Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Fires: The Australian Bush Recovers

Everyone is aware that Australia was literally on fire this summer. Many parts of  the country had multiple fires at the same time. At one point New South Wales and Victoria had 40 fires burning simultaneously.

In early March we were in Canberra and had the opportunity to visit the south coast in the region of Bateman's Bay. At the time there was an appeal for Canberra people to visit the coast and help revive businesses that had suffered because the fires had isolated them from the usual summer tourists. Bateman's Bay itself was overflowing with visitors on Canberra Day and the various businesses were most grateful. This was before the present coronavirus scare which is isolating the holiday destination yet again..

Since the fires the entire region had drought-breaking rains that not only put out all the remaining fires but also helped to rejuvenate the land. In just a few months, it was astounding to see the regrowth.

Eucalyptus and many other Australian plants have adapted to fires. Even though the fires were very "hot" if the trees were not too "cooked" they remained alive and with the rains, regrowth commenced.

Here are a few photos that illustrated the remarkable resilience of the Australian flora.


 Duras North, New South Wales, north of Bateman's Bay. Note the regeneration, especially along the bole of the trees. Also of note is the absence of understory shrubbery. The fires were so hot that they were burned out.
 Most of the undergrowth is gone but some regrowth is occurring. Bracken and introduced weeds may eventually take over.  Some of the old trees have fallen creating habitats for many creatures.

 Bawley Point, about 30 km north of Bateman's Bay. The fires went right down to the water consuming the shrubby acacias.

Bawley Point with burnt shrubs in the foreground.
 Bawley Point, New South Wales.  Fire swept through the coastal forests removing all of the shrubby growth and almost all the leaf litter. But just across the road from the conflagration, the houses were untouched. This was largely due to the intervention of the local volunteer fire department (Australians call their local volunteer fire people the "firies"). Not a single house in Bawley Point was lost even though the fires came very close because of the interdiction of the firies.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Something Nice: Some Pretty Local Moths

In these dark times, it is nice to know the beauty of nature still exists.

To order the book (and it's a good one and great value) see:

 Agathia pisina male
 Antitrygodes parvimacula 
 Hyposada hydrocampata Noctuidae
 Lacalma albirufalis Pyralidae
 Lyclene pyraula
 Lyclene reticulata 
 Lyclene reticulata
 Pingasa angulifera
 Polyeucta callimorpha 
 Stemorrhages amphitritalis
 Agathia prasinopsis male 
 Donuca rubropicta
 Erebus crepuscularis underside 
 Erebus crepuscularis upperside 
Cosmostola nereidaria 
 Cosmostola leucomerata 
 Conogethes sp
 Comostola pyrrhogona 
 Maurilia iconica Nolidae
 Maruca vitrata
 Palpita annulata 
 Parotis sp 
 Perimeceta niphospila Crambidae 
 Phazaca mutans Uraniidae 
 Asota orbona Aganidae 
 Syntherata janetta
 Syntherata janetta
 Pleuroptya balteata 
 Epiplema coeruleotincta 
 Meroctena staintonii 

Friday, 20 March 2020

Vale: Peter Shanahan

"Last night (Friday 13 March) at 7.45 pm our friend Peter Shanahan passed away. He had been ill for some time and was finally overtaken by cancer.

"Peter is survived by a number of caring local relatives and friends. His cousin, Anthony and his wife Julia, were at his side most of the time and have been living in Peter’s house for more than 9 weeks looking after his menagerie and providing care for him.

"Peter requested that there be no funeral. He did agree to a gathering of friends at the Cairns Botanical Gardens in the future. The Friends of the Botanic Gardens will host this occasion and a special tree, attractive to butterflies, will be planted in his honour. We will keep you informed as to time and date.

"Peter was known to hundreds of local people. The display of his insect collection annually at the Carnival on Collins and other public events was viewed and appreciated by thousands. Peter also attended many schools each year to show his collection and related to the children the importance of insects to their lives. His collection was augmented by his “microscope” because he felt the many children might never have the chance to see an insect or a bird’s feather under magnification. In addition, Peter led many groups of visitors around the gardens relating the interactions of plants and animals. In all these activities, Peter will be sorely missed.

"David Rentz, Patron, Friends of the Botanic Gardens Cairns"

Sunday, 16 February 2020

ADDENDA!! Requena kangaroo

One of the failures of getting old is forgetting! All older people are familiar with this.

In the post below dealing with the fires on Kangaroo Island, I neglected to include one of my own species! It is known from only two specimens but it is distinct. It is described in the Monograph listed at the end of that post.

Requena Walker
Requena is an Australian endemic genus known from 15 species that live in heath habitats in the southern portion of the continent. They are all micropterous (very short-winged) and live close to the ground where they prey on small insects. They have distinctive calls and colour patterns.

Requena kangaroo Rentz is distinct in the black markings on the head and legs. Only the type male and an old female specimen collected by Tepper over 115 years ago are known. I assume the species is at least as common as the others. I just did not find more than a single male (the type). So it may be of conservation interest. As luck would have it, I did not photograph the male from Kangaroo Island, the only locality from which the species is known. Photos of other species are appended here.

 Requena rotto Rentz, male. Described from Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
Requena baraya Rentz, female. Known from coastal and inland localities in southern New South Wales.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Horse-hair worms

Horse-hair or Gordian Worms

The return of almost daily thunderstorms from mid-January has seen the return of many insects to the light sheet. This is quite surprising because the prolonged drought would lead one to believe that populations might be reduced and take some time to return to normal.

With the orthopteroids that have made their recent appearance, it seems that there is a high percentage of individuals carrying Gordian Worms (Nematomorpha). I have found parasitised grasshoppers, katydids and cockroaches and mantids.

Horse-hair worms are so-called because of their appearance and often when encountered they appear as a Gordian Knot. When not in their insect hosts the worms are often found in puddles, streams or even horse troughs. But how do they get there?

Much more study is needed to understand the biology of Australian Nematomorpha. Poinar and Weissman (2004) present the potential life cycles for some North American species. It seems that several hosts are involved. An infected insect is "directed" towards water. There the worm emerges and the host dies. In the water the worms mate, lay eggs and the eggs are ingested by an aquatic insect which is eventually eaten by another host. The larva of the worm bores through the host's gut and resides in the body cavity where it feeds on haemolymph, testes and ovaries. This, of course, renders the host sterile. But it continues to live and may even moult with the developing worm within.

2019-20 has seen an inordinate number of parasitisms in the rainforests around Kuranda. Reasons for this are not known.

See this but not whilst eating:

This adult male katydid had multiple worms within its body cavity. It is surprising that such a mass of worms could come out of a small katydid.

The darkened abdomen of the host reveals its contents-many Gordian worms.
Another katydid with the live worm emerging. One worm measured 26 cm, the other 28 cm. Both were within the katydid.
Crickets are also infected. Thi is an adult female Unka boreena Otte and Alexander  with the worm emerging.

This tiny blattelline cockroach, Beybienkoa kurandensis Roth is infected. The worm, probably a different species from the ones above, can easily be seen through the integument.
An adult male pseudophyllodromine cockroach, Balta denticauda Hebard with a Gordian Worm emerging.

Mantids, such as the Snake Mantid, Kongobatha diademata Hebard have been infected this year. The factors causing this increase in the number of Gordian Worm infections are at this point only speculative.

Thanks to George Poinar for comments on Gordian Worm parasitism.

Poinar, GO, Weissman DB. 2004. Hairworm and nematode infections in North American Jerusalem crickets, field crickets, and katydids (Orthoptera, Stenopelmatidae, Gryllidae and Tettigoniidae). Journal of Orthoptera Research 13(1): 143-147.

Crazy Curlews

The Buch Stone-curlew or Bush Thick-knee, Burhinus grallarius, are common birds in the Australia tropics. They are known for their  wailing, almost human-like calls heard at night. Often several birds join in a chorus. For the initiated, the first experience hearing this can be confronting.

During the day the birds stand around or squat under trees, often within metres of human activities. The species used to be common all over Australia except in the arid centre. Introduced foxes and cats have reduced their numbers. In the northern tropics foxes do not occur and feral cats are often the dinners of local pythons.

The birds feed at night on insects, lizards and small mammals. They breed from July to January. They build no nest but cobble together a few stones under a tree and lay up to 3 eggs. In Cairns hotel foyers are ideal nesting sites as are the shaded, plantings around school and university buildings.

During the recent drought temperatures in far north Queensland reached into the high 30's (Centigrade) but that did not deter the birds. Here a pair had been nesting on the property for more than 15 years. So when it was time to do their thing, they did it despite the heat.
 This female is not sick or dead but it "incubating" an egg. The temperature of the ground would have been much higher than the 35C of the air. She maintained this position for days.

The egg did not survive. It must have been hard-boiled! But the female survived. (There was ample water within a few metres of her "nest".

Peter Shanahan has agreed to share some of his curlew photos taken in his driveway.

The "Broken wing"scenario

Two excited birds are more effective than one!

The "nest"!
A mother and chick in the shade during the day.