My final NZ “must-see”

In my previous posts I mentioned that there are three animals I was eagerly expecting to see during my time here in New Zealand. It’s time to end the series and present my final “must-see”, which includes two of my most favorite invertebrates (I cheated a little. Not a single “must-see” animal but two. But who cares? The more the merrier!).

I spent two weeks at Otago Peninsula, in southeast South Island of New Zealand, and overall the area looked relatively dry to me, with very little tree coverage. For this reason I was very surprised when I heard about a population of velvet worms in the nearby city of Dunedin. Immediately I packed my gear and drove to the place. I soon learned that the site not only harbors a relatively large population of these amazing creatures, but also functions as an actual nature reserve for protecting the velvet worms.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae, from Dunedin

Peripatoides novaezealandiae, from Dunedin (South Island)

 

Velvet worms belong to phylum Onychophora (“claw-bearers”) which shows characteristics common to both phylums Annelida (segmented worms) and Arthropoda (insects, arachnids, crustaceans and myriapods) but is now accepted as closely related to the the latter. They have a soft, segmented body with a velvety appearance, tiny beady eyes, thick antennae and multiple pairs of legs. Each leg ends with a hardened pair of claws, hence the group’s name. The first pair of legs is highly modified to shoot slime during prey capture. Yes, cute as they may seem, all velvet worms are nocturnal predators, actively hunting insects and other invertebrates on the forest floor. They are highly sensitive to dessication and move away from light. During the day they rest in humid hiding spots such as in rotting logs and between leaf litter.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae. The cutest antennae ever.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae. The cutest antennae ever.

 

Peripatoides novaezealandiae, from Okere Falls (North Island)

Peripatoides novaezealandiae, from Okere Falls (North Island)

 

The only species I saw in New Zealand is Peripatoides novaezealandiae which is the most common. It is variable in body coloration – the Dunedin population is mostly brown-orange in color, while in other locations they seem to have a predominant blue color speckled with orange. This species is ovoviviparous – the eggs retain inside the female’s body until hatching. There are also oviparous species in New Zealand (genus Ooperipatellus) in which the female uses an ovipositor to lay eggs.

Peripatoides4

Peripatoides novaezealandiae, from Okere Falls (North Island)

 

As a side note, I think everyone should know this animal, children and adults alike. It is both “kawaii” and a voracious predator. I has “guns” that shoot glue. Some species have stunning colors such as indigo blue, orange and even pink. It is one of the coolest invertebrates out there. I confess that I wish I could get a toy onychophoran. WeirdBugLady took the initiative and created the first velvet worm plush toy (check out more of her awesome stuff here). While it looked great (especially the blue one!), I felt that something was missing to give it a genuine velvet worm look (for example, I wish the legs were facing downwards and bore claws). This is where I cease from talking science and turn to all you plush toys manufacturers out there – why aren’t there more invertebrate toys? Children are more likely to encounter small creatures rather than panda bears, elephants and penguins in their lifetime so I don’t see any reason why they should not learn something about them. In turn, this will help to create a better educated public that will respect instead of unjustifiably fear these misunderstood wonders of nature. For your consideration.

Peripatoides novaezealandiae

Peripatoides novaezealandiae. Gotta love the color of those “socks”

 

Peripatoides3

Someone throw him some sneakers.

 

Back to velvet worms: Onychophorans remained largely unchanged in structure for about 500 million years. They are a relic from the ancient continent Gondwanaland, and are distributed in tropical and temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere. So why did I insist on seeing them in New Zealand of all places? I could have found them in Africa, India, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, South and Central America, even in one of the Galapagos Islands. The answer involves another one of those “six legged-mammoths” New Zealand is most famous for.

Six legged mammoths? Tusked weta again? No, this time I am talking about an arthropod many times smaller. But it is still a giant among its kind – the huge springtails of the genus Holacanthella.
Springtails (Collembola) are fascinating little creatures that are found in leaf litter, under logs and stones and in the soil. They resemble insects by having six legs, however, they are excluded from this order for having internal mouthparts and being wingless. Most springtails have a device called furcula at the tip of their abdomen, which they use for jumping when threatened. Their small body size (usually just a few millimeters) allows them to leap out of range of danger. Holacanthella species however, have a larger body size (up to two centimeters in length!) and are too big and heavy to lift themselves up to the air. For this reason they have lost the furcula and cannot jump. They are blue-grey in color, and their body is usually covered in brightly colored spiky projections, making them look like minute porcupines. These beasts are saproxylic organisms that are associated with dead or decaying wood, but they are not very common. While searching for Peripatoides inside a rotting log, I was very happy to find two species of Holacanthella. The first one was H. brevispinosa – not huge like I expected (body length is up to 6mm) but very hedgehog-like in appearance, with yellow tipped digitations.

Holacanthella_brevispinosa

Holacanthella brevispinosa

 

Once I started going in deeper into the decomposing wood I exposed a large group of a second species, H. paucispinosa. This species is much larger (body length of 13mm), flatter, with less spikes, and the lateral spikes are longer than the dorsal ones. The ones I found had yellow digitations, but I know there are variations among different populations, and some individuals have orange or red digitations.

Holacanthella_paucispinosa

Holacanthella paucispinosa

 

Despite their large size, apparent aposematic coloration and pointy projections, the sad truth is that giant springtails are defenseless. Without the springing mechanism that allows them to escape predators, they are essentially sitting ducks. Many of them fall prey to spiders, centipedes and yes, velvet worms, which occupy the same habitat.

Holacanthella_habitat

Typical habitat of Holacanthella springtails, mossy forest floor with decaying beech logs

 

Holacanthella_paucispinosa2

Holacanthella paucispinosa

 

The interesting thing about Holacanthella is that these springtails are usually skipped over by Entomologists when mentioning New Zealand unique invertebrate fauna. I cannot see the reason why. They are big, colorful, relatively speciose with most species overlapping in distribution (which makes it easier to locate them in the field), and they have an important role in breaking down organic matter in decaying wood. How can these beauties be overlooked?

Jewelled geckos

A couple of days ago I left the Otago Peninsula, a place that was a home for me for the last two weeks. While I am still trying to get used to being on the road again, I thought I’d share with you my second “must-see” NZ animal: the jewelled gecko.

The jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus, is endemic to the South Island of New Zealand. They are beautiful vivid green in color with yellow and white markings. Some individuals have “diamond” markings, while others have two yellow stripes running along the sides of their back. Combinations of the two color patterns also occur. There are two main subgroups of jewelled geckos: those living in Otago Peninsula and those living in the Banks Peninsula. One main difference between the groups is the color of the males: in Banks Peninsula they are grey with yellow markings while in Otago Peninsula both sexes are green.

I can honestly say these are among the most beautiful geckos I have ever seen, and only members of genus Phelsuma from Madagascar and Lygodactylus williamsi from Tanzania come close to this.

Jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus ("diamonds" induvidual)

Jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus (“diamonds” color morph)

 

Jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus ("striped" individual)

Jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus (“striped” color morph)

 

Jewelled geckos are active during the day and are usually found in dense spiny bushes such as Coprosma species, but also in gorse and manuka bushes. They are insectivores and feed mainly on flies, moths and beetles. The geckos are pretty well camouflaged despite their bright green color – it took me a few hours to find my first gecko basking in the sun. Because they are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and diurnal, jewelled geckos regulate their body temperature by moving in and out of the shadows provided by the plants they live in. They are excellent climbers, and use their strong tail like another leg. For this reason they are less likely to drop their tail (a defense mechanism against predators) than other geckos.

Typical habitat of the jewelled geckos, Coprosma bushed in the Otago Peninsula

Typical habitat of the jewelled geckos, Coprosma bushes in the Otago Peninsula

 

Can you spot the gecko on the Coprosma bush?

Can you spot the gecko on the Coprosma bush?

 

Sometimes you see something bright green sitting on a bush, and you think "yay! a jewelled gecko!" Not this time. Only a Kikihia sp. cicada.

Sometimes you see something bright green sitting on a bush, and you think “yay! a jewelled gecko!”
Not this time. Only a Kikihia sp. cicada.

 

Along with the New Caledonian rough-snouted gecko (Rhacodactylus trachyrhynchus), New Zealand Geckos are the only geckos in the world to give birth to live young. Surprisingly, the gestation period is similar to that of humans, and usually lasts eight to nine months. Gecko live-births are not exactly like mammalian live births: the baby geckos develop in the eggs which remain in the oviduct within the female’s body until they hatch prior to birth. This process is known as ovoviviparity (now try to picture me saying that). Usually two “twin-geckos” are born and it takes three years for them to reach sexual maturity.

here
(ולגירסא לדוברי עברית הקליקו כאן)">Portrait of a juvenile jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus. If you haven't seen my talking gecko, click here.

Portrait of a juvenile jewelled gecko, Naultinus gemmeus. If you haven’t seen my talking gecko, click here
(ולגירסא לדוברי עברית הקליקו כאן)

 

Loss of habitat is the largest threat to the jewelled gecko, followed by rats, cats, stoats and other introduced predators. Contrary to expectation, a study found that grazing of the vegetation by sheep can actually help the geckos survive, by clearing grass (which is often associated with high rodent densities) and making the Coprosma bushes more compact and thus harder to access for these predators. However unfortunately, the main enemy of these jewels is us humans. This attractive gecko is highly prized on the illegal pet market, with a single gecko worth as much as $8000. Naultinus gemmeus is classified as a threatened species by the Department of Conservation, they are highly protected and it is illegal to capture or disturb them. Even low levels of poaching can place small populations of jewelled gecko at risk of extinction. Lately, the fines and periods of imprisonment for anyone attempting to poach them were increased. As a personal experience I can say that even I was thoroughly inquired for my business when I was taking photographs of the geckos. I can only wish that every threatened species in the world in need for conservation had gotten the same treatment.

Scared by a photographing entomologist, this jewelled gecko is trying to assess the danger from a safe hiding spot inside the coprosma bush.

Scared by a photographing entomologist, this jewelled gecko is trying to assess the danger from a safe hiding spot inside the Coprosma bush.

 

I already miss the Otago Peninsula. I hope these stunning geckos will still be around when I come back in the future.

 

Six-legged mammoths

I usually don’t keep lists of “must-see” things when going on trips overseas, because past experiences have taught me that the best discoveries come when you least expect them. However, I must confess that I broke my rule before I taking the flight to New Zealand, and I decided that there are three NZ native animals I would like to see in the wild. The first one was undoubtedly the tusked weta.

Tusked weta belong to family Anostostomatidae. These creatures look like they were designed by Hollywood film industry (and yes, I can’t believe I am saying this about an insect): Males posses curved elephant-like tusks that extend forward from their mandibles. The tusks are used to push a male opponent during fighting over females or territories. The females have standard mandibles and do no have protruding tusks.

"Minor" male of Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

“Minor” male of Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

 

Female Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

Female Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

 

There are three species of tusked weta in New Zealand:

The Mercury Island tusked weta, Motuweta isolata, is the biggest species of the tusked weta group, with a body length of 80-100mm and a weight of up to 28g. They are extremely rare and have a limited distribution in Middle Island in the Mercury Islands group. Like other native NZ invertebrates, human-introduced rodents are the greatest threat to these insects. The Mercury Island tusked weta is a protected species and a captive breeding and re-introduction programme was developed by Department of Conservation in order to introduce this species into other islands in the Mercury group. The Northland tusked weta, Anisoura nicobarica, was once considered a species of ground weta because of its small size (up to 20mm long). It is relatively common throught its distribution range in the far north of New Zealand North Island, occupying cavities in trees similarly to tree weta.

The third species and the one I was after is the Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia, a moderate-sized weta in comparison to the other two species, with a body length of 30-40mm. It was the most recent one to be discovered, only in 1996. It is found along the banks of forested, slow-flowing streams in Raukumara Range, East Cape of the North Island.

Typical habitat of Raukumara tusked weta - forested, second order streams in the Raukumara range.

Typical habitat of Raukumara tusked weta – forested, second order streams in the Raukumara range.

 

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

 

Tusked weta are nocturnal. During the day they hide under stones in a wide chamber made from silt. The juvenile weta are very common in the habitat and can be easily found even during the day while resting in their burrows. However, the tusks are fully developed only in adult weta, and they are much harder to find by day (although not impossible). They appear to prefer to come out on dark moonless nights when conditions are moist and humid, and climb on the vegetation. Because of their small body size and lack of tusks, the juvenile tusked weta can easily be mistaken for ground weta. However, small morphological differences give them away – mainly the number of spines on the legs but a more useful character is the presence of tympani (the insect equivalent of ears) on the forelegs. These “ears” are missing on the forelegs of ground weta.

Motuweta_nymph

Juvenile Raukumara tusked weta

 

The adults seem to spend more time on branches and on the ground than on leaves in comparison to the juveniles. Interestingly, there is variation in the length of tusks in males, and “minor” adult males can also be found. These weta are mainly carnivorous, feeding on worms and insects. They are long lived, completing their development from juvenile to adult in two-three years. When disturbed, they immediately jump into the water and after swimming a short distance they press their body against the rocky bottom of the stream. Under running water, they are practically invisible for predators. The weta can stay in this state, completely submerged, for several minutes, after which they poke their heads and first thoracic segment out of the water, trying to assess if the danger has passed. I loved watching them swimming in the water, however it is not the safest place for escaping predators: one of the females I photographed decided to walk towards a small waterfall and vanished between the rocks. After a split second I heard a slurping sound and saw her crawling back up. An eel was lurking in the water below and tried to grab the weta!

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

Male Raukumara tusked weta, Motuweta riparia.

 

Photographically speaking, the tusked weta are insects that you love to hate. At night, they usually stand in the most awkward angles and will not move (unless you want to try to make them move and risk the diving of your beautiful weta). By day, they just never stop running, and their dark shaded habitat makes it unusually challenging to capture a crisp photo. I was lucky to have a piece of white paper lying around to use as a background. All in all, I am very glad I saw these marvelous insects, shaped by years of natural and sexual selection. They truly are a wonder of nature.

Why sometimes it is important to remember small details from your childhood

One of the things I intend to write about every once in a while is the use of insects in art or popular culture. I am still not sure if these will be independent posts or inserts within other posts. I thought I would start by talking about keeping insects as pets or insects drawn in Japanese manga, but this week while walking atop one of the hills at Otago Peninsula, New Zealand, I was inspired to write about something more personal.

When I was 10, I used to collect stamps. This hobby was largely encouraged by my grandfather, who was a serious stamp collector. I remember how just by looking in his albums at stamps from all over the world I sometimes imagined myself drifting away to a far away places. I could stare at them forever, and I also liked the smell of old paper. Despite my grandfather attempts to infect me with his obsession, collecting any stamp from just about anywhere in the world was not very interesting for me. I decided to collect stamps of animals and plants only, but my favorite ones were insect themed stamps, and I had many of them.
Among the first stamps I got were two that I found especially peculiar. They depicted butterflies and came from New Zealand. I remember them very well – they were probably very cheap because I had dozens of them. But the reason I was intrigued by them is because something about the butterflies looked a bit off. I knew that one of them looked like Vanessa atalanta in a way (I could read English at the time, but I did not know what a red admiral is), but the wing pattern seemed wrong, especially for the hind wings. And the art looked, well, a bit like cubism.

NZbutterflystamps

This week, more than 20 year after, I got my answer.
While I was starting to make my way down hill, I caught a glimpse of some bright red color from a nearby gorse bush. I went closer, and the butterfly took off. Still, it did look like a red admiral during flight, and knowing the territorial nature of this species, I decided to wait. And lo and behold, a few seconds later the butterfly returned to the exact same spot, only this time it landed on a rock.

Vanessa gonerilla, New Zealand red admiral

Vanessa gonerilla, New Zealand red admiral

Vanessa atalanta, red admiral (photographed in Canada)

Vanessa atalanta, red admiral (photographed in Canada)

Now I could take a good look at it. Yes, definitely the same butterfly from the stamp, and the wing pattern fits. New Zealand red admiral, Vanessa gonerilla. Obviously this is a different species from V. atalanta that occurs in Europe and North America, but the similarity between the two species is striking, both in upper and lower sides of the wings.

Vanessa gonerilla, New Zealand red admiral

Vanessa gonerilla, New Zealand red admiral

Vanessa-atalanta-2

Vanessa atalanta, red admiral (photographed in Israel)

While the upper side has the same type of contrasty combination of aposematic coloration – black, white and red (probably to deter predators), the lower side is an explosion of colors (especially in V. gonerilla), and is used mainly for camouflage.

Vanessa gonerilla, detail of lower side

Vanessa gonerilla, detail of lower side. Click for full size.

The red admirals belong to the butterfly family Nymphalidae, and it is a good opportunity to mention that members of this family look like they have four legs only (instead of six legs like all other insects. See photos above). But a close inspection reveals that the adult butterflies do have six legs. The forelegs are abbreviated and hairy, and are held close to the body. They are used for cleaning the butterfly’s antennae from pollen and sometimes even for tasting nectar.

Portrait of Vanessa gonerilla, showing the specialized forelegs for cleaning antennae

Portrait of Vanessa gonerilla, showing the specialized forelegs for cleaning antennae. They also have hairy eyes, how cute!

By the way, similarly to the European and North American red admiral, the larvae of the New Zealand red admiral feed on nettle. The endemic nettle, Urtica ferox, also known as ongaonga, is a large stiff bush (can reach a few meters in height), covered with large stinging spines that remind me of the NYC skyline. I hear these plants are something you want to avoid at all cost, and they sound as bad as the nasty Urtica pilulifera I know from Israel. There was even one case of death caused by this plant (download from here).

Urtica ferox (ongaonga). Insert: I see a row of Chrysler Building, I don't know about you.

Urtica ferox (ongaonga). Insert: I see a row of Chrysler Buildings, I don’t know about you.

I did get to see the tussock butterfly depicted in the second stamp in the first time I visited Otago Peninsula a month ago. They were very abundant, flying slowly between the grasses. By the time I arrived to the site the second time, they were all gone. It was nice to revive a piece of my childhood while visiting a foreign country many years later. Sometimes you have to go halfway around the world to come full circle.

Leaf-veined slugs

In one of my day walks through the forest I reached down to dismantle a rotting piece of wood, to reveal some of the invertebrates that are hidden within.

Does not look like a slug at first glance

Does not look like a slug at first glance.

 

There are about 30 species of native New Zealand slugs, most of which are endemic to New Zealand. All have a characteristic leaf-vein pattern on their dorsal side, most likely for camouflage. This leaf-vein pattern is absent in introduced species. In addition, native leaf-veined slugs have only one pair of tentacles – unlike introduced species of slugs, which have two.

New Zealand slugs belong to the family Athoracophoridae. The one in the photo below belongs to the genus Pseudaneitea. The pale bumps on the surface of the dorsal side are called papillae. In some recently discovered species the papillae form retractable spikes. Very cool, however it is unclear what the spikes are used for.

Pseudaneitea schauinslandi

Pseudaneitea schauinslandi

 

More common are members of the genus Athoracophorus. Leaf-veined slug biology is poorly known, but they are thought to feed mainly on algae and fungi found on the surface of plants. In contrast to other slugs, these beauties do not feed directly on plants’ foliage, and therefore do not cause excessive damage to plants. I wonder if they are ever considered as plant pests.

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus with body fully extended

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus with body retracted

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus

Athoracophorus bitentaculatus. They are just so adorable.

 

The slugs are nocturnal, and frequently can be seen mating on the surface of leaves. All terrestrial slugs and snails are hermaphrodites meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs, but they need to mate in order to fertilize each other’s eggs. Most slugs have an enchanting mating ritual, in which they hang down on a rope of mucus and encircle each other until they form a spiral with their bodies. Their reproductive organs are drawn and get entangled too, until eventually flattening, creating a translucent flower-like structure. The mating process in leaf-veined slugs seems a little less “exciting”. The two mates meet on the surface of a leaf or on a thick branch, and after a short period of time spent familiarizing with each other, they exchange sperm. In the photo below the male reproductive organ is visible (a slug’s genitalia is located close to the head), and these slugs are in the process of exchanging sperm. Once the exchange is completed, the slugs part and each one lays clutches of soft eggs in a moist protected place, such as under fallen leaves or in rotting logs.

Leaf veined love

Leaf-veined love (Athoracophorus antipodarum)

 

Don’t mess with the Huhu

On my first night in New Zealand, I did something that I always do when I get to a new place – see which insects were attracted to light that was left on. The usual suspects are various species of moths, but sometimes also katydids, antlions and beetles.

To my surprise, the first insect that I found was a large longhorn beetle (family Cerambycidae). With a length of 50mm, hairy body, large mandibles and beautiful elytra reticulated in yellow, one could not miss it resting on the asphalt. I later learned that this was the huhu beetle, Prionoplus reticularis, New Zealand’s largest endemic beetle.

huhu1

The huhu beetle, Prionoplus reticularis

Detail of Prionoplus reticularis elytra

Detail of Prionoplus reticularis elytra

 

Portrait of Prionoplus reticularis

Portrait of Prionoplus reticularis

 

The adult huhu beetles do not feed and live for about two weeks only. These insects spend most of their lives in the larval stage, boring into and feeding of dead wood. They can become pests in sawn timber and logs, eventually destroying the wood and leaving just the outer shell. The larvae are considered delectable wild food and were traditionally harvested by the Māori people to be eaten raw or cooked (note to self: I need to try this). At the end of their growth the larvae reach an impressive body length of 70mm and create a chamber for pupation. The adult beetle emerges from the pupa after 25 days and uses its strong mandibles to break free from the pupation chamber in the wood. The whole life cycle can take up to several years.

The adult beetles appear during the southern hemisphere spring and summer (November to March). They start their activity around dusk, and many of them reach outdoor lights and well-lit rooms in their heavy flight. I often found mating pairs in close proximity to light bulbs.

 

Many people fear these beetles for no good reason (or worse – I heard people relate to these beetles as cockroaches). The adults look a bit scary with their enormous jaws and long antennae swinging from side to side as they walk, but they are harmless and not aggressive. Well, that is, if they are not provoked. They can still use their mandibles to bite, but their bite is a lot less serious that other bites I got while in NZ (for example, ground weta’s. Stay tuned!).

 

He's coming to getcha!

He’s coming to getcha!

 

NZ Forest critters – first impressions

The insects I am currently after in NZ are nocturnal (meaning they are active at night) – this ensures me some interesting encounters with animals that are usually shy and cryptic. I thought I would start by describing to you my few readers (most likely my friends, family, and if I am lucky maybe one or two of my former students) what my night activities are like at the moment.
So what kind of animals you can find while taking a night walk in the forest?
Surprisingly for me, the most common animal to encounter in the NZ forest during the night is not a cricket or spider, but representatives of a genus of cockroach. These relatively small cockroaches (15mm) belong to the genus Celatoblatta of which 16 species are known. Very similar in appearance to the northern hemisphere German cockroach, they occupy the leaf litter and low forest plants. I mainly found them on ferns, and although I cannot tell them apart, I am certain that I saw more than one species.

Celatoblatta sp.
Celatoblatta sp.

 

Another common insect active in the dark forest is the crane fly. Here too, several species are seen, but I am talking about a particular species. One that is so massive, especially during flight with its thick leathery wings, that often I was not really sure what I was looking at. Unfortunately I have no idea about the species name.

Crane fly (unidentified)

Crane fly (unidentified)

 

Slugs are also seen frequently, usually climbing on tree trunks, on logs and sometimes on leaves (lower left). The slugs I have seen so far are very different from the ones I know, and I will dedicate a separate post for them. Ground weta (genus Hemiadnrus, lower right) are common on tree trunks and low plants. A very interesting insect group and the core of my current study – they will receive more attention in future posts.

Athoracophorus antipodarum

Athoracophorus antipodarum

Hemiandrus "onokis" nymph

Hemiandrus “onokis” nymph

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will end this post with two creatures that are not as common as the ones above, but can be easily found with a little patience.

Antlions (order Neuroptera) are sometimes seen on the vegetation. This pair was sitting on a branch and were probably communicating using their antennae. It is a relatively large species, so at first I thought they belong to the family Myrmeleontidae. However, looking at their antennae, I see that they are simple and not curved as in Myrmeleontid antlions. Therefore I am guessing that these are big lacewings, but I am still not sure regarding the family or genus.

A pair of antlions (unidentified)

A pair of antlions (unidentified)

 

If you are lucky, you might stumble upon cicada larvae as they emerge from the soil and climb nearby objects to molt for the last time into adult cicadas. I was fortunate enough to see this beautiful individual drying its wings after molting. It belongs to the highly diverse genus Kikihia, with about 30 species. Unfortunately, further identification is very difficult because there is no identification key available to the species level. This is one of the most beautiful insects I have seen. Vivid green in color with red “socks”, and rows of golden hairs on the abdomen.

Kikihia sp.

A newly emerged cicada, Kikihia sp., with the moon shining in the background

 

 

 

In New Zealand!

For the past three weeks or so I have been traveling in New Zealand, looking for suitable fieldwork sites for selected species of ground weta. It is now summer at its peak in NZ, the air is (usually) warm and the sun is scorching hot. This is quite a change from the frozen cold state I left Canada in. Although I enjoy the scenery and the lively creatures I encounter, I have to admit I was never a summer person. I prefer the cold temperatures, so in a way I miss the winter. However, I am aware that had I been in Canada now I would have wished for some warm sunny days. Got to take whatever I can.

Meanwhile, in Canada...

Meanwhile, in Canada…

Hello world, welcome to my blog!

A little late than expected, and due to repeating disappointments with terms and conditions of some online social networking services, I decided that I should open a blog where I can post about my interests and whereabouts.

I assume I have to introduce myself first, but that is what the about me page is for.
This will mainly be a photo blog where I will present my point of view on nature but also a place to talk about research highlights. I also have a great interest in popular art and design, and occasionally I will post about the link between them and the natural world.

Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy!