Drinking Straws for Ants

My usual macro adventures tend to turn up something of interest even if the spot is very familiar to me – like Oxley Creek Common, one of my favourites! One of my most interesting finds was this fabulous waxy straw poking out of the branch of an Ironbark tree. There were mostly big black Rattle Ants taking the honeydew off the straws but I couldn’t for the life of me see any bugs! Turns out they are buried in the bark so I went back with a trusty sharp blade and managed to find the bizarre looking scale insect responsible. I can’t make head nor tail of the scale bug and apparently they are all pretty unconventional looking insects.

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Rattle ant drinks honeydew from the wax straw of a scale insect from the Eriooccidae family. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Wax Straw
Scale insect buried in the bark of a tree extrudes a wax straw to get honeydew out to ants. Many different species of ants benefit from the excretions of sap sucking bugs. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Wax Straw
Honeydew seeps from the end of the wax straw. The scale didn’t seem to do any damage to the tree that I could see. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Ironbark Scale
Once I’d exposed the bug to the elements it seemed to deflate. This image is taken soon after I’d peeled back sufficient bark to reveal the bug – a very delicate process. The bug is still fat and juicy in this shot. Oxley Creek, QLD.
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It’s not clear in this shot which part of the bug is the front and which the back. The white stuff is the end the honeydew comes out of. Here the bug is starting to deflate. Oxley Creek, QLD.
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A peeled cross-section of bark reveals the scale insect and its waxy extrusion. The wax straw ants sip honeydew from can be seen bottom left. There is a thinner straw and another smaller scale insect hidden bottom centre. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Ironbark Scale
Rattle ant drinks honeydew from the wax straw of a scale insect from the Eriooccidae family. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Wax Extruding Scale
Rattle ant collects honeydew from the end of a straw. Without the drinking straw the honeydew would simply soak into the bark. Oxley Creek, QLD.
Wax Straw Bug
A technomyrmex ant shelters at the base of a wax straw dripping with honeydew. Oxley Creek, QLD.

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