The wattle pig

I avoid common names of critters, if possible, as they tend to change from place to place, whereas the scientific names are fixed (until the taxonomists start having arguments, bless them). But until you get used to them, scientific names can be a mouthful (I thank my Latin teachers at high school plus my zoology training for not having too many problems). And sometimes the common names are delicious.

There’s the spiny lumpsucker, the pleasing fungus beetle, the pink fairy armadillo, the raspberry crazy ant, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, the hellbender, the star-nosed mole, the blob fish, the strange-tailed tyrant – if you google these names, you’ll see that they are pretty descriptive.

And take this weevil, probably a species of Leptopius, called the wattle pig, as it feeds on wattle leaves. According to George Hangay and Paul Zborowski’s A Guide to the Beetles of Australia, CSIRO 2010 (hello, George!), not all Leptopius are associated with wattles.

It was on the clothes line at the back of my house. Even a chore like hanging up washing can be interesting if you keep your eyes open.


Leptopius species

Beetles are often hard to see and I’d rather see them alive, but sometimes one can marvel at exhibits in museums,  like the one below in the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston.

Beetle display, Launceston Museum

Beetle display, Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, Tasmania

Scientific names often describe the creature’s features in Latin, but scientists do have a sense of humour and there are some pretty strange scientific names out there. The names all have to conform with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. Australian Geographic magazine has an article on some of them: Gelae bean (say it out loud – a small, shiny beetle), Macrostyphlus frodo and M. gandalf (beetles again), Ytu brutus (and again, for all you Latinophiles), and Agra vation, Agra cadabra and Agra phobia (all beetles). Lest you get the idea that entomologists are more fun than other scientists (though they may well be), there’s Ittibitium (a genus of very small molluscs), Wunderpus photogenicus (an octopus), Ba humbugi (a Pacific island snail), Han solo (a trilobite, extinct), Arthurdactylus conandoylensis (a pterosaur, extinct) and Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi (a spider). There are many other examples, but you get the general idea.

Usually it is the describing scientist who creates the name but, as the Smithsonian says, if you want one named after yourself:

You can discover one and name it yourself.

A colleague, friend or family member might have enough new species lying around and be willing to name one after you.

If you have enough money, you could pay an institution or charity to give a species your name. Scripps Institution of Oceanography [in 2008] offered naming rights for several ocean species, starting from the rock-bottom price of US$5,000.

Of course, if you’re famous, a scientist may honor you. But naming a creature after a person seems to lack a certain amount of creativity. After all, the rules for naming species are surprisingly open: the name must not be offensive, must be spelled in only the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet and may be derived from any language. In fact, a name need not be derived from anything at all; the rules state that an arbitrary combination of letters is also perfectly acceptable. (In contrast, astronomical bodies—like stars, asteroids and planets—have strict naming conventions overseen by committees.) So why shouldn’t a biologist have some fun when naming something she discovered?

Why not, indeed?

Posted in Animals on land, Insects | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Neon cuckoo bee

This pretty bee was photographed by my neighbour, Amanda, in her backyard. It’s the neon cuckoo bee, Thyreus notidulus.

Neon cuckoo bee; photo by Amanda Pawski

Neon cuckoo bee; photo by Amanda Pawski

It’s a native bee, about the same size as the European honey bee, and does sting (Amanda was stung on the foot). Many of our native bees don’t.

It parasitises the nests of another native bee, the blue-banded bee, Amegilla cingulata. A. cingulata burrows in the ground and lays each egg in a separate cell, packing them with pollen food provisions. T. notidulus slips in before the cell is sealed and lays its own egg. The cuckoo bee’s larva hatches before the blue-banded’s and eats the pollen, starving the blue-banded. Australian Geographic has an article about this behaviour.

It’s a jungle out there.

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Dancing the flamenco at Woody Head

We went to Woody Head on Saturday for the regular folk music/dance event that our friends have been doing for over 20 years, but only for the day. It’s a good spot for snorkelling and looking in rock pools (nudibranchs!), as many of my previous posts attest.

We weren’t there Sunday but Peter and Linda were in the water as usual, and Linda found a Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineus). I’ve longed to see one in the wild and managed to while snorkelling in the Lord Howe Island lagoon, but it was a long way down so I didn’t get a proper look. (All photos by Linda Scharf)

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Hexabranchus sanguineus 15/5/2016 Woody Head NSW

Wikipedia says:

During daytime, the Spanish dancer hides away from the light in the crevices of its natural habitat to only come out late at night. It feeds on various species of sponge. Like all nudibranchs, it is hermaphrodite and its bright red to pink egg ribbon has a spiral shape related to the size of the animal so relatively large. The latter is coveted by some other species of nudibranch as Favorinus tsuragunus or Favorinus japonicus. The Emperor shrimp, Periclimenes imperator, is a commensal shrimp that is commonly found living on Hexabranchus sanguineus.

Well done, Linda. Next time I’m staying overnight!

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What is it with roses?

For humans, roses have a connection with romance and love – the beauty and the pain, I suppose. For giant spiny stick insects, my rose bush provided food, protection and a place to mate. Seems it is the same for slugs!

Mating red triangle slugs

Mating red triangle slugs


I had initially looked at them from a different angle and thought it was one huge slug, as they reportedly grow up to 15 cm. These both looked about 4 cm, but would have been longer when stretched out.  The hole within the triangle is a breathing pore. The red triangle slug (Triboniophorus graeffei) is Australia’s largest native land slug and is common down the east coast in Queensland and New South Wales.

One giant slug?

One giant slug? No!

The Australian Museum says:

The red triangle slug is usually found grazing on microscopic algae growing on the surface of smooth-barked eucalypt trees, leaving behind scalloped tracks as it goes. If given the chance, it will also remove bathroom mould.

Now there’s an idea!

It also says:

Native slugs can be differentiated from introduced slugs because they have only one pair of tentacles, while introduced snails and slugs have two pairs. Also, the saddle-shaped mantle seen in introduced snails is reduced or absent in native snails and slugs.

The slugs have gone now, and so have the three stick insects. One female stick insect disappeared, and then I found the remains of the male wrapped in spider silk. There’s a garden orb weaver spider that nightly weaves a big web a couple of metres from the rose bush, and it seems he flew into it. Last to go was the second female – I was working in my office, which overlooks the rose bush, and heard a crash, looked out the window and saw a kookaburrra entangled in it. The kookie inelegantly disentangled itself and flew off with the female in its bill. The rose leaves had been eaten by the stick insects to such an extent that she was not hidden so well.

Now that these tenants have left, I am going to cut back that rose bush, with the aim of encouraging more leaf growth for future tenants. Wonder what I’ll find there next?

Posted in Animals on land | Tagged | 1 Comment

The love birds

We’ve had a flock of 35 yellow-tailed black cockatoos around for a week or so. They feed on pine cone seeds and the like, and they are big birds.

They have a loud, distinctive call, ascending and descending, which could be heard as a cry of delight. Hear it on the Birds in Backyards website here.

For some reason, a few decided to alight on the statue of Aphrodite/Venus in the front yard. Hence the title of the post (geddit?).

Sorry that the images are a bit fuzzy but I had to take them through a flyscreen. Plus they move fast!

Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_1 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_2 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_3 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_4 Yellow-tailed black cockatoos_5


So much for those small parrots in pet shops laughingly called ‘lovebirds’ – I’d rather have these!

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A pot of gold in the front yard?

It’s not often you see a rainbow in your own front yard. We were sitting on the front porch appreciating a thunderstorm the other day, and noticed this one as the sun started to break through.

The rainbow connection

Red-necked pademelons live in the forest and come out to feed just there – maybe they are really leprechauns in disguise, guarding their pot of gold.

Posted in Weather | 4 Comments

Miscellaneous moths and mushrooms

Wandering and/or bashing along bush tracks, we often saw life forms of various persuasions.

Moths, for example …

Granny Moth (or Old Lady Moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania

Granny moth (or old lady moth) Dasypodia selenophora, Arthur River, Tasmania


Moth_Arthur River

Unidentified moth, Arthur River

… and mushrooms. I took most of the following photos in the Tarkine, a cool temperate rainforest. The others were in the heathland near the coast. Both environments were very dry – Tasmania has had record low rainfall lately. A dry rainforest is a sad sight indeed. I won’t attempt to identify them as it’s hard from a photo unless you already know your mushrooms; sometimes you need a microscope to differentiate the spores.

Tarkine fungus_2

An agaric fungus

Tarkine fungus_1

A polypore (left)

Arthur River fungus_4



Arthur River fungus_1


Arthur River fungus_2

Arthur River fungus_3

A bolete fungus (no gills but tubes that open at pores on the underside of the cap)




Not wombat poo (which is cubic)


Arthur river fungus_6

Arthur river fungus_7 Arthur river fungus_8

I can see why people are fascinated by the different forms and colours.

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