We were biodiversity researchers, an ecologist and mathematician as well as a taxonomist who were all locked up together during the COVID epidemic. We were all locked in the house and soon began to wonder what other species of animals and plants we shared the space with. We began to count them.
Many of our colleagues also guessed that we would find 200-300.
Our 400-square-metre land block in Annerley was not anything special. It is a suburb in Queensland, Australia. A three-bedroom home occupied roughly half of the land.
The number of species that we found there was astounding. In our recently published study, beginning on the first lockdown day and continuing for a full year, we cataloged 1,150 different species in our inner-city land.
Familiar faces, and rare recluses
Many species are familiar to suburbanites on the east coast of Australia: ibises and brush turkeys. Possums, flying foxes, and kookaburras. Some species were rare.
Three of the 1,150 species were unknown to Australia’s most comprehensive biodiversity database. There was a rare mosquito species, a sandfly, and a flatworm, which can lead to the decline of native snail populations.
Read more: The 39 endangered species in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and other Australian cities
We found common foes, but also many friends. That rare mosquito was just one of 13 mosquito species we found. The cupboards accommodated pantry moths and grain weevils, but also spiders to prey on them (we recorded 56 species).
Weeds were a problem because we did not maintain the garden. Of the 103 plant species that we recorded on the property, about 100 were non-native.
The vast majority of plants were native. The two huge lilly pilly trees we had provided shelter, food and shade for many pollinators, as well as attracting other species.
Bees and butterflies
Blue-banded Bees Sleep Grasping Plant Stems with Their Mandibles. Andrew Rogers
The yard was full of pollinators. Hoverflies, for example, looked like wasps at first glance. Ten species were found, which is a small fraction of the 109 species we discovered.
Nighttime, native blue-banded and fluffy teddybear honey bees nestled in the hedges below our windows. We observed more than 70 species of bees and wasps.
We counted 436 species, which is a staggering number. Some were the size of a hand, but the majority were small and barely noticeable. Some were vibrantly colored, but others – such as the vampire moth Calyptra minutenicornis seemed dull until we studied their behavior.
Another interesting moth is the Scatochresis Innumera: it begins as a caterpillar and then grows into an adult.
In spiderwebs live the caterpillars for Parilyrgis Concolor. They feed on spider food waste. The adults hang from spiderwebs like bats. The spiders cannot eat them.
In spiderwebs, the caterpillars and adults of Parilyrgis Concolor moth live. Russell Yong
Wasps and Beetles
We found ten different species of “blue” lycaenid butterflies. Many of them use ants as a way to protect their caterpillars against predators. Some wasp species would even lay eggs on the caterpillars if given the chance.
The parasitoids are wasps that develop their young in other organisms and eventually kill them. Some of these parasitoids parasitize other parasitoid parasitoids. Urban homes are complex ecosystems.
The Braconid parasites other insects. Matthew Holden
The fact that we only found a little under 100 species of beetles (the fourth-most common group in our study) surprised us. The most diverse group of insects is believed to be beetles.
It is possible that our finding could be an indication of a decline in beetle population, as has been observed all over the world. It could have just been a bad beetle year in our area.