Life in a bag

Have you ever heard of bag moths? They are not literally moths in a bag, rather caterpillars in a bag, or a case. Until I stumbled on a specimen at Dunedin Botanic Gardens the other morning, I had never heard of them, let alone seen one. What at first looked like a twig was rustling on a shrub beside me. As I looked closely, the head of a fat caterpillar popped up from it.

The larva was simultaneously hanging on to a leaf and hooked onto its twig-like bag from the inside thanks to its tiny prolegs— Continue reading

A quest for the New Zealand mantis

New Zealand is a bitter example of the havoc men can bring upon nature. By purposely or accidentally introducing a legion of alien species to this far-off land, men unleashed destruction and forever altered New Zealand’s unique ecosystems and indigenous wildlife. Rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets, feral cats and brushtail possums are the most notorious culprits because they predate on native and endemic ground-nesting birds like the iconic kakapo, kiwi and takahe, and many other less known species like the fairy prion and sooty shearwater, two burrowing seabirds. Introduced predators have driven several bird species to extinction in the past and continue to severely impact bird populations today.

The problem is not limited to the bird realm. The insect world is also in trouble as introduced bugs deplete native populations by killing or out-competing them for food. Non-native wasps are a notorious example: every year, they destroy large numbers of native bugs including bees, spiders, flies and caterpillars like those of monarch butterflies. Wasps are so numerous they threaten birds as well—here is an insightful documentary about the wasp plague in New Zealand.

More insidious, but no less detrimental, is the case of praying mantis.

A single praying mantis species, the endemic Orthodera novaezealandiae, was originally present in New Zealand. Another, Miomantis caffra or “springbok mantis”, was Continue reading

Pumpkin orange ladybird

My first-time encounter with an orange ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata). These small insects count either eight or six large creamy spots on each side of their body and habitually feed on fungus (mildews, i.e. those infecting plant leaves) and aphids. The last couple of days have been quite warm in Paris and its suburbs where the shots were taken and this adventurous little beetle was enjoying the late November sun.

Location: Paris, France

Beautiful demoiselles

A couple of beautiful demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo), male and female, photographed near a stream in the Bavarian countryside.

A “Least Concern” on most of their range according to the IUCN Red List, these stunning damselflies are however considered endangered in parts of Europe. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, their prefered habitat―medium-sized, swift waters generally in hilly or mountainous regions―is shrinking due to land conversion for agricultural or logging activities.

Demoiselles belong to the same family as dragonflies―the Ordonata. One way to distinguish them from one another is to observe the position of their wings when at rest: if held apart, it is a dragonfly; if kept closed together as shown on the above picture, it is a damselfly.

Location: Bayreuth, Germany