Tally Howe!

On Sunday I’m off on my fourth trip to Lord Howe Island World Heritage Area. I thought I wouldn’t go again after my third trip – there are too many other places to explore – but when a citizen science trip came on my radar, I couldn’t resist. It’s in conjunction with the Australian Geographic Society and the Australian National Insect Collection at CSIRO.

Painting displayed on Lord Howe; unknown artist

Painting displayed on Lord Howe Island; unknown artist

The Pinetrees (the lodge where I’m staying) website says:

The Australian Geographic Expedition is for ‘citizen scientists’ to work with scientists from Australian Geographic, the CSIRO and the Lord Howe Island Board. With expert support, people with a good level of fitness (i.e walk 5 km in 1.5 hours and be steady footed in steep mountain terrain) and interest in conservation (i.e. you don’t need any scientific training!) can help discover insect species, which are thought to be extinct, or close to extinct. Many species remain undescribed or unrecorded since 1978, so the expedition stands to make a significant contribution to conservation on Lord Howe Island.

You don’t need any special expertise to go on citizen science trips – just enthusiasm and the ability to pay the money. You pay your own way to get there; food, accommodation and a donation to the research are included in the fee. It’s great to get a different view from what you’d experience as a ‘normal’ tourist and meet like-minded people, too.

Earthwatch is another volunteer organisation that can take you worldwide as well as in Australia, and covers a lot of research areas. Curious Traveller took me to Tassie earlier in the year to help with Tassie devil research, and will take me in November to Maria Island in Tassie to help with hooded plover research (there are still places available on that one if you’re interested).

On Lord Howe, we’ll be out in the forest every day collecting insects. The one with the most media coverage is probably the ‘land lobster’, which I wrote about here. If you click on ‘Lord Howe Island’ in the tag cloud at right, you’ll find my other posts on Lord Howe. Much of each afternoon will be free time, so I’ll be off to the museum, or snorkelling with the turtles, or taking photos of critters in rock pools, or walking the beaches, or sipping a beer at the bar, or …

I’ll really looking forward to this trip and I’ll tell you all about it after I get back!

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Spring low tide at Flat Rock

The rock pools at Flat Rock have been covered in sand for a few months, but gradually the sand is clearing and seaweeds and algae (with associated fauna) are coming back. The lowest tides of the spring give a good opportunity to go further out on the platform than usual.

Here’s a nudibranch I’d not seen before, although they are apparently common – Discodoris fragilis. They grow up to 12 cm and this one was about 8 cm long. (IDs courtesy of Nudibranchs of the Sunshine Coast).

Discodoris fragilis

Discodoris fragilis

discodoris-fragilis_2 discodoris-fragilis_3

There was only one Discodoris fragilis, but over a dozen Plocamopherus imperialis – breeding time? They can grow up to 10 cm, but this one wouldn’t have reached 2 cm.

Plocamopherus imperialis

Plocamopherus imperialis


plocamopherus-imperialis_6red-and-orange-nudibranch-at-flat-rock-2Also common is Rostanga arbutus, max. size 1 cm. It’s tiny.

Rostanga arbutus

Rostanga arbutus

Below is possibly Kaloplocamus acutus – if it is, it’s way off the 6 cm length of adults. This one might have been 1 cm.

Kaloplocamus acutus

Kaloplocamus acutus?

It was definitely breeding season for the limpets …

Limpet egg masses

Limpet egg masses (white circles)











… and the cartrut shell (Dicathais orbita). The egg cases are yellow when ‘fresh’ and go purple after a while. (The purple cases below are in front of and separate from the yellow cases behind.)


Cartruts in the process of laying eggs


cartrut-eggs_1 cartrut-eggs_2This live shell (possibly Cabestana lampas) is common, but I saw only one …

Cabestana lampas

Cabestana lampas


Note the 'eye stalks' and syphon

Note the ‘eye stalks’ and siphon (left); photo by Andrew

Black feather duster worm …


We saw three small sharks resting in the crevices, but it was impossible to get decent shots because the water was rippling through fast. One was a clearly a wobbegong but the other two were different.

There were over a dozen sea hares, perhaps in preparation for mating, too. They form mating chains, one behind the other.

Aplysia dactylomela

Aplysia dactylomela

aplysia_2A lot of birds were resting on the platform. It annoys the heck out of me when people allow their dogs to run free there – no dogs are meant to be on the platform, and only dogs on leashes on the beach. The migrating seabirds need rest and refuelling.

A pair of beach stone-curlews (Esacus magnirostris, aka beach thick knees because that’s what they have) flew quickly past, crying their curious call. It was the first time I’d seen this species in the wild.

Beach stone curlews

Beach stone curlews

Beach stone curlews

This is either the grey-tailed (Heteroscelus incanus) or the wandering (Heteroscelus brevipes) tattler. The grey-tailed is more common.


Tattler; photo by Andrew

I think the birds below are sandpipers, but there are a lot that look alike and I haven’t worked out how to distinguish them yet. Any ideas appreciated.




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“Larnook to Erth. Come in, Erth.”

I’m fond of puppetry (Bunraku, Bear in the Big Blue House, The Muppets, The Storyteller, Greg the Bunny, The Wombles, The Clangers – some of these are not for kiddies) and dinosaurs (all of them), and when the two combine it’s irresistible. The puppetry company Erth, based in Sydney, has produced a number of shows, one  of which is ‘Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo‘. (The link contains a brief video of the performance.) It’s presently touring the west of New South Wales, and we drove two-and-a-half hours to Tenterfield to see it.

It’s a charming walk through some of the dinosaurs that once lived in Australasia with a ‘zoo keeper’ introducing the puppet creatures. The zoo keeper told us what they were and a little about them. (You can get a pdf fact sheet of Erth’s dinosaurs here so I won’t regurgitate the material.) It was very interactive, with kids volunteering enthusiastically to come on stage and meet the very lively dinosaurs.

Two very cute Dryosaurus babies were first.

erth_2 erth_1


Next was the giant dragonfly, Meganeura. Three flew over the audience and buzzed the crowd. All eyes were on the monsters and you hardly noticed the puppeteers.

erth_4 erth_3


Then came two Leaellynasauras from Dinosaur Cove in Victoria. They were named after the daughter of palaeontologist Tom Rich, who discovered the bones.

erth_6 erth_5

The Australovenator was the most active and ‘aggressive’. The kids were asked what to feed it – sausages or guts. No prizes for guessing which they chose – loudly! It also seemed to prefer small boys to burgers.

erth_9 erth_10 erth_7 erth_8

Last came Australia’s largest dinosaur, the herbivore Titanosaurus.


The small-town theatre was packed and if the noise level was any indication, the kids (and not a few adults) loved the show. The story line was cleverly written, amusing and informative with jokes for the parents, too, and the kids were not condescended to.

Afterwards, the baby Dryosaurus were taken into the foyer so you could get up close and pat them.

erth_12 erth_13 erth_14

I’d love to see more of Erth’s shows, such as ‘Prehistoric Aquarium‘ and the adult ‘Murder‘, based on Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’. Puppetry isn’t always just for kids!

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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 (back); little black cormorant (front)


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.


Then heads down and bums up …


Bugging in the blackbutt


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.



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 …


But this cute little moth did appear …


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 …



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

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?)




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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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