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

Noisy pitta_Lennox headland_2

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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How much wood would a wood duck … er … chuck?

Wood ducks (Chenonetta jubata, aka maned ducks) are common birds that hang around water, eating grasses, herbs and the occasional insect. They are so pretty and charming. Males (with the ‘mane’) and females have slightly different plumage (sexually dimorphic). You almost always see them in pairs or small flocks of pairs. They are found all over Australia except for the driest parts in the centre. The photos below are of a male.

Wood duck_Ballina_1

Male wood duck, Ballina; photo by Andrew Roberts

Wood duck_Ballina_2

Photo by Andrew Roberts

Wood duck_Ballina_3

Photo by Andrew Roberts

Wood duck_Ballina_4

Photo by Andrew Roberts

Wood duck_Ballina_5

Photo by Andrew Roberts

It was pretty blustery on the North Wall at Ballina (lots of surfers there that morning) and I saw a rock dove (Columba livia, feral in Australia) huddled against the big boulders. It’s unusual to see one on its own, and I assumed it was sheltering from the wind. When I walked back along the same route about 15 minutes later, the poor thing was dead – it had keeled over, revealing leg bands. So I phoned the number on the bands – it was a Port Macquarie number (about 4 and 3/4 hours’ drive south of Ballina) and the bird was a racing pigeon. The woman who answered was grateful I had called – I think it was one of her husband’s. The bird had blood on its wings and she thought it had been attacked by a hawk. Ballina has a lot of raptors – sea eagles, ospreys, brahminy kites, whistling kites and so forth.

I left it where it had fallen – perhaps the crabs will get a meal or two out of it.

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Carpet python eggs

Friend Peter send me these photos of the eggs of a carpet python (Morelia spilota mcdowelli) on his property at Ashby. The mother was wrapped around the bundle until his dog disturbed it. Note how soft the egg surface is. The stack of mulch heats up and helps keep the eggs warm.

Carpet python eggs Ashby

Carpet python eggs; photo Peter Wrightson


Carpet python plus eggs Ashby

Mother carpet python sheltering her eggs. Note the egg in the coil to the right of the snake’s head. Photo Peter Wrightson

The Queensland Museum says of breeding:

10–47 eggs are laid in early summer.  The eggs are concealed in a sheltered site (beneath building materials, between hay bales, hollow stump or a depression in ground) and are incubated by the female who will `shiver’ to generate heat.  The female leaves the nest to bask in the morning sun and returns to her eggs in a pre-heated condition.  Nesting females will defend their eggs.   The hatchling snakes measure around 39 cm from the snout to the base of the tail (snout-vent length).

It’s winter now and we’ve already had one small python leave its shed skin on our roof, so they are out and about even in this weather (first frost last night). Hopefully the little ones at Peter’s place are doing the same.

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Tasmanian copperhead

Walking along the boardwalk at the Tamar Island Wetlands Reserve in Launceston, Tasmania, I thought these were red-bellied black snakes, common in my home area …  Copperhead_1

Copperhead_2Copperhead_3… but they were in fact lowland copperheads (Austrelaps superbus).  The copperhead is one of only three snakes in Tasmania; the other two are the white-lipped ( Drysdalia coronoides) and the tiger snake (Notechis scutatus), so there are no red-bellies in Tasmania.

There were about six copperheads, resting at intervals in the warmth of the sun on the ground between the reeds. The dark colour helps them absorb heat and remain active in cooler weather; they become inactive in Tassie winters and go without food for months.

Copperheads are venomous enough to kill a human, about the same as an Indian cobra. They are shy and retiring, though, so if you let them get away from  you, both parties will benefit. Snakes don’t want to waste their precious venom on humans (after all they can’t eat us and venom is mostly used for catching food). Wearing good boots and watching where you walk in the bush is also good for both the snake and you. Healthy respect, not excessive fear, is the key. Remember:

Sporting accidents, dog attacks, lightning strikes and even peanuts cause more human deaths in Australia than snakebite.

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The calm before the storm

Doesn’t this look peaceful? Surfers on Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, contemplate the breaks.

Lighthouse Beach BallinaEven the dolphins were having a good time, catching waves, tail-slapping and cruising around for a snack of baitfish.

Dolphins Lighthouse Beach Ballina Dolphins Lighthouse Beach



But appearances can be deceptive. Take a look at the next photo – what is the difference between it and the very top one?

Surfers Lighthouse Beach

That speck in the middle of the sky is a shark-spotting helicopter. We’ve had few shark attacks and, sadly, a couple of deaths lately, and the government is paying for the service. A group of Cape Town shark-spotters, who operate a successful service on the surfing beaches there, were even crowd-funded to come to Australia in the hope that we could benefit from their advice.

That helicopter had been buzzing along the beach for a while and finally sounded a siren – an alarm to the surfers, who had all been out the back of the break, that there was a shark near them. Most got out. The top photo is them wondering whether to go in again.

Let’s get this in perspective. It is certainly tragic when a surfer or diver gets taken, but most of them seem to realise that they are going into the sharks’ domain, that there are almost always sharks near them out there, and that it is statistically very unlikely that a person will be taken. Still, it captures our imagination because of the horror popularly attached to sharks (I blame in part the movie, Jaws).

How many sharks do we kill in a year worldwide? About 100 million. For what? Fish and chips, sharkfin soup and sport.

How many people in Australia died from shark attack in 2015? Two.

Taronga Zoo says:

The figures for Australian shark bite injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to fatalities and injuries occurring while undertaking other recreational water activities at the 11,900 (approx) beaches around Australia’s 35,000+km coastline.

The Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning Report 2014 notes an average of 292 deaths per year for people drowning over the last 10 years in Australia. During the period 2004- 2014 the Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2014 states that 78 rock fishermen drowned over the last 10 years (an average of 7.8 per year). There were 176 diving related deaths in Australia 2002-2009 – an average of 23 per year (Provisional Report on Diving Related Fatalities in Australian Waters 2002-2009). The average fatalities from shark attacks over the last 50 years is just under one per year (0.9).

That’s not even counting the thousands of deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke, motor vehicle accidents, alcohol and smoking. published ‘The weird ways Australians die‘ in 2013, providing further perspective. It’s too long to quote here, but I recommend it. You’ll never worry about sharks again (I hope).

The next day the latest east coast low (a weather event not called a cyclone as it does not originate in the tropics, but it really is one) descended upon us. Although there were evacuations in North Lismore (it’s built on a floodplain), it was pretty run of the mill, except for not being in the summer wet season. We do get mid-year east coast lows as well, though. This website gives a list of Lismore’s floods, and there’s been plenty of them. Even Queensland was grateful that it was not hit as badly as previously.

At home we had 174 mL in 48 hours – it’s been worse. The usual roads were cut off and nobody died, although plenty tried to, by driving their cars on roads with water over them (how do you know there’s not a great hole under there, or that part of the bridge you’re on hasn’t washed away?). Water is heavier than you think, especially when it’s flowing.

Poor Tasmania seems to have been hit the hardest – ironic after the severe drought it’s had for a few years. The dams had even been too low for hydroelectricity to be produced in the needed amounts – not a problem now. Many of the places I walked around in Launceston in March are under water – photos here.

And today, in mid-winter, it’s going to be 27 degrees C here – weird or what?

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