. Mantids can be easily recognised as they have specially adapted front legs, which have rows of spines for catching and holding prey.

Mantids are found in many different habitats, but the most commonly encountered Praying Mantid is a leafy green or brown colour. When sitting amongst foliage, these colour variations allow a mantid to hide while waiting motionless for prey to come close. Camouflage for the praying mantid is the key to their success as a predator.

Mantids mainly eat insects. They will catch and eat prey appropriate to their own size, which can range from as small as 10mm to the largest at 150mm. Smaller mantids eat such prey as small grasshoppers, fruit flies and aphids. Large mantids eat larger prey, grasshoppers, flies, caterpillars and even butterflies. Mantids are active both day and night.

Encountering a mantid in the garden is completely safe. When approached, a mantid will attempt to 'grab' with the front hooked legs, which results in no more than a minor spike to the finger. Although Praying Mantids are in the often-unfavoured 'predator' group we should not automatically look at them as the 'bad guys'.

Praying Mantids are very beneficial in the garden. By eating insects they help to maintain a natural balance in the insect world living in your garden. Our gardens are host to a myriad of insects, yet we are often unaware of their existence. They are there all the time, we just don't see them, that's Camouflage!


Many thanks for those who returned feedback on the first newsletter as well as those who have listed to automatically receive our newsletter each quarter.

Cheers Sue Hasenpusch Editor

Copyright 2001 Australian Insect Farm. All Rights Reserved.


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Australian Insect Farm
PO Box 26
Innisfail Qld. 4860
Australia
Ph/ Fax: 07 40 633 860

Australian Insect Farm

LEAF INSECT SURVEY FORM

Please be as complete as possible:

Thank you for your support!

 

Date:

Location:

 

Habitat Description:


Plant species observed on:

Other plant species close by:

 

Photo or Digital Image supplied: Yes No
Sketch supplied: Yes No

If no image provided, please supply a brief description:

 

Colour:
Length:
Body: Slender Broad

Any other noticeable features:

 

Participants Details

 

Name:
Address
Email:
Phone
Fax

 

or post to

Australian Insect Farm
PO Box 26
Innisfail
Qld. 4860
Or fax: 07 40 633 860

 

 

 

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