Saturday, 22 April 2017

March for Science, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and the many ways science serves our communities and our world.

The March for Science Cairns is one of over 400 events in an unprecedented global gathering of scientists and science enthusiasts around the world. We join together to acknowledge the vital role science plays in our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.


The "March" was celebrated as a series of short talks by researchers followed by a get together at the "Salt House Bar and Restaurant". The gathering was held on the Cairns Esplanade underneath threatening but well-mannered skies. (The rains came just at the end of the talks!)

The take-home message was aimed at the growing phenomenon of questioning or doubting science even when evidence is overwhelming. Examples, of course are denying that climate change even exists, vaccination against disease is ineffective and causes other problems like autism and questioning whether some events even happened, like the walks on the moon or that the the World Trade Center catastrophe was US-made!  All of this is promoted by certain politicians as well as shock talk radio hosts and is promoted by an avid right-wing press. 

Thus the March for Science.

 A half dozen researchers, mostly from James Cook University talked for about 10 minutes each
 An informal crowd of less than 200 consisted of locals and curious tourists



 Even a sole politician was in attendance. 
When it was over, most enthusiastically visited the bar for lubrication

A Nice Moth

Alpophanes iridicosma; Noctuidae; Acontiinae

Here's a moth with a peculiar stance. It seems to always sit this way. But then I only see 1-2 per year. What it does and what the caterpillar looks like is unknown--just the same situation for the majority of moths in the northern tropics of Australia.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A New Name for a Common Katydid

Recent discoveries necessitate a name change for a common katydid that lives in Australia's tropics. Ducetia japonica (Thunberg) was known as the Pacific Ducetia because it was thought to have a very broad range in Asia and the Pacific.

A few years ago is was discovered that the Australian examples had very different song features from "D. japonica" from elsewhere.

With most katydids the male and female genitalia are species-distinctive. As such they are of primary importance in taxonomy.  With the so-called D. japonica, the male genitalia were nearly identical in the tens of specimens studied over its extensive range. However, when the singing characteristics were examined, a different picture began to emerge. Not only were the songs different, but the stridulatory file and features of the wing were very different from one taxon to another. As a result, a number of name changes were necessary. (See Heller et al., 2017 below)

It was soon determined that the Australian katydids were without a name.  Ducetia antipoda Rentz and Heller is the new name for this widespread katydid and its common name is the Australian Ducetia. The species was described in the paper below.

Literature
Heller, K-G, Ingrisch, S, Liu, C-X, Shi, F, Hemp, C, Warchalowska-Sliwa, E, Rentz, D. 2017. Complex songs and cryptic ethospecies: the case of the Ducetia japonica group (Orthoptera: Tettigonioidea: Phaneropteridae: Phaneropterinae). Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society, 20: 1-22.
 Adult male Ducetia antipoda in typical resting posture.
 Alert adult male Ducetia antipoda.
 Brown morph male Ducetia antipoda.
 Head-on view adult male Ducetia antipoda.
Adult female Ducetia antipoda. This is a common garden inhabitant in the Australian tropics, especially along rainforest margins where there is a mixture of grasses.  
Adult female Ducetia antipoda. The spots on the pronotum (thorax) are quite typical of this species.  
 Adult male Ducetia antipoda showing the claspers (cerci). These are very similar to other species in the genus such as D. japonica and D. malayana
Ovipositor of female Ducetia antipoda. The serrations are used to aid the female in depositing eggs 
between the layers of the stiff leaves of a plant host.

The Crested Tooth-grinder--It's a Grasshopper!

The Crested Tooth-grinder, Ecphantus quadrilobus Stål, Acrididae; Catantopinae

The Crested Tooth-grinder is a common grasshopper in disturbed and open rangelands, and pastures in Australia. It prefers habitats with grey herbaceous vegetation. E. quadrilobus occurs broadly across the continent from coast to coast. It is a very distinctive grasshopper and cannot be confused with any other. It is quite hairy, as are many other grasshoppers that are associated with greyish herbaceous vegetation, and it has a distinctive crest. Green and greyish morphs can be found at the same place with the greenish grasshoppers being the more common.
Fifth instar nymph of E. quadrilobus. The four projections of the pronotum account for its name.

One weird feature of this grasshopper is that when it is hand-held it grinds its mandibles together to create a squeaking sound. This is not unique in grasshoppers but it is startling when you first encounter it. And that is probably the whole point. Were you a lizard or bird, you might drop the prey as the sound might be quite similar to that of a bee or wasp under duress.


A New Butterfly Appears--Then Disappears

This summer (wet season) has seen many changes. The Great Barrier Reef seems to be dying, floods have hit parts of Australia that are normally dry and the so-called "Wet Tropics" seem to be drier than normal.

Along with that a different butterfly has appeared on the scene. The Tawny Coster, Acraea terpsicore, Nymphalidae has become part of the local scene--at least for a time.

This butterfly was first reported in Australia near Darwin in 2012. Since that time it has spread to the Kimberleys and is now well established on the opposite side of the continent near Kowanyama, Queensland. Last year one was seen near Georgetown, Qld and this year, in February, it was found at Talaroo, near Mt Surprise, Qld. Yours truly observed a few not far from Lake Mitchell on the Toll Road in February.

The Tawny Costa, Acraea terpsicore. (B Richardson photo)

About 3 weeks ago I observed large numbers of the butterfly while sitting at traffic lights on Sheridan St, Cairns, Qld. I saw 5 at one intersection in three minutes This butterfly is easily recognised on the wing. It flies slowly much in the manner of the Monarch Butterfly which does not occur here but is naturalised in temperate parts of Australia. The Tawny Coster is much smaller but from a distance appears similarly marked. I have not seen them at my place in Kuranda but understand they have been seen in the centre of town which is more open than here in the rainforest. 

For about three weeks I have not seen a single individual. They seem to have disappeared as promptly as they showed up here a month or so ago.

So where did this butterfly come from and how did it get to Australia. The Tawny Coster occurs naturally in India and Sri-Lanka but it has expanded its range to include Indonesia at the rate of 200 km per year (Braby et al., 2014a). The authors further report that the expansion in Australia is even more rapid at some 315 km per year (Braby et al. 2014b). 

The Tawny Coster is now established in Australia. It's host plant is Lilac-Spade Flower, Hybanthus enneaspermus.  The butterfly may be able to adapt to other plants which will enhance its ability to broaden its range. It and its caterpillars have been found at Talaroo, near Mt Surprise, Queensland, see Franklin et al., 2017.

The presence of the Tawny Coster in Australia is most likely a natural expansion of a species. Its ability to move around may have been enhanced by forest clearing in SE Asia but it may also be enhanced by Global Climate Change, a phenomenon that is being verified by many examples such as this. 

This recent discovery is documented in Franklin et al 2017.


Literature

Braby MF, Bertelsmeier C, Sanderson C, Thistleton BM. 2014a. Spatial distribution and range expansion of the Tawny Coster butterfly, Acraea terpsicore (Linnaeus, 1758) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae), in South-East Asia and Australia. Insect Conservation and Diversity 7: 132-143. 

Braby MF, Thistleton BM, Neal MJ. 2014b. Host plants, biology and distribution of Acraea terpsicore (Linnaeus, 1758) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): a new butterfly for northern Australia with potential invasive status. Austral Entomology 53: 288-297. 

Franklin, DC, Morrison, SC, Wilson, G, 2017. Acolourful new Australian reaches Talaroo: The Tawny Coster, Acraea terpsicore. North Queensland Naturalist, 47: 10-13. 
http://media.wix.com/ugd/eb4488_95c868d0d9b542f69e5931ba4e34ba74.pdf

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Red-legged Pademelon

Click on the photo to enlarge
Red-legged Pademelons, Thylogale stigmatica, are rainforest kangaroos. This species is fairly widespread in the coastal Queensland tropics. It is also known from New Guinea.

Pademelons are small but an old male can be three-quarters of a metre in height. Females are much smaller. They are very skittish and are not as tame as many other kangaroos and wallabies. Like most other kangaroos, they are crepuscular . They spend the daylight hours in the shade of the rainforest, often reclining on the forest floor. Pademelons feed on a variety of plants. Gardeners are at odds with pademelons as they seem to consume the most desirable of garden plants.

The local dominant male checks out the seed dish just before daylight. I have no idea what the spots on his chest might be. They do not seem to be ticks.

This is one of several residents. We have lost two females in the past three weeks to automobiles. It may seem unbelievable that someone could hit a pademelon on a street that is a cul de sac. But having almost hit one recently, I can vouch for their unpredictable habits. Even travelling slowly at night, these little creatures can dart out from under a shrub and become a fatality. Still we must be more careful.

This little female bares the result of some sort of life-threatening experience. Note the red spot on the let hind leg. This is actually the elbow. This pademelon, a female,  now has to prop herself on the elbow because the tibia was broken in an accident and is now useless. It is now limp. But she survives and looks healthy. Let's hope.

Origin of the word Pademelon
According to Wikipedia Pademelon is a corruption of the aboriginal word badimaliyan. It now generally refers to any small kangaroo or wallaby species.

The Musky Rat-Kangaroo

Click on the photos to enlarge

One of the most peculiar little creatures we live with is the Musky Rat-Kangaroo, Hypsiprymnodon moschatus. The scientific name is off-putting enough but the name of its family is even more challenging-Hypsiprymnodontinae, a real mouthful. They are very difficult to photograph because of their constant movement and the time they are active. They never seem to tame like other marsupials, so getting close is a real chore.

Muskies are crepuscular, that is they are active in the very early morning or late in the afternoon. They trundle about on dark days as well. Otherwise they reside in makeshift lairs. The one in the photo was partially constructed for them when a branch fell and accumulated leaves and smaller branches. The occupant added leaves and branches from time to time. Although these enclosures are "home" for the marsupials, they can hardly be considered safe. Both pythons and large goannas raid them for the occupants. Pigs would also not be deterred by the flimsy construction.

Musky Rat-Kangaroos are small, 21-35 cm in length with a scaly tail that is about as long as the body. They weigh about 500 gr. They are true marsupials although to the initiated, they appear rat-like and hop around like a rabbit. Muskies feed on fruits, seeds and insects and worms. They are attracted to a seed bowl we place in the driveway for wallabies and turkeys but they give way to these larger animals. Muskies are the smallest of the kangaroos.

Kangaroos are said to have evolved from possum-like ancestors. They are considered the most primitive of living macropods. The Musky has a possum-like toe on its hind foot to prove it! See The Chambers website for more info. If they have the good fortune, muskies can live for about 4 years. Females usually produce two young.

A musky hut. On dark days the occupants can be observed running in and out of the enclosure.


 The two photos above are the same individual--a male of course! Note the scars and the tick on the ear in the top photo. It's a tough life out there.
A youngster but with an indication that it has been fighting or experiencing some trauma.