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HomeIssue 6A touch of light: iridescent treasure

A touch of light: iridescent treasure


Photo © Mike Gillam

Like pollen starved bees, nature photographers are always looking for flowers, less for their obvious beauty and more for the activity they attract, especially from insects and birds.

Desert flowering events can transform the smallest patch of bush into a high energy buzz with myriad insects attending the nectar frenzy and taking the opportunity to mate.

The distracted pollen slaves – butterflies, beetles, bees, ants and flies – must survive ambush by camouflaged spiders while dodging insectivorous birds, wasps and lizards.

When the sun goes down, the nocturnal moths attracted to the nectar and pollen bounty must survive the cut and thrust of yet more avian predators and the gaping jaws of bats swooping out of the darkness.

Less obvious among these swirling insect aggregations, are the iridescent jewel beetles hiding inside the complex of folded petals. Flowers, curled leaves and open seed pods provide a humid, shady refuge from the desert heat and a hiding place from predators.

The photograph depicts a relatively small Centralian jewel beetle, a common favourite, cradled within the leaf of a desert rose. Nearby, several more were resting deep inside the collapsed and wilted flowers.

The Buprestidae family occurs world wide with approximately 1200 species recorded from Australia, doubtless many remaining undescribed. Known as jewel beetles or metallic wood boring beetles, most species are closely associated with various host plants, trees and shrubs and some are likely considered to be forestry pests.

(I previously featured a specialist of the Buprestidae, the astonishing but sombre coloured fire beetle which can detect smoke over great distances.)

Humans have admired the vivid jewel beetles for millennia and unfortunately for them, admiration has often turned to desire and decoration. Collecting was widespread in Thailand and India where large spectacular jewel beetles are relatively common.

Their iridescent elytra or wing covers are exceedingly beautiful, lightweight, durable and highly fade resistant, but rather than collect them I’ll never tire of peering into flowers, finding hidden treasure, taking photographs and leaving the elytra intact.


Recently in this series:

A touch of light: heavenly night scent

For the complete series of “A touch of light” go to the Features button on the home page menu bar.


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