Large Cuckoo Wasp – Stilbum cyanurum (Vinegar Hill)
Some of the most spectacular wildlife in the Lockyer Valley isn’t necessarily the big stuff like kanagroos, koalas or kookaburras. The small stuff can be absolutely entrancing.
The Large Cuckoo Wasp above is one example. It was found dead on the floor in our house (hence the bits of detritus caught up in its exoskeleton). Before you start thinking that we are a bit casual with our housekeeping, the critter itself is less than 20mm long, so the “fluff” is actually fairly minute particles. Having said that this species is so small, it is known as the Large Cuckoo Wasp, which suggests that in general Cuckoo Wasps are pretty small insects.
Just how small they are can be seen in the image below.
The individual in the photo at the top of this page is on the right here. The one on the left is a different species (one of the two shown below). This Australian 20 cent coin has a diameter of 28mm.
The females of these wasps parasitise the nests of mud wasps, laying their egg in the mud nest next to that of the host species. If they are discovered in the nest they roll into a ball like an armadillo, to protect themselves from the sting of their much larger host with the armour plates of their outer skeleton. It seems to be a common feature of Cuckoo Wasps that the surface of the exoskeleton is pitted; perhaps to increase its strength, or to foil the probing sting of an angry mud wasp? The defensive posture is often also used if they are threatened in some other way – such as a human trying to capture them.
The “appendage” at the rear is the ovipositor, used for laying eggs. I’m curious about the structure of this ovipositor – you’d think that an insect that just lays its egg in the open nest of another wasp wouldn’t need something as robust as this to do the job. Some other species of parasitic wasp have large teeth on the ovipositor in order to ‘drill’ through wood to reach their host(1). For example, in the sawflies the ovipositor is saw-like and is used to insert the eggs into plant leaves, stems or wood(2). Is this a relic from a previous evolutionary stage?
Large Cuckoo Wasps feed on the nectar of flowers in the woodlands, heaths and urban areas which are their habitat.
For a beautiful image of this species, have a look at this shot from Stanley and Kaisa Breeden.
After we found the second, smaller Cuckoo Wasp (dead on a window ledge in the house), and than another small one, I contacted Ken Walker at Museum Victoria and offered to send him the specimens to be identified. Ken was happy to do this and to send me photos of the specimens.
Not only did Ken take fantastic photos, he also spent a lot of time cleaning up all the dust and debris off the specimens and then “relaxing” them so that they could be properly displayed. Compare the photo on the left immediately below to the one at the top of this post – they are the same specimen.
Here are some of his photos. These are photos of the most “diagnostic” parts of the bodies. The scale bars for the whole body photos are 5mm for the top photo and 2mm for each of the others.
Stilbum cyanurum (Photo Ken Walker)
Praestochrysis lusca (Photo Ken Walker)
Chrysis lincea (Photo Ken Walker)
You can find more about this species at the following links:
Thanks to Ken Walker from Museum Victoria for his willing assistance with identifying these species, and for the many other times when he has provided helpful advice on invertebrate wildlife. Ken is the driving force behind Bowerbird, a huge job which he undertakes in addition to his many other duties, and he manages to produce the monthly issue of the Bowerbird Bugle newsletter.
Quite a few people from the community groups Lockyer Community Action Inc. and Lockyer Uplands Catchments Inc. went to the consultation meeting on the draft SEQ Regional Plan last month.
The first surprise was that there was not to be any presentation about the background, objectives, structure or process leading up to the production of the draft. Instead, the public were to be provided with “consultations” with individual planners. A novel idea, but it would have been much more useful had we been provided with an overview of the draft from the planner responsible for preparing the document.
The second surprise came when we were led into the meeting room and introduced to a planner by one of the “ushers” who had been issuing numbers to the public in the foyer – she told us that we had a limit of 10 minutes with the planner.
Despite the planner my partner and I were paired up with doing her best, many of our questions were outside of her field of involvement in the preparation of the draft plan, so we didn’t really get satisfactory answers to our questions and certainly did not have a usefully informative discussion on the topics of concern to us.
The others in our group came away from their meetings with very similar feelings.
It was with some delight that I came across the article below in today’s issue of The Conversation – it pretty much sums up my misgivings about the consultation process, the preparation of the plan, and the general thrust of its content.
Overall, the issues below are illustrative of my general impression from a number of exchanges with different arms of the State government in the last year that we are not being well served by this government, and that their priorities are much more aligned with those of developers and industry.
Here’s the article:
ShapingSEQ regional plan gives ‘stakeholders’ a bigger say than citizens
Special interest groups have had much more influence than the wider community on the new regional plan for Southeast Queensland. A draft of the plan, ShapingSEQ, was recently released for comment. Prior input from the wider community was limited to submitting “thought bubbles” about the region without having the benefit of any report card on how the previous plan had performed.
This process did not accurately gauge community concerns and submitters were not a representative sample. Perhaps it gave people the feeling they’d “had a say”. The process just as likely reinforced cynicism about government consultation.
The initial focus was very much on getting southeast Queensland councils to accept the need for regional planning. At that time, the role of the wider community was relatively minor.
A 1990 meeting of representatives from government, business, trade unions, professional groups and community organisations was an important impetus for starting the regional planning process. This “stakeholder” model of community engagement has been the dominant form of consultation ever since.
Stakeholders or citizens?
Stakeholders have particular vested interests – such as protecting the environment, promoting a business sector, or advancing a government agency’s agenda.
Preparation of the 2016 draft plan involved several of these stakeholder “reference groups”. Participants in these groups were there to advocate for the organisation they represent, often making it more difficult to find “outside-the-box” solutions.
Consultation by negotiating with stakeholders is consistent with the dominant view that explicitly pursuing the public interest is less important than growing the economy. Consequently, an “issue management” approach has been taken, with stakeholders “competing” for influence over which development regulations are put in place. Within this worldview, trade-offs between stakeholders usually take place in a “growth first” framework.
An alternative is to promote informed deliberation by citizens who don’t represent particular interests. The Perth Dialogue with the City process shows how this “citizen” approach can work.
This was a process of engagement with a large group of demographically representative Perth citizens. They were provided with relevant in-depth information before their deliberations about the city’s future.
Wide consultation overdue
It has been at least ten years since there was either an open performance review of southeast Queensland regional planning, or consultation with the wider community on options for the region’s future. Engagement with the wider community is particularly important now for a couple of reasons.
First, the 2016 draft plan claims to have a 50-year vision horizon, compared to the previous plan’s 20 years. Because of this change, the wider community should have been engaged in developing this new vision rather than being presented with a fait accompli in the draft plan.
Second, the draft plan represents a significant change of focus from the previous 2009 plan. That plan aimed to reduce the region’s ecological footprint and mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the 2016 draft seems to be adopting a more “growth first” approach.
It is noteworthy that virtually all references to climate change in this new draft are about adapting to change rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These significant changes should have been widely debated before the draft plan was prepared.
Independent report card needed
For a debate on future directions to be genuine, the community needs an independent, comprehensive report card on how things are tracking.
The draft plan has ten indicators, some of which show modest improvement. However, other indicators, such as housing affordability and loss of biodiversity, have gone backwards. And koala numbers continue to decline.
The report card should also acknowledge that Australia (including southeast Queensland) has one of the worst records for resource use and greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic output of any developed country.
I wonder how many people in the Lockyer Valley Regional Council area (where we live in the western part of South East Queensland) are aware that the Council accepts notification of issues on the Snap Send Solve app.
I’d never heard of this app until an audience member at a recent presentation by Cr Jim McDonald on the Council’s environmental policies and programs asked whether the Council used it. They do.
The app works on iPhones and Android phones and is available free from the Apple App Store and for Google Play.
Send us a comment on your experience with it and how the Council responds. And please share this post with other residents in the Valley. Since the last elections we have a much more responsive Council and it’s important to maximise the opportunities for better government that this presents by increasing our communications with them.
If you don’t live in the Lockyer Valley, this app is widely used in Australia. Their website claims over 600 “authorities” here and in New Zealand use it and that they have more than 60,000 users.
The other day Chris from http://gullygrove.blogspot.com.au made an interesting comment on my post on coal power as the “saviour” of those in Third World poverty. You can see my response here, but she got me thinking that I should look into how renewable energy generation has been going recently.
This morning ABC News saved me the trouble. They have a post on the global expansion of renewable energy generation which provides a good overview of what is happening. As they show, if you strip out the figures for hydropower which distort the calculation of annual percentage growth because of the very large existing base of “old” hydropower plants, the expansion of other, newer, forms of renewable energy is very impressive.
Despite tumbling fossil fuel prices, global renewable energy experienced its greatest surge in capacity last year, growing 9 per cent or around 147 gigawatts (GW) of power.
Stripping out hydro – the world’s largest source of renewable energy – other technologies such as solar, geothermal and wind grew by 18 per cent according a report published by REN21, a network of global government, non-government and research organisations involved in the sector.
“The world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds from all fossil fuels combined,” the report noted.
“By the end of 2015, renewable capacity in place was enough to supply an estimated 23.7 per cent of global electricity, with hydropower providing about 16.6 per cent.”
While the growth was supported by several factors – including better financing, more sympathetic policies, as well as energy security and environmental concerns – the key driver was that renewables were now cost competitive in many markets.
“This growth occurred despite tumbling global prices for all fossil fuels, ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and other challenges facing renewables, including the integration of rising shares of renewable generation, policy and political instability, regulatory barriers and fiscal constraints,” the report said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated fossil fuel companies last year received subsidies totalling around $US5.3 trillion ($7.3 trillion) worldwide, although the International Energy Agency put the figure at a more modest $US493 billion ($680 billion) largely due to a lower estimate of the potential costs of carbon pollution.
Solar PV capacity grew by 27 per cent to a total 227 GW capacity, while wind power was up by 17 per cent to 433 GW.
You can see the full ABC News article here.
It would be interesting to see the current figures for solar PV installation in the Lockyer Valley Region. In a November 2012 post I calculated that 21.2% of the private houses in the Lockyer had solar power installations – up with the best in Australia at the time.
While I’m on a rave about coal, sustainability and myths (see Josh Frydenberg’s myths about the security of Peabody coal mines in Australia and his (unintentional) demolition of their employment contribution), let’s look at the myth of how our coal is essential to eradicating poverty in Third World countries.
The following is from Mike Sandiford, Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne in The Conversation:
And at least some in our government seem of a like mind.
Why, might we ask, does it matter that it is just “cheap coal-fired” electricity that alone will alleviate poverty? Why does not cheap hydro, geothermal, nuclear or whatever else, also do the trick?
No doubt coal has been a useful source of electricity in the third world, and will likely remain so for some time given that not all countries are endowed with the hydro resources of the Bhutanese. But is clear that Bhutan puts paid to the idea that coal alone can alleviate poverty.
But Bhutan also shows that there is something more fundamental that our coal lobby is loathe to acknowledge, and it speaks to the very paradox that lies at the heart of their claim – given that cheap coal has been around powering electricity systems for over 150 years, why are any children still living in poverty?
Could it be that the purported saviour of the world’s poor – the coal industry – doesn’t really have such a flash track record in the altruism stakes after all?”
Seems that no matter whether we are looking at our sustainable options here in Australia or at eradicating poverty in Third World countries, coal mining isn’t a critical component of either and may just be getting in the way of real solutions.
We keep on hearing it – Australia needs coal mines, and more of them, in order to generate employment.
Here’s something to think about.
When Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal miner, sought bankruptcy protection in the US a little while ago there were ripples of concern in Australia over the possible loss of jobs from their coal mines here.
However the Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg immediately reassured Australians that this was not a risk because of the importance of the local mines to the company.
“My primary concern is with the Australian operations of Peabody. They have 10 mines across Queensland and New South Wales, nearly 3,500 workers if you include the contractors and I spoke to the president of Peabody and they informed me that they will not be reducing their Australian workforce,” Frydenberg told the ABC.
“They have funding to continue with their Australian operations and they see their work in Australia as being core to their operations particularly the proximity their Australian mines have to key demand in Asia.”
So these aren’t tinpot little mines supplying local power plants, but part of the core of Peabody Energy’s operations supplying “key demand in Asia”.
Did you notice that these 10 key mines each employ an average of only 350 workers (including the associated contractors).
Apparently that’s not an unusual number. The Glencore mine at Tahmoor in New South Wales is about to be closed, putting 350 people out of work. Glencore produces coking coal (according to pro-mining lobbyists this is the key to the future of coal in Australia) and it also supplies overseas markets.
Just in passing, I wonder how many people are employed on average to deal with the environmental, climate change and human health impacts of just one of these coal mines.
In addition, it seems as if Frydenberg’s assurances about Peabody’s Australian mines might have been a bit of pre-election “voter calming” according to information now available from auditors Ernst and Young who drew attention to a note in the financial report “which details the principal conditions that raise doubt about the company’s and the consolidated entity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.
“As a result of these matters, there is significant uncertainty whether the company and/or the consolidated entity will continue as a going concern, and therefore whether they will realise their assets and extinguish their liabilities in the normal course of business and at the amounts stated in the financial report.”
Just how sustainable is Australia’s ongoing involvement in coal mining?
The conflict between urbanites and wildlife recently developed a new battleground: the small coastal New South Wales town of Batemans Bay, where the exceptional flowering of spotted gums has attracted a huge influx of grey-headed flying-foxes from across Australia’s southeast.
In response to intense and highly publicised community concern, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced he will seek an immediate National Interest Exemption to facilitate dispersal of these bats – a move that risks undermining legal protections afforded to this and other threatened species.
With the ongoing expansion of the human urban footprint, animals are increasingly confronted with urban environments. Human encroachment into natural habitats generally negatively affects biodiversity. However, urban landscapes can present wildlife with an irresistible lure of reliable food supplies and other resources. While urban wildlife can provide a range of benefits to health and wellbeing, it can also be cause for frustration and conflict.
Urban human-wildlife conflict is a growing area of management concern and scientific research. But the research suggests that the current strategies for addressing NSW’s conflicts between humans and flying-foxes might not have the intended results.
Ruling the urban roost
Australian flying-foxes are becoming more urbanised, and the noise, smell and droppings from their roosts can have huge impacts on local residents.
A fundamental problem underlying current approaches to urban roosts is a lack of understanding of the extraordinary mobility of flying-foxes. They are some of the most mobile animals in Australia, with movements that range from foraging trips of up to 120 km in a single night to long-distance nomadism covering thousands of kilometres in a single year.
While roosts can remain active for decades, they are more like backpacker hostels than stable households, housing a constantly changing clientele that comes to visit local attractions. Roosts are connected into large networks through which flying-foxes move in response to changes in local food resources.
This explains the sudden influx in places such as Batemans Bay where preferred food suddenly becomes abundant. But it also highlights the importance of a national approach to flying-fox management and conservation.
Intense local flowerings of Eucalypts, such as spotted gums, produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen, which attract large numbers of flying-foxes and other species for several weeks. When a relatively small local flying-fox population that is tolerated by its human neighbours suddenly increases tenfold, it can place severe pressure on the local community.
Despite their transient nature, these influxes are often wrongly interpreted as population explosions, leading to calls for culling. In comparison, more humane tactics – such as using loud noise or vegetation removal to disperse the flying-foxes – can seem like a more balanced response. But does dispersal actually work?
Shifting the problem elsewhere
There is now ample evidence to show that dispersals are extremely costly and can exacerbate the very human-wildlife conflict that they aim to resolve.
Most dispersals result in the flying-foxes returning the original roost as soon as the dispersal program ends, because naïve new individuals continue to arrive from elsewhere. Overcoming this can take months or years of repeated daily dispersal.
Other dispersals result in flying-foxes establishing new roosts a few hundred metres away, typically within the same urban environment in locations that we cannot control. This risks shifting the problem to previously unaffected members of a community and to other communities nearby.
While flying-foxes are often portrayed as noisy pests, they serve our economic interest by providing irreplaceable pollination and seed-dispersal services for free. What’s more, those same bats that annoy people during the day work tirelessly at night to maintain the health of our fragmented forests and natural ecosystems.
So it is in our national interest to manage conflict at urban roosts, by using approaches that balance community concerns with environmental considerations.
To be considered “successful”, a dispersal should permanently reduce conflict to a level that is acceptable to the community without causing significant harm to the animals. However, dispersals are currently implemented at the local council level with little or no monitoring of the impacts in or outside the immediately affected area. This makes it hard to assess whether they have been successful.
For example, it is not uncommon for flowering to cease and flying-fox numbers to decline naturally during the period of active dispersal. This gives the community a false sense that a permanent solution has been achieved, when in fact the issues will recur the next time the trees blossom. There is thus an urgent need for urban roosts to be managed with properly defined and applied criteria for success.
Unfortunately, lack of research effort directed at “ugly” and “less popular” Australian animals means that very few evidence-based management tools are available to deal with contentious roosts.
Research targeting a few key areas would greatly help efforts to improve urban roost management. For instance, we do not know how flying-foxes choose their roost sites, which leaves us unable to design “carrot solutions” by creating more attractive roost sites elsewhere.
Intensive tree-flowering events are relatively infrequent and hard to predict. This means that it is difficult to prepare communities for a sudden influx of flying-foxes.
Furthermore, the acceptability of various flying-fox management options differs between sections of the community, so it is difficult to find optimal solutions. Social scientists are currently trying to help identify priority areas that promote long-term viability of flying-foxes while also easing conflict with humans.
Local, state and federal governments continue to allocate considerable funds for dispersal responses, even though such actions are high-risk activities for local communities and are unlikely to provide long-term solutions. We argue strongly that targeted research is needed to better inform land managers and affected communities of flying-fox ecology and provide them with low-cost, low-risk, evidence-based tools for dealing with urban roosts.
Flying-foxes don’t care about legislative borders, and state-based responsibility for wildlife management leads to discontinuity in approaches between jurisdictions. While flying-foxes are being monitored at the national scale, this initiative needs to be combined with a uniform federal approach for managing flying-foxes in our human landscapes. Otherwise, conflicts such as those faced by the residents of Batemans Bay will continue unabated.