Many - Hidden - Little Things!

When taking pictures of some of the Many Little Things I often focus so hard on the task at hand that I don’t notice all that is going on. This photo-set gives examples: the principal foci of the images were the larger organisms, but in each example there are smaller things in the picture too, sometimes obvious, sometimes not so.

In the first image the large ant was the focus but, remarkably in retrospect, the smaller ant carrying what may be a bug went unnoticed. In the second the focus was the aleocharine staphylinid (Coloeptera: Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae) but off to the right was a lovely little springtail (Collembola). In the third a tiny little (c. 1 mm) sphaeropsocid book-louse (Psocoptera) wandered into the image of a throscid beetle (Coleoptera: Throscidae) - these booklice are rarely encountered with very few records in southeastern Australia. The final two images show mites (Acarina) hidden in plain view: in the case of the millipede a tiny mite in the wood crack on the bottom right, and in the final image of the charopid land snail Pillomena meraca two mite species immediately to the left of the snail (see if you can find the smallest one!).

Pics 1 & 3 from the southern Grampians region and others from Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, Australia.

land snail acarina mites beetles Coleoptera biodiversity millipede ants Dandenong Ranges manylittlethings deakinenviro Deakinscience macro photography macrophoto Grampians National Park

Hysterical Histerids: Myrmecophilous Chlamydopsis 
Rarely does one come across most myrmecophiles (ant-lovers) outside their host-ant nests. This beetle (Coleoptera: Histeridae) belongs to a genus of myrmecophiles found in Australia and neighbouring countries (more on this genus in a previous post). I came across this specimen whilst photographing inverts in the wet forest of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, near Melbourne in Victoria, Australia . The species is C. leai described by the coleopterist Chas Oke in 1923 on the basis of 3 specimens collected in 1920-1921…and never seen since. All specimens were from Belgrave - only several kilometres from where this one was photographed
I guess I am just lucky, but when you have your eye in for the Many Little Things, luck is always on your side!
(Oh…and for scale there is a termite turd - about 1.5 mm long!)

Hysterical Histerids: Myrmecophilous Chlamydopsis

Rarely does one come across most myrmecophiles (ant-lovers) outside their host-ant nests. This beetle (Coleoptera: Histeridae) belongs to a genus of myrmecophiles found in Australia and neighbouring countries (more on this genus in a previous post). I came across this specimen whilst photographing inverts in the wet forest of the Dandenong Ranges National Park, near Melbourne in Victoria, Australia . The species is C. leai described by the coleopterist Chas Oke in 1923 on the basis of 3 specimens collected in 1920-1921…and never seen since. All specimens were from Belgrave - only several kilometres from where this one was photographed

I guess I am just lucky, but when you have your eye in for the Many Little Things, luck is always on your side!

(Oh…and for scale there is a termite turd - about 1.5 mm long!)

Coleoptera beetles myrmecophile biodiversity manylittlethings Deakinscience deakinenviro Dandenong Ranges ants macro photography macrophoto entomology

Life in a Rotten Log: Saproxylic Invertebrates

Showy stuff tends to be large and conspicuous. But weaving their magic inside rotten logs and trees are a wide array of organisms that contribute to the break-down of forest debris. Foremost among them are the fungi - and the even less appreciated bacteria and relatives - but there are also a wide range of invertebrates that directly contribute to this process or live in the evolving decay habitat.

Often is has been considered that this group of organisms of the ‘saproxylic' habitat live only in dead or dying trees and their products like rotten logs, but many living trees contain similar habitat: they have hollows filled with dead wood or they are partly living and partly dead and many remain like this for decades or even centuries. Subsequently the mass of decay products in forest is proportional to the rate of death and decay of trees and the rate of removal of this dead material from the forest. Hence the significant conservation issues posed by firewood collection, especially in drier forests where the mass of dead wood at any one time can be relatively small.

Any single decaying log or tree in mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forest in southeastern Australia has hundreds of species likely living in it. Here are five representing various aspects of the ecology of the rotten log.

The very cute baby snail is Pillomena dandenongensis, probably a grazer of algae and fungi and the like. The unidentified millipede, on a background of lovely orange fungus, is a detrivore, consuming rotting plant products and potentially scavenging dead invertebrates. The beetle is Scopodes tasmanicus, a wet forest obligate that is commonly found inside dead logs when cold and actively diurnally hunting on the log surface when it is warmer. The genus Scopodes is diverse in Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea with species also in New Caledonia and Java. The spider is a hunter too, potentially internally but coming out from the log nocturnally. Finally we have a millipede and centipede relative, a symphalan, extremely abundant in all sorts of decaying plant matter habitats.

So Many Little Things are important in recycling!

land snail spiders arachnids beetles Dandenong Ranges Deakinscience deakinenviro biodiversity invertebrate macro photography macrophoto

Many Little Plants: Dandenong Ranges Liverworts

Sunday was a great day in the Dandenongs. Cosy and tonnes of invert activity in the early Spring weather. For a little while I was distracted by these fertile liverworts which were common on rotten logs and lower tree trunks of mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans). Mostly they are like the lower image with the capsule still present or like the middle image with the spores released, but I was lucky to find a single specimen with the capsule freshly opened and the spores yet to be released (top).

Bryophytes are some of the Many Little Things too!

liverwort bryophytes Dandenong Ranges Deakinscience deakinenviro plant moss macrophoto macro photography manylittlethings

Sunday Afternoon at Kallista: Happy Little Springtails.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the Dandenong Ranges National Park at Kallista. I didn’t move more than 10 metres in the whole 4 hours and was within a 20 metres of a major road. I was rewarded for my stasis with about 200 reasonable invert and other little things images. These are the springtails (Collembola). I could have stayed weeks and continued to get fresh things to take pictures of.

Perhaps my favorite (and I think that of many collembolaphiles) is the lovely, distinctive, springtail genus Acanthanura (middle). This genus belongs to the neanurid subfamily Uchidanurinae which has representatives in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Micronesia and southeast Asia. Acanthanura itself is reasonably common in and under rotting wood in wet forest habitats in southeastern Australia and Tasmania.

collembola springtails invertebrate biodiversity Deakinscience deakinenviro macro photography macrophoto Dandenong Ranges

Welcome to Gynandromorph Land - you’re never going home.
When you are out in the field you see some strange things…sometimes you’d prefer not to see them. When you’re in the lab you might see some great stuff and you have a bit more control there…thankfully. This is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever come across in the lab and it’s certainly something I’m glad I found because it has opened my eyes to a fascinating new world.
Sorting a leaf litter berlesate from forest in southeastern Australia I was finding that the sexually dimorphic males and females of one tiny spider species (a micropholcommatinae anapid) were very abundant (dozens of each). In the image above the female is on the left and the male is on the right. The male has large palps and has a chitinous scute on the dorsal surface of the abdomen. The female has small palps and a distinctive spotty abdominal pattern. The one in the middle has both characters of the male and of the female. What does that mean?
It means simply that that this single little spider is a gynandromorph - in this case a lateral gynandromorph - the left half of the spider is female and the right half is male. Gynandromorphy is well-known in spiders and other taxa but is not especially common; Pontus Palmgren (1979) - oh what a brilliant name - estimated from one sample of 70,000 spiders that gynandromorphs occur at a rate of around 1:17,000 in spiders. A biologist might work on their particular group of organisms and never come across one during their entire career.
I suppose I was just lucky, both in finding a gynandromorph and coming across Pontus Palmgren.
One of the surprising Many Little Things!
Pontus Palmgren. 1979. On the frequency of gynandromorphic spiders. Annales Zoologici Fennici 16, 183-185.

Welcome to Gynandromorph Land - you’re never going home.

When you are out in the field you see some strange things…sometimes you’d prefer not to see them. When you’re in the lab you might see some great stuff and you have a bit more control there…thankfully. This is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever come across in the lab and it’s certainly something I’m glad I found because it has opened my eyes to a fascinating new world.

Sorting a leaf litter berlesate from forest in southeastern Australia I was finding that the sexually dimorphic males and females of one tiny spider species (a micropholcommatinae anapid) were very abundant (dozens of each). In the image above the female is on the left and the male is on the right. The male has large palps and has a chitinous scute on the dorsal surface of the abdomen. The female has small palps and a distinctive spotty abdominal pattern. The one in the middle has both characters of the male and of the female. What does that mean?

It means simply that that this single little spider is a gynandromorph - in this case a lateral gynandromorph - the left half of the spider is female and the right half is male. Gynandromorphy is well-known in spiders and other taxa but is not especially common; Pontus Palmgren (1979) - oh what a brilliant name - estimated from one sample of 70,000 spiders that gynandromorphs occur at a rate of around 1:17,000 in spiders. A biologist might work on their particular group of organisms and never come across one during their entire career.

I suppose I was just lucky, both in finding a gynandromorph and coming across Pontus Palmgren.

One of the surprising Many Little Things!

Pontus Palmgren. 1979. On the frequency of gynandromorphic spiders. Annales Zoologici Fennici 16, 183-185.

spiders invertebrate biodiversity gynandromorph Deakinscience deakinenviro fieldwork manylittlethings

So Many Spiders So Little Time: Welcome to Arachnoland!

Spiders and their relatives, to me at least, are hard work. Not that I don’t like them…I do, and think them wondrous creatures. So what do I mean by ‘hard work’. Well, as someone who can deal with beetles and classify most on sight and when necessary key out less-often-seen-beasts, I find spiders tricky.

First, they rudely hatch out as tiny little versions of their adult self and undergo a series of molts until adulthood. This means that within a single species there are spiderlings at various stages of development. Second, and to confound this, spiders are significantly externally sexually dimorphic. Often you need a adult or even adult male for identification. Finally, is the terminology. When you enter arachnoland from insectland you surely are in a different world…unsurprisingly. I find arachnoland intimidating. I wonder if spider people think the same of beetles or other insect groups?

Here we have spiders from pitfall traps in the Southern Grampians region of Victoria, Australia. Such a diversity from a three day survey by Deakin University students as part of SLE226 Team-based Environmental Research - and this ain’t all of them. They range from the sweet little microspiders in the first image, adult males the first two and less than several millimetres long, to larger ‘furry’ wolf spiders (several in the second image).

Many Little Things with eight legs.

spiders arachnids biodiversity Grampians deakinenviro Deakinscience manylittlethings

Are These the Sweetest Little Dung Eaters Ever?

Collembola (Springtails) are everywhere and in huge numbers, but most of us rarely ever see or think about them. Collemola are insect relatives - that is they have six legs but are not true insects - in contrast to insects they have internal mouthparts. Our unfamiliarity with them stems largely from their small size with relatively few species longer than a few millimetres, however, estimates of springtail abundance have indicated that in some ecosystems there may be over 100,000 individuals living per square metre - that is 1 billion per hectare. So, they are certainly small but they make up for their size with numbers.

Here two, possibly three, species were photographed on fresh kangaroo dung, a lovely luscious resource, for springtails at least and a wealth of other biodiversity from bacteria to fungi and beetles (more in another post).

Some of the Many Little Things that have crap diets!

manylittlethings collembola dung insects macro photography macrophoto kangaroo deakinenviro Deakin Grampians Deakinscience

The Handsome Thyregis ‘twinkle toes’ kershawi!

This is my pet Thyregis ‘twinkle toes’ kershawi (Scarabaeidae: Scarabaeinae), well behaved and living in Tupperware. Every week I feed it (I’m not sure if it’s a him or her) a few tiny mushrooms which are dragged down into burrow deep in the dark of the night. I first tried feeding it possum and wombat dung (because it is a ‘dung beetle’) but found it really wasn’t interested. After a week or so I tried the fungi and we have never looked back.

A small percentage of dung beetles feed on materials other than dung and among these are species which feed exclusively, or dominantly, on mushrooms - mycetophagy or fungivory. Even the genus Onthophagus, the largest genus of dung beetles, with around 2000 species and almost cosmopolitan, contains species that are fungivores. Some of these species may be attracted to other materials but it is likely they provision their brood burrows with fungus.

dung beetle beetles Coleoptera entomology deakinenviro manylittlethings biodiversity macrophoto macro photography

Bodacious Bull Ants (Formicidae: Myrmeciinae: Myrmecia)

In Australia colonies of Myrmecia (bull ants, bulldog ants, jumping jacks, jackjumpers) are a conspicuous and formidable component of the indigenous biota. Bull ants are dominantly Australian with 89 described species spread across the continent, mainly in the cooler southern regions, and a species in New Caledonia. In the past relatives of these ants were much more widespread, with fossils of at least six extinct genera recorded from the Americas and Europe.

Myrmecia can be tricky to photograph because of their size, excellent vision and aggressive defense of their usually small colonies. You know when you have been bitten by one of these beauties - these images resulted in two bites and I can still feel the result a week later!

Many Little Things with Stings!

ants insects entomology biodiversity macro photography manylittlethings macrophoto deakin deakinenviro