Patrick

DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Patrick (16)

Patrick

Patrick Honan has sent spiders into space and helped bring the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect back from the brink of extinction. Now as Manager of Live Exhibits, he oversees all the living things on display at the museum, from tall trees to tiny ants.

Predator vs predator

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by Patrick
Publish date
9 February 2015
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Museum Victoria Bioscans and other biodiversity surveys tend to focus on the bigger and more spectacular Victorian animals, such as Gippsland Water Dragons and Wedge-tailed Eagles, but some of the most interesting stories come from the little creatures. 

Spider wasp nest A partially opened nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The spider prey in two of the cells have been replaced with wasp pupae.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One such highlight of the recent Gippsland Lakes Bioscan was a mud nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The nest comprised six cells, each built to house a Mountain Huntsman (Isopeda montana). The cells are made from dried mud, probably mixed with eucalyptus resin to harden them. The female wasp takes about one day to construct each cell, then heads off to find a live huntsman and undertakes a life-or-death battle. Upon seeing an approaching spider wasp, a huntsman’s behaviour—excuse the anthropomorphism—is best described as a ‘mad panic’.

black wasp Adult female spider wasp, Fabriogenia sp.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The wasp is swift and deadly accurate, stinging the huntsman to immobilise it, then removing each of its legs at the first joint. She carries the spider back to her nest, lays an egg on its defenceless body, then seals it in. The egg hatches into a fat wasp grub, feeding on the internal juices of the spider until nothing but a shrivelled husk remains. The grub then forms a pupa and eventually emerges from its cell as an adult wasp, ready to continue the cycle.

Huntsman spider with no legs A dismembered huntsman removed from the mud nest. The pedipalps remain intact and the fangs are in working order.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 
 
Most members of this wasp family, the Pompilidae, leave the spider intact and paralyse it permanently. In this case, not only does the wasp cut off its prey’s legs, but the venom seems to immobilise the huntsman only temporarily and the spider wakes up after the cell is sealed. 

 

On a personal note, having handled spiders for more than 30 years and never being bitten, one of the spiders latched on to my finger while I was examining the nest. Like most huntsman bites there were no symptoms other than a sharp nip, and given its situation I couldn’t really blame it.

Spider wasp, spider, and spider-wasp mimicking beetle Left: Another member of the Pompilidae, the Zebra Spider Wasp (Turneromyia sp.) battles a huntsman on a gum tree in Royal Park, Melbourne. | Right: Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum), also photographed in Royal Park, Melbourne.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

And as a side note, spider wasps are ferocious enough to have their own mimics. The Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum) looks roughly like a spider wasp, with its black and white body and orange antennae, but its behaviour is almost identical. Moving rapidly over tree trunks with twitching antennae it would, at least, be safe from roaming huntsmans.

The bountiful Mallee

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by Patrick
Publish date
17 December 2014
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In Bugs Alive! you can see almost 50 displays of live invertebrates. Most of them from either tropical or arid parts of Australia, illustrating the adaptations needed for living in extreme environments.

Blue butterfly and bee fly resting on grass stems Sleeping beauties, clothed in condensation in the early hours of the morning. | Left: Common Grass Blue (Zizina labradus) Right: A bee fly (Family Bombyliidae)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So each year, when the weather conditions are right, we head out to the Mallee to boost our stocks of insects and spiders. The best time to visit is on a hot, humid night—which happened last week—just before or just after a thunderstorm. Like most desert species, Mallee insects wait months for the rain and then emerge from the spinifex in their thousands.

Two people in arid landscape Chloe Miller and Maik Fiedel searching through typical Mallee habitat.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

At night the desert resonates with the songs of katydids, the loudest of which come from Robust Fan-winged Katydids (Psacadonotus robustus). Unfortunately the fat abdomen of this dun-coloured species is often host to the larvae of tachinid flies (family Tachinidae). These parasites feed on the internal organs before emerging from the katydid which dies soon afterwards.

Brown katydid grasshopper A male Robust Fan-winged Katydid (Psacadonotus robustus).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most katydid species are surprisingly colourful, sporting bright greens, blues and reds.

Three katydid grasshoppers Left: Female Striped Polichne (Polichne argentata); Centre: The undescribed ‘Mystery Hump-backed Katydid’ (Elephantodea species); Right: The unfortunately-named Victorian Sluggish Katydid (Hemisaga lanceolata).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of our prime targets is Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli) which we breed at Melbourne Museum off-display, perhaps the most beautiful cockroach in Australia. With its golden markings and eggshell-blue legs, this species is one of more than 500 native cockroaches that are rarely seen by the average Australian but which are extremely important in native ecosystems. They shouldn’t be confused with the five or so introduced cockroach species that infest our houses–native cockroaches are happy in the bush and almost never come inside.

colourful cockroach A female Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The desert seems to wake up after a rainstorm, with unexpected species such as snails and damselflies making an appearance.

Damselfly and group of snails Left: A female Metallic Ringtail damselfly (Austrolestes cingulatus). Right: Tiny desert snails (Microxeromagma lowei) living under bark.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Wolf spiders are the dominant ground species, their emerald eyes shining in the torchlight. This male wolf spider (below) was seen halfway down a burrow and was difficult to distract until we discovered the source of his interest—a large female wolf spider at the bottom of the burrow.

Wolf spider and burrow Left: A male wolf spider (LycosaRight: Close-up of the male.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Little Desert, Big Desert, Sunset Country and Hattah-Kulkyne each have their own distinct habitats and faunas, just a few hours’ drive from Melbourne.

Landscape with blue sky The endless sky and flat horizon of the Mallee region.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bugs within bugs, part 2

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by Patrick
Publish date
7 May 2014
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Like any group of animals (or people), populations of bugs are susceptible to disease, pathogens and parasites. At Live Exhibits we keep our populations free from parasites, but sometimes new bugs from the wild turn out to be Trojan horses filled with unwanted guests.

Tachinid fly pupae Tachinid fly pupae, newly emerged from the abdomen of a Rainforest Mantid (Heirodula majuscula), collected from Cairns, North Queensland. These flies are always fatal to the mantid.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The parasites not only kill the bugs themselves, but could get into captive populations and cause havoc. Most of them are easily controlled once identified, and occasionally we can even operate to remove the parasite and allow the host to lead a long and fruitful life.

parasitic wasp larva A parasitic wasp larva being successfully removed from the abdomen of a living Olive-green Katydid (Austrosalomona falcata) collected from the wild.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

But often this is not so successful and the first sign of something wrong is the presence of two different species within an enclosure rather than just one. When you get to recognise the signs of parasitism, it’s often difficult to find individual insects in the wild that are not parasitised.

tachinid fly larva A tachinid fly larva emerges from a wild-caught Robust Fan-winged Katydid (Psacadonotus robustus). The only indication of infection was the abnormally large abdomen of the male katydid.
Image: Melvin Patinathan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of the most insidious is the Gordian worm, named after the Gordian knot of mythology. These are long, hair-like worms up to half a metre long which begin their lives in freshwater streams attacking aquatic insects. When the aquatic host, such as a dragonfly or mayfly nymph emerges into adulthood, it leaves the stream and is caught and eaten by a spider, cricket or beetle. The worm grows within its new host, filling up the entire body cavity until the host is 95 per cent Gordian worm.

Gordian worm emerging A Gordian worm emerging from an Olive-green Katydid (Austrosalomona falcata).
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Minibeast Wildlife
 

When fully fed, the worm causes its host to become thirsty to encourage it to seek out water where the worm emerges and continues its life cycle, laying more than 10 million eggs. Earlier this year Live Exhibits staff collected eight huntsmans near Cape Tribulation, North Queensland, five of which produced Gordian worms over the next few weeks.

 

Video: A newly emerged Gordian worm and its host, Beregama cordata, from the #liveexhibits takeover of the Museum Victoria Instagram account.
Source: Patrick Honan/Museum Victoria

The relationship between parasites and their hosts is an evolutionary arms race – as hosts come up with more effective defences, the parasites evolve techniques such as behavioural modification to overcome them. This fascinatingly gruesome relationship can be the stuff of nightmares; inspiration for everything from zombies to the film Alien, proving that science is stranger than science fiction.

This is the second in pair of posts about parasites. Don't miss Bugs within bugs, part 1

References:

Askew, R.R., 1971, Parasitic Insects, American Elsevier, USA, 316pp

CSIRO, 1990, Insects of Australia, Volume 1 & 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1137pp

Gauld, I.D., 1984, An Introduction to the Ichneumonidae of Australia, British Museum (Natural History), UK, 413pp

Matthews, E.G. & Kitching, R.L., 1984, Insect Ecology (second edition), University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 211pp

Bugs within bugs, part 1

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
28 April 2014
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To support our collection of almost 100 invertebrate species on display at Melbourne Museum, Live Exhibits staff must occasionally collect bugs from the wild, and some of these can hold unwanted surprises inside.

Chalcid w A Chalcid wasp, newly emerged from the cocoon of its host caterpillar.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victorai
 

At least one in every ten insect species is a parasite on other insects. In Australia this adds up to several tens of thousands of parasitic insect species, all living their lives on the outside or, more commonly the inside, of other insects. Most of these parasites are wasps and flies, and most of their hosts are butterflies, moths and beetles.

Tachinid fly eggs on beetle Tachinid fly eggs on the outside of a doomed Leaf Beetle larva (Paropsis species).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasitic insects usually lay their eggs directly onto or into the body of their host, but may lay eggs on a food plant in the hope that they will later be ingested by a potential host. Once inside, the parasitic larva consumes the host’s internal tissues while the host continues to go about its business. The parasite usually avoids the vital organs until the last minute – then polishes these off and finally kills its host.

Aphid ‘mummies’ Aphid ‘mummies’ – aphids that have been parasitised and glued to the leaf by Braconid wasps. When fully developed, the wasps will cut a perfectly circular hole in the back and emerge as adults.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasitic wasps are able to find their hosts no matter where they might hide. In order to lay eggs on its host – Sirex Wood Wasp (Sirex noctilio) – Megarhyssa (Megarhyssa nortoni) can drill through 9cm of solid wood with its ovipositor (egg-laying organ). Megarhyssa females find their hosts using infrared detectors on their antennae; the outer bark of a tree is 0.5oC warmer where a larva lies underneath.

female Megarhyssa A female Megarhyssa (Megarhyssa nortoni) drills through a pine tree to deposit an egg on the Sirex Wood Wasp within.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A parasitic wasp will sometimes inject venom that paralyses the host but keeps it alive, allowing the wasp to hide it away for its offspring as a sort of living larder. A large wasp dragging a larger, paralysed, huntsman across open ground is a familiar sight during summer.

Pompilid wasp drags a huntsman A Pompilid wasp drags a huntsman (Isopeda species) from its hiding place under bark, before paralysing it and inserting an egg.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A caterpillar can sometimes dislodge a parasite’s eggs with its mandibles, but wasps usually lay their eggs just behind the caterpillar’s head where they can’t be reached. Many hosts are able to ‘encapsulate’ a parasite already inside their bodies, localising its damage and starving it of oxygen. When more than one parasite is laid inside a host, the larvae fight to the death within the host’s body for the rights to its organs.

wasp cocoons inside the empty shell of a Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillar Thousands of parasitic wasp cocoons inside the empty shell of a Cabbage White Butterfly caterpillar (Pieris rapae). Each cocoon will soon produce a tiny wasp that flies off to find other caterpillars to parasitise.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Parasites are themselves subject to attack from hyperparasites, insects that lay eggs inside an already-occupied host. The emerging larva seeks out the parasite in residence and burrows into its body. These in turn may be parasitised by superhyperparasites, and so on.

“Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum…”

Augustus de Morgan (after Jonathan Swift)

The art of the bowerbird

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 July 2013
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You might spy an unusual new installation in the Forest Gallery as part of The Red Queen exhibition showing at MONA, the Museum of New and Old Art in Tasmania. The installation by English artist Toby Ziegler, entitled My vegetable love; Cultural exchange, is in the shape of a Utah teapot fashioned from the same material used by male Satin Bowerbirds (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) to make their bowers.

Bowerbird with blue objects Jack, the older male bowerbird, interacting with the teapot bower.
Image: Jon Augier / Toby Ziegler
Source: Museum Victoria and MONA
 

The theme of My Vegetable Love is the interaction between the natural world (the Forest Gallery’s bowerbirds) and the artificial world (a computer-generated teapot), with the object itself being a hybrid between the two. The main theme of The Red Queen is ‘Why do human beings make art?’, and this component investigates natural animal behaviours that appear, to us, artistic.

Two juvenile bowerbirds Juvenile bowerbirds are also intrigued by Toby Ziegler's teapot.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It references a 3D mathematical model of a teapot created in 1975 at the University of Utah which has become a standard reference object in computer-generated imaging (CGI), and also as a regular in-joke in animated Hollywood movies. It appears somewhere in all Pixar movies and in the ‘Third Dimension’ episode of The Simpsons.

Utah teapot A modern render of the original CGI teapot created at the University of Utah by Martin Newell.
Image: Dhatfield
Source:  CC BY-SA 3.0
 

Juvenile and female Satin Bowerbirds are olive green, but males turn a deep blue upon maturity at about seven years of age. Jack, the oldest male Bowerbird, has lived in the Forest Gallery as an adult for 13 years. Errol turned completely blue earlier this year, after more than 12 months in transition from his juvenile plumage.

Errol the Satin Bowerbird Errol during his transformation from juvenile to adult plumage. His unusual patterning prompted many queries from puzzled visitors.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Links:

MONA

Bowerbird Cam

'Birds face off for balance of bower in exhibit' in The Age, 19 Jun 2013

The eels are back

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
28 May 2013
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Last week the Live Exhibits team went into the field in search of eels and other fish to restock the pond in Milarri Garden.

catching fish at night Live Exhibits keeper Adam Elliott demonstrates the best technique for transferring freshwater animals from nets.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Last year the iconic Short-finned Eels (Anguilla australis) living in Milarri pond were moved to the Forest Gallery water system while we repaired and resealed the pond. Now Milarri pond is back in operation and ready for new inhabitants.

Short-finned Eel Short-finned Eel
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics
 

Prior to the Milarri pond works, regular eel feeding sessions were very popular with museum visitors, giving our staff the opportunity to highlight the importance of eels as a traditional food source for local Aboriginal people. In western Victoria, kooyang (eel) were trapped using woven nets in sophisticated aquaculture systems by the Gunditjmara people for thousands of years – one of the featured installations of the upcoming First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum.

staff catching fish for Milarri pond Left: Maik Fiedel in deep water, checking his nets. Right: Melvin Nathan ensures the eels are well looked after in holding tubs.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We collected the new eels west of Melbourne under permit, and we also caught other fish such as Tupong (Pseudaphritis urvilli), Flathead Gudgeon (Philypnodon grandiceps) and Common Jollytails (Galaxias maculatus) boost stocks in the Forest Gallery creek and pond system. These are just a few of the 50 or so species of freshwater fish found in Victorian waters.

Native Victorian fish Clockwise from left: Common Jollytail, Flathead Gudgeon, Tupong.
Image: Rudie Kuiter
Source: Aquatic Photographics
 

Freshwater invertebrates, particularly Glass Shrimp (Paratya australis) were also collected to kick start the food chain in Milarri pond. Yabbies (Cherax destructor) will soon walk across land from nearby ponds, and many other invertebrate species will fly in or colonise via new plantings or by adhering to waterbirds. Pacific Black Ducks (Anas superciliosa), Little Pied Cormorants (Microcarbo melanoleucos) and other birds will soon arrive under their own power.

fish in a bucket Young Jollytails and Glass Shrimp swim around under a Water Spider (Megadolomedes species).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Musuem Victoria
 

At the end of the collection trip, animal keepers Chloe and Dave released the eels into their new home, where they will live under the care of Live Exhibit staff for many years.

Man releasing bucket of fish Dave Paddock releases the last of the eels into Milarri pond.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fish destined for the Forest Gallery must be quarantined for three weeks in tanks set up behind the scenes to ensure no parasites or pathogens are introduced to our resident fish population.

Live Exhibits lab at night Dave sets up Tupong in quarantine some time after midnight in the Live Exhibits Lab.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A range of fish species as well as Macquarie Turtles (Emydura macquarii) can be seen daily in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) and eel feeding presentations will recommence at Milarri pond in September when the water starts to warm and the eels’ appetites return.

Milarri Garden and Milarri Walk are open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday. 

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