Studies in grey

It was a grey old day on the lowest spring tide day at Flat Rock, Ballina, last weekend. But – nudibranchs! (More on them later)

Andrew took these shots of seabirds – a pied cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius) and a little black cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris) among the crested terns (Thalasseus bergii).

Crested terns

Crested terns

pied-cormorant-and-little-black-cormorant

Pied cormorant (back); little black cormorant (front)

cormorants-and-crested-terns

little-black-cormorant_2little-black-cormorantThese are all common birds, but pleasant to observe nevertheless.

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Tiny treasures: the invertebrates

Some of the many enjoyable activities on the Hinterland Bush Links course involved the invertebrates of the subtropical rainforest. Our fearless leader was the enthusiastic Michelle Gleeson (of Bugs Ed and author of Miniature Lives).

Michelle Gleeson showing one of her bug boxes

Michelle Gleeson showing one of her bug boxes

 

 

 

 

bug-box_3 bug-box_2bug-box_4 bug-box-5

These bug boxes, which Michelle uses for her educational presentations, contain a selection of impressive beasties not just from Australia but from all over the world.

Michelle led us to likely spots to catch bugs. First was the important occupational health and safety chat. Then we were shown how to use various pieces of equipment.

bug-tracking

Then heads down and bums up …

bugging-in-the-blackbutt

Bugging in the blackbutt

bugging-in-the-rainforest

Bugging in the rainforest (tutor and herpetologist/naturalist Tony Bright on the right)

 

 

 

Cat, polar bear guide extraordinaire, was pleased with her earwig larva …

Well, it's white like a polar bear!

Well, it’s white like a polar bear!

 

Here’s the famous bush-tucker, witchetty grub, wood-eating larva of one of several moths.

Witchetty grub

Witchetty grub

 

Don’t lean against a tree with the web below on it. Underneath the web is the highly venomous northern tree funnelweb (Hadronyche formidabilis). You can see the silk triplines that alert the spider to things crawling over the surface – then it will rapidly leap out and grab its meal, retreating under the web in a split second.

Web of the tree funnelweb, Hadronyche formidabilis

Web of the tree funnelweb, Hadronyche formidabilis

 

If you looked under that web, you would probably see one of these …

Male (left) and female (right); photo Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons

Male (left) and female (right) northern tree funnelwebs (Hadronyche formidabilis); photo Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons

The Australian Museum says:

Most funnel-webs are ground dwellers but a few live in trees. The largest of all funnel-webs is the Northern Tree Funnel-web Spider, Hadronyche formidabilis, reaching 4 cm – 5 cm body length. These spiders live in the wet forests of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland and have been found over 30 m above ground. While many have their retreats in surface-opening branch rot-holes, some spiders appear to live and feed entirely inside the deadwood pipe of large forest trees like Tallow-wood, feeding on beetles and other insects inside this rotting wood habitat.

That tree was alive, though.

There were a lot of spider holes in the ground. Tony Bright thought they’d belong to trapdoor or wolf spiders (not all trapdoor spider holes have trap doors). Sometimes they can go as deep as a metre.

trapdoor-or-wolf-spider-burrow

trapdoor-spider-burrow

This trapdoor was very well camouflaged by moss on top.

While we’re on the subject of spiders, there’s a good article on Australian huntsmen here.

Among other finds were the egg case of a praying mantis …

Praying mantis egg case (Orthodera ministralis)

Praying mantis egg case (Orthodera ministralis)

 

and a case moth’s larva case …

Case moth larva case

Case moth larva case

 

Setting up a light trap at night did not attract many insects, perhaps because it was too cold …

light-trap

But this cute little moth did appear …

moth

Michelle told the intriguing story of the interaction between cycads and their pollinators, certain thrips, which eat the pollen. Science Daily writes about it here. Cycads come in separate male and female plants, and the males produce pollen for up to four weeks a year (depending on the cycad species). During this time, the male cone, in which the thrips live, heats up in the morning to something like 25 degrees above the air temperature, up to 38 degrees C (100 degrees F). This causes the thrips, with accompanying pollen, to leave as they can’t take the heat. The male cones also emit an airborne chemical toxic to thrips, making sure they go. The thrips float around and head for a female cone, which has emitted a pollen-like odour to attract them, and pollinate them with the pollen they’ve carried over from the male cone. (This is known as push-pull pollination.) The male cones cool down and stop emitting the toxic chemical later in the day, attracting the thrips back for another shot at the pollen, and round and round it goes for the pollination period. Cool, huh? Or hot, depending on the time of day.🙂

Despite contracting scrub itch (aka chiggers in the USA – perhaps allowing your study subjects to get a little too close to you?), I have to wholeheartedly endorse Michelle’s message …

love-bugs

 

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Big Scrub Rainforest Day 2016

Unfortunately, I won’t be going to this as I will be on Lord Howe Island on a citizen science project investigating insects, but the program does look good. (Unfortunately?)

bigscrub2016-program-1

bigscrub2016-program-2

bigscrub2016-program-3

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Fungi in the forests

I know very little about fungi except that it is always a delight to see them. The part we see, as you may know, is only the fruiting body. The ‘body’ of the fungus itself is underground.

Countrysideinfo explains the structure of fungi thus:

The main body of most fungi is made up of fine, branching, usually colourless threads called hyphae. Each fungus will have vast numbers of these hyphae, all intertwining to make up a tangled web called the mycelium. The mycelium is generally too fine to be seen by the naked eye, except where the hyphae are very closely packed together.

[The] fungal mycelium is mostly hidden from human view, not only because of its small size, but also as a result of its location. The tangled mycelial mass is usually hidden deep within its food sources, such as rotting matter in the soil, leaf litter, rotting wood, or dead animals. The mycelium remains undetected until it develops one or more fruiting bodies, containing the reproductive spores.

We did not go on a ‘fungi foray’ on the course, but I stumbled upon some anyway. The IDs, and any mistakes, are entirely my own (unless otherwise specified), using Frances Guard’s (and others) book, Australian Subtropical Fungi, and Australian Fungi – A Blog. Corrections are humbly appreciated.

Microporus xanthopus

Microporus xanthopus, decomposers of wood

 

 

Lactarius clarkeae

Phylloporus species, a gilled boleteit was massive!
(ID by Frances Guard) Boletes normally have pores rather than gills, but this one has been DNA’d to boletes.

 

 

 

Top of Lactarius clarkeae

Top of Phylloporus species

 

Pycnoporus coccineus

Stereum ostrea? These break down wood.

 

Frances Guard with Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)

Frances Guard (author of the book mentioned above) with Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)

 

Aricularia cornea (cloud ears)

Aricularia cornea (cloud ears) – these were so soft to touch

 

 

 

Pluteus sp

Pluteus species (ID by Fran)

 

Ganoderma australe

Ganoderma australe (ID by Fran)

Fran gave a one-hour talk on the basics of fungi, which you can pick up in any field guide or on the web, so I won’t regurgitate them here.

Next post will be on those tiny treasures, the subtropical invertebrates.

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Glamping in the Glass House

I’ve done my time bushwalking and rough camping, so I looked forward to a more comfortable camping experience at the four-day subtropical forests ecology course starting last weekend. It was held at Maleny Retreat Weddings, overlooking the spectacular, volcanic Glass House Mountains, about four hours’ drive north of home at Booroobin. It is Gubbi Gubbi country.

Glass House Mountains; Bribie Island and Moreton Island are in the background

Glass House Mountains, formed from volcanic hot spots; Bribie Island and Moreton Island are on the horizon

The glamp was quite comfortable and the thick canvas kept out the bitterly cold night winds surprisingly well (at 600 metres above sea level, it was chilly). Real mattresses, cor blimey! One of my neighbouring tent-dwellers had a mouse run over his face one night, but, hey, you can’t have everything🙂 The main part of the resort was not too far away for showers and food. And the catering was superb. Luxury!

I expected to see wallabies, bandicoots or pademelons on that luscious grass, but was surprised instead to see four deer running away. Apparently the many feral deer (released from the nearby deer farm when it went broke) are causing huge problems.

The glamp at dawn

The glamp at dawn – no wallabies to be seen

The course was run by Hinterland Bush Links and aimed to introduce us to the many interlinking aspects of subtropical forest ecology, both rainforest and blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) eucalypt forest.

A lot of information was crammed into the four days, from breakfast at 7 am to 9 pm, but it was worth it. There were practical exercises in site observation and analysis. We compared the two different forest systems under the guidance of a geologist and fauna, flora and fungi specialists. We also looked at the regeneration of disturbed systems, visiting what seemed pristine rainforest but which had been logged and burned a few decades ago. Blackbutt is an economically important hardwood.

We were divided into four groups and each group had a project to visit a private property (four very different ones were on offer), talk to the owners about what they had done regeneration-wise and then, pretending that we were the new owners, assess it using our newly gained knowledge and create a management plan, which was then presented to the rest of the participants.

I had never really looked at geology before, apart from sometimes wishing vaguely that I could read the landscape. Fergus Fitzgerald sparked a few lightglobes in my head about the importance of the ancient history beneath our feet and the formation of soils, and hence certain vegetation systems, from particular rock types.

Fergus in the rainforest

Fergus explaining the effects of geology in forming a rainforest

Fergus in the blackbutts

Fergus explaining soil formation in the blackbutt forest

spencer-shaw

Spencer Shaw talking about the plants of the subtropical rainforest, comparing them to the blackbutt forest

Fire is also a major factor – being wetter, rainforest resists burning but if the fire is too hot it will be destroyed. Blackbutt can usually regenerate, however.

Blackbutt forest

Blackbutt forest with felled log and stump

 

Subtropical rainforest

Subtropical rainforest at Branch Creek, also selectively felled a few decades ago, now a national park. The cedar-getters stopped this area from becoming pasture.

 

We had talks each night: Beverly Hand on Indigenous management of the landscape, Frances Guard on the ecological role of fungi, Les Hall on bats, and Michelle Gleeson on invertebrates. Spencer Shaw took us to his property to illustrate non-indigenous land management. Some people went spotlighting for frogs and birds. GIS software was discussed and Gwen Harden’s (and co-authors) interactive rainforest ID key was demonstrated.

Here are a couple of interesting flowers I hadn’t seen before.

Vine

Kennedia rubicunda

 

 

Paper plant

Helichrysum elatum (white paper daisy)

 

White flower

Caladenia catenata (white fingers)

The birds were pretty cryptic except for the usual suspects (without trying too hard, willy wagtails, pied butcherbirds, a satin bowerbird, eastern rosellas, welcome swallows, magpies, currawongs, bar-shouldered doves, red-browed firetails), but I did get a tawny frogmouth.

Tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

Tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)

 

My next post will be on the fungi I stumbled across there.

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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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