Ruling the roof

Snakey is back! I should probably give him or her (let’s say ‘him’ for convenience, as it’s more likely – read below) a clever name like Ouroboros or Naga, but ‘Snakey’ is much quicker to say when I’m excitedly calling out to Andrew to come see this gorgeous critter, all 10 feet (3 metres) of him.

Carpet python, Morelia spilota

Carpet python, Morelia spilota


He’s a carpet python (Morelia spilota). Last week I’d seen him crawling up the side of the house and into the roof, but it was after dark and the flash of the camera may have startled him so I didn’t take pics. I’d heard a crash on the back deck and went to investigate. The first hint was some potplants, containing herbs, laying on the floor. This time he gracefully avoided knocking them over. (Speaking of herbs, it must be spring – the noisy miners have started their annual thieving of thyme. I wonder if the smell discourages mites in their nest.)

Snakey_2 Snakey_3 Snakey_4

We’d once had the privilege of watching Snakey shed his skin. He’d hooked it on the side of the roof somewhere and stretched down full length, peeling it off like a glove. The new skin was fresh and sparkling, and once he’d gone back up we retrieved it. It was softer than kidskin and so wide and stretchy that I could put my hand all the way inside. Eventually it dried out and split. The skin had visible pelvic spurs so we thought it was a male. (Females have them, too, but not so big.)

Snakey_5 Snakey_6 Snakey_7 Snakey_8

Fortunately, the guy who comes to check our termite situation every year is used to Snakey and happily goes into the roof whether he’s there or not. The guy delivering – and supposedly installing – a gas bottle a couple of years ago was not so thrilled. He’d arrived on a day we were both out, saw the long, shed skin on the ground near the empty gas bottle, and left without installing the new one.

We’re happy to have Snakey in our roof. He eats rats and mice – I wish he’d go for feral cats, too, but they are probably too smart to be caught. A friend sent me some photos of a carpet python eating a possum (click here), so a cat would not be a problem size-wise. Snakey’s been our roof tenant for many years. In captivity, carpets live 15 to 20 years, so I hope he will grace us with his presence for many years to come.

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Shell eats starfish

The Australian Institute of Marine Science has posted an article and a great video of a Pacific triton (Charonia tritonis) eating a crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Click here. The article discusses the predator/prey relationship between the two.

Pacific triton (Charonia tritonis); photo David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library, Wikimedia Commons

Pacific triton (Charonia tritonis); photo David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library, Wikimedia Commons


Crown-of-thorns starfish

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci); photo Richard A. Collato, Wikimedia Commons

This starfish eats coral polyps, so spikes in its population cause the whitening of parts of the Great Barrier Reef when they occur. Pacific tritons help keep the starfish population in check.

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Lichen larva

Here’s another photo from deepest, darkest Ashby, near Maclean. Peter asked me to ID this strange leafy thing (all the photos of the lichen monster below are Peter’s). I initially thought it might be some sort of lichen fruiting body, but he said it definitely moved around so was probably an insect. A quick request to the Queensland Museum revealed something interesting.

moth caterpillar from the genus Enispa_2







It’s the caterpillar of a moth of the genus Enispa.

moth caterpillar from the genus Enispa_3moth caterpillar from the genus Enispa_1For you taxonomists, it’s family Erebidae, subfamily Boletobiinae, tribe Aventiini.

Dr Christine Lambkin, Curator of Terrestrial Biodiversity (Entomology), identified it for us. In 2012 she had written an article about it the Entomological Society of Queensland News Bulletin (Lambkin, C. L., Edwards, E. D. & Buckingham, C. ( 2012) Another Enispa (Walker) (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Aventiini) for Brisbane? News Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Queensland 40,  40-42).

One had been brought into the museum by a member of the public and at that stage its exact ID was unknown, although it was clearly a caterpillar of some kind. The only way to be sure was to feed it, let it grow to maturity and see what it turned into. The eventual pupa hung suspended off a leaf and produced a brown moth. If you can track down the article, you will see a photo of both pupa and moth. (Sorry, I can’t reproduce those photos here as they are copyrighted.)

The entomologists at the museum concluded that ‘it was an unnamed but recognised species of Enispa found from Brisbane to Maclean’. These caterpillars are thought to ‘feed on lichens, the larvae camouflaging themselves with a covering of lichen fragments that are used later to form their cocoons’.

Mazza in Copmanhurst recently sent me photos of some other larvae, this time casemoths.

Unknown casemoth larvae; photo by Mazza Verdante

Unknown casemoth larvae; photo by Mazza Verdante

Casemoth Larvae_Copmanhurst_2

Casemoth Larvae Copmanhurst_3Once again, it’s impossible to tell what it is unless you feed it (noticing what it eats in the wild) until it pupates and turns into a moth. You can see photos of quite a variety of other Australian casemoths here. I’ve posted a photo of a different casemoth before.

It’s another case (sorry!) of a small thing that produces big interest.

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Pretty (and) stinky

My lovely friends sometimes send me photos of interesting things. One such is the fruit body of the stinkhorn, Phallus indusiatus. It is sometimes called the crinoline fungus because of its stiff, white ‘petticoat’ (in botanical terms, the indusium). This one comes from Ashby, near Yamba.

Phallus indusiatus

Phallus indusiatus; photo by Peter Wrightson



The brown sticky substance on the top contains spores and is the stinky part. Flies and other insect lovers of rotting material are attracted and carry off the spores. According to Fuhrer’s A Field Guide to Australian Fungi, they are found on organic debris in rainforest and on organic wood mulch and compost. The fruit body can reach 18 cm high and diameter 3 cm.

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Stink bug

Here’s another bug found by Liam on the Larapinta Trail, west of Alice Springs. According to the SA Museum, it’s a stink bug, Poecilometis nigriventis superbus.

Sjield bug, Poecilometis nigriventris superbus, Larapinta Trail, NT

Stink bug, Poecilometis nigriventris superbus, Larapinta Trail, NT; photo by Liam Bolitho




The Queensland Museum says:

Both the adults and nymphs of stink bugs secrete a corrosive, smelly substance as a chemical defence against predators. This fluid has a repulsive smell and can be very painful if it gets in your eyes. If this does happen, wash your eyes with copious amounts of water or saline solution. There are more than 550 Australian species of stink and shield bugs, most in the Family Pentatomidae.

 If you, like me, have ever been squirted in the eye by an orange citrus bug, you will agree that it is very painful.

There are no occurrence records of this one at the Atlas of Living Australia, so I might just have to add it there. It’s something anyone can do, so get out there, amateur naturalists of Australia, take photos and add to this citizen science website!

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Blistered grasshopper

Field ecologist Liam Bolitho has been walking the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory and gave me this photo of the stunning blistered grasshopper (Monistria pustulifera), also known as the inland painted grasshopper or blistered pygromorph. It’s gorgeous!

Blistered grasshopper, Larapinta Trail; photo by Liam Bolitho

Blistered grasshopper, Larapinta Trail; photo by Liam Bolitho

The Atlas of Living Australia gives locations, and the Larapinta Trail is in the right area. It is a short-winged, flightless grasshopper. It’d be worth doing the trek just to see it.

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A jewel of the forest

We were fortunate to come across a noisy pitta (Pitta versicolor) in the Lennox Head headland littoral rainforest recently. We heard something foraging among the leaves and at first thought the sound was of a brush turkey scratching in the leaf litter – thrilled to discover otherwise.

Noisy pitta_Lennox headland_1

Noisy pitta, Lennox headland

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Graeme Chapman, famous Australian birdman, says:

They are fairly shy and, except for a few determined birdwatchers, few people ever see them although there are the odd locations where they have become used to humans.

So I guess the Lennox headland rainforest is just such a place. It has a popular walking track through it but the rainforest is fenced off from people and their dogs-on-leashes on both sides of the track. Most of the trees were planted as seedlings and the habitat restoration is coming along nicely. The many birds there sure appreciate it.

Here’s someone else’s shot of a pitta out in the open. Stunning, eh?

Photo by Summerdrought, Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Summerdrought, Wikimedia Commons

The noisy pitta flings aside leaves (we saw it doing that) to find earthworms, insects and snails. It also eats some forest fruits. It uses an ‘anvil’ (a stone or hard surface) to smash the shells of the snails. Glen Fergus found such an anvil on Moreton Island (next photo).

Noisy pitta anvil; photo by Glen Fergus

Noisy pitta anvil and opened snail shells; photo by Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons

Its call, which I didn’t hear, has been described as ‘walk-to-work’. You can hear it on Graeme Chapman’s website.



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