Friday, February 24, 2017

Outing Report - February 2017

On a warm evening in February a group of Field Nats gathered at Judi and Brendon Gray’s property in anticip-ation for the light to fade and what creatures this may unveil. The Grays are true environmentalists, they live and breathe being custodians of the land. They also have shown great respect to the local traditional custodians through naming their property after them, Jarowair. (For more information check out the Gray’s blog
As the sun was setting and we waited for everyone to arrive we got our torches ready (thanks to Trish bringing red cellophane) so we didn’t hurt any eyes. Then off we headed into the dark. The first encounter was a beauty-ful Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) that the Grays had cared for in the past, now often returning for a snack and visit. As we wandered further into the property we discovered a number of Geckos, including the Robust Velvet Gecko (Oedura robusta), Bynoe’s Gecko (Heteronotia binoei), Stone Gecko (Diplodactylus vittatus) and a very cute Barking Gecko (Underwoodisaurus milii) which fell in love with Trish G’s pants. Judi pointed out that due to the tail being darker we could confirm that this Gecko still had its original tail.
As we wandered around we meet various Orb spiders, came across a Rocket Frog (Litoria nasuta) in the dry creek bed, saw an Ornate Burrowing Frog (Opisthodon ornatus) and Bleating Tree Frog (Litoria dentata). To the delight of many we also saw two Koalas in the neighbouring property, one small one was sitting in an Iron bark, not a Koala food plant but a favourite for resting. The occasional Brush tail possum was seen and we were impressed at the number of nesting boxes the Grays had put up around the property. As we finished the circuit walk and after a drink of lovely cool water, we were drawn like moths to Helen Schwencke’s insect light trap.
What an amazing array of invertebrates were found on the lit-up sheet! The king of them all was a beautiful large eucalyptus moth. Others included a robber fly, variety of leaf beetles, lacewings, katydids, horse headed katydid, emerald moths, and many other. Glenda made friends with a quite large click beetle that later in the night showed us his beautiful antennae. Helen is an amazing source of information and shared an insight, “If you want to plant for wildlife then the best place to start (and the most essential) is to plant for the invertebrate”. This is something I will be taking into my gardening!
What a fantastic night! Thanks to the Grays, Helen and everyone who came.

(Report by Jane Orme. Photographs below by Jim Ball)

Thick-tailed Gecko - Nephrurus milii

Broad-palmed Rocket Frog - Litoria latopalmata
Ornate Burrowing Frog - Platyplectrum ornatum

Northern Emerald Moth - Prasinocyma rhodocosma (identified by Don Gardner)

Rhinoceros Beetle - Xylotrupes gideon

Speaker's Report: Caring for Caterpillars - February, 2017 meeting

Helen Schwencke’s talk began with the question why we should care about caterpillars. They are nature’s tip pruners, decomposers, composters and food for other animals, such as birds. They thus play an important role in making our habitats liveable, are a part of a food web, and then, if they survive their predators, parasites and diseases, turn into beautiful, colourful butterflies.

As a preparation for further discussion, Helen touched upon the more complex metamorphosing of butterflies (egg, larva, pupa and adult) and other less complex metamorphosing for example with silverfish and bugs (egg, nymph, adult). She made the point that if one wanted to care for caterpillars, one had to start by learning how to care for eggs, and these eggs came in all shapes and sizes. Some species lay a single egg, while others lay a group of eggs. Different butterflies lay eggs on different leaves and hence if one wanted a variety of butterflies in one’s garden, one had to know which plants to grow. Helen gave a number of examples of types of trees she grew in Brisbane in order to attract a wider variety of butterflies.

Common crow egg about to hatch and caterpillar  © Helen Schwencke, 2017

Helen also showed us some slides of beautifully coloured caterpillars, which have been reproduced below.

Top left: Joseph’s Coat moth.                              Top right: Twitchy tail – a Hawkmoth
Bottom left: Common Pencilled-blue                Bottom right: Speckled moth
©Helen Schwencke, 2017

The table below lists the top ten butterfly plants. The plants on this list won't be suitable for all locations, and the selection you make needs to be appropriate for your local environment.
Top Ten Butterfly Plants for 32 Butterflies in SEQ
Grow this plant:
Encourage these butterflies to breed in your garden:
Climbing Senna (Senna gaudichaudii)
Yellow Migrant, Small Grass-yellow, Large Grass-yellow
Corky Milk-vine (Secamone elliptica)
Common Crow, Blue Tiger
Emu Foot (Cullen tenax)
Chequered Swallowtail, Common Grass-blue, Tailed Pea-blue
Karamat (Hygrophila angustifolia)
Chocolate Argus, Meadow Argus, Varied Eggfly, Dainty Grass-blue
Love Flower (Pseuderanthemum variabile)
Australian Leafwing, Blue Argus, Blue-banded Eggfly, Danaid Eggfly, Varied Eggfly
Mangrove Wax-flower Vine (Cynanchum carnosum)
Swamp Tiger, Lesser Wanderer, Common Crow
Native Mulberry (Pipturus argenteus)
Jezebel Nymph, Speckled Lime-blue, Yellow Admiral
Thornless Caper (Capparis lucida)
Caper White, Chalky Pearl-white, Caper Gull
Zig Zag Vine (Melodorum leichhardtii)
Four-barred Swordtail, Pale Triangle, Eastern Dusk-flat
Finger Lime (Citrus australasica) also Citrus (mandarin, lime, orange trees)
Orchard Swallowtail, Fuscous Swallowtail, Dainty Swallowtail.
(From Earthling Enterprises Pty Ltd –

Helen’s love of caterpillars and butterflies was evident in a set of photos she had taken capturing a Lemon Migrant as it comes out of its pupal case.


Shirley Cormack, who moved the vote of thanks to Helen, summed up the feelings of club members: “We will pay a much greater attention to the caterpillars in our gardens as a result of this talk”.
(Report by Francis Mangubhai)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Very Strange Creature

Some insects have strange and unexpected habits. Here is the life story of Anestia ombrophanes, the Clouded Footman moth. On a tree in the park at West Creek I happened upon a small caterpillar (Image 1) about 18 mm long on the trunk of a Eucalypt. It was not feeding or doing anything special. On another tree close by, I saw a strange cage-like structure with a pupa inside which had pink spots like the caterpillar (Image 2). I posted the images on Bowerbird (a nature website), and found that this insignificant caterpillar is a strange little creature indeed.
Image 1
Image 2

Image 3
When the caterpillars are ready to pupate, they shed the irritating hairs (setae) which cover them, and form them into a cage in which they are protected (Image 3). 

When they emerge, the male moth (Image 4), about 10 mm long, is brown and white with yellow hind wings and is normal-looking. He is able to fly, but the female stays on the hair structure until the male arrives to mate with her. She is wingless, a fat little pink and grey legged insect about 8 mm long (Images 5, 6). The male then departs, and she lays several eggs on the hair cage (Image 7), after which she dies. The eggs are thus protected until the tiny caterpillars hatch.
Image 4

Image 5

Image 6
Image 7

I collected a caterpillar and a pupa, keeping them for several days until the adults emerged, fortunately a male and a female. Some eggs were laid before the female died, which I will keep until (hopefully) I have minute pink-spotted caterpillars. They are said to feed on lichen.

Would you ever have imagined this bizarre behaviour? Apparently there are several species of caterpillars which build cages from their hairs, but not all of them have wingless females as does Anestia ombrophanes.
Thanks to Brett from Bowerbird, Wes Jenkinson, and Geoff Montieth for identification and information. Also see the website Coff’s Harbour Butterfly House.

(Article and photos by Glenda Walters)

The Spanish Chestnut Tree on the Corner of West and Nelson Streets, Toowoomba – The John Ham TREE

The John Handley tree is the Spanish or sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa L.) tree which is growing on the wide verge on the south-eastern corner of West Street and Nelson Streets in Toowoomba. It is the oldest exotic tree known to have been planted in Toowoomba, and the best documented tree in the city.

The tree is now a vigorously sprouting stump - a relic of a once much larger and taller tree. It is leafy in the summer and leafless in the winter. The remaining tree is about seven metres tall with a canopy spread of about nine metres, whilst the stump is about 1.7 metres thick. The stump and main branches are all extensively rotted internally, greatly weakening its structure and preventing much further growth. All of the growth now is of short lateral shoots that do not persist to grow into branches.

In about 1870 John Handley obtained four blocks of uncleared land totalling over a hundred acres about a mile north of Drayton, the town at the top of the Great Dividing Range that preceded and gave rise to Toowoomba. He cleared much of the land and built a house and farm buildings (since removed), established five acres of productive gardens, vineyards and orchards, and developed the rest as grazing paddocks. He called his land 'Paradise Farm'. 
Jane & John Handley

The Handley tree in 1983 (Photo curtesy of the Handley family

Local historian Mr Bob Dansie quotes from a rural correspondent to the Darling Downs Gazette in 1878: 'The property [of Mr John Handley] is situated at the end of West Street about one mile from Drayton.  … The owner has given the name Paradise Farm to his place …  A gateway leads from the road up to the house [now Baker Street], on the left of which is planted a row of Spanish Chestnut trees’. This row would not have included the Handley tree. ‘He planted eleven Spanish Chestnut trees about five years ago, which have grown up well and look handsome trees. They were grown from suckers obtained from the nursery of Mr. Ferguson, Camden, near Sydney …  All of the lower branches have been lopped, leaving in most of them just the trunk growing up straight and surmounted by a crown of branches and foliage'. It is assumed that the Handley tree would have been planted from the same or similar stock at about this time, but this is not certain.
An extract from 'A Folk History of early Drayton and Toowoomba as told by Jacob Dorges' (edited by Rae Pennycuik and printed by the Toowoomba Education Centre) reads: 'This [Paradise Farm] was purchased by the late John Handley Snr. approximately 100 years ago. ...There was a row of tall English chestnut trees on one side of the drive … and [they] were also planted around the boundary of the horse paddock and hay-shed. A few of these old chestnut trees are still alive though showing the effects of age.'  It is assumed that the Handley tree is one of the latter.
In 1983 the Handley family erected a stone beneath the tree carrying the inscription:  'This Spanish chestnut tree commemorates an avenue of these trees planted by John Handley of Paradise Farm in the years 1865-1875. This plaque was unveiled by his descendants on 2-4-83'.  At about the same time a photograph was taken of the tree, which appears to have been about 8 metres tall with a dense canopy about 14 metres wide, much the same height that it is today but with a wider canopy.
In January 2007 a report on the health of the tree was to given to Toowoomba City Council by Mr Adam Tom, Consulting Arborist. He noted that the tree was 8 metres tall with a canopy width of 10 metres and a trunk diameter at breast height of 1.42 metres. The tree's vigour was 'Very good as is evidenced by good leaf colour, leaf size and prolific epicormic sprouting' whilst its vitality was 'Very good as is evidenced by good shoot extension and canopy density.'  No insect pests were noted but the tree exhibited extensive fungal decay and hollowing of the root crown, trunk and branches to 150 mm diameter. All of the original structure of the tree was affected by the decay but not the epicormic growth. Most of the original canopy structure had been lost as a result of poor pruning practices and structural failure due to the fungal decay. The fungal decay was estimated to affect about 70% of the cross-sectional area of the trunk and remedial action was required. Mr Tom's conclusion was that the tree was in good health but of poor structure and that it required 'some minor maintenance'.

During the summer of 2012/2013 a car crashed at the intersection of West and Nelson Streets, stopped below the tree and caught fire. The fire caused extensive damage to the southern side of the tree, including the loss of several major (but mostly hollow) branches and the death of the bark over much of the affected area. The damaged limbs were carefully pruned by Council staff. Photographs of the tree in August 2013 are below.
Spanish or sweet chestnut trees are native to southern Europe and Asia Minor where they are widely cultivated for food, and whilst they grow well in the warmer and moister parts of south-eastern Australia they do not grow well in Toowoomba. There is another young tree in the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens. In Europe they are substantial trees, growing to 25 metres tall with wide-spreading branches. The trees are deciduous, leafless in the winter and flowering among the leaves in summer. The male and female flowers are carried on erect catkins with the male flowers at the top. Spiny fruits appear in the autumn, each containing several fat brown chestnuts which fall with the leaves in early winter. These fruits also appear on the trees in Toowoomba, but contain no seeds.
Whilst the trees are highly ornamental in larger parks and open countryside, they are grown principally for their seeds which have formed an important part of the southern European diet for over two thousand years. The nuts are normally roasted to remove the thin tough astringent skins, leaving a rich oily seed which is tasty and nutritious. They may be eaten freshly roasted, as stuffing for poultry, in soups, in confectionary or in other ways. Creamed and flavoured with vanilla they become marron.

(Article by John Swarbrick, December, 2016)

Leafless Handley tree in 2013 (north view)
Fire-damaged (eastern side)

The young Spanish chestnut tree
in the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens, March 2013

Fruits and leaves of a Spanish chestnut tree,
 March 2013 

Moreton Bay Figs in New Zealand

Further to John Swarbrick’s article in the last newsletter, I thought members would be interested in what we learned about the species in New Zealand early last year.
Older parks in New Zealand have some magnificent specimens of these trees. As John pointed out, pollination of figs is done by tiny wasps, with each fig species having a symbiotic relationship with its own pollinating wasp species. In the absence of their particular wasp (Pleistodontes froggatti), the New Zealand specimens of Moreton Bay fig were sterile. They produced “fruits”, but the fruits contained no seeds.
However, the wasp arrived in New Zealand in 1993, moving the New Zealand Moreton Bay figs into a whole new phase. They are now able to produce viable seed, and little seedlings are turning up as epiphytes on both introduced and native tree species.
How did the insects get there? They may have blown in on the wind. Many insects from Australia arrive in NZ every year. Butterflies, in particular, attract attention when they do. P. froggatti have it tougher, because adult females live for only three days. Winds strong enough to get them to NZ do occur every year, but it has taken more than a hundred years for Australian wasps to colonise the New Zealand Moreton Bay figs, so it can’t have been happening very often. Wasps in suitable readiness for egg-laying may have been turning up, from time to time, for many thousands of years, but like so many displaced insects they would have simply failed to breed because they couldn’t find a suitable host plant. Human introduction of their host tree has now enabled the insect to increase its range to New Zealand.

Moreton Bay figs are very large, vigorous, and fast-growing plants which eventually strangle their hosts. It will be interesting to see what effect they have, in the future, on the native flora. Alas, they may not be good news for New Zealand’s beleaguered remnants of native forest.

(Article by Patricia Gardner)

Friday, December 2, 2016

A giant dragon fly

While Chook- and dog-sitting at Bellthorpe this week, I saw this amazing dragonfly. Nowhere near water, it hung under a leaf on the path through the rainforest, and if it hadn’t moved when Gretchen Evans and I walked past, I wouldn’t have noticed it, as it blended so well into the background of sticks and leaves.
Others helped with identification, as I couldn’t find a similar image on the websites I usually consult. It is the Southern Giant Darner, Austrophlebia costalis, endemic to Australia. The wingspan was about 14 cm, and the body about 12 cm long.
Al Young says that the characteristics of this species are
  • Its size – the largest in Queensland
  • The eyes are in contact
  • The leading edge of the wing has dark red numerous
    cross veins

  • U-shaped white markings on the thorax
  • Plain coloured abdomen

Apparently this species is not uncommon, and is usually seen hunting along fresh water streams.
It is not endangered in any way. I was stunned by its size, and can only imagine with awe the huge
dragonflies measuring up to 70 cm across which hunted along streams during the Carboniferous           
era, 300 million years ago.

(Article and photo by Glenda Walter)