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.
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.
The younger larvae look more like bird droppings which helps to protect them from being preyed upon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The seagulls are on their way…