Readers’ wildlife photos

Tony Eales, a Research Officer from Queensland,  writes in with some lovely arthropod photos. His notes are indented.

So it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and insects and other arthropods are more difficult to find. However when that happens I turn to the leaf litter. I collect a bag of litter from a likely looking spot and then sort through handful by handful on a white bucket lid, looking for movement. The bucket lid helps me see the tiny things crawling around but also has another effect. With a little manipulation of black/white levels on photoshop and some erasing I can isolate the subject in the photo against a white background. This effect can really help bring out the details of these tiny ground-dwelling creatures. Here’s a sample of some of the things that I’ve pulled out of the litter.

Having said all that the first subject is one from the trees rather than the ground. It’s a small male orb-weaving spider Araneus arenaceus the Sandy Orb-weaver. When disturbed, it heads to a twig and hunches up into this shape and becomes basically invisible, looking like any other small protrusion.

Commonly in the rainforest leaf litter I find harvestmen, arachnids in the Order Opiliones. The commonest are these peculiar creatures in the genus Bogania. I can’t find much information about them but I find the huge articulated spiked jaws fascinating. I’d love to observe them catching prey.

The thing about looking at the small stuff is that you’re going to be finding the unstudied stuff fairly regularly. This photo is of a spider in the cobweb spider family Theridiidae. Consulting with the experts on the spiders of my state, we can get it down to the subfamily Hadrotarsinae, but that’s as far as anyone can get. Despite many surveys of the leaf litter in my part of the world, some groups are just not known. I love the long setae on the back.

Next is an insect I’ve shown before. It’s a Trilobite Roach genus Laxta. This one is a nymph although females remain wingless like this but are much darker with thicker exoskeletons.

This is a tiny ant from a genus restricted to the Indo-Australian region. There are only nine described species and they live in small colonies of around 100 ants, foraging in the leaf litter. I think I’ve keyed this one out to Mayriella abstinens, but it’s definitely Mayriella sp. as identified by the deep antennal scrobes (grooves) in the head.

The rainforest leaf litter contains many tiny land snails, most often in the Family Charopidae. There are numerous species with very similar form and thus it is difficult to even get to genus with most that I find. This one, Nautiliropa omicron, however, is quite distinctive with a bi-concave nautiloid shell, delicate ridges and zig-zag patterning.

I’m not sure why this tortoise leaf-beetle was in the leaf litter, as I normally find them in the bushes on live leaves. It’s definitely in the genus Paropsisterna related to P. decolorata, but there’s a problem for researchers describing these beetles, as they have distinctive colours and golden iridescences until they’re dead, and then they lose their colour. It makes it very difficult to compare with the holotypes, many of which were sent to Europe and researchers here aren’t sure if a particular beetle already has a name or not.

Last, some more from my favourite order, spiders. This hairy one is a crab spider. An undescribed member of genus Sidymella. They appear to be fairly common in the leaf litter which is quite unusual for crab spiders. I can’t think of another one that lives on the ground.

Next, I am told by someone more capable in spider ID than I, is genus Spermophora…maybe. It’s a cute little jack-o-lantern-faced cellar spider, Family Pholcidae. I was trying to get to the bottom of what species it is and the key paper on Australian Pholcids has this to say “Spermophora is probably the most chaotic genus within pholcids”, plus it lists only two species in that genus—both far in the tropical north. So who knows. Cute, though.

Last is a jumping spider in the small genus Tara. It’s one of two types I always find in the rainforest leaf litter. Not very colourful for a jumping spider but with those big forward facing eyes they are the most appealing of all spiders.

27 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. That trilobite roach is amazing. Well, so are all the other pictures, but the little kid in me who wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up just felt like grinning when he saw it. It’s hard to argue with the name.

    1. Yeah, I’ll need to work that out. It’s ok for those that sit still but many I am chasing around just trying to get a single in-focus shot

  2. Beautiful photos!

    I find it strange, though, that I love pictures of spiders but in real life they terrify me. Earlier today, alone in my flat, I was putting away laundry and a spider appeared on one of my pieces of clothing. I don’t know what type because I just screamed and cried for a good long while and stared in horror. Can’t imagine what the neighbours think!

  3. Great lighting. Makes them almost luminous. I notice most of these have a mottled brown pattern. I’d have to guess their surroundings are similarly adorned.

  4. Amazing pictures, Tony! Every one is superb.
    The male Phalangid may use its real big pedipalps for mating, but I don’t know.
    The iridescent tortoise beetles that I know up here certainly do lose their color when dead, but they also do so within seconds when they are alarmed. They then ransform in seconds from a drop of liquid gold to a shiny brown booger.

    1. Oh I haven’t noticed them being able to turn it on and off. I’ll have to observe closer. It could be that male Phalangids use the pedipalps for mating but I haven’t observed any sexual dimorphism.

  5. These were terrific. Great details, especially with the “masked” effect. That tortoise beetle looked like a cute cartoon character. And I loved the snail’s shell.

  6. Fantastic work, Tony! Is it some special technique you use to get the shadow effect or are the shadows naturally occurring? I love the tortoise leaf-beetle the best; it’s as cute as a button!

    1. That is the shadow that is there. My next level task is to save up and get a wireless flash and try and create photos with no shadows.

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