Saturday, 23 September 2017

World Cassowary Day

Sunday is World Cassowary Day. Interesting because Cassowaries occur only in northeastern Australia and New Guinea. Most visitors to the Cairns region either don't know what they are and/or have never seen one. They are always impressed by both the beauty and size of the birds.


Mrs Cassowary stopped by and just stood in one spot for about 10 minutes before disappearing into the forest.

Individual birds can be recognised by a number of features. The shape and condition of the casque as well as the shape of the wattles often helps.
With this gal, the middle toe of the left foot seems swollen compared to the right.

Cassowaries are under threat mainly from habitat destruction but also from incidents with cars and trucks and depredations from feral animals such as dogs and pigs.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Wonderful New Book

Australia has been blessed this year with a plethora of books on its biota being published. Two important books on spiders and now this impressive 480 page book on the biota of the Northern Territory. It is well written and very nicely presented.

The photos are top-rate with many contributions of the natural history community. Distribution maps are clear and should prove useful. The book can be used not only in the NT but also in Queensland and the northern portion of Western Australia where many of the species depicted in the book overlap.
The chapter on "Fire in the Top End" is worth the price of the book alone and should be read by all "northerners".

If this book doesn't stimulate young people in natural history pursuits, then there is no hope.

McKay, L. 2017. A Guide to Wildlife and Protected Areas of the Top End. 480 Pp. Environment Centre, NT, Darwin, NT.

A Nice Addition to the Garden

We have been watching this large Nephila sp perch in her web near our porch. She is a very poor web builder and it surprising she catches anything.  The web is seldom intact and there are usually gaping holes in it. The web is typical spiderweb colour, not yellow as in other members of the genus. She measures approximately 40 mm in body length, about 140 mm from the end of one outstretched leg diagonally to another. We try to avoid drawing attention to her during the day as the Black Butcherbird would have her for sure if he detected there was something edible there. They routinely look for these spiders during the autumn of the year when food is a bit scarce.

An unexpected part of the biology of these large spiders is that the female must come to ground to lay her eggs. This is probably most hazardous time of her life since she would be exposed to all sorts of predators, the worst of which is the introduced Cane Toad, Bufo marinus. (I'm an oldie and use the old generic name!!)

 Those red dots are Small Thief Spiders, Argyrodes miniaceus. We counted 20 of them.
Argyrodes minaceus, the Small Thief Spider.

We wish Mrs Nephila success in avoiding the Butcherbird!
There are about 4000 described spider species in Australia but it is estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 species once they are all described, Whyte and Anderson, 2017.

Both "Budak" and Martyn Roninson have commented that the red spiders are actually Pirate Spiders. Martyn further notes that it is the genus Argyrodes. A check in the book noted below indicates it is the Small Thief Spider, A. miniaceus. Martyn further notes that these spiders can steal the prey of the host spider and eventually cause the big spider to abandon its web and seek a new site. And that's exactly what must have happened as she is now not in her web.

Whyte, R., Anderson, G. 2017. A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, 445 Pp.

Spring Is Here

On 10 September 2017 we heard the first Northern Green Grocers, Cyclochila virens Distant, Cicadidae, of the year in our piece of rainforest.
Singing commenced at 6.35 pm (Eastern Standard Time), shortly after dark and continued for less than 15 minutes. The nightly serenade will continue for several months and start a few seconds later each night until by summer the singing begins around 7.15 pm. The intriguing bit is that it could not possibly be the same adults singing for months and months but newly emerged individuals replacing the oldies. So what is the explanation for the later and later starts and how is this information is received. Could temperature and/or day length be responsible for this behaviour. I'm sure someone has studied this for this large, iconic Queensland insect.

Moulds, M., 1990. Australian Cicadas. 217 Pp. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, NSW.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Congratulations Papua New Guinea: Papua National Day 2017

Today is the National Day in Papua New Guinea. It is a day of celebration.

I had the chance to be in Porgera in 2009 by the Rapid Assessment Program of Conservation International which was concentrated primarily in the Muller Range, a part of the central Cordillera on the border of Western and Southern Highland provinces of mainland Papua New Guinea. A published record of one group of tettigoniids (katydids), Naskrecki and Rentz (2010) described many new species in the tribe Agraeciini.

We were fortunate to be staying in Porgera and on our last day, we had the chance to see people of many PNG groups getting ready for the big parade and activities in the sports stadium. Here are a few pix. Unfortunately, we missed the big show as our plane was due in early afternoon.
Porgera and the Muller Range is almost due north of the tip of Cape York, Queensland

 Preparations for the Big Parade. Those are Bird of Paradise feathers he's working with
Just about ready!
 The Big Parade!

 The Mudmen are coming!
And so are the Hairmen!
And now for a few orthopterans, some familiar and some not.

Naskrecki, P., Rentz, D. C. F. 2010. Studies in the orthopteran fauna of Melanesia: New katydids of the tribe Agraeciini from Papua New Guinea (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae; Conocephalinae) Zootaxa 2664: 1-35. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

They're Back: Mr Cassowary and the Bubs for 2017

We've known about this years young cassowaries for about 6 weeks. They had been seen regularly at Cassowary House, not far from here. But this is the first visit  that we know of to this part of their range. We did not feel too bad about this because they have to cross busy Black Mountain Road to get to our place. It's rather extraordinary that the the male cassowary has done this for over 40 years and has not come to grief with a vehicle. Let's hope his luck holds out.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Carnival On Collins 2017

The annual Cairns Festival opens with the Cairns Festival Parade which commences a week of cultural and other varied activities around the region.

The week concludes with the Carnival on Collins. Collins Ave, which runs through the suburb of Edge Hill and in front of the Cairns Botanic Gardens, is blocked off and a variety of stalls appear with people selling all sorts of things.

The Carnival began years ago as a "Gardens" activity but it has enlarged to the extent that it is entirely run by the Cairns Regional Council.

Plant sales are a major part of the Carnival with all sorts of tropical plants for sale.

A few highlights.

 Tropical orchids are favourites with the locals. About 6 stalls sold a large variety of plants.

Anyone hungry?

  In case you run low on $$
Something unusual?

 Lots of interest in a local icon

 I have no idea what this is about

At the end of the day maybe 20,000 people attended. the weather was prefect this year (it often rains)
and it seemed that everyone had a great time.