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What manner of beast is a phasmid?Printable Version

Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) - click to enlarge

Hot on the heels of our white tailed spider, I thought I might dish up some of the menu.

First up in this trio of insects is a spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum), often called a phasmid. Phasmids are actually an order of animals encompassing both stick and leaf insects. This little girl was brought home by my daughter for the school holidays. As she would clearly explain, the female phasmids are brown and flightless as they have no wings. The males can fly and are green - but my Reader's Digest Encyclopedia of Australian Wildlife lists the rarely seen males as red and black.

Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) - click to enlarge

I am told that this one was bred from stock originating in Queensland. Again the Encyclopedia lists much of the east coast of Australia as its distribution, but I don't have any more specifics than that.

Perhaps the most famous phasmid species of all is the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis). Apart from being reasonably large, they are known for their history. As the name implies, this stick insect was found on Lord Howe Island. After the introduction of rats their numbers crashed and the last one was seen in 1920. Having been presumed extinct since this time, a dead one was found in the 1960s on Ball's Pyramid - an isolated, treeless and extremely steep island, 23 kilometers away from Lord Howe.

In 2001 - some 81 years after "extinction", a population of fewer than 20 individuals was discovered underneath a single shrub on Ball's Pyramid. Thanks to a breeding program there are now (2006) about 50 individuals in captivity and plans are being considered for eradicating rats from Lord Howe Island. (Much of this information comes from the Wikipedia entry - see link above).

Spiny stick insect (Extatosoma tiaratum) - click to enlarge

Back to this little cousin here... It has actually been photographed totally out of context. With such a rich rusty colour and the appearance of abraisive spines, I couldn't help but place the phasmid onto sandstone - making it seem a creature of the desert. In actual fact phasmids (unsurprisingly) live amongst the foliage of trees. They usually rest quite still, but sway when they feel threatened - presumably to enhance the appearance of being a leaf. Gum leaves are very tough. It's amazing to watch these guys chew through it, "side on".

Flesh Fly (Family Sarcophagidae) - click to enlarge

OK. Let's say upfront - the family name means "corpse eating". You can find some really nasty stuff if you research these guys on the web. This one was in my house. I hope it wasn't expecting a meal any time soon. I have seen them around before, but never really stopped to bother about what exact species of fly it might be. I mean, after all - it's a fly! All the same - the stripes are quite interesting - and much brighter in real life.

However, when an unknown arachnid struck out at the white tailed spider I was photographing, I discovered a wonderful new website dedicated to bugs: What's That Bug? All of a sudden, I'm seeing unusual creatures all around me - and I'm not talking about people. In line with conservation in the local context, I'm bringing this micro fauna to Where Light Meets Dark for you to enjoy.

At this point you'd be forgiven for thinking I've lost the plot. This is a fly - a corpse eating fly - and I'm talking about conservation?

If you've lived in Sydney for any length of time, you'll recall the last time we had reaally hot sticky summer days which, most nights, ended with fantastic electrical storms. During the early eighties I was one of thousands of kids running around the streets catching a myriad of cicadas. Greengrocers were the most common. Black Princes were the most prized. But stop and pause for a moment. When was the last time you saw - or heard - cicadas on Sydney streets? They are out there, to be sure, but I am certain their numbers are drastically reduced compared to just two decades ago. Right in our backyard, and who has noticed?

(With some luck, I hope to announce a new species of cicada here in the new year - one which would dwarf Australia's largest currently known species...)

Moth - click to enlarge

OK - this one has me stumped. A few have been around the place these past weeks, but I don't know what this one is. It's off to What's That Bug in the hope of an ID!

Remember - no matter how small, someone, somewhere will be interested to know how our little neighbours are doing. Think about the Lord Howe Island stick insect. Or our disappearing (?) cicadas.

It's worth taking note.

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