The Red Centre, or, Photos of Insects.

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Don’t judge the nerdiness, people, it’s time to talk about some of the facts of life in central Australia. Namely, the flies. Ohhhh, the flies.
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Also, the ants. Apparently over 200 different species of them in every area the size of a square block. They differentiate by time of day for activity, eating habits, carnivorous or non, size, community, soil preference, and a ridiculously long list of other things. Ants that form chimneys to protect against flooding and then thatch them. Warrior ants that use their heads as plugs and meet uninvited guests with giant pincers. Nasty biting ants and tiny fruit ants. Red ants and black ants and brown ants and blue ants and ants with bright gold bums. Ants with tall anthills and anthills with boomerang-shaped openings anthills four feet across. It’s ridiculous. And awesome.

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Speaking of cool insects, the gall-forming bugs. A female bug lands on a tree and induces a tumor on the stem which grows into a gall – a round protuberance filled with white fleshy nutrition that is comparable t a coconut. She then drills a hole in the gall, sticks her bum in, and lays a whole bunch of male eggs. The boys, plugged inside the gall by mom’s bum, grow big and strong eating it’s nutritious insides. Once they’re grown, mom lays a bunch of female eggs, which grow into fleshy, mostly featureless birthing machines. The girls then cling onto a spike that grows off their brothers bums as mom unplugs the hole. The brothers fly away sort of stammering and sumer-saulting since they’re carrying all these sisters and generally only make it as far as the next tree. There, the girls all let go and lose their little arm grips, spit on the tree to induce galls of their own, and the whole process starts again. Or below, the rain moth, which lives as an (enormous) grub for ages, then emerges as a moth immediately after a rain and is suddenly everywhere, but only for 24 hours before they all die.
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Species living in such an extremely inhospitable place have been forced into creative methods of survival. The euro (a smaller relative of the kangaroo or wallaby) is the only mammal that can digest spinifex (remember spinifex of Mt. Giles fame?) and does so by siphoning nitrogen from it’s own urine to feed spinnifex-digesting bacteria in its gut. The only other thing that eats spinnifex is termites, which operate in this ecosystem as the “grazers”, much like zebras or bison. Then the ecosystem’s predators are proportionately sized – lizards and geckos and snakes. Also on termite hills: the mud walls are built so as to keep the core at 90-100% humidity so that moisture puddles at the bottom and percolates up through the tunnels into the tower and the termites inside don’t need water. Termite central air and climate control!

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Also on water control: spiny lizards have capillaries between each thorn and scale which link together into a network that wicks moisture to his mouth. This means that he can stand in a puddle and drink by drawing water up his skin and onto his lips. This stumped scientists for awhile, because if there’s enough water to form a puddle, he could also just drink from it, the lazy bastard. Only then did people realize that the spines and thorns are not actually for defense, but long, slender dew-catching apparatuses. Meaning that when there’s no water anywhere, spiny lizards glean moisture from the air and can drink it!

A lesson in making do with what you’re given:

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Lots of love,
C and J

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4 thoughts on “The Red Centre, or, Photos of Insects.

  1. Cool! Do the flies bite? Hoe do you keep flies and ants out of your bed? Great descriptions and great photos. Many of your pics show little-to-no vegetation… what do all these strange critters eat aside from each other? Love, Dad

    • Doc J says: There are very few nutrients here for plants but carbon- so instead of becoming poisonous or growing thorns (energetically costly), plants set up carbon armor and become ‘woody’ instead to be unpalatable to herbivores. Termites, thinking this is all very delicious, eat the wood and spinnifex, which is here in abundance. All others eat termites.

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