Minibeasts - everything you need to know!
What is a minibeast?
“Minibeast” is a name often given to small animals that don’t have bones inside their body. Instead, they have an exoskeleton (an outside skeleton).
There are many different types of minibeasts and they are all around us; they can be butterflies, bees, wasps, ants, snails, spiders, beetles, centipedes and many, many more. In fact, there are more minibeasts on earth than any other animal! Our survival relies upon minibeasts too; if we didn’t have minibeasts, we wouldn’t have pollinators to help plants reproduce and there would be stinky, rotting stuff everywhere because nothing would recycle dead and decaying material.
Minibeasts are truly wonderful and we feel very lucky to get to work with so many minibeast friends.
Giant Litter Bugs Macropanesthia rhinoceros
These amazing creatures are actually cockroaches but they are nothing like the unwelcome ones that invade homes. These animals can live for up to 10 years, grow to the size of a small child’s hand and the females give birth to live babies.
They have strong legs for digging and spend most of their life underground. They forage for food on the ground at night, taking leaves underground to eat later. They are important recyclers of plant nutrients.
Monarch Butterflies Danaus plexippus
We raise thousands of these wonderful creatures each year at our butterfly farm. The monarch butterfly isn’t technically native to Australia, but it isn’t introduced either. They are believed to have island-hopped here in 1870, aided by cyclones which pushed them off-course during their migration. Colonists had by then established the milkweed plant, allowing the butterflies to lay their eggs and so the cycle has continued to this day.
The monarch butterfly lays eggs, which hatch after a week. The striped caterpillars eat the milkweed and store some of the milkweed chemicals in their body which makes them taste bad to predators. After a few weeks, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis and then a few weeks later, the adult butterfly emerges. The butterfly eats nectar from flowers and has a lifespan of up to 8 weeks in the warmer months, but can live for 4 months or more over winter. They are important pollinators.
Orchard Swallowtail Butterflies Papilio Aegeus
This has to be our favourite minibeast. The young caterpillars of this species have an amazing adaptation; they look like bird droppings! As they get older, they become green and brown so they can camouflage.
The caterpillars eat the leaves of citrus trees and after 5 weeks, make a chrysalis. They can stay as a chrysalis for up to 6 months if it is cold.
The adult butterfly is big and beautifully coloured.
They can live for a few months as an adult and they are pollinate plants as they fly from flower to flower drinking nectar with their long proboscis.
European Honey Bees Apis mellifera
The interest in bees and protecting bees has gained a lot of attention recently. Bees are very important pollinators for a lot of the food that we eat and the European Honey Bee also produces large amounts of honey, which has been a valuable commodity for thousands of years.
European Honey Bees live in colonies comprising of many thousands of bees. We estimate that one of our largest hives had over 75,000 bees! Of those 75,000 bees, the most important is the queen bee. She can live for up to 5 years, however worker bees have a much shorter lifespan and how long they live for depends on the season.
Spiny leaf stick insect Extatosoma tiaratum
These insects are the masters of camouflage! The adult insects look, feel and even move like dried leaves. Spiny Leaf Stick Insects are herbivores love eating eucalyptus leaves. They rely on their camouflage so they don’t get eaten by birds, possums and other animals.
Only the male stick insects can fly, the females have small wing buds only. Males can live for up to 12 months and females can live for up to 18 months. The females lay hundreds of eggs during their life.
Praying Mantis (False Garden Mantid) Pseudomantis albofimbriata
These amazing predators use their camouflage to wait for their next meal. They only eat other animals and we have seen them eating caterpillars, flies, butterflies and spiders. The mantid in the picture is eating an unlucky cricket.
Mantids can be a beneficial bug to a garden, as they can help eat pest animals.
Freshwater Yabby Cherax destructor
These 10 legged crayfish are native to south-eastern Australia and are well-known as being food for people, as well as many other animals in the food chain including platypus, turtles, birds and fish.
They perform an important role in the environment by cleaning up dead material and they eat both plants and animals.
Yabby claws are very strong so we always wrap the claws in elastic bands when we take our yabbies visiting schools, so no-one gets a pinch!