Tasmanian Interlude, with beetle, grasshopper, and roach

2014 January 1

Happy New Year! And now, since it is winter in North America and our local bug population is way down, for the next few weeks we’re going to have something a bit different. In June of 2013, Sam and I took a trip half-way around the world to Australia (specifically to Tasmania, the island just south of the main continent), to visit my parents[1]. And while we were there, I figured we should make some attempt to photograph the arthropods that lived in my parents’ house and backyard. So I took along my camera, and away we went.

On the way, we had an unscheduled 2-day layover in Los Angeles[2], which was surprisingly low on insects. We did find a scarab beetle in the hotel, and a grasshopper in the airport near the departure gate, but that was about it. Unfortunately, my macro camera was still packed for travel, so these were photographed with our little point-and-shoot. It doesn’t show in the picture, but the grasshopper’s jumping legs had odd feet that were reversed from what we are used to seeing – they pointed forwards like a human foot, instead of backwards like most grasshoppers.

Once we arrived in Tasmania, the weather was beautiful. Even though we were there in what was, to them, the middle of winter, we had pleasant temperatures (around 50-60 degrees F), sunny skies, and only moderate winds[3]. Just about the same as the conditions that we had left behind in Houghton, in fact, aside from swapping long summer days for short winter ones[4]. So my parents picked us up at the airport in Burnie, met their granddaughter for the first time, and took us home. Where we collapsed into a jet-lagged coma until the next day.

That morning, I decided that I needed to get pictures of something unique and exotic. Some insect that I never see at home. So, I went outside, found a small stack of bricks behind the house, checked underneath a few of them, and found this:

A cockroach!

Whaddaya mean, roaches aren’t exotic? Maybe not to those of you who live further south, but seriously, in northern Michigan I have never seen a roach. We don’t see them out in the woods, and we don’t see them inside the house, either. I think our outdoor climate is to cold for them, and our inside climate is too dry[5]. Now earwigs, we’ve got. But roaches? No.

This could be a nymph of the Asian Cockroach, Blattella asahinai, a common outdoor species. Or, it may be the related German Cockroach, Blattella germanica,, which frequently come indoors[6]. Then again, it could also be one of the several thousand species of roaches that lives in the woods, some of which do not have wings as adults.

Since this is Australia, most of my normal ID resources aren’t going to work, so I’ll just leave it as “a roach” for now.[7] Anyway, when they aren’t in the house, cockroaches are pretty unobjectionable. They are omnivorous debris feeders, and are useful decomposers in the forest leaf litter. Some species can even digest wood (and the current thinking is that termites are actually a type of wood-digesting cockroach).

[1] No, I am not from Australia. What happened is this: I am the youngest child in my family, and so when I left home in 1980, my parents were then free to do something that they had been thinking about for a while – emigrating to Australia. Specifically, Dad had been having a lot of lung troubles due to pollution in Michigan, and Mom always had difficulty with the long, cold winters, and so they looked for a place with an equitable climate, that was not downwind rom any pollution sources like major cities or industrial areas, and that was politically stable. And Tasmania fit the bill. So, in 1982, that’s where they went. So now, they live here.

[2] While things went well once we were there, Getting to Tasmania was kind of aggravating. The air travel started going wrong right from the beginning, with our flight from Houghton to Chicago being delayed because the pilot and crew that was supposed to fly the plane up to Houghton and back got delayed on their previous flight. This resulted in us getting to Chicago two hours late. Of course, this meant that we missed our flight that was supposed to take us to Los Angeles. But no worry, United had another flight to LA that we were in time to catch, and it would get us there in plenty of time before our connecting flight from LA to Sydney-Melbourne left . . . Except it was also delayed because the aircrew was held up in their previous flight, and so we got another 2-hour delay! When we finally got to LA around midnight Pacific time, about 5 hours later than we were supposed to, we had of course missed our flight, which had left about 10 minutes previously. So, after the people at the service desk tried out every possible combination of flights to get us to Australia (they even considered flying us up to San Francisco to catch a flight to Brisbane), it finally settled down to there being no room for us for two days, leaving us stuck in a hotel in LA with a fistful of airline meal vouchers and no real idea of what to do. We ended up mostly swimming in the hotel pool, and wandering around the general area of the hotel on foot (anything else would have reqired taking a bus, and the bus from the airport to the hotel made Sam so sick that I couldn’t persuade her to get onto another one). We tried to go to the Madrona Marsh Nature Preserve, which was only a few blocks from the hotel, but by the time we found it (LA does not appear to believe in using street signs, which makes it hard to find things), it was closed.

Eventually, the airline got us onto another plane and sent off to Australia, and the remaining flight was fairly uneventful (but long!). As it turned out, there were no movies on the flight because the video system on the 747 had broken down, but Sam slept most of the way and I had stuffed my ebook reader with books off of Project Gutenberg, so it was OK.

Then, when we landed in Melbourne, Sandy had managed to change our bookings on the Regional Express airline so that we still had our seats to fly across Bass Strait to Tasmania. It seems that Regional Express isn’t really tied into the whole airline network. They are at one extreme end of the airport terminal, are barely connected to the rest, and have only a minimal security scan. Their business model is mainly to get you from one city to another on small commuter planes, and they apparently don’t really do the whole “connecting flights” thing. They also have a whole fistful of vomit bags in each of the seat-back pouches, rather than the single bags that the other airlines normally have, which leads me to think that sometimes things get pretty rough with those little commuter planes.

[3] I’d been to Tasmania three times before over the years (August 1984, July 1990, and April 1997), and I can tell you that this weather was highly unusual for that time of year. The weather you normally expect in the area in their winter is a lot of rain. Mostly torrential downpours that last about 20 minutes, a burst of clear skies, then another downpour, then high winds, then another downpour . . . On the plus side, this produces a lot of rainbows and very lush vegetation, but you normally don’t want to go outside in the winter without a waterproof jacket and boots. Tasmania is actually almost as far south as Michigan is north, but the Tasmanian winters are much warmer because of the temperature-moderating effects of all that ocean. I’m told that it never actually gets that hot in the summer, so the temperature is fairly constant between about 50 F and 70 F year-round.

[4] Some people had made fun of me for going to Australia during the Australian winter, but really, it worked out pretty nice. The weather was actually worse in Michigan than in Tasmania the whole time we were there!

[5] I think the durability of roaches is greatly overrated. Just because the species that infest houses can often survive being stepped on, and they were found to have fairly good resistance to radioactivity, they’ve gotten this largely undeserved reputation for being practically indestructable. Bah. They can’t even survive a little cold, dry weather!

[6] What is it with cockroach names? The German Cockroach is actually an African species, and the American Cockroach is, too. And the Asian Cockroach is apparently so widespread that nobody is quite sure which continent it originated on.

[7] Although, the CSIRO has what looks like a fair insect identification page, so maybe I’ll be able to work something out.

2 Responses
  1. January 2, 2014

    Two days in and around LAX has got to be near the bottom of my vacation wish list. As for the roach, well, you’d have to expect it to spend some time on its back like in the last picture, living on the upside down part of the Earth like it does.

  2. January 3, 2014

    KT: No kidding. LA probably would have been a lot more fun if we had *planned* on stopping there, instead of just getting dumped in one of the more out-of-the-way hotels. Although, Sam actually enjoyed it quite a bit, especially since she’s at an age where playing on an escalator still sounds like a good time.

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