WILDWATCH: August 17 2012

WILDWATCH:

PIGEON TREES AND PRAYING MANTIS, BOTH ARE USEFUL IN THE GARDEN

by ANNE WILKINSON.

What a great show this 75th Tully Show was! Even the weather behaved in celebratory fashion and was glorious! What a welcome relief it all was after the horrors of Cyclone Yasi and Queensland’s Summer of Sorrows.

Members manning the WPSQ stand were delighted with the response to both the new presentation and the tree giveaway.

The young trees, grown at Council’s Tully Revegetation Nursery and purchased by WPSQ, were all food trees for the beautiful Torres Strait pigeon whose numbers in the count were down this year from the usual 30,000 to just 5,000.

Hopefully, the reason so many of these welcome annual visitors did not turn up was only because of the lack of fruit for them to eat following Cyclone Yasi. The young trees will take a while to fruit, but should certainly go some way towards ensuring these striking pigeons keep coming to the Cassowary Coast.

It was really pleasing so many people were interested and were willing to plant trees to help – and the region will be more beautiful because of their caring.

Several people asked the best way to plant their trees.

Before planting, soak the young trees, in their pots, in a bucket of water. Addition of seaweed solution, a soil conditioner, to the water is beneficial but not essential. Once bubbles stop rising, the tree can be removed from its pot and planted.

Even if the weather is wet, trees should be watered in well to get rid of any air bubbles around the roots. Mulching will help prevent moisture loss, but the mulch must be kept at least 10 centimetres from the trunk as insurance against stem rot.

Water regularly for the first few weeks and the young trees will get off to a great start.

The thicker leaf cover evolving as trees and shrubs recover from the cyclone is providing not only camouflage but safety for many useful smaller creatures, including the praying mantis, one of every gardener’s “good guys”.

These lively looking insects with the triangular face and big eyes are major hunters and eat only what they themselves catch – usually other insects and bees.

There are several varieties here in the north, the most obvious differences mainly being in their size, though one variety, the leaf mantid, has evolved away from the more usual slim body build and has a body shape resembling a leaf, making it very difficult to spot indeed.

But do praying mantis pray?

In fact, it is the way their front legs are held, resembling an attitude of prayer, which has earned them their name and these legs can shoot out and grab an unfortunate insect with, it looks like, the speed of light. Unlike so many preying species which only suck the juices from their victims, praying mantis actually eat the whole body, visibly chewing it up.

Our naturalist friend Densey Clyne, an expert on many species of insects and author of more than 20 natural history books, kept praying mantis to study for a book she was writing and observed that the only parts the mantis does not eat are the wings. Usually, the victim’s head is devoured first.

Densey also told us that after eating, the mantis cleans itself rigorously, which is what the mantis in this picture by Coquette Point’s Yvonne Cunningham is doing. In fact, contrary to general belief, most insects are clean to the point of obsession.

Mantises lay eggs which are encased in a beautifully woven rigid sack and usually attached to a plant stem. Hundreds of baby mantises are hatched, first as nymphs which resemble tiny miniature adults. Several moults are needed as the nymph grows into an adult. Here in the tropics, adults can live as long as 12 months.

The beautiful egg cases are among nature’s engineering masterpieces and should never be destroyed as literally dozens of these useful hunters emerge from each one. It is often possible to observe this little miracle which will be of enormous benefit in the garden.

Wildwatch is provided by the Tully branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland: enquiries to 4066 5466 or 4066 5650. To contact the emergency 24-hour Wildcare hotline, phone 4068 7272. Phone DERM on 1300 130 372 to report concerns about cassowaries and mahogany gliders.

PICS:

Mantid foot in mouth:

GROOMING: It’s had a meal, now this praying mantis, snapped by Yvonne Cunningham, settles down to clean itself. Insects spend a lot of time on personal hygiene.

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