Wax Diver

A long wet summer and twenty-year full moon have brought many strange sights to Olvar Wood. My last post covered some of the weird snake behaviour we have seen (a special thanks to Maureen who informed me that baby snakes are actually more venemous because, unlike an adult, they can’t control how much venom they release and just shoot it all out in a panic!). I wonder if they eat beetles – but I’ll get to that.

That other old foe, the spider, has also been more active than usual, building webs everywhere, including heavy-duty threads across the path down to the house overnight, or even between meal breaks. I have turned up to work, play, and the hairdresser with webs in my hair, like some kind of crazy mountain woman.

The frogs have been fantastic; there is something cheering about their springing high-hop, so impressive in relation to their body size, and in comparison to the lethargic movements of the more familiar cane toad. We have seen, for the first time, a laughing tree frog, although it refused to laugh for us. For a tree frog, they are not particularly attractive. They have a warty kind of skin, with luminous green markings; perhaps they need another frog to laugh at. Or a mirror. There have been plenty of (rare) barred frogs, with their cute, wedge-shaped bodies and our usual (endangered) green-thighed frogs, with their quacking call. And the naughty wallum froglets who hop inside the studio and refuse to be assisted out, which, unfortunately, means I find them dried out in a corner somewhere weeks later to be vacuumed up.

The geckos have been even more active and prevalent than usual, with baby ones running under my feet every time I enter the studio, or sitting under my boots, flirting with a sudden and flat death.

Even the beaches are swarming with life, after a season that saw sand washed away and rubbish and muck washed up in its place. At Peregian, where we breakfast and walk once a week, wildlife has been particularly abundant, perhaps because of the strip of heath running alongside the beach. This week, there were more butterflies on the beach than we see at Olvar. The clear morning was spotty with them. So much so, that we often had to take evasive action. There were two types: some sort of Swallowtail, and a smaller yellow one with brown edges to its wings, which we later identified as a Lemon Migrant. All flapped their wings as if in control of their destinies although really at the whim of the wind. They seemed to be seeking out a touch on the water, whether to imbibe moisture or for some other purpose I’m unsure; perhaps butterflies and moths are not subject to salt water madness.

Right along the beach there were also hundreds of evenly spaced disturbances, freshly-dug sand splayed up in heaps. We saw none of the inhabitants on the walk up the beach but on the return journey, there were dozens of crabs, just a shade paler than the sand, scuttling back from the water. On several occasions, more than one crab took refuge in the same hole, and we imagined crab family morning teas, or more likely, stoushes caused by crab home invasions. How they tell one hole from another is unclear to me. Perhaps that is why crabs are well-armed: for the inevitable territorial disputes resulting from a uniform development style.

Last night, at home, we had a sudden inundation of a strange new beetle. It was about an inch long, flatish, with a hard shell and two prominent back legs, like oars. They make quite a racket on the floorboards as they skittle around. They can also fly, and insisted on interrupting our dinner by smashing into the lights above the table. One fine specimen propelled itself, kamikaze-style, into one of the tea light candles just as I was about to lift my wine glass to my mouth, spraying wax all over my hand, glass and the table, and extinguishing the flame with a loud, zooming thoonk. By the time we recovered ourselves enough to go to its assistance, it had stopped struggling, embalmed in cooling wax.

We saw hundreds more of this beetle on the beach at Cotton Tree, some upturned. They leave a long and feathering trail behind them, as if two-footed rather than six. The water and oar-like legs should have been a clue (and the wax diving); our books say it is a Three-punctured Diving Beetle (cybister tripunctatus). As the name suggests, it is actually a water beetle, making its home in lakes and dams. It carries a little bubble of water down from the surface beneath its wing covers when it dives.

During the wet season, it sometimes migrates at night, and confuses light and reflection with water, hence trying to dive into the lights – and the candle. The floods earlier in the summer led to a dramatic rise in their population, extending right into urban areas. As the waterways dry up, the beetles need to set out in search of a new home. An ABC article warned residents not to attempt to pick the beetle up because, as a predatiory creature, it can give a nasty bite.

Apparently, our Diving Beetle’s cousin, the larger dytiscid Cybister explanatus, is used as food in Mexico, where they are eaten roasted with salt and in tacos (Ramos-Elorduy & Pino, 1989). Despite their sudden abundance, and having coincidently watched Heston Blumenthal cook up a bunch of insects for his ‘edible garden’  in an Alice in Wonderland inspired Victorian menu, I was not tempted to gather up any beetles for a crunchy evening meal.

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