A Jungle Update: The Land of the Minibeasts

An exploration of the northern beaches of New South Wales with my daughter was the planned blog post this week but as I’ve had a busy few days I’m giving a quick mini update on the wild goings on in my backyard instead. The horror story involving deceptively innocent seagulls will come as promised, although it’s unlikely to live up to the hype I’ve created!

After reading The Shortest Hike in the World a few readers have asked for updates on the critters I share my life with. I aim to please whenever possible so armed with only an ancient camera for protection, I ventured forth bravely into the scary jungle that is my overgrown suburban garden. A machete would have been more useful. I’m sure the neighbours would be constantly on my doorstep complaining about my wilderness if they weren’t afraid of what beast they may encounter on the way.

I didn’t have to venture far to find a world of miniature beasties. The first citrus tree I came to was an entomophobic’s nightmare.

I don’t use pesticides or herbicides in my garden. Despite this, my citrus trees and berry bushes provide me with more than I can eat. On the first tree I found sap-sucking bugs, fruit flies and caterpillars but there were also 6 species of spiders, four rattler ants’ nests and predatory assassin bugs which help to keep the pests under control.

Here are a few of the lovely spiders. I actually walked into the orb weaver web which is why it is looking a little tattered.

Orb weaver 2

I was quite excited to find (what I’ve been told) are citrus swallowtail butterfly caterpillars nibbling away at the leaves.I’m hoping to follow their progress through to the adult stage.

Citrus Swallowtail

Citrus Swallowtail mouthparts

The younger larvae look more like bird droppings which helps to protect them from being preyed upon.

Swallowtail Citrus young caterpillar

These caterpillars also have another trick. When threatened, they poke out a forked pinky-orange organ called an  osmeterium, which produces an unpleasant smell. I tried to take a picture of this behaviour and only succeeded in getting the end of it.

Swallowtail Citrus caterpillar 1

 The bush lemons are lethal weapons and I’m surprised I haven’t had the world super-powers warring over my yard to obtain them. Bush lemons are meant to be quite sour but these eat through your tongue and jaw within seconds. You know the scene from the Wizard of Oz where the witch melts? I’m sure that was inspired by someone who sampled this variety of bush lemon. I still haven’t found a culinary use for them. I often invite skeptical guests to try them. No-one dares to doubt my words afterwards. The fruit flies still lay eggs in them although the damage is only superficial.

fruit flies on bush lemon

Nothing else will touch them and one rainy season I found them hanging in the tree and lying on the ground covered in mould like this one.

mould covered lemon

The other trees produce juicy, tasty fruit as evidenced by the half-eaten ones I find still hanging.

Nothing seems to eat the pomegranates but given their size I don’t think I’ll be making my fortune out of them in the near future. My custard apples are less than impressive also but are still quite tasty.

Since I don’t use pesticides or herbicides I also have many species of ants in my garden. They help to control termites which seem highly motivated to consume my little wooden home and the towering trees in my yard. Every time I find a nest, I open it up to the elements and it is quickly invaded by  ants. One year a large termite nest in a tree had me considering ringing a pest controller as I didn’t want an enormous gum tree crashing onto my roof. In the end, I didn’t have to  as one of my possums decided to scrape out a hole inside it to use for a daytime bedroom. It was quite odd to see a long fuzzy tail hanging down from a hole in a termites’ nest high in a tree.

termites

A few years ago while digging up decaying palm trunks to use as potting mix I discovered these huge larvae. I’ve already shared this pic in the past post but I thought I’d show you the critter it turns into – a longicorn beetle.

Stingless native bees and honey bees visit my garden. Here’s a blurry example of the former enjoying a flower from a vine that is decorating an orange tree.

native bee small

Unfortunately cane toads, an introduced species, are the most common amphibians around my place. Here is a dried up dead one, once alive and hopping, that now greets me every day with an eternally odd expression.

Cane Toad

The bearded dragons and the blue-tongued skinks still make an appearance.

 

One day my dreams of living in a tree house may come true if the tree roots continue their invasion and start lifting the house upwards. Salvador Dali would be quite impressed by the crazy angle of my moss covered brick pavers these days.

crazy pavers

At present my garden is eerily silent despite the number of insects available for birds to eat. Even the feral Indian Mynahs have disappeared. The neighbour’s cat may have something to do with this although with the rains, the birds often move on until the cooler drier months when my garden is an oasis. I am hoping that this is a temporary situation as this new silence feels very strange. I miss my male superb fairy wren and his harem of females.

Birds Superb Fairy Wren

My little group of elderly free range hens have finally gone to feathery heaven after a long and clucky life. Here is a pic of what was my last surviving girl.

Hen

I would have taken more photos for you but a little incident occurred which cut my explorations short. While I was trying to take a picture of a stink bug (as we all do) I stepped backwards. A strange sound like rain falling on a metal roof seemed to be coming from near my ear. It got louder but I didn’t really take much notice until I smelt formic acid, turned around and faced an angry nest of rattler ants.

rattler ants

Some had already crawled onto my hair and my shirt. Now the rule is that when climbed or landed on by ants, bees, wasps, snakes or anything really one must not go mad and whack one’s skin and shake around and scream. Just be calm. That’s what I always told my children. For some reason, this time I ignored my own sagely advice and proceeded to shake and scrape at my hair and rip my shirt off while running blindly back inside calling out to my daughter to get these “dear” little things off me.

My daughter was sitting with ear phones on and it took her quite a while to react to my predicament which didn’t help my anxiety level. She jumped up  quickly though when I started to shake them over her. All I can say is thank goodness my neighbours were spared the sight of a partially clad mad woman running around the garden. Otherwise they may have died giggling at my jiggling! I’m not a young woman anymore so there was plenty of jelly to shake about.

Rattler ants (Polyrhachis species) are a kind of weaver ant and they have nests in most of my trees and shrubs. When disturbed, they run out from their nest crazily and shake their abdomens against leaves or walls of their nest. While they do not sting they can bite with their jaws and I can tell you that it is a little more than unpleasant when this happens. They are usually not aggressive unless provoked though.

Rattler Ants Nest

One of the reasons I do not use bird feeders in my yard anymore is because they will turn them into nests in a very short time. Here’s an example of what they did to one empty bird feeder and a picture of what I could see once I lifted the lid. You can see how smooth and paper-like they make their egg cavity casing.

And for the spider fans, another lovely example from my verandah.

hairy spider

I do apologise to readers who were hoping for more pictures, but even I have limits when it comes to creepy crawlies. After that little episode I needed some time to recover.

I also tend to avoid spending too much time in my yard during summer as the mosquito population is rather ferocious and I’ve already had Ross River Fever and Barmah Forest Virus transmitted by them. So while many people dread winter, I look forward to it as a time when the flying vampires are less prolific.

mosquitoes

The seagulls are on their way…

34 thoughts on “A Jungle Update: The Land of the Minibeasts

    • Thanks Susan! I’ve had to live with creepy crawlies for most of my life so I am sort of used to it but I still have my limits and being covered in ants or having a tick on me are a couple of them! I was lucky that the ants didn’t really hurt me. They are usually not aggressive but my panicky behaviour was certainly not the best way to respond to them. I almost trod on a venomous brown snake yesterday which was a good warning for me to wear better shoes in my garden in summer. It does make life interesting, but sometimes a little too exciting! 🙂

    • Thanks John! I’m glad you liked it. The ant bites, while a bit painful did not leave any lasting effects, unlike some species here which sting and leave large red marks. I should have been more careful. I hope you’ve had a lovely week. It looks very cold in some parts of the US! 🙂

  1. Good gosh! I think I shall not gripe and complain about varmints here in the Midwest US. Your species of insect, reptile and mammals are much creepier and unattractive than ours could ever be! I am always fascinated about what you run into on your hiking adventures… but my goodness – these are in your own backyard! Gads! You are one courageous woman!! I think the snakes would be what I couldn’t imagine being casual around – especially pythons. We have snakes here but only two that are venomous.

    • Thanks Lori!
      If I was not such a lazy gardener and didn’t like wild gardens so much, I wouldn’t have to put up with so many surprises in the garden. Most of my neighbours have large expanses of nicely manicured lawns and just a small patch of tidy garden. If I am sensible, the snakes are ok and actually keep down the rat population, but if I had very young children I’d be more nervous about their presence. I think it was worse when I lived in the outback and the closest hospital was a two hour drive away on dirt roads. At least here I am only 10 minutes from help! I do have to get in and tidy it as the paths are quite overgrown but I’ll be waiting until the cooler months when all the biting things are less active and the smaller weeds have died back a little allowing me to see the ground more. The mosquitoes are the main annoyance in summer. Sometimes it’s the tiniest things that can do the most harm. For half of the year it is quite pleasant here. I actually noticed that some people sell their rattler ants nests for $60 each. I have hundreds in my garden! I’m not sure if it’s a legal practice though or what the safety aspects are in terms of environmental harm. I’d love to give the termites away! 🙂

  2. While I’m sure that you have some very interesting adventures in your own backyard, I think that I’ll stay in Michigan. Even our “wilderness areas” have fewer nasty critters to bite or sting a person. Great photos of creepy crawlies though!

    • Hi Jerry. After seeing all the wonderful scenery (including the Great Lakes) and the birds from your Michigan blog, I wouldn’t want to move from there either. Your winters are rather chilly though! I prefer cooler weather to the heat and humidity in Queensland so a move to a cooler state or overseas is part of my future plans. I’m thankful for many things about where I live, but I am ready for something new. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad you liked the pictures as I did risk life and limb to add them to my blog. 😉
      I do hope spring arrives in your part of the world soon before you forget what a blue sky and green grass look like!

  3. You have quite the backyard menagerie! Interesting how one life form or another inhabits every little bit of space that isn’t part of a freeway and uses it very well too.

    • Hi! Yes, I am amazed at how many critters we can find in just a square metre of garden space here! Even I was surprised when I ventured out the other day. I suspect the disappearance of my birds and some of the lizards lately may be contributing to the number of little creatures about. I don’t think I’ve seen so many since I moved here a few years ago! Wildlife are surprisingly resilient and without pesticides and herbicides will flourish in many unusual spots. Thanks for reading and for commenting. I always enjoy the pics and words from your blog too. Fascinating how different our landscapes, weather and creatures are. 🙂

    • Hi Linda! Yes, it is quite amazing the little worlds we can discover all around us. When I think about the number of creatures just living in my citrus trees I am a little awe-struck. I often find more wildlife in my backyard than on a 20km hike! Thanks for reading and commenting. Lovely to have you drop by my blog! Have a nice week. 🙂

  4. Goodness Jane – to venture into your backyard, I think I’d have to take a stick! Not for the snakes but for the cobwebs! The thought of having a spider on me really makes my skin crawl. As you might appreciate, over the years I’ve developed a couple of path clearing techniques. Depending on the shape, weight and length of the stick (or branch), sometimes I wave it before me in a X, sometimes more in a circle, and sometimes – if it’s branched – just up and down suffices. Adjust the speed of the waving for how fast you’re walking, of course.
    What I’d really like to know is how do some spiders know where you walked and why do they choose that path/track to spin their webs across?

    • Hi Dayna!
      Yes, mine do seem to choose to construct webs across my paths and given I am sort of at an in-between stage with glasses for long distance and short distance I am often walking into them! That’s why it’s often handy to be the slow person on an early morning walk! My tall brother often clears away the cobwebs with his body (unwillingly of course)! I’ll have to remember to take a stick with me next time, however I do feel a little guilty damaging the magnificent orb weaver webs. I try to duck and weave around them but as I said, usually I just don’t see them in time, except after a night of heavy dew/fog and then they just look spectacular and I spend ages taking pics of them. It is pretty creepy having spiderwebs over your face. I think there is a horrible Stephen King movie or maybe some other movie that gave me nightmares about spiderwebs for a long time. Thanks for reading and commenting! If you ever visit my place I will provide you with a free stick. I’m a very good host. 😉

    • Thank you! I can understand why you aren’t fond of creepy crawlies but I am very pleased you still like my photos. That helped make the “suffering” worth it… 😉 Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s appreciated.

    • Hi again, Gin! Sorry about the scary spider shots. I quite understand. I hate looking at tick and other parasite pictures. They make me feel sick. I’m glad you enjoyed the caterpillar pictures though. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Your blog looks great and I look forward to exploring it more. 🙂

  5. what an extremely interesting post! You have many plants and creepy crawlies growing heartily in your garden. I also love to photograph ever creature I see, so this was a joy to read.

    • Thank you, Shanda! I’m very glad you enjoyed it. I seem to be permanently attached to my camera when I venture out in my garden or go on walks. I am fascinated by all the amazing things out there and it gives me pleasure to be able to share them with others in my blog. Thank you reading, commenting and also the follow. It’s a pleasure to read about your own life through your beautiful blog. 🙂

  6. A great read – I’m really surprised about the ecological differences between Australia and the UK – even for a location as benign as one’s own garden. Even the familiar creatures have their own local twists, like the stingless Bees!

    The custard fruit looks interesting. Presumably it tastes of custard? Or is there another story behind that one? 🙂

    • Thanks Rob! I think my garden may possibly have more creepy-crawlies than most because I have let it go a bit wild and don’t use pesticides. It is very interesting to note the differences between our countries with just the day to day things we see. I don’t believe you have venomous snakes or spiders? I’ve been very surprised at the variety of birds that visit UK bloggers’ garden feeders. I just don’t get that variety in my yard. I think our sensitive Australian wildlife has been greatly affected by the large feral and domestic cat population. Of course there are other factors like our climate involved.
      Ripe custard apples are gooey, creamy and very sweet inside with large black seeds. Some people love them. Others find them sickeningly sweet. They have a totally different texture to apples.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Rob. I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures. Please forgive me if I am late replying or making comments as my work load has changed now that Uni has started here so it will take me a while to catch up with blog reading. Thanks! 🙂

      • I think we have just one poisonous snake – the adder – but that’s it. They are very rare too, so the chances of running into one is quite remote. Whereas in Australia it seems that nearly everything is venomous 🙂

        No worries on the replies – Uni can be a lot of work – and good luck with that too 🙂

  7. Got to love a Queensland backyard. I am scarred for life after my experiences with spiders growing up. Having huntsman spiders as big a mans hand landing on my face, crawling on my head, down the back of my shirt…eek! The memories. Nice photos of the Aedes notoscriptus 🙂

    • Hi Amanda,
      Now while I don’t mind taking pics of spiders I am definitely not a fan of having big hairy huntsman spiders over me! I lived in a little cottage in the bush that only had a generator for electricity 2 hours a day. At night I read books by a kerosene lantern on the verandah where my little bed was. Those huntsman spiders were often attracted to the insects on the floor around the lantern. I don’t think I ever read for very long! Thanks for reading and your comments, Amanda. looking forward to seeing what you got up to on your latest trip. 🙂

    • Hi there! Thank you for the lovely compliment. I’m really glad you enjoyed the pics. Sorry you felt home sick though. It can be hard to be away from what you are used to. Best wishes. 🙂

  8. Something has been eating my small lile tree…this morning I thought a bird pooped on my tree and it turned out to be the swallowtail caterpillar. I scraped him into a cup of water. They happen to be here in W.Africa too…trying to figure out how to make insecticidal soap…

    • They can certainly eat their way through a lot of leaves very quickly. Small trees can be defoliated before you even notice. I only get a few on my citrus trees here as there are are a lot of predators so I don’t have to kill them. Good luck saving your tree and thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog. Best wishes. 🙂

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