By Maureen Cooper, Wooragee Landcare
I have been reading “Where Song Began” – Australia’s birds and how they changed the world by Tim Low and was delighted in his chapter on the importance of Lerps to our native fauna. For those of our readers who don’t understand what lerps are, this quote is from Tim’s book.
“In 1880 W. Wooster explained what lerp was. “Tiny insects ‘in the larval state protect themselves from the sun and their enemies by building over themselves little tents, or rather crystal palaces, composed of a gummy and sugary secretion, which is exuded in a semi-liquid state from the tube at the hinder end of the body’.”
These insects are aphid-like bugs called psyllids. Some birds get the double whammy of the sugar compound plus the larva. They are an important source of food during hard times not only for honeyeaters but for many other species of birds and animals as well.
I have witnessed the most exciting thing. I was looking for Lerps to photograph and came upon a dead Eucalypt leaf with a very brown lerp still attached. I peeled back the lerp and a psyllid lava came out of its silken nest and waved itself around (impossible to photograph because it was so fast and all I got were blurred images) and then caught hold of the outer edge of the lerp covering and pulled it back over itself. How is that for self preservation?
I have always worried that there has been no studies done on the effect of coal dust on lerps as many trees in the coal mining areas are dusted with black unless it rains. Are the lerps still detectable by the birds under this black coating? If they are, does the coal dust have any adverse effect on the birds eating them? I posed these questions to an Ecologist employed by a mining company in Queensland (I also asked for these studies to be done in all submissions against coal mining) and his answer really stunned me.
He said, “Maureen, I am hearing you but I don’t understand what you want us to do”. I repeated the request for the studies to be undertaken by a PhD Student and paid for by the mining company because they were the ones causing harm to the environment. He then said that Lerps were only found in the southern states, which is incorrect.
Now we just need more people to read Tim’s book and appreciate the importance of lerps to our wildlife.