Insect fever

Just one enthusiast can make things happen, and get other people interested in something they’d hardly considered before.

Entomologist Richard Glatz has Kangaroo Islanders looking for and reporting insect sightings across the island. He’s discovered several new species, one of which belongs to a new primitive moth family, and been a critical part of the rediscovery of a long unseen species, and a native bee recovery program.

Aenigmatinea glatzella from Kangaroo Island
Aenigmatinea glatzella from Kangaroo Island

Richard and partner Janine bought their first Kangaroo Island property near Mouth Flat on the south coast of the Dudley Peninsula in 2000. The heritage property is 200 acres of mallee with a track and a shed. Richard started by getting out by day with the sweep net and by night shining a light on a sheet over the shed door to attract insects. Storage areas soon started filling up.

Richard has still a lot of his huge collection to work through but he’s already made a few discoveries. The first was a previously unknown robber fly, now described by Robert Levine of SA Museum and named after Richard (Bathypogon glatzi).

But that now seems like small potatoes with the recent publication in Systematic Entomology of ‘A new extant family of primitive moths from Kangaroo Island, Australia, and its significance for understanding early Lepidoptera evolution’ based on the ‘punk in a ball gown’ Aenigmatinea glatzella  shown above. (The ‘glatzella’ species name refers to the bald head of the moth but serendipitously places Richard’s name on the species.) And a wasp which parasitises the moth is yet to be described and published but belongs in a previously unknown genus.

A local photographer took a photo of ‘blue’ butterflies mating in Flinders Chase National Park  and sent the pic to Richard. Voila: Ogyris halmaturia, whose larvae live entirely in ant nests, not seen since the 1930s.

But wait there’s more. The Green Carpenter bee, declared endangered in South Australia, now has a monitoring program on Kangaroo Island, its last known refuge in the state. Richard  and Robyn Molsher of the state environment department won grant funding for the program following the December 2007 fires which burnt all of the known habitat of the bee in Flinders Chase National Park.

Now Richard and Janine host ‘bee houses’ on their property near D’Estrees Bay which has habitat suitable for Carpenter Bees, and the bees are using them.

They’ve lived on the island there for two years (this month) and Richard’s collecting volume has gone up a few notches. His office is a throng of museum drawers piled to the ceiling and his desk squeezes into a tight corner. The net is his constant companion outdoors by day (apart from occasions when it might not be comprehended) and the sheet goes up on the house veranda when the night temperature is high enough (at least 20C) and the wind speed low enough to reap a good harvest –  and whenever Richard feels the urge.

No doubt he’ll be more than busy for another 15 years trying to keep his sorting at pace with his collecting. Who knows what else the natural world of Kangaroo Island will reveal to him.

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