Thursday, 4 December 2008

#56 Backyard predators

When we refer to predators in Australia, creatures like raptors, dingoes, foxes and feral cats are first to come to mind, but we will all have predators of a less conspicuous nature in our immediate outdoor living space - birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, spiders and other invertebrates.

Magpies are amongst the most endearing predators to regularly visit my backyard. The Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) has several races. It is my understanding, (I am happy to be corrected here), that there are 8 variable races in Australia in two major groups (black-backed and white-backed), with wide hybrid zones between them.

As far as I am aware, the only Magpie in the Hunter Valley is the black-backed G tibicen (race terraereginae). With its delightful chortle and playful nature, the magpie is a very welcome visitor to my yard. Not only are they entertaining, but they also play an important role in keeping the invertebrate population under control. With keen hearing, they are excellent predators.

Our backyard Magpie collects grubs
and Wolf Spider for its young in the nest

Other common feathered predators to visit my backyard are Masked Lapwings, Willie Wagtails, Silver-eyes.

During the warmer weather, my backyard is home to many species of spiders. Most are web-builders who wait for their meals to come to them, but there are some predators amongst my local spiders. Most obvious is the Garden Wolf Spider (Lycosa godeffroyi).

Up close, Wolfies can be a scary sight, but they are relatively harmless unless provoked. At night, and on grey days, these fearless hunters can be spotted moving about their environment looking for a meal. I have seen them catch spiders, beetles, and various unidentified invertebrates. They are an awesome predator!

A Garden Wolf Spider tackles a large beetle

I have had the opportunity to watch a few species of lizard hunt in my backyard. Having an Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) choose to live in my garden for nearly two years, I was privileged to observe his life in detail.

Bearded Dragons (Pogona barbata) and Southern Rainbow Skinks (Carlia tetradactyla) have also spent time living in my backyard. All three lizard species have different hunting techniques.

A Water Dragon catches more than he can handle.
The lizard was not able to dismember the frog,
and can not eat it whole.

Although I have photographed and identified nine species of frogs in my backyard, I have unfortunately not seen a frog actually in the act of catching its prey.

Wasps are efficient predators. Mud Dauber Wasps (Sceliphron laetum) and Potter Wasps (Eumenes latreilli) breed in my backyard most summers. Although they feed on nectar, they prey on spiders and caterpillars to stock their breeding chambers for their developing young.

A Potter Wasp stuffs a caterpillar into a breeding cell

Some ants prey on living creatures. I have observed Green-head Ants (Rhytidoponera metallica) preying on living caterpillars in my garden, but the following picture of one of the "Inch Ants" carting off a live bee was taken in coastal sandy heath in the lower Hunter Valley.

An ant carts off a live, pollen-laden bee

Although I have not observed snakes hunting in my immediate vicinity, I was very fortunate to witness the following scene where a Stephen's Banded Snake (Hoplocephalus stephensii) had just killed a large Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peronii) in the rainforest of Barrington Tops National Park in the east of the Hunter Valley.

Snake catches frog

So, lurking in your backyard, there could be a variety of predators acting out spectacular hunting and killing scenes. Predators will even prey on predators. The secret lives of our backyard native creatures are fascinating.


Gouldiae said...

G'day Gaye,
A beautifully done series on an interesting topic.
Have you noticed that the wildlife documentaries on tv these days often show predation in all its glory? They used to spare us the capture and kill scenes once.

Duncan said...

Terrific post Gaye!

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Gouldiae,

Thank you.

Yes, documentaries are far more detailed now than in the past - this is good, showing the reality of nature.

I've just been watching Christmas Beetles copulating, and that would have made interesting (well, at least, unusual) footage.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Gaye
Very nice, wide ranging post. Great photos.
Nice to see familiar names dropping by your blog site now.

Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Denis,

thank you. Nature is starting to liven up in my garden following some very welcome rain, and now some heat. There is plenty to observe.


Brud F said...

Thanks cause i just found a great big scary wolf spider and freaked out, cause we never get spiders here but my darling girlfriend has put up heaps of xmas lights which are attracting 10000's of Xmas beetles and hence bringing out the wolf spiders. now i feel a little better.