Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sharing butterflies

Do you notice all the insects around you? If it wasn’t for my family bringing the creatures they notice to my attention I’d miss out on some wonderful experiences.

This week my husband pointed out a tiny butterfly of the Hesperiidae family, resting for the evening on our garage door. With brown/black wings folded back the butterfly was fairly non- descript. It wasn’t until I disturbed it that it opened out its wings to show the beautiful, black and orange banding, delicate feathering on the front area of its wings and body, and tiger stripes on its antennae. Being late in the afternoon the butterfly didn’t make any attempt to fly away and I returned it to the garage door soon after photographing it.

I think I’ve correctly identified the butterfly as a Western Grass-dart (Taractrocera papyria agraulia), one of the few Grass-darts listed as relatively common in the Perth area. They have a wing span of only 2cm and slight colour variations between the male and female butterflies which are often seen on the ground as the caterpillar feeds on various native and introduced grasses.

I am glad my family shares their finds with me. We live in an amazing world, with some beautiful creatures. Have you seen a similar species of butterfly living near you? Do you share the experience with friends and family?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Activity for children

Insects are such fascinating creatures to draw and a great exercise to improve observation skills. Encourage your children to draw one of the creatures in your garden, or perhaps try it yourself.

I thought I'd attempt drawing the mole cricket I photographed and wrote about earlier in the week.  Not the most expert drawing, but I didn't think it was too bad for a first attempt.  What do you think?

Younger children might like to have a go at colouring it in.

Mole-cricket print and colour in

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Digging up Mole Crickets

Today my son found a mole cricket while digging over the compost heap. Wanting to show me, he carried it in his hand, only to discover they have very strong burrowing forelegs, and are not very good at distinguishing ‘hand’ from ‘sand’.  Needless to say, he dropped it a few times before bringing it to me on a blue spade. Surprisingly these insect can fly despite looking so bulky, and spending much of their time burrowing underground.

As usual, we then followed up with some online research, leading to discovering newspaper articles from 1913 and 1927 and a lovely old book by entomologist Walter Wilson Froggatt (1858-1937).

Western Mail (Perth, WA) Thursday31 March 1927 p 7

"Scotty," Bridgetown, writes:-I am sending you an insect enclosed in a small bottle with methylated spirits hoping you will find space in your columns to tell me what it is. It digs into the ground making a small burrow wherein it emits a, very loud shrill whistling sort of noise.  This one was dug up about a foot below the surface in a clear paddock by the house, but there are several in different places all over the paddock.
The insect proved to be a mole cricket regarding which two correspondents wrote on March 3 complaining of the damage done by these insects on tennis lawns by their raising little mounds of soil round their burrows. As it lives underground and usually comes out at night, it is not familiar to many people although fairly common. Regarding this insect Mr W Froggatt in his book on Australian insects says:-"The mole cricket (Gryllotalpa coarctata) is found all over the interior, forming under- ground tunnels in the sand along the edges of watercourses; it was collected in the Horn Expedition in Central Australia, and is also found about Sydney, It is of the usual dull brown tint with hooded thorax and spade-shaped forelegs.'' These little creatures are vegetable feeders and live on the roots of grass and other plants, It gets its name from the fact that it burrows like a mole and is provided with strong front claws for the purpose.

Australian insects. By Walter W. Froggatt., Sydney,W. Brooks[1907]

 Further reading:  Western Australian Museum fact sheet

Addendum: 15 September 2011:

I've had some wonderful feedback from Dr Terry Houston, Senior Curator (Entomology), Dept. of Terrestrial Zoology, Western Australian Museum, who was kind enough to read my article and he tells me "the Sunday Times article could confuse readers because Cylindracheta kochii is a sandgroper, not a mole cricket, and wouldn't push up mounds of soil. However, at the time the article was written, sandgropers and mole crickets were classified into one family. The mounds of soil referred to might have been produced by a mole cricket but could also have been the work of a native bee."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adventure at Perenjori - Wildflowers & Lizards

It's amazing what can be achieved in just one weekend. My husband and I had been told this was one of the best wildflower seasons ever. So we decided to travel over 720km just to take in the breathtaking sight of wildflowers (and hopefully a fascinating creature or two) in the Perenjori region. We were not disappointed on either account. We walked for kilometres surrounded by carpets of pink, white and yellow everlastings. Granite outcrops sheltered a variety of orchids, lizards and other creatures including cockroaches that sprayed a foul smelling deterrent designed to protect them from predators. Waterholes were filled with the fattest tadpoles and fat, lazy frogs sheltering under rocks from the perfect blue-sky days. I was so busy enjoying my weekend I managed to capture only a small portion on camera. Enjoy!

Video Music: Strobelites (Escapism) by The Womb can be found at

Friday, August 26, 2011

From a chomped up garden to craftsmanship inspired by insects

Caterpillars are chomping away on my greenery, stripping my birds nest fern and the salad rocket down to a few tattered stalks.  When I picked the black/brown furry caterpillars off what remained of my garden they curled into tight balls, refusing to unfurl so I could photograph them.   How frustrating!  I gave up waiting for them to be accommodating and tried to get ‘that great macro shot’ anyway.  (And, considering my equipment, an old Canon Powershot  A70 – without any special lenses – and a torch to counteract the sun setting, I thought I managed a reasonably photo anyway).

I am annoyed the caterpillars have been so destructive of my plants, but I am reminded of a quote from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
"Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies. It seems that they are very beautiful." (Page 34)

Many years ago, I created the above illustration that went with the quote, to remind myself not to get frustrated at creatures (and events) such as my ‘curled-up-garden-destroying caterpillars’, but instead look for the optimistic ‘butterfly’ approach. So, I decided to spend my evening exploring how creatures might have inspired artists and crafts-people.  Below is what I found:

I am not sure Michael Beitz’s undulating dining table was inspired by insects, but it reminds me of a caterpillar or inchworm, and eating a meal at the table would be just as frustrating as photographing my uncooperative, furry little friends.
Flying Katydid designed by Brian Chan, September 2006 - used with permission
Lizard 2 designed by Brian Chan, November 2007 - used with permission
Goliath beetle (Goliathus goliathus) designed by Brian Chan, August 2006 - used with permission
Brian Chan’s beautiful origami - it is extraordinary that such he achieves such detail with just one uncut sheet of paper.

ALMERIA-2 by Michel Halliard - used with permission

SIGMUND-4 by Michel Halliard - used with permission

Dragster by Michel Halliard - used with permission

Michel Halliard's unique ‘beetle-like’ chairs are amazing and despite my having major issues with the materials he has used to create his pieces I find I can still admire his designs and craftsmanship. I just desperately wish he had used fake instead of exotic wildlife to create his pieces.
Homo Faber by Sarah Garzoni, 2006

I also came across the ‘The Endless Swarm’ blog, which is full of creative works including Sarah Garzoni’s ‘Swiss army knife’. Although my interpretation of the piece is different to the artist’s original intention, it appears to me to capture both the fear/danger factor many people have of insects, while also representing the usefulness of insects.

Now, at the end of the evening, I have forgiven my garden chomping caterpillars, been inspired by some amazing artisans and I am looking forward to “being acquainted with butterflies”.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Species Discovered

Not all reported news is bad news... 
With so many news reports, placing a focus on negative events such as horrific accidents, riots and acts of war it is easy to get despondent and miss the good news stories. However, wondrous events are happening around us all the time. National Science Week, this week, gives us a great excuse to focus on the discovery of new species.

River shark and blue goanna among 1000 new species discovered in New Guinea
Monitor lizard (Varanus macraei), Papua New Guinea. Found on the tiny islands off the Vogelkop (Bird’s Head) Peninsula of Papua in Indonesia and capable of reaching a metre in length.  WWF/Lutz Obelgonner.  Read the full article at "The Conversation".

Internationally there have been news reports of fanged frogs being discovered in Sulawesi, lizards of the genus 'Cnemaspis' in South-East Asia, two species of spider in Melghat Reserve, India, and a multitude of other creatures, including a lurid blue monitor lizard, in New Guinea. Closer to home a burrowing frog that survives in the arid Pilbara landscape (Uperoleia saxatilis) was reported last month and West Australian Museum scientists have discovered a new species of solitary 'megamouth' bee in the Jandakot Regional Park (Perth). In fact, according to the Australian Museum website, there have been 46 newly described species in Australia so far during 2011.

What does all this mean?  
Great news!  It means that there is still an extraordinary quantity of wildlife right under our noses, which is new, stimulating and worth exploring. As Museum CEO, Alec Coles explains:
“This is another example of the extraordinary wildlife in Western Australia and indeed Perth, which has long been recognised as one of the world’s most biodiverse cities”
Having learnt about the existence of the megamouth bee I was inspired to contact Dr Terry Houston, Senior Curator (Entomology) at the Western Australian Museum and have since been informed there are “several species of insect awaiting naming” - including mole crickets and “a tiny parasitic wasp … associated with a tiny colonial native bee” - living right HERE in my city.  Because of this, we each need to learn as much as possible about the creatures in our own part of the world and do what we can to keep as much of our environment in its native state as possible.

Megamouth Bee - Photo: Terry Houston, Copyright Western Australian Museum

All these new discoveries are very exciting news for me.   When I go hiking in my local area I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the megamouth bee, and hope to experience other new creatures.

Turn your focus to the Good News Stories and see how wonderful life is on this remarkable planet. Have you come across an amazing creature in your own part of the world? Let me know.

Link to downloadable activities for children:

Links to further reading:

Footnote: I wish to acknowledge Dr Terry Houston, Senior Curator (Entomology), Western Australian Museum for his support with this entry.

Post last updated: 22 September 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Six things you (and your child) can learn from “loving butterflies, slugs and all things creepy crawly”

I think I need a leg wax
Photo by Aussiegall, Flickr - CC BY 2.0


1.  Notice the little things
How often do we stop and appreciate the small things in life; the little steps; the little accomplishments and the finer details. Taking the time to observe creepy crawlies teaches us to be more observant and appreciate how each creature fits into this amazing world. 

2. Appreciate differences
Look at the diverse range of sizes, shapes, colours and habitats of creepy crawlies, even within the one species. It would be so boring if butterflies or beetles were all the same. That they are different makes them exceptional. Perhaps if we learn to be accepting of the differences in the critter world, we will apply this knowledge to each other.

Photo by Robynejay, Flickr - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

3.  Be inspired
Find artistic inspiration in the colours, patterns and textures of creepy crawlies and their homes. Let them inspire your decorating, writing, doodles or provide a focus for your photography. Check out artists like Jane Davenport, famous for her ladybird photos and Kjell Sandved who spent 24 years finding the alphabet in the patterns of butterfly wings.

Walking  on Clouds - Jane Davenport
Photo: "Walking on Clouds" by Jane Davenport used with permission © 

4.  Discover patience and inner peace
Take 10 minutes out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, be still and just observe. Watch a butterfly flitter from flower to flower. Breathe. Take in the world around you. It’s an amazing place and you will feel so much better for it.

5.  Spend time Bonding
Creepy crawlies are the perfect way to bond with your child. Take them on bug explorations. Photograph (or draw) your shared experience and use the photos to engage in further research, conversation and preserve precious memories. 

The gift of a Frog
Photo by Salimfadhley, Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0

6.  Face your fears
What are you afraid of? You are so much bigger than any butterfly, slug or creepy crawly. Yes, some can bite, sting and are
poisonous. But, most are harmless and it is important not to pass on unfounded fears to your children. Take the time to identify the more common creatures around you and teach your children which ones require expert handling, and which ones are touchable. Many internet sites can assist with species identification, as can your local school or museum.

Slime can be fun … really!

Come on the journey with me.

Together we will discover more of what we can learn from “loving butterflies, slugs and all things creepy crawly”

Butterfly whisperer
Photo by Swamibu, Flickr - CC BY-NC 2.0 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why Creepy Crawlies? (Narrating Personal Interest)

Photo by Debbie Rudd - CC BY NC ND, used with permission

“Hold out your hands….be still….I’m going to show you something incredibly special…”

Why am I interested in butterflies, slugs and all things creepy crawly? It’s because it reminds me of the special times I spent bonding with my father as a child. I was (and still am) my father’s princess and I adore, admire and respect him.

Skipping and dancing I followed my father everywhere, his little shadow. As he worked in the garden in the evenings, often by the light of my dancing torch, or as we walked through bushland on the weekends, he would pop insects, lizards and all manner of creatures into my hands to observe. We carefully over-turned rocks, waded through creeks and peered into trees and bushes. 

“Look… a stick insect. The colours on the outside camouflage it, but look at the amazing colour on the underside of its wings – reds and pinks.”
“See the dragon lizard waving one leg in the air.. It looks like its saying 'tata' (goodbye), but it’s just cooling its foot down because the ground is so hot.”

“Shhh…. listen …you can hear the cicada telling us summer is here….tick, tick, tock. Follow the sound and we should find one…. and if you look very carefully at the base of a tree you might find an empty larvae case.”
Being still enough to find and observe the creatures shown to me was like a form of meditation. My father’s patient, soft spoken and gentle nature was a calming and soothing influence and one of the best lessons in both parenting and self-preservation I could have learned.

Now, I have children of my own and it’s such a pleasure to see their faces light up when I spend time with them, sharing experiences, examining all the wonderful, unusual….and sometimes-scary creatures in this world. We often pull over, when driving, to watch a snake sunbaking, to examine a spider web glistening in the car’s headlights or to investigate what is living in the waterlogged road verges during winter. These frequent stops make the journey just as rewarding as the destination.

I know I have done my job as a parent, just as my father did, when I see my children escaping outside, sitting quietly and finding inner peace while observing butterflies, slugs and all things creepy crawly. Again, I am reminded of my special bond with my father.

“Hold out your hands.…be still….I’m going to show you something incredibly special…”

Photo by Debbie Rudd - CC BY NC ND, used with permission

Photo by Debbie Rudd - CC BY NC ND, used with permission

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Crawling with Geckos

It’s time to prune the palm trees and I worry about my husband balanced on the top of an extended fire ladder.  It is a long, long way up.  
Using a pruning saw and a length of rope he cuts, pulls and coaxes bunches of berries, spent palm fronds and closed pods from the palm. The berries crash to the ground with an earth shaking thump, the pods spear aggressively into the ground.
However, every now and then he lowers a frond down on a rope. Gently, gently.

These fronds are for me to look at, sheltering little surprises: doe-eyed geckos, a clew of worms, or an occasional spider. There are lots of geckos this time.  I struggle to hold all of them at the same time.  As I try to photograph them with one hand, they run up my arm and out of focus.  They won’t behave and pose for the camera.  I love the feel of their soft padded feet and looking at the colour variations and camouflaging patterns on their scaly skin. 

I have to be careful not to frighten them too much or they will drop their tails in an effort to distract me, so they can escape.  Although the tail will regrow, it is where lizards store their fat supplies to keep them healthy and last them through winter or when food is scarce. 

When the pruning has been finished, I release the geckos onto the trunk of the palm tree.  They don’t take long to run to the top and find a place to hide at the base of the remaining leaves.  At least the geckos are not scared of heights.