Patrick

DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Patrick (12)

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.

Bug of the month - Steel Blue Sawfly

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by Patrick
Publish date
1 July 2012
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If you're out in the bush or a local park during winter, you're likely to happen across a group of 'spitfires' clinging to the branch of a gum tree in the cold. These insects are technically called sawflies, a group of insects closely related to wasps. There are more than 200 species of sawfly in Australia, but the local species is the Steel Blue Sawfly (Perga dorsalis).

sawfly larvae A small clutch of sawfly larvae clinging to a branch.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The name 'sawfly' derives from a 'sawbench' under the abdomen of the female with which she lays eggs. Female wasps, in contrast, use a pointed ovipositor to lay eggs and in some species this doubles as a sting – adult sawflies do not sting and both adults and larvae are completely harmless.

Patrick Honan Female Steel Blue Sawfly.
Image: Female Steel Blue Sawfly
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Female sawflies use the sawbench to cut the upper surface of a leaf and deposit 60-70 eggs into the leaf tissue. The larvae hatch and feed on gum leaves, grouping together for protection in a rosette pattern, similar to the head-outwards stance adopted by Bison when under attack. This is known as a 'ring defence', or cycloalexy. As the larvae grow, they collect in larger groups around branches during the day and spread out to feed at night.

sawfly eggs A raft of eggs cut into a gum leaf by a female Steel Blue Sawfly.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like their cousins, the ants, bees and wasps, sawflies show some social behaviour but only in a primitive way. When feeding at night, larvae tap the branch to keep in constant communication with each other. If an individual becomes lost, it will tap more rapidly until it receives an answer from the rest of the group – if an individual becomes completely separated it will not survive long on its own.

Detail of sawfly larva abdomen. Sawflies grouped together on a branch. The pale tips of the abdomen are tapped on the branch to keep in touch.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The activities of a group of sawfly larvae are governed by a few select individuals that become in effect the leaders of the group. They lead the rest out to feed at night and, if they run out of food, lead the group across the ground to other trees. When large numbers of sawfly larvae are present they are able to defoliate small gum trees, but in general are not a major pest.

mass of sawfly larvae A mass of sawflies resting during the day, the result of the merging of several smaller groups.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When ready to pupate, the larvae leave the host tree and burrow down to make mass cocoons in the soil. Here they sit through spring and summer to emerge in early autumn. Adults have no mouthparts and do not feed, living only for a week or so.

pupating sawfly larvae Sawfly larvae in their pupal cells underground, preparing to pupate.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Not all emerge, however, as many succumb to parasitic flies. These flies, about the size of a blowfly, will lay eggs in the sawfly larvae and the fly maggot literally eats its host from the inside out, eventually emerging from the sawfly's cocoon.

parasitised sawfly larva An opened pupal cell showing the consumed sawfly larva on the left, and the engorged parasitic fly larva on the right.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sawfly larvae have an unusual defensive mechanism that has given them the name 'spitfires'. They store eucalyptus oil in a small sac in their gut, and regurgitate this oil when under threat. Despite their nickname, they are unable to actually spit this fluid and the oil itself is harmless unless eaten (like all eucalyptus oil). In fact it has a very pleasant eucalytpusy smell.

sawfly larva mouthparts A large blob of frothy regurgitate in the mouthparts of a sawfly larva.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Australia is one of the main strongholds of Symphyta, the suborder of insects to which sawflies belong. The Steel Blue Sawfly is one of the few insect species active in Victoria during winter, so next time you're in the bush take the time to stop and smell the sawflies.

Faces of the north

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by Patrick
Publish date
9 March 2012
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Live Exhibits staff visited Cairns and Cape Tribulation in North Queensland in December to augment our live animal collection with fresh genetic stock. We met many interesting animals along the way, so here are a few portraits of the critters that came back with us to Melbourne Museum.

The Giant Mantid is one of the largest mantid species in Australia. They feed on a range of insects but are large enough to overpower small frogs and lizards. Giant Mantids are currently on display in Bugs Alive!.

giant mantid Giant Mantid, Heirodula majuscula.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Raspy crickets derive their common name from the fact that all known species, both male and female, can produce a rasping sound at all stages of development. There are more than 200 species of raspy crickets in Australia and new species are regularly discovered. This very large adult female has powerful jaws and, like all raspy crickets, a bad temper. She ate her way out of several containers on the journey from North Queensland, causing havoc wherever she went.

Raspy Cricket Raspy Cricket, Chauliogryllacris species.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

A male Golden Huntsman, probably the largest huntsman in Australia and generally considered the second largest in the world. This species sometimes causes panic when it enters houses, but like most huntsmans it is relatively harmless.

Golden Huntsman spider Golden Huntsman, Beregama aurea.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Net-casting Spiders are famous for their ability to spin perfectly rectangular silken nets, about the size of a postage stamp. These nets are thrown over passing prey as the spider sits suspended above an insect pathway. In honour of their enormous eyes, they are also known as Ogre-Faced Spiders.

Net-casting Spider Net-casting Spider, Deinopis bicornis.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

French's Longicorn is one of Australia's larger beetle species. This one was found in a small mating aggregation on a strangler fig in the rainforest at night. Longicorns are characterised by kidney-shaped eyes which wrap around the base of the antennae.

French's Longicorn beetle French's Longicorn, Batocera frenchi.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The spiny legs of the Serrated Bush Katydid give it both its common and scientific name. Adults are always green, but nymphs may be red, brown or violet, depending on the colour of the leaves on which they feed. Males produce a short, loud call which is commonly heard in the rainforest at night. Another katydid, the Kuranda Spotted Katydid, is one of the larger and more robust of this group in Australia. The nymphs closely resemble ants, which may afford them some protection against predators. The eggs are glued to dead twigs by the female using a short, thick ovipositor.

katydids Left: Serrated Bush Katydid, Paracaedicia serrata. | Right: Kuranda Spotted Katydid, Ephippitytha kuranda.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These creatures, and many more, can be seen every day in Bugs Alive! at Melbourne Museum.

Bug of the Month - Prickly Katydid

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by Patrick
Publish date
1 January 2012
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Prickly Katydids, or Spiny Tree Crickets, occur from the rainforests of northern New South Wales to Iron Range in Far North Queensland. There are four species of Prickly Katydids but the most common is Phricta spinosa. It has the rather long official common name of Giant Spiny Forest Katydid and is found from Innisfail to Cooktown. Those that know and love this species simply call it Phricta.

Prickly Katydid. The spiny countenance of a Prickly Katydid.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

During the day, Phricta sits motionless on bark or amongst twigs with its legs held out straight where it is remarkably well camouflaged. Some bird species, particularly Black Butcherbirds, move up and down tree trunks trying to disturb the insects so they will give themselves away. When threatened, Phricta will point its back legs skyward, revealing rows of sharp spines and red patches at the bases of the legs. These red patches appear to discourage predators.

adult male prickly katydid The legs of this adult male bear the black and orange markings of its startle display.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Adults have a body length of 10cm or so, and their highly sensitive antennae may be three times that length. Adults are normally found high in the rainforest canopy, but after mating, the female glides to the ground to lay her eggs in the soil.

Prickly Katydid laying eggs An adult female pushes her abdomen into sandy soil to deposit a batch of eggs
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The young Phricta feed low in the understorey on the constant 'rain' of flowers and buds from above.

A young nymph feeding on a fallen flower bud. A young nymph feeding on a fallen flower bud.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Phricta moult several times before reaching adulthood. Moulting takes place during the first part of the night and they are very vulnerable to predators at this time. The elongated antennae may take a long time to withdraw fully from the old skin.

Phricta moulting at night. Phricta moulting at night.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

The colours of juvenile Phricta are variable and help camouflage them against tree trunks and lichen-covered bark.


Juvenile prickly katydid Juvenile Phricta are often beautifully patterned with greens and browns. The budding wing pads can be seen between the spines of the legs and thorax.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

juvenile Phricta. A lichen-coloured specimen with a radically different colour pattern to other juvenile Phricta.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

After reaching adulthood, Phricta can be found higher in the canopy, feeding on the young leaves of trees and shrubs. On particularly windy or stormy nights, they will move down into the lower canopy or into tree holes to shelter from the weather.

ovipositor of Phricta The long, sword-like ovipositor is visible at the end of this juvenile female's abdomen. Her oval-shaped 'ear' can also be seen just below the 'knee' of her right foreleg.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Like most katydid species, male Phricta call loudly to attract females in the rainforest at night, a sound familiar to people who frequent these forests. Females possess an auditory tympanum (or ear) on their forelegs to pick up the call.

Parasites on the thorax of juvenile Phricta. Parasites on the thorax of juvenile Phricta.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

Phricta are attacked by owls and other predatory birds, as well as honeyeaters and brush turkeys. They are also host to parasitic mites, which gather sometimes in large numbers on the top of the thorax. The effects of these mites on the insects are not known.

Phricta can be seen in the 'Diversity' display in Bugs Alive! at Melbourne Museum. Despite being very common and widespread in North Queensland rainforests, this species was not described scientifically until 2005, an indication of how much is still to be discovered and catalogued by science.

Further reading:

Rentz, D., 1996, Grasshopper Country: the Abundant Orthopteroid Insects of Australia, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 284pp.

Rentz, D., 2010, A Guide to the Katydids of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, 214pp

Melbourne Museum’s high prune

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
18 August 2011
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The Forest Gallery is one of the icons of Melbourne Museum – a cool temperate rainforest merging into drier eucalypt forest complete with creek, ponds and waterfall, all in the heart of a major city.

The gallery is dominated by large gum trees, wattles and southern beech, which have been growing consistently under the close supervision of Live Exhibits horticulturalists for more than 10 years. This is a ‘Forest in a Box’, a museum gallery in which the living trees must be strategically pruned on a regular basis in order to maintain the desired effect.

A view from above the fire poles. A view from above the fire poles at the northern end of the Forest Gallery, giving some idea of the height of the pruning operation.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Last week arborists from ArborCo visited the Forest Gallery for an annual prune of the larger trees. The arborists must scale remarkable heights to reach the crowns of the trees, even before they commence their work.

Crew Leader Andrew Caldecott prepares to climb a Southern Beech for the annual trim. Crew Leader Andrew Caldecott prepares to climb a Southern Beech for the annual trim.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Great attention is paid by the arborists to the health and safety of both themselves and the trees. Much of the preparation is done on the ground, and the pruning operation is planned weeks in advance. It must be done in such a way that preserves the natural shape of the tree and promotes growth in the right directions.

Arborist Joel Creech makes his way up a gum tree towards the upper canopy. Arborist Joel Creech makes his way up a gum tree towards the upper canopy.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During their visit, the arborists also apply their skills to climbing one of the poles which houses the Forest Gallery’s wind gauge. The gauge is used to monitor wind speeds, and Museum staff will occasionally close the gallery temporarily if the wind becomes too strong.

Malachi Ewan at the top of a fire pole cleaning the wind gauge. Malachi Ewan at the top of a fire pole cleaning the wind gauge.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Branches removed by the arborists are recycled on site into mulch, to be used on gardens throughout the Museum. When suitably aged, some of the mulch will be returned to the Forest Gallery to sustain the trees from which it came.

Mulching the prunings Left: ArborCo’s Gary Lambert feeds a steady stream of branches through the chipper. | Right: Brendan Fleming from the Live Exhibits Unit begins moving mulch back onto gardens around the museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During the pruning operation, some of the branches cut from the Forest Gallery are tested to monitor the long term health of the trees. Foliage samples taken from new growth in the upper parts of the canopy can tell much about the trees’ nutrient content. Dr Peter Hopmans from Timberlands Research collects samples and uses them, in conjunction with soil samples and trunk diameters, in an ongoing review of plant health.

Collecting foliage samples Dr Peter Hopmans from Timberlands Research collecting foliage samples, watched by Brendan Fleming and Customer Service Officer Veronica Barnett.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Forest Gallery combines ancient geology and the power of water with living birds, reptiles, fish and frogs. It also exemplifies indigenous and European use and management of forests, and the role and impact of fire. But the heart of the forest is the giant trees that stand above all else, and ongoing management should ensure their existence for many years to come.

Links:

MV News: Forest gets a haircut

Pruning saves the Forest from the storm 

Bug of the month

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
1 June 2011
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Welcome to the first instalment of Museum Victoria’s Bug of the Month. At any time, more than 100 species of invertebrates are resident at Melbourne Museum, under the care of the Live Exhibits Unit. These creatures can be seen in Bugs Alive! and the Forest Gallery, and they pop up in other places such as the Children’s Museum and even Amazing Backyard Adventures, currently showing at Scienceworks.

Small Hooded Katydid Face to face with the Small Hooded Katydid.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This month’s bug is the Small Hooded Katydid, also known as Phyllophorella. The name doesn’t adequately describe the large size of this species, which can grow up to 8cm long. Although this katydid has been around for millennia, it was only described by scientists and given an official scientific name two years ago.

Small Hooded Katydid Adult Small Hooded Katydid.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Small Hooded Katydids are found in North Queensland, from around Cairns all the way to rainforest near the tip of Cape York. They are one of the biggest katydids in Australia, but their closest relatives, the Giant Katydids (Siliquofera grandis) are easily the largest, measuring up to 13cm in length.

katydid feeding on broad beans
A katydid feeding on broad bean leaves. If you look closely you can see the katydid’s ear, a small opening located on its foreleg at the left of the photo.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Small Hooded Katydids are vegetarians, feeding on a range of rainforest plants amongst which they are remarkably well camouflaged. Some specimens even have irregular white or brown patches on their wings, which are identical to the spots found on leaves. The veins on the wings also mimic the vein pattern of leaves, so adults can be very difficult to find in the wild. For this reason, they were thought for a long time to be rare, but are actually quite common.

katydid’s wing Close-up of a katydid’s wing, showing the leaf-like pattern of veins and brown spots.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unlike most other katydids, males of this species don’t call to attract females, so no-one knows how they find each other in the rainforest at night. However, both adults and nymphs can produce a rasping sound when disturbed, by rubbing the bases of the back legs against the body.

Katydid nymph A young nymph living behind the scenes at Melbourne Museum
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The ‘hood’ of these katydids, after which they are named, is most obvious in juveniles such as these two below. The pointed spine on each side of the hood is also most prominent at this stage.

juvenile female katydid A juvenile female already bears the sabre-like ovipositor at the end of the body with which she will later lay eggs.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Juvenile katydid feeding A juvenile feeding on organic matter, photographed in rainforest north of Cape Tribulation
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Small Hooded Katydids are currently on show in the ‘Enormous Numbers’ display in Bugs Alive! at Melbourne Museum.

Small Hooded Katydid display Small Hooded Katydids in Bugs Alive!
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

References:

Rentz, D.C.F., Su, Y.N. & Ueshima, N., 2009, Studies in Australian Tettigonidae: The Phyllophorinae (Orthoptera: Tettigonidae: Phyllophorinae), Zootaxa, 2075:55-68

Rentz, D., 2010, A Guide to the Katydids of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 214pp.

New Live Exhibits keepers

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
13 April 2011
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The Live Exhibits Unit has taken on three new full-time keepers in recent months, who you might see working in the Forest Gallery and Bugs Alive at Melbourne Museum.

Dave Paddock hails from Wellington Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Werribee Open Range Zoo. He has travelled the world as a sightseer and tour guide. His favourite animals at Live Exhibits change depending on the day – today it is the toadhoppers in Bugs Alive, which Dave will blog about in the near future.

David Paddock David Paddock getting out of the mud.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As the photo illustrates, Dave is specialises at getting out of sticky situations on field trips. He also loves bushwalking and does an expert baboon impression. Dave has only one enemy – a cockatoo called Jake at Wellington Zoo.

Rowena Flynn has been a postie, horticulturalist and Art and Environment teacher with a degree in Asian Studies and honours degree in Political Science. She’s been a casual keeper on Live Exhibits since 2006 and her proudest moment is becoming a full-time keeper.

 

Rowena once navigated with a compass from Kathmandu to Italy in a truck, and now travels Australia looking for the perfect wave. Her favourite animal is Mrs Moloch, the Thorny Devil, who can be seen feeding on ants from time to time in Bugs Alive.

Chloe Miller also goes by the name Sugar Rose and her favourite animals are chameleons, even though she’s volunteered with Orang Utans in Borneo.

Chloe Miller Chloe Miller with a monitor lizard.
Source: Chloe Miller
 

Originally from Alexandra in central Victoria where she worked for Parks Victoria, Chloe has an Animal Science degree and was also a Customer Service Officer at Melbourne Museum. She has a killer bowling arm and her favourite music is the soundtrack to the movie You’ve Got Mail.

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