Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fruit-piercing moths in abundance

The last few weeks has seen the appearance of a huge number of moths with a considerable diversity being attracted to our lights and entering the house at night. One of the most abundant are the fruit-piercing moths from the family Noctuidae. Many of these moths are quite large and are often adorned with spectacular colours and markings.

These moths are attracted to fruits both on and off the tree. The feeding habits of these moths do not endear them to orchardists due to the damage they cause. I recently observed a tree fruiting at Crystal Cascades which had in excess of twenty of these large moths of various species feeding on its fruits. A large adult Nephila pilipes had her web set-up within the branches of the same tree, and was reaping obvious rewards. At the same location I found one of the largest caterpillars I have ever seen, complete with very convincing eye-spots. The caterpillar is the larva of one of the largest moths in this group, Phyllodes imperialis.

Eudocima iridescens, one of the fruit piercing moths that appeared at our home

The spectacular Phyllodes imperialis caterpillar

The eye-spots and apparent teeth are enough to startle many would-be predators.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monster Bug Wars

The TV series we worked on from October to the end of January has recently started going to air in the US on the Discovery Science channel. We were contracted by Beyond Productions as invertebrate specialists and wranglers. The program is quite educational and examines the upper echelon of invertebrate predators, and reveals their adaptations and abilities within their various natural habitats.

Our role was to recreate the habits (sets) for the camera, and of course supply and wrangle around 60 species of invertebrates in order to film a wide range of natural behaviours. Each segment culminates in the pinnacle - the predation sequences where two predators meet. All the match-ups are those which would naturally occur in nature, but getting natural behaviour to occur on cue in front of the camera isn’t as easy as it sounds. It was a painstaking and patience-testing job, 10 hours a day for 3 months. For the most part there were just three of us on set; the DoP (Director of Photography) Malcolm Ludgate, camera assistant Mylene Ludgate, and myself (Alan). It was shot in full HD, and for some sequences we used two cameras - a specialised high speed camera which we cranked up to 2000 frames per second at times. (This camera was from the Myth Busters set, and came complete with shrapnel holes in the back of it). Some of the sequences we recorded with this camera gave us incredible insights into the behaviour and tactics used by some of the predators - things you would simply miss or misinterpret watching them at real speed.

The final product includes amazing imagery, some stunning CGI, music and an array of sound effects. Although the program style may not appeal to everyone, it is already gaining a substantial following in the US, and hopefully not only raising the profile of these often overlooked animals, but also providing the audience with a sense of appreciation for them through admiration of the incredible abilities these minute predators have.

One of the rainforest sets, surrounded by lights and two HD cameras.
Malcolm operates 'the probe' while I get the stars in place. The probe was  $100K lens kit which allowed us to get amazing up close imagery with holywood style tracking moves.

Preparing a White-tailed Spider to meet up with a Black House Spider.

One of the complete segments - a Bullant meeting up with a Redback.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I spotted a tiny gathering on a leaf in our front yard recently which tweaked my interest, and I couldn't resist snapping a photo. It consisted of a Green Tree Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina), or part thereof, and a group of tiny ants (probably Monomorium sp.). Green Tree Ants are one of the most dominant scavengers in this region. Colonies can be huge, occupying and completely dominating multiple large trees and the surrounding forest. They can be seen carting away all sorts of animals, both complete and dismembered. I once witnessed them carrying a small python up a tree in the Northern Territory.

In this scene however, the tables are turned. Tiny ants carry away the relatively huge head of Green Tree Ant worker. In reference to food chains, you often hear the saying 'there's always someone bigger'. Ecosystems though are complex and not linear like a chain, but interwoven like a web. In this case it would be more apt to say there's always someone smaller...

Tiny ants, barely 2mm long cart away a nice morsel for their colony; a Green Tree Ant head.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Monster Spider!

We awoke to find this massive spider on the lounge wall this morning. It is clearly the biggest spider we have ever seen. We think it is the elusive Heteropoda aperirefollis; a single huge specimen was collected in April 1903 by biologist H.G Whells in 'northern Australia' - no other locality data available. The species has not been recorded since.

We also suspect that this big female arachnid is the reason for the disappearance of all the geckos in our house over the past week, and our neighbours’ kitten.

Unfortunately, just before today, the spider chewed its way through the plastic container and has disappeared. We are hoping it shows up again, but it may be another 12 months before we see another specimen like this one.

Deanna sizing up the spider before capturing it.

'We're gonna need a bigger boat'.