Consorting with the devil

Tasmanian devils have a big problem in the form of devil facial tumour disease (DFTD). The population of the already endangered species has plummeted. This heart-breaking photo says it all.

[Update: To protect the squeamish, I’ve put the confronting photo on the next page. Click ‘Continue reading’ to read more.]

Continue reading

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The lion kings

You’ll not hear these lions roar (Jane in Cape Town says lions don’t roar but merely cough, and she should know – Attenborough and Disney, you lied!), but they can certainly do you an injury if you mess with them.

The spines are venomous as distinct from poisonous, which is something different. The Smithsonian says:

Some people use the words interchangeably because once in the body, the chemicals do similar damage, attacking the heart, brain or other vital targets. But the terms do mean very different things. Traditionally, venomous creatures bite, sting or stab you to do their damage, while you have bite or touch poisonous critters to feel their effects. That means venomous organisms need a way in, like fangs or teeth.

In fact, lionfish are distinctly edible as long as you avoid the spines. Several countries have invasive populations creating environmental havoc in their seas, but have made an industry of catching and serving them in restaurants – a win-win situation in those places.

Those spines are defensive and can give you an extremely painful, but not fatal, prod.

NOAA says:

The lionfish’s sharp, slender spines are located on the dorsal, anal and pelvic fins. The venom is a combination of protein, a neuromuscular toxin, and a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The sting causes intense pain, redness and swelling around the wound site. Although the worst of the pain is over after an hour or two, some people report pain and tingling sensations around the wound for several days or weeks. On rare occasions, when the venom spreads to other parts of the body, people may experience headaches, chills, cramps, nausea, and even paralysis and seizures.

Now back to Woody Head, where Peter Scharf took these photos. The first three are of the zebra lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra. Its distribution in Australia is Shark Bay, WA to Sydney, NSW. (Distributions are given in a clockwise direction around the country.)

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Zebra lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra; photo Peter Scharf

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Zebra lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra; photo: Peter Scharf

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Zebra lionfish, Dendrochirus zebra; photo: Peter Scharf

The next three are of the common lionfish, Pterois volitans. Its distribution in Australia is Rottnest Island, WA to Jervis Bay, NSW. The Queensland Museum says: ‘This specimen is juvenile, hence some features vary somewhat from that found in the adult.’

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Juvenile common lionfish, Pterois volitans; photo: Peter Scharf

Juvenile lionfish, Pterois volitans; photo: Peter Scharf

Juvenile common lionfish, Pterois volitans; photo: Peter Scharf

Juvenile lionfish, Pterois volitans; photo: Peter Scharf

Juvenile common lionfish, Pterois volitans; photo: Peter Scharf

In the ocean, the mighty ocean, these lions are not sleeping tonight, as that’s when they hunt mostly crustaceans and other fish. [S]wim away!

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Naked (gills) at Woody Head

Peter has been busy with his underwater camera. He found some nudibranchs while snorkelling at Woody Head, northern NSW. Many thanks to Peter for letting me use his photos.

I’m sure you know already but, in case you don’t, the name  ‘nudibranch’ means ‘naked gill’. Nudis are (usually) tiny molluscs that are brightly coloured and apparently taste ghastly to potential predators (at least according to Ed Ricketts, who had a chew). They have been measured at 6 mm to 31 cm (0.25″ to 12″ for you imperialists).

National Geographic explains:

They are carnivores that slowly ply their range grazing on algae, sponges, anemones, corals, barnacles, and even other nudibranchs. To identify prey, they have two highly sensitive tentacles, called rhinophores, located on top of their heads. Nudibranchs derive their coloring from the food they eat, which helps in camouflage, and some even retain the foul-tasting poisons of their prey and secrete them as a defense against predators.

Nudibranchs are simultaneous hermaphrodites, and can mate with any other mature member of their species. Their lifespan varies widely, with some living less than a month, and others living up to one year. …

Some nudibranchs are solar-powered, storing algae in their outer tissues and living off the sugars produced by the algae’s photosynthesis.

The first is Hypselodoris maritima …

Hypselodoris maritima

Hypselodoris maritima

Here are some more Peter found …

Mexichromis festiva

Mexichromis festiva

Hypselodoris obscura

Hypselodoris obscura

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Rostanga arbutus

Here is Dendrodoris nigra. In the last couple of shots, the ‘branch’ (by which they take in oxygen from the seawater) of the nudibranch is out, whereas in the first two it is not so visible.

Dendrodoris nigra

Dendrodoris nigra

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Dendrodoris nigra

In case you are wondering what a 12″ nudi might be, it’s the splendid Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineus). Peter took this one on Lord Howe Island …

Hexabranchus sanguineus (Spanish dancer)

Hexabranchus sanguineus (Spanish dancer)

IDs courtesy of Gary Cobb and Richard Willan’s fine book, Undersea Jewels, and app, available from http://www.nudibranch.com.au.

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The racing stripe flatworm

The Woody Head rock platform and bay have many great marine animals easily seen by snorkellers. I’ve written many posts about this area; you can use the search function on this blog to track them down.

An example is the beautiful marine flatworm, Pseudoceros sp. [Update: Gary Cobb of http://www.nudibranch.com.au/ thinks it is an undescribed species of Pseudoceros.]

Pseudoceros bifurcus

Pseudoceros sp.; all photos by Peter Scharf

 

 

 

 

 

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Museum Victoria says:

They are voracious predators which attack and digest prey with eversible (able to be turned inside out) mouthparts (called a pharynx). Oysters are a favourite food, but no doubt there are many prey preferences and other associations with invertebrates that are yet to be discovered. Many flatworms are strikingly coloured, are toxic to other invertebrates, or mimic other invertebrates (or all three). Sex in flatworms is bizarre. Flatworms are hermaphrodites (each worm has both male and female reproductive systems) and sex may involve “penis fencing” whereby each worm tries to spear sperm into the other. Sort of like a “pin the tail on the donkey” game, albeit with significant family planning consequences.

An excellent guide to flatworms is the book and CD set, Fabulous Flatworms: A Guide to Marine Polyclads by Leslie Newman & Lester Cannon.

Here’s a bunch of enthusiastic Woody Head amateur marine biologists, doing what comes naturally …

Woody snorkellers

Happy new year, folks!

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Hastings Point marine museum

I’m a bit of a museum nut. Having worked as a curator’s assistant in the South Australian Museum of Natural History (marine invertebrates section), I appreciate the tremendous dedication, enthusiasm and plain hard work that goes into such places.

Large state museums are one thing, but there are other, off-the-radar places quietly doing their thing to educate kids (and adults, which I regard as just as important) about the fabulous creatures of the sea and the work we need to get on with to help that environment (which is, after all, helping ourselves, even if some of us don’t value it for itself). You just have to know where to find them.

One such place is the Marine Environments Field Study and Resource Centre (aka Adventure Education) at Hastings Point, northern NSW. The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website explains:

Ted Bram­bleby BSc is the found­ing direc­tor of Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion. For the past 45 years his goal has been to immerse stu­dents into the won­ders and the mir­a­cle of the marine world. Ker­rie Trees left  sec­ondary teach­ing after meet­ing Ted under­wa­ter in Byron Bay in 1998. Together they have cre­ated the only pri­vately run and funded Marine Edu­ca­tion field trip facil­ity of its kind in Aus­tralia. Using a mul­ti­di­men­sional approach to edu­ca­tion through a phi­los­o­phy that true edu­ca­tion hap­pens through active par­tic­i­pa­tion in the envi­ron­ment and not lim­ited to the class­room today the facil­ity based at the 5 star North Star car­a­van park at Hast­ings Point receives vis­i­ta­tion from over 80 schools for Day Vis­its and 1–3 night field trip camps.

The Adven­ture Edu­ca­tion team of Teach­ers and Marine naturalists facil­i­tate a range of pro­grams that are edu­ca­tional, informative and fun. In addi­tion to immers­ing them­selves in the nat­ural beauty of the Hast­ings Point ecosys­tems Stu­dents, teach­ers, guests of the North Star and com­mu­nity groups also expe­ri­ence the most com­pre­hen­sive and unique Marine Museum on the eastern sea board of Aus­tralia with over 200 hun­dred pre­served and dried marine spec­i­mens. Inter­ac­tive edu­ca­tion ses­sions com­bine detailed bio­log­i­cal con­cepts with the fas­ci­nat­ing visu­al­iza­tion of stereo micro­scope pro­jec­tion of live pre­served marine spec­i­mens to big screen tele­vi­sion. All stu­dents and guests will be inspired to lighten their car­bon foot­print and to make a dif­fer­ence in our collec­tive efforts to pre­serve our ocean planet home.

Ted also wrote “Australian marine fish workbook” and “Marine biology for beginners: tropical Australia” with Neville Coleman, and was awarded “Queensland science teacher of the year”.

Ted Brambleby

Ted Brambleby, marine biologist, educator and enthusiast

Adventure Education_1 Adventure Education_2 Adventure Education_3 Adventure Education_4

Shovel-nosed ray mouth

Shovel-nosed ray mouth

The Venus flower basket (below) is fascinating. It is the skeleton of a sponge that lives at depth, and a couple of shrimp (male and female) use it as a permanent shelter (see the Real Monstrosities website for their story). It is also home to bioluminescent bacteria, making it a glow-in-the-dark beauty.

Venus flower basket

Venus flower basket (front)

Adventure Education_7

Hastings Point area, showing the snorkelling and rock pool areas (left)

Adventure Education_5 Adventure Education_6 Adventure Education_8

Adventure Education_9

Adventure Education_13

Dugong skull

Adventure Education_10 Adventure Education_11 Adventure Education_12 Adventure Education_14 Adventure Education_15 Adventure Education_16 Adventure Education_17

Adventure Education_18

Well done, Ted and Kerrie. Photographs do not do justice to the place.

The Marine Discoveries Centres Australia website also lists more such small facilities Australia-wide. You might like to visit some. I certainly intend to.

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Yes, we have some mammatus

Finally, on the way back from Hastings Point, we spotted a cloud formation I’ve been keen to see. It’s the aptly named ‘mammatus’.

Mammatus cloud formation

Mammatus cloud formation

Mammatus_3

Mammatus in context

Other people have been in the right place at the right time and seen truly spectacular examples.

Mammatus clouds over Regina, Saskatchewan (Image: Craig Lindsay/Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds over Regina, Saskatchewan (image: Craig Lindsay, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds (image: Zachary Hauri, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus clouds (image: Zachary Hauri, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus in San Antonio, USA (image: Derrich, Wikimedia Commons)

Mammatus in San Antonio, USA (image: Derrich, Wikimedia Commons)

They are associated with severe storms, and the Wikipedia article on mammatus details how they form and has more photos. The Cloud Appreciation Society also has pics.

We certainly appreciated these clouds!

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Dinosaurs on the move

The Dinosaur Discovery exhibition at the Queensland Museum (developed by the Western Australian Museum and constructed by Chinese animatronic specialists) is pretty impressive. The website says:

Dinosaur Discovery: Lost Creatures of the Cretaceous gives you a chance to experience life on Earth 145 million years ago.

Featuring more than 20 animated, life-size dinosaur models, including the fearsome T-Rex, and Queensland’s very own Muttaburrasaurus, Dinosaur Discovery: Lost Creatures of the Cretaceous will transport you back millions of years to when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

Get up close with these titans of the Cretaceous and see first-hand how they moved, roared, gnashed and bellowed.

Each dinosaur has been made to scientific specifications to capture the real look, feel, sound and movement of these magnificent creatures, giving you a close up look at some of the most extraordinary creatures to have ever walked the Earth.

You know you’ve reached the right place when you get to the museum. Note the dinosaur descendant at the top right of the photo.

Brachiosaurus animatronic at the entrance to the Queensland Museum

Brachiosaurus animatronic at the entrance to the Queensland Museum

They start you off with the small, cute ones …

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Leaellynasaura

… then progress to the slightly larger, more threatening ones (Australovenator) which roar, wave their claws and breathe. If you move away, they stop moving – if you go back, they start up again.

Australovenator

Australovenator

On to Australia’s 0.7 m long ankylosaur, Minmi paravertebra

Australia's minmi

Australia’s Minmi

Tail of the minmi

Wagging tail of the Minmi

The somewhat larger ornithopod, Muttaburrasaurus (Minmi in foreground) …

Muttaburrasaurus

Our very own Muttaburrasaurus

Protoceratops from Mongolia …

Protoceratops andrewsi

Protoceratops andrewsi

Also from Mongolia, the Therizinosaurus

Therizinosaurus

Therizinosaurus

Therizinosaurus fossilised claw

Therizinosaurus fossilised claw

Amargasaurus (from what is now Argentina) with its peculiar neck spines …

Amargasaurus

Amargasaurus

Peculiar double spine

Peculiar ‘double spine’

Canadian Styracosaurus and baby …

Styracosaurus

Styracosaurus

Styracosaurus baby

Styracosaurus baby

From the USA, Deinosuchus, the extinct giant relative of alligators …

Deinosuchus

Deinosuchus (foreground)

The 5.4 metre high, 15 metre long Spinosaurus from North Africa …

065A

Spinosaurus

Swordfish …

069AAnd I thought American bullfrogs were big – Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar were apparently big enough to eat baby dinosaurs …

Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar

Beelzebufo ampinga from Madagascar

The 4.3 metre high, 11 metre long African Carcharodontosaurus

Carcharodontosaurus

Carcharodontosaurus

The burrowing Oryctodromeus cubicularis from Montana, USA …

Oryctodromeus cubicularis

Oryctodromeus cubicularis

No dino exhibit is complete without Tyrannosaurus rex. This model had to be re-made 80% shorter as the original was higher than the room in which it was meant to be housed.

Tyrannosaurus rex

Tyrannosaurus rex

The exhibit was well supplied with just enough information – not too little, not too much – on each dinosaur and how they fitted into the scheme of things in the Cretaceous. Additional info was available through interactive games and apps on smartphones or tablets.

Humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs, but the thing I probably enjoyed most was standing still and imagining myself coming face to face with living versions of these – awesome!

T rex

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