Lattice fungus – not

Fungi are popping up all over at the moment, despite the general lack of rain. This one was in the eucalypt forest near the dead water rat on neighbour Jackie’s property. It’s a stinkhorn fungus, and she says this one was living up to its name.

Lattice fungus, Ileodictyon gracile

Lattice fungus, Ileodictyon gracile (photo by Jackie Cooper)

The ‘arms’ are a little thicker than in most of the photos on the web, such as on Fungimap, but I can’t find another one with such thick ‘arms’, so I’ll have to assume it’s still Ileodictyon gracile. If anyone knows any better, please let me know.

Update: Thanks to those who responded – I agree with  Brigitte (local botanist and fungiphile) and Gaye (see comment below) that it’s an older Pseudocolus fusiformis – see Gaye’s post on it. She confirms that the smell, described by Jacki, is really bad.

The Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens do fungi ID but need a real specimen rather than a photo, and fair enough. So I’ll wait until Jackie lets me know there are more in her garden. Maybe I can “transplant” some to mine – or at least get some spores – but a loooong way from the house of the descriptions of the smell are anything to go by!

The stink comes from the brown goop on the arms – the spore mass. Australia Fungi – A Blog has further information and photos.

Let’s have some rain so we can have some more fungi!

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Water rat

My neighbour Jackie found this pathetic corpse near her house the other day. It didn’t take long to track the ID down via Menkorst and Knight’s A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. That white tail gives it away. It’s a native water rat, Hydromys chrysogaster – also known as the rakali. (Photos thanks to Jackie Cooper.)

Water rat_1 Water rat_3

Water rat_2

According to the Australian Museum,

The water rat is one of Australia’s largest rodents and is usually found near permanent bodies of fresh or brackish water.

The nearest body of water to Jackie’s house is a dam, so that was likely to be its main haunt.

The water rat feeds on a wide range of prey including large insects, crustaceans, mussels and fishes, and even frogs, lizards, small mammals and water birds. It forages by swimming underwater.

 This rat is most active around sunset and may forage during the day, too. Other Australian rodents are mostly nocturnal.

ABC Science gives a lot more details, including the fact that water rats seem to eat cane toads with relative impunity.

The burrow is built ‘along the side of rivers and lakes’ – in Jackie’s case, probably next to the dam.

The body was in good condition, not chewed or outwardly attacked, so the cause of death is not obvious. They apparently live for two or three years in the wild.

It’s the first one I’ve ever seen – they are very shy and hard to detect.

Vale, Ratty!

 

The Water-rat feeds on a wide range of prey including large insects, crustaceans, mussels and fishes, and even frogs, lizards, small mammals and water birds. It forages by swimming underwater. Once it catches its prey, it usually carries it back to a regular feeding site. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-rat/#sthash.QNE1GE20.dpuf
The Water-rat is one of Australia’s largest rodents and is usually found near permanent bodies of fresh or brackish water.The Water-rat is one of Australia’s only two amphibious mammals (the platypus is the other). They live in burrows alongside river and lake banks. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-rat/#sthash.QNE1GE20.dpuf
The Water-rat is one of Australia’s largest rodents and is usually found near permanent bodies of fresh or brackish water.The Water-rat is one of Australia’s only two amphibious mammals (the platypus is the other). They live in burrows alongside river and lake banks. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-rat/#sthash.QNE1GE20.dpuf
The Water-rat is one of Australia’s largest rodents and is usually found near permanent bodies of fresh or brackish water.The Water-rat is one of Australia’s only two amphibious mammals (the platypus is the other). They live in burrows alongside river and lake banks. – See more at: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-rat/#sthash.QNE1GE20.dpuf
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The red phallus

Get your minds out of the gutter, folks – I’m talking about the fabulous stinkhorn fungus, Phallus rubicundus. Several have popped up in the garden lately, but this one is the most spectacular.

Phallus rubicundus

Phallus rubicundus, a stinkhorn fungus

The gucky, slimy brown substance on the right is what’s left of the spore-bearing head (compare with the better photos at the Australian Fungi blog). The reference books describe it as ‘foetid’, but this one wasn’t smelly, perhaps because it’s breaking up. The smell attracts insects, which distribute the spores.

The fruiting body (stalk) comes from a puffball, like the one still in the ground on the left.

Fuhrer’s A Field Guide to Australian Fungi says:

Usually found on organic humus and decaying wood debris in tropical and subtropical habitats.

It has a wordwide distribution. Nice one, Nature!

 

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Blue banded bee

When you think of bees, you might well visualise the introduced European honey bee (Apis mellifera), but Australia has over 1500 species of its own. Lately this Amegilla sp. has been buzzing loudly around. It is slightly smaller than the regular Apis.

Blue banded bee (Amegilla)

Blue banded bee (Amegilla sp.)

The Australian Native Bee Research Centre has info on these bees and other native species, and is worth a click around the website. Amegilla is a solitary species, unlike the very social European honey bee.

The Australian Museum says:

The [female] common blue banded bee builds a solitary nest, but often close to one another. It prefers soft sandstone to burrow in, and areas of this type of rock can become riddled with bee tunnels. It also like mud-brick houses and often burrows into the mortar in old buildings. Cells at the end of the tunnel contain an egg with a pollen/nectar mixture for the emerging larva.

These bees use a particular technique for pollinating flowers, called ‘buzz pollination’. The Australian Native Bee Research Centre says:

Some flowers hide their pollen inside tiny capsules. A blue banded bee can grasp a flower like this and shiver her flight muscles, causing the pollen to shoot out of the capsule. She can then collect the pollen for her nest and carry it from flower to flower, pollinating the flowers. Quite a few of our native Australian flowers require buzz pollination eg Hibbertia, Senna.

It can sting, but is not as aggressive as the European honey bee. We also have stingless bees. I saw some in Chillingham, and they were tiny, about 3 mm long.

It’s always cheering to see a busy bee intent upon its business, and even nicer when it is as pretty as this one.

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Another titan

I’ve seen titan stick insects (Acrophylla titan) before, but it is always a thrill to see another one of these massive leaf-eating creatures.

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

This one was about 19 cm from tail to top of head.

Titan stick insect, Acrophylla titan

Titan_3Brisbane Insects says they are the longest insect in Australia, up to 30 cm. The Australian Museum gives details on the life and times, and gives a max. length of 25 cm. Pretty darned awesome.

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My little longicorn

I’ve seen a longicorn beetle previously, but this one is different: it looks like the sheep longicorn, Monohammus frenchi or Dihammus ovinus, according to Brisbane Insects. Update: Chris McKay at CSIRO asked one of their experts, who says its Disterna plumifera.

Sheep longicorn beetle, New South Wales

Longicorn beetle, Disterna plumerifera, body about 3 cm long

Sheep longicorn_2Sheep longicorn_3Sometimes longicorns have very long antennae, much longer than this one does. The pattern is said to look like the wool of sheep, hence the common name. Sounds to me like that was a long night of trying to come up with a name in the museum basement. And I am familiar with museum basements.

The larvae (grubs) bore mainly into the branches of growing eucalypts. This can cause branches to fall off, and even the death of the tree if the infestation is severe. Fancy being nibbled to death? Me neither!

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Ah, petrichor! And beetles and bugs

Ever wonder if there’s a name for that particular smell that happens when it rains on hot dry dust? Well, there is – it’s petrichor.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, its origins are:

1960s: blend of petro- ‘relating to rocks’ (the smell is believed to be caused by a liquid mixture of organic compounds which collects in the ground) and ichor.

Wikipedia gives more:

The term was coined in 1964 by two Australian researchers, Bear and Thomas, for an article in the journal Nature.In the article, the authors describe how the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, a metabolic by-product of certain Actinobacteria, which is emitted by wet soil, producing the distinctive scent; ozone may also be present if there is lightning. In a follow-up paper, Bear and Thomas (1965) showed that the oil retards seed germination and early plant growth. This would indicate that the plants exude the oil in order to safeguard the seeds from germination under duress.

We smelt it the other day, after a long time without rain. Lismore has had the driest summer in 115 years – the wet season just failed to materialise. Instead of the 100-300 mL we usually get in January and February, it’s been 55 and 34. It feels wrong, and I have to say that I’ve enjoyed a (relatively) less humid summer, but not the hot temperatures that sometimes came with it.

A charming visitor appeared last week. According to both the Australian Museum and the Queensland Museum, it’s a female Lyraphora obliquata. Not much is known about the habits or biology of this species.

Female Lyraphora obliquata, Larnook, Northern NSW

Female Lyraphora obliquata, Larnook, Northern NSW

The colourful bug below was photographed by a neighbour (the graininess is because it’s from an iPhone). It’s the nymph of the eucalyptus tip-wilter bug, Amorbus alternatus.

Nymph (youngster) of the eucalyptus tip-wilter bug, Amorbus alternatus

Nymph (youngster) of the eucalyptus tip-wilter bug, Amorbus alternatus

Brisbane Insects has photos of both the adult eucalyptus tip-wilter bugs and nymphs.

As you know, insects go through many stages before reaching the adult form, and these instars look nothing like the adult or, often, each other. All fun and games for the hapless insect identifier.

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