No Tassie devil trip this year

I’m disappointed that the Tasmanian Devil Scientific Expedition in March is not going ahead this year. The chief scientist, Associate Professor Menna Jones, has won a Fulbright scholarship to pursue studies in the US. Good on her – she is smart and capable.

The devil facial tumour disease’s progress is slowing down and it still has not reached the west coast of Tassie – good news. Research is still needed, so the trip has been postponed until 2018. If you are interested in helping out, click on the link above to find out more from Curious Traveller’s website.


Another Woody Head nudibranch

I’d already seen Sebadoris fragilis at Flat Rock, Ballina, but it’s always a joy to see any nudi, anywhere, anytime.

This one was found by Peter and Linda, snorkelling off the rocks at Woody Head. Thanks to Peter for the photos.

Sebadoris fragilis, Woody Head; photo by Peter Scharf

Sebadoris fragilis, Woody Head; photo by Peter Scharf

Sebadoris fragilis, Woody Head; photo by Peter Scharf


Snail parasite blowfly

We may not like every type of animal we see, but they all have their place in the scheme of things. I’m personally fond of things others may not be – just call me contrary.

Armenia  (the snail parasite blowfly) is certainly colourful and presumably to be thanked by gardeners for helping keep snails under control. There are several species, and this one is likely to be A. imperialis, the yellow-headed snail parasite blowfly.


amenia_1  The Queensland Museum says:

Many blowflies attack invertebrates, such as insects and snails. The Snail Parasite Blowfly often rests on rocks and fallen wood. Females give birth to large, well-developed larvae that are thought to be parasites of land snails. Common in open and closed forest in eastern Queensland and New South Wales.

Length 10-15 mm. The bright yellow head contrast with the thorax and abdomen which are metallic green or bronze with silvery-white spots. The wings are clear with dark bases.

Thanks to Greg Spencer for the heads-up and the photos, taken down the road in Rock Valley.

Finally – a Richmond birdwing!

I’ve been waiting to see the beautiful Richmond birdwing butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia) since I moved to the Northern Rivers (18 years ago). Admittedly I have not tried very hard – didn’t go to likely places of encounter. But now I have seen one – outside the lounge room window! It’s a great, colourful thing with a most graceful, swooping flight on big wings. I thought I’d never see one, as it is a threatened species. This is a male, in the flowering frangipani tree.


Richmond birdwing butterfly (male)

The maximum wingspan is said to be about 10.5 cm, and this one seemed about that. The female is not quite so colourful, but has a bigger wingspan (up to 11.5 cm). The green  of the top of the wings of the male (photo below) first caught my attention as it sailed by.

richmond_birdwing_butterfly; photo by Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

Top view of male Richmond birdwing butterfly; photo by Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Wikimedia Commons

The species is threatened in New South Wales, vulnerable in Queensland, according to Braby’s Complete Field Guide to Butterflies of Australia (CSIRO, 2016) (contrary to Wikipedia).

The Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network has a mission to increase the numbers via increasing the host plant (the Richmond birdwing vines: Pararistolochia praevenosa in the lowlands and P. laheyana in the higher areas) and also the habitat that the vines and butterflies – at all stages of the life cycle – need). The FAQ of the network gives a lot of information about the butterfly, its lifestyle and range. A short version is :

  • The life cycle is a little different in higher and lower altitudes. At my place (lower altitude, below 600 metres), there are two breeding seasons when the adults emerge: between September and November and then from January to March (long daylight hours, high temperatures and high humidity).
  • The adult butterfly lives for 4 to 6 weeks, while the pupa (as long as 7 cm) lasts for about 28 days in the warmer weather, longer in colder weather.
  • The female lays 60-100 eggs on different leaves of the Richmond birdwing vine. From up to a few kilometres away, she detects certain chemical signals in the vines that indicate they are at a stage where the caterpillars can eat them.
  • The vine is disappearing due to land clearing – once it disappears, so will the butterfly. I assume that the vine is somewhere in the vicinity of the house so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it, and for some pupas and more adults. But ‘[r]esearch has shown that the male will travel up to 4 kilometres from where it pupates while the female will travel up to 30 kilometres from where it pupates’, so it may not be that close after all.
  • The adult’s yellow and red colours tell predators (pied currawong, noisy pitta, wasps) that the butterfly is toxic and should not be eaten.

When I first saw the butterfly fluttering by, I took a quick look on the ‘net and thought, ‘Holy moly, it’s a Cairns birdwing – but what is it doing here?’ Further investigation showed that it was our very own Richmond species. The Cairns birdwing (Ornithoptera euphorion) is the largest endemic butterfly in Australia, up to 18 cm in wingspan.

As chance would have it, I have a couple of pinned specimens of the Cairns species, inherited from a friend (thanks, Cate and Bill!). You can see why I made that mistake.

(Top) Female Cairns birdwing; (bottom) male Cairns birdwing

(Top) Female Cairns birdwing; (bottom) male Cairns birdwing, Ornithoptera euphorion