Earthstar

I’ve been wanting to see an earthstar ever since I saw photos in a field guide. What a romantic name! And this one was on my property last week during the rain.

Earthstars are in the same taxonomic group as puffballs and some truffle-like fungi. They start out looking like a puffball, then the outer layer splits, revealing the inner sphere that holds the spores.

Possibly Gaestrum saccatum

The powdery spore mass is puffed out of the central hole (seen below) at maturity, usually by the impact of raindrops.

A 5c piece (aka ‘echidna’, beloved of fungi researchers) indicates size. The white thing on the top right is the egg sac of a spider. I don’t know whether the actual spider on it is a hatchling or not, as I didn’t see any others or witness the hatching. The egg sac actually looks like that of a huntsman, but the tiny spider doesn’t look like a huntsman. Perhaps it was eating the babies, or just passing by. The photo below was taken a couple of days after the ones above, and you can see the effects of ageing on the earthstar.

 

 

An Aseroe rubra, starfish fungus, was nearby, with flies happily gobbling up the slime that contains the spores. This one also starts off looking like a puffball, which ruptures to produce the final shape. The spores are carried by the fly to another Aseroe and pooped out onto it, ‘pollinating’ it. This one wasn’t stinky, at least to me, but it must have been enough for the flies to be attracted.

 

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Christa’s picks

Christa is fond of fungi, too, and generously sent me some pics of fungal fruiting bodies. (The last two pics are not fungi but they are fun.) Thanks, Christa! (All photos by Christa Schwoebel.)

Location and/or IDs are in the captions (sometimes I couldn’t ID due to my meagre skills in this area). I’ve used as a guide Australian Subtropical Fungi (McMullan-Fisher, Leonard and Guard, Suncoast Fungi, 2014) but any errors in ID are my own. The first three are from Germany and are not native Australian species – beautiful nonetheless!

Close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim

 

Amanita muscaria, one of the hallucinogenic fungi, close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim

Polypore, close to the river Rhine, near Mannheim

Smoky Cape, NSW

Gulaga (Mount Dromedary), NSW South Coast

 

 

 

Trametes versicolor, Terania Creek, NSW

The stinkhorn, Phallus multicolor

The stinkhorn, Phallus multicolor

Stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra (starfish fungus), Smoky Cape, NSW; the stinky black slime that flies are attracted to contains spores

Stinkhorn, Aseroe rubra (starfish fungus), Wittitrin, Macleay Valley, NSW

Wood ear, Auricularia auricula-judae, near Binna Burra Lodge, Lamington National Park, SE Qld

Wood ear, Auricularia auricula-judae, near Binna Burra Lodge, Lamington National Park, SE Qld

Kattang Nature Reserve near Laurieton, NSW; the blue fruit (top right) is from the rainforest tree, Elaeocarpus grandis (blue quandong)

What you lookin’ at? (Water dragon and magpie)

Cicada

 

 

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Native bees

Out in the paddock last night, Andrew was mowing and noticed these little guys (yes, they are guys) on several grass stems. They were very placid, despite the vibrations of the ride-on mower. Each bee was less than 1 cm in length.

Native bees, Lipotriches sp.

They seemed to be settling in for the night – as the light faded, they became less and less active. They are of the species Lipotriches, one of about 2000 species of native Australian bees. They are solitary bees – they do not build a communal nest like European honeybees.

According to Terry Houston (Guide to Native Bees of Australia, CSIRO Publishing, 2018; also a useful fact sheet at Western Australian Museum):

Male bees have a sole purpose: to ensure that females are fertilised. They do not engage in nest construction, provisioning or brood care, but that is not to say they are of no special interest. They can engage in a range of behaviours (sometimes bizarre) and often display unusual structural features, many of which assist them to locate and mate with females.

As a rule, males of solitary bees emerge ahead of females in any particular population. Early in the flight season, males may be found flying about or perched on fresh or even unopened flowers of the preferred forage plants days before the first young females arrive. After leaving the nests in which they developed, males of solitary bees tend not to return. Males of social and colonial bees, by contrast, often shelter overnight or during inclement weather in active nests. This is the case in the weakly social Amphylaeus morosus and various Meroglossa species.

Males of many solitary bees roost overnight in exposed situations, commonly on dead twigs, thin stems, leaves or flowers. Depending on the particular species, they may roost solitarily or in the company of others. In the latter case, individuals may be sparsely distributed on the same bush or branch or they may form ‘sleeping aggregations’ of varying size, shape and density. Usually, males return to the same roost each night, showing that they possess a well-developed homing ability.

The largest roosting aggregations can contain thousands of males.

If you are wondering about the females:

Australia’s bees are predominantly solitary, each female building one or more nests in which to rear her offspring without the aid of ‘workers’. Many burrow in the ground though a few bore in dead, rotting wood or pithy stems. Most others are ‘lodgers’, utilizing existing hollows such as borer holes in dead wood, hollow stems and abandoned burrows of other bees and wasps. Lodger bees will also utilize man-made cavities such as nail and bolt holes, pipes and cut bamboo. A few species build free-standing nests on stems or rocks. A variety of materials may be used in nest construction including soil, plant fibre, leaf pieces, leaf pulp, resin and secretions such as wax and silk. Typically, each brood cell is an urn-shaped cavity providing a protective environment for the development of a single individual; it is stocked with sufficient food to enable development from egg to adult and is sealed once it receives an egg. (Western Australian Museum)

Apparently, most native bees are capable of stinging, but will do so only under extreme provocation. The European honeybee is more enthusiastic in this regard.

Eleven native bee species are social and produce small amounts of honey (‘sugarbag’, bush tucker). They are stingless.

Another unexpected find on the property!

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Christmas nudibranchs at Woody Head

Peter and Linda have been snorkelling at Woody again. Here are some of Peter’s pics of their latest discoveries.

Doriprismatica atromarginata

Probably a mating chain

 

Not a nudibranch, but the sea hare Dolabella auricularia

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Big Scrub Loop, Nightcap National Park, fungi (part 2)

Here are my photos of the same walk as in the previous post. These are different fungi to those in the previous post, plus a couple of other things of interest at the end. The rainforest is endlessly fascinating!

 

And just because lichen are so fabulous …

Lichen, a combination of fungi and algae

 

 

As are aerial roots …

And strangler figs …

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Big Scrub Loop, Nightcap National Park, fungi (part 1)

The other day, after five days of rain, three of us went looking for fungi in the Nightcap National Park, northern New South Wales. I was also on the lookout for slime moulds, but didn’t find any. I thought this was me not recognising them, so I was relieved to come across Steve Axford, also hunting fungi and slime, who said he hadn’t seen any either.

Nevertheless, it was a stunning walk and we found many fungi. These photos were taken by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I also managed to put my hand on a fallen stinging tree leaf, but fortunately the stinging sensation didn’t last more than a few minutes. Phew – they have a ferocious reputation.

I haven’t attempted ID, gorgeous as they are. Thanks to the photographer for the delicious home-made morning tea, too! There’s nothing like sitting on a rock in a stream-bed in the middle of old growth forest, devouring yummy cakes and coffee.

Sorry you got so many leeches – I got only two, plus a tick.

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Giant panda snail

It isn’t black and white, doesn’t eat bamboo, and certainly isn’t cuddly – no one seems to know why this largest of Australian land snails is called ‘panda’. Think of an ordinary garden snail but blown up to a size where the shell is 10 cm across and you’ll get the general idea. The giant panda snail lives in Big Scrub Rainforest remnants and you may be lucky enough to see one if you look in the right place.

Giant panda snails (Hedleyella falconeri) live in east-coast rainforests from south-east Queensland south to Barrington Tops in NSW. The Big Scrub falls within their range and you can find them, for instance, in the Nightcap National Park.

During the day, you’re likely to find their empty shells on the ground as the living ones are hiding out in the leaf litter, under fallen logs, and at the base of strangler figs.

hedleyella-falconeri-underside

They are avoiding both drying out and their predators – the noisy pitta, lyrebird and brush turkey scratch through the leaf litter in search of snacks and such a large snail would provide a tasty treat for those birds. A pitta will smash a snail on a rock to get at the soft body. At night the snails can be found at the base of fig trees or moving through the leaf litter, especially after wet weather meandering randomly across the forest floor, feeding on some of the mushrooms that develop after rain.

Not much is known about their ecology because very few studies have been done, but a 2002 study by Michael Murphy of NSW National Parks, published in Molluscan Research 2002, 22, 149–164, tracked the movement of six of these snails over a couple of weeks. The study snails moved in a wiggly fashion an average of 8.7 metres a night, with the maximum being 21 metres, so they can cover quite an area. Snail eggs were discovered with one of these snails in a depression covered with leaves; each egg was creamy-white with a rubbery texture, weighing about 2 grams and about 1.5 centimetres in diameter – a big egg for a big snail.

So if you go out in the woods on a rainy night, you’re in for a big surprise – you just might find a giant … panda snail!

Update: for size comparison, here is the African giant tiger land snail (Achatina achatina).

Giant_tiger_land_snail_(Achatina_achatina)_with_hand

Achatina achatina in Ghana; photo by Charlesjsharp, Wikimedia Commons

 

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