Last night we saw fireflies for the first time this year. They usually appear in early spring (September) for a couple of weeks, so this year they’re a little early. The males fly and flash, looking for answering flashes from the non-flying females. This website says:

The light is created by an enzyme (luciferase) which reacts with other chemicals in the insect’s body to produce light energy. The firefly regulates the emission of light by controlling the amount of air supplied to the cells. The regularity and intensity of the flashing may help fireflies identify males and females.

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Desert beetle

My cousin Jan and her partner Rodney went to Lake Eyre during its recent flooding to see what they could see.

One thing was this desert-living pie-dish beetle (one of the Helea species, perhaps H. waitei but I’m not sure).

Pie-dish beetle, photo by Rodney Hunt

I’ve not seen one of these myself – they occur in the inland arid regions of Australia, apparently foraging at night on decaying vegetation. They are wingless, so do not fly. Jan was lucky to see this one during the day. You can see a more detailed post about pie-dish beetles in Western Australia here.

Abbey Museum Medieval Festival 2011 – part 1

In July we went to the Abbey Museum Medieval Tournament, a yearly event on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. I lived in a SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, a re-enactment society) household in Sydney, although I wasn’t a member, and it was fun to watch medieval sparring in the backyard on weekends. I was curious to see how such groups had progressed since then.

I’m also keen on archaeology and this kind of qualified – there’s an art and archaeology museum on the grounds. There wasn’t much non-human natural history, but I’ll start off with that and progress to human behaviour later.

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Blue-tongued lizards

There are four species, including two subspecies, of blue-tongued lizards in Australia, and I saw a couple recently.

The shingle-back, stumpy-tail or sleepy lizard (Tiliqua rugosa) lives in the drier areas of our continent, west of the Great Dividing Range that runs down the middle of the eastern states. We dodged them a lot on the roads in South Australia. I handled this tame one at a reptile demo recently.

Stumpy-tailed lizard

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The usual dry spring

Although it’s still officially winter here by the Anglo calendar, both daytime and nightime temperatures are rising, and the birds at least are already well into nesting and breeding. The indigenous people had their own way of marking the seasons, one much more attuned to what was actually happening in the weather and the landscape than our imported English system. I personally think winter for our part of the subtropics should be considered to end around the start of August.

Male magpie deciding whether to take a drink


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The thing on the ceiling

Luckily for me, any spider phobia was nipped in the bud at an early age by my Dad. He used to laugh (not unkindly) when a small me confessed to being frightened to go to the outside toilet when the family were at our beach holiday shack. It was a classic Australian ‘dunny’ – wrought iron, blazing hot in summer, freezing in winter, a long-drop type with seat over a hole that Dad added lime to occasionally. When it filled up, he’d just knock fill  up the hole, dismantle the ‘building’, dig a new hole and re-erect the iron sheets. He was a plumber by trade and knew how to do these things, but most of the men who had shacks with their families on the beachfront in Australia (the ones that are left are still iconic Australian architecture) would have just done it themselves. Simple to construct and fairly ecologically sound for 10 shacks on the foreshore with no running water or electricity. Now those holiday villages have expanded and MacMansions, septic tanks, electricity and even running water are in evidence. Ah, progress!

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Thar they blows!

A friend visiting from the Big Smoke is always an excuse to throw down the work computer (not literally, of course) and do a bit of sight-seeing. Enticed by the perfect winter weather (23C/73F and gloriously sunny), we headed for the coastal headlands to see what we could see.

At present it’s whale-migration time and something like 1200 humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) are travelling north along the east coast for the females to calve in warm water, some already turning around to go back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica with their calves.

The usual sign is a puff of breath on the water – they surface, breath out explosively, then breathe in and submerge.

Smoke on the water? Humpback breathing out via its blowhole; photo by Kathy Pearce

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Baby Boiga bites blogger!

Yes, it’s true. I blush to admit it. I got bitten by a snake! So much for the ‘famous last words’ at the end of my last post!

Am I used to having snakes around and so a bit blasé about them? Check.

Is it winter but the days have been warming up? Check.

Have I found snakes in the garage in spring before? Check.

Do snakes like to hang out in pipes? Check.

Did I check the tubes of the vacuum cleaner before I took it to my mother-in-law? Nyet.

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Steve lives! (part 3)

More comments from friends about the late Crocodile Hunter:

I have always thought of Steve Irwin as a likable boofhead rather than a serious contributor to our understanding of biology (durrrh!). Though his almost childlike enthusiasm was genuine and endearing, his need to jump on small animals and have them squirm in his hands was at some remove to the very much “hands-off and observe” approach of the David Attenborough school and would seem to be more in kin to the way a baby explores its environment by putting things in its mouth and tasting. He has done much to switch people on to nature and raised important issues to a new audience. The room he once filled with his huge personality is sadly empty; he is missed.


Our opinion of Steve Irwin is someone who was passionate about what he did. He loved life and his family. He didn’t do anything half measure. This is the impression we got of him from the media and people who we know who had dealings with him.

I watched Steve mainly for the wonderful places he visited and the interesting animals he harassed. Not so much for his personality or to be educated by him. He was a wild-eyed Australian version of Marlin Perkins (although I’ve never met a zoologist who didn’t have at least a sparkle in their eyes), the zoologist on Wild Kingdom, a similar program I used to watch as a boy. They really were much the same program: a crew on a fantastic location to film, harass and capture wild animals for an up-close and personal view in the name of conservation and public education. Both definitely had the danger and excitement elements that made the programs fun to watch but Steve was a bit more charismatic than Marlin and tended to focus on smaller, less furry and feathery animals than Marlin – the types of things I’m more interested in. Both programs were worthwhile endeavours in my estimation and highly entertaining to someone like me who maintains similar aspirations. I visited his zoo back in 2001 and almost got to meet him but grew tired of waiting for an appearance. I did enjoy the day we spent there as it was a taste of things to come as we set off to find the animals we saw in his zoo, in their natural environment on our month-long tour of coastal Queensland.

This last post on Australia Zoo shows some of our native snakes, some of which live around my place but many of which are “outback” species. Many (except the pythons) are very venomous, and dangerous to people if people disturb them (quite rightly, too). I’ll leave you to research them individually if you are interested.

The king brown (Pseudechis australia) is actually a member of the black snake family, so mulga snake is the preferred name.

Mulga snake

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