Humungous fungus amongus

Or something. Some photos taken on the weekend at Raels and Kim’s rainy front-yard.

Fungus

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Puffball fungus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Puffball fungus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Ringed Xenica, Geitoneura acantha. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Ringed Xenica (Geitoneura acantha). Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Smilax australis. Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Wombat Berry. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Wombat Berry. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Banded Grass Skipper  Toxidia parvulus. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Banded Grass Skipper (Toxidia parvulus). Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Raelene Neilson.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Photo Robert Ashdown.

Footpath frogs — more discoveries in the rain

The recent rain has been a blessing for frogs. For only the third time in ten years I noticed the call of  Graceful Tree Frogs (Litoria gracilenta) in our suburb. Their long, drawn-out wail preceded the deluge of ex-cyclone Oswald by several days. When I heard that mysterious call I knew we were in for some serious humidity.

This week my son’s friend David and his great dog Sam discovered a strange brown amphibian on our footpath one afternoon. To my surprise it was not a Cane Toad, but a Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus). This was a new species for my backyard list (I’m including the footpath of course).

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Toowoomba.

The Great Barred Frog (Mixophyes fasciolatus) discovered by David and Sam on our footpath, Toowoomba. Not all frogs are green with webbed feet. Growing to a length of 8 cm, these spectacular brown frogs have bands and markings across their sides and legs. All photos by Robert Ashdown.

The Great Barred Frog is one of six species of frog in Queensland belonging to the genus Mixophyes. They are usually found along creek lines in, and around, rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests. In  the Toowoomba area I’ve found (or heard) them only at escarpment locations such as Picnic Point and Jubilee Park (but haven’t been looking for them too much). It was a great surprise to have one in our busy street, slightly out of the forest.

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Burbank.

Great Barred Frog, Tingalpa Creek, Burbank (near Brisbane). You can see why they are named ‘barred’. These frogs have a terrific call — a loud ‘wark’ followed by grunting noises.

Mixophyes fasciolatus, Rockmount.

Close-up of  a Great Barred Frog’s eye. All Barred Frogs have large, dark, mysterious eyes, sometimes with silver, blue or gold in the iris. I remember the wonderful herpetologist Glen Ingram, while fired with enthusiasm at a public talk on frogs, declare that “Love is in the eyes of a Mixophyes.” When I took a close look at one, I had an idea what he meant. I have not kissed one though.

Mixophyes fasciolatus tadpole.

Great Barred Frog tadpoles are huge, sometimes growing to a length of 12 cm (including tail). They are strong swimmers.

I’ve only photographed three of Queensland’s six species of Barred Frog. The Giant Barred Frog (Mixophesy iteratus) is a spectacular amphibian, but one also sadly classified as endangered.

Mixophyes iteratus.

The Giant Barred Frog is just that — giant and barred. Its iris is a striking gold colour. Giant Barred Frogs, also endangered, are found in rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest, along riparian zones.

Mixophyes iteratus.

A Giant Barred Frog shows how well its marked and striped body merges with the leaf litter. All Barred Frogs are ground dwellers, without webbed toes. The call of the Giant Barred Frog has been described by herpetologist Eric Vanderduys as a “low, often soft ‘ork’, somewhat relaxed.”

Mixophyes iteratus.

The Evil Eye of Sauron … I must return his ring … no, hang on, it’s a Giant Barred Frog. The frog’s tympanic membrane — an ‘external ear’ — can be seen adjacent to the eye.

The Fleay’s Barred Frog (Mixophyes fleayi) is also classified as endangered. They are found only in mountainous rainforest and adjacent wet sclerophyll forest.

Mixophyes fleayi.

The endangered Fleay’s Barred Frog has an upper iris coloured pale blue, golden brown or silver. They have huge and powerful back legs. Their call is a stuttered ‘r-r-r-r-rork’.

Bird-bath bird-watching

IMG_4430

 Images from guest photographer Raelene Neilson.

A backyard bird bath is a win-win — the birds will visit and the bird-fan will welcome each visitor. The only problem is how much time can a bird-watcher sit and watch before other things call? The simple things in life can be the best indeed.

Here is a selection of images taken by Raelene at her ground level bird-bath at Geham, north of Toowoomba.

New tropical island yabbies discovered

While the impact of development on our coastal habitats is a topic constantly in the news, it’s sobering to be reminded that we are still finding out what species of plants and animals actually live in these fragile places.

Cherax austini

Cherax austini, one of two recently described species of freshwater crayfish from Whitsunday Island. Preserved specimen, photo R. Ashdown.

For zoologists, the discovery of a new species is always significant. It’s like finding another piece in the threatened and fragile jigsaw of life that surrounds us and on which we depend so much.

The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail is a mix of seaways and picturesque walks across Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands. The walk leads through open forests, grasslands and rainforest, and includes climbs up rugged peaks and strolls along winding pathways.

Created by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), the walking tracks and other infrastructure associated with the Sea Trail were yet more ‘development’. So, before this project was completed, a careful analysis of any associated impacts was carried out, to make sure they’d be kept as small as possible. As a part of that process, new surveys of the fauna and flora of Whitsunday Island were completed.

In 2010, while undertaking one of these surveys, QPWS employees Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson discovered the remains of a freshwater crayfish Cherax sp. These were forwarded to crayfish researcher Jason Coughran for comment. Jason recognised these remains to be those of a yet undescribed species. A return trip was arranged to collect live specimens for description, which was duly accomplished later that year. During this trip a second species of freshwater crayfish was also found on the island.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile. Yelarbon. Photo R. Ashdown.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile on a QPWS fauna survey, Yelarbon, 2006. Photo R. Ashdown.

These crustaceans have now been formally recognised as two new species — Cherax austini sp. n. Coughran & Hobson and Cherax cid sp. n. Dawkins & Furse (Coughran et al 2012).

Cherax austini and Cherax cid

Cherax austini (left) and Cherax cid (right). These specimens are the holotypes of the two new species, stored permanently in the collections  of the Queensland Museum. The museum’s zoological collections represent the ever-growing and priceless database of Queensland’s faunal diversity. [A holotype is the actual physical specimen of an organism that was used when the species was officially described]. Photo courtesy Queensland Museum.

Freshwater crayfish, known variously as yabbies, lobbies, crawchies, craybobs, craydads, marron, gilgies and koonacs, are creatures well known across Australia. There are over a 100 species (family Parastacidae) in Australia, with more than 20 native to Queensland, including one of the smallest in the world (the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which reaches about 25 mm in length — by contrast, the Giant Tasmanian Crayfish Astacopsis gouldii reaches up to about 4.5 kg in weight and is the world’s largest freshwater crayfish — see * below)

SWAMP CRAYFISH, TENIBRANCHIURUS GLYPTICUS. Thorneside.

The Swamp Crayfish (Tenibranchiurus glypticus), at about 2.5 cm in length, is one of the world’s smallest freshwater crayfish. Thorneside, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Queensland species belong to three genera: Cherax (smooth freshwater crayfish or freshwater yabbies); Euastacus (spiny freshwater crayfish) and Tenuibranchiurus (swamp crayfish).

According to the authors of the paper on these two new Cherax species, there is no information on any other species of freshwater crayfish inhabiting islands this far north in the Coral Sea, apart from a single specimen of the Orange-fingered Yabby Cherax depressus collected at Lindemann Island about 12 km south of Whitsunday Island. The next closest island species is the Sand Yabby Cherax robustus, found on Fraser Island, about 700 km south. Interestingly, Cherax austini displays a feature (a median ridge on the cephalon) that is associated with crayfish in the extreme south-west of Western Australia (Coughran et al 2012).

The results of genetic work on the two new species, however, show that they are related to the mainland Cherax depressus group of yabbies, but as with island species of all types, they are busy evolving down their own divergent paths.

Cherax depressus.

An Orange-fingered Yabby (Cherax depressus), roaming around a walking track like a small armoured tank after heavy rain at Lota, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Euastachus suttoni

Euastacus suttoni, a colourful member of the spiny crayfish group, strikes a defensive pose as the terrifying photographer approaches. Bald Rock National Park, New South Wales. Photo R. Ashdown.

While probably confined to Whitsunday Island, the discovery of these two new species highlights the importance of continuing surveys on other Coral Sea Islands. There aren’t many suitable wetlands on Whitsunday Island, so checking out ephemeral wetlands and drainages on other islands in the group may just reveal further new creatures.

When species are restricted to islands, careful management is needed, as they are potentially vulnerable to various human-induced and naturally-occuring impacts. The value of national parks for protecting biodiversity is once again underlined. Cherax austini was discovered in a single Melaleuca (paperbark) swamp, a particular type of habitat that is classified as an “endangered” Regional Ecosystem. This particular location is one of only four protected areas of this habitat type in Queensland. The specimen was first detected as shell remains in midden formations around the shoreline of the swamp, probably from a predator such as an Eastern Water Rat.

Cherax cid was found in a small, clear flowing stream within notophyll vine forest, a type of coastal rainforest scrub. The specific type of Regional Ecosystem that this locality fell within is found only within six protected areas in Queensland.

The discovery of new species of such well-known creatures as yabbies is a pleasant surprise. It’s a find that once more increases our understanding of the the size and beauty of Australia’s biological diversity — our irreplaceable natural heritage.

Common yabby, Cherax destructor

The Common yabby (Cherax destructor), a well-known (and dined-upon) crustacean of the Australian west. Lake Broadwater Conservation Park, near Dalby, Darling Downs. Photo R. Ashdown.

*The large and the small (from Rod Hobson, 7/4/2013)

It has long been a matter of Aussie pride among those of us interested in our freshwater crayfish (from perspectives other than gastronomic) that we have both the largest and smallest freshwater yabby in the world. Whilst there is no argument whatsoever about our having the largest our contention that we also have the smallest is hotly contested by our friends from under The Star Spangled Banner. Our local contender is the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which is a Wallum denizen of south-east Queensland reaching a grandiose length of 25 mm. South of the Mason-Dixon in the Deep South of the USA the flyweight belt is claimed by the Dwarf Crayfish Cambarellus diminutus. The Dwarf Crayfish is one of 17 species of freshwater crayfish of the family Cambaridae found in Mexico and the Gulf States of the USA. This family are all generally known en masse as dwarf crayfish, or more likely as crawdads or craybobs. Crawdad and craybob have also been absorbed into the Australian vernacular for our freshwater yabbies but are actually American terms. We owe a lot to The Beverly Hillbillies.

Cambarellus diminutus is a rare and threatened species known only from about 15 locations in Mobile County, Alabama and Jackson and George Counties in Mississippi. This crawdad also reaches an upper length of 25 mm so it’s actually a photofinish for the title of the world’s smallest crayfish. It’s a tie and we cannot, in all fairness, claim our crustacean, as the world’s smallest yabby. We still, however have a “no contest” for the world’s largest in the Tasmanian Giant Crayfish Astacopsis gouldi tipping the scales at 5 kilograms wringing wet and attaining a length of 80 cms. In fact not only is Astacopsis the world’s largest freshwater crayfish it is actually the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate. Let’s see someone beat that one!

Reference:

Coughran Jason, Dawkins Kathryn L., Hobson Rod and Furse James M., 2012. ‘Two new freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from Whitsunday Island, The Coral Sea, Australia’ in Crustacean Research, Special Number 7, 45-51, 2012.

Links

Personality-plus birds

Some more great images by guest photographer Mike Peisley.

Torresian Crows

These images were all taken in and around the wetlands and coastal areas of the Brisbane bayside areas of Boondall and Shorncliffe. Mike’s patience, observation skills and technical prowess have seen him capture images overflowing with the subjects’ personality.

Click on the ‘enlarge’ button (bottom right) for a full-screen slideshow.

Riders on the storm

Queensland is still counting the cost of   ‘ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald’, with major flooding and damage to property and infrastructure right down the east coast.

Humans were not the only species affected, with seabirds being blown far from home by the wild weather during January 2013.

Black Noddy _Mike_P (1) copy

Black Noddy, photographed at Shorncliffe by Mike Peisley. Blown off course by Cyclone Oswald, this is a bird usually found on islands and cays, including the Capricorn and Bunker groups, the Great Barrier Reef, Norfolk Island and the Coral Sea. It’s a species that occasionally visits Stradbroke Island and eastern New South Wales.

In the Darling Downs area, a range of unusual species were recorded. Birds either seen flying or found exhausted included Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Sooty Terns, White-tailed Tropicbirds, Frigatebirds and a Bulwer’s Petrel. The latter was a very interesting record — although there have been several confirmed sightings of Bulwer’s Petrels in Queensland over the years, this was the first specimen of this species obtained for the State, and only the second specimen for Australia.

White-tailed Tropicbird 2 Mick Atzeni copy

White-tailed Tropicbird, found in Toowoomba — a long way from ‘home’. This is a true ocean-going bird (pelagic), only coming ashore to breed. For eastern Australian birds, breeding takes place at Fiji – New Caledonia and the Tuamotu and Walpole islands. Photograph courtesy Mick Atzeni.

Toowoomba Bird Observers (TBO) president Mick Atzeni has been collecting records of the unusual sightings, adding to the group’s extensive database on the birds of the Toowoomba region.

“To see seabirds flying around paddocks and over local dams was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people,” said Mick.  “It was bitter-sweet, because these birds were starving, exhausted, and lost.”

Wildlife carer Trish LeeHong cared for some of the exhausted birds, which stretched the resources of her always-busy and not-for-profit Wildlife Rescue, Rehabilitation and Education Association. Several were restored to health and released at Deception Bay.

IMG_5646 copy

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Toowoomba. The common ‘muttonbird’ of Queensland’s warmer coastal waters, responsible for the wailing, crooning sounds often heard at night on Great Barrier Reef islands (but usually not in the Toowoomba suburbs). Photograph courtesy Pat McConnell.

Mick reported that dead Sooty Terns were found in the middle of Toowoomba, at the Murphys Creek township and at Lockyer Siding, while a Wedge-tailed Shearwater was found in James Street near Clifford Gardens, Toowoomba. Exhausted White-tailed Tropicbirds were found at Meringandan and Withcott, while Sooty Terns and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater were seen flying over the Lockyer Valley by TBO members.

Sooty Tern_Mick Atzeni copy

Adult Sooty Tern, Toowoomba. Also known as ‘Wideawake’, the Sooty Tern’s habitat is tropical and sub-tropical seas as well as islands and coral cays. Photograph courtesy Mick Atzeni.

QWEQE

Juvenile Sooty Tern, Lota. Photograph courtesy James Hunt.

“Wedge-tailed Shearwater and White-tailed Tropicbird are new birds for the official TBO bird list,” said Mick. “This was our first live record for Sooty Terns in the area we survey, as the only previous record was a dead one found on the Range Highway in 1976 (during a  previous cyclone).”

The body of the Bulwer’s Petrel, which unfortunately died soon after being found,  was lodged with the  Queensland Museum at Southbank, where its identity was confirmed. Stored as part of the Museum’s natural history collections, the specimen will be valuable for future studies.

Bulwers Petrel (9) copy (Large)

Bulwer’s Petrel, collected at the Oakey Army Base, on the Darling Downs. This small, sooty-brown seabird is found in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world. Usually a solitary bird when at sea, this species gathers to breed on islands in the Pacific and north Atlantic oceans. Bulwer’s Petrels have only been sighted in Australian waters on several occasions. Photo R. Ashdown.

Ian Gynther, Senior Conservation Officer with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, spoke to the ABC about the Bulwer’s Petrel.  “It’s only a tiny thing. When they’re not breeding they spend their whole life at sea — you could imagine the waves and wind they put up with at the best of times.”

“This is a prime example of how our knowledge of a bird that’s seldom recorded has been greatly increased by somebody with sharp eyes at Oakey,” said Ian.

Black Noddy _Mike_P (5) copy

Black Noddy on the wing at Shorncliffe — grace, style and frequent flyer points. Photograph courtesy Mike Peisley.

Storm-soaked Torresian Crow

Hmmm … maybe not so much grace, but a survivor nonetheless. Storm-battered Torresian Crow, Shorncliffe. Photo courtesy Mike Peisley.

Thanks to Mick Atzeni, Mike Peisley, James Hunt, Pat McConnell and Rod Hobson.

Life at the edges continues

Like humans, wild creatures get hammered by storms and cyclones. How do the little things survive? Many of them of course don’t, while others find safe places to ride it out, and some get blown to distant locations. And of course, water brings life in many ways, long after errant ex-cyclones have departed. Once-dry creeks spring to life.

Soon after Oswald my son and I went dragonfly chasing with some naturalist mates. Water ran through patches of sunlight, while all about was evidence that great masses of water had recently torn downhill.

Redwood Creek, Toowoomba

A small creek runs through Redwood Park, at the base of the Toowoomba escarpment. Often dry, it was now alive with water, light, life and sound. Photo Harry Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Four-barred Swordtail, Protographium leosthenes.

A Four-barred Swordtail (Protographium leosthenes). A member of the Swallowtail family of butterflies. All other photos by R. Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Odonata expeditioners Rod Hobson, Al Young and Mark Weaver seek that perfect image of butterfly or dragonfly. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Common Flatwing. Austroargiolestes icteromelas.

A pair of Common Flatwings (Austroargiolestes icteromelas) in the ‘wheel’ position. The male (front) is transferring sperm to storage sacs in the female. The female later uses the sperm to fertilise eggs as she lays them.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Water Striders (Limnogonus luctosus).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Ashdown and Hazza look for things to shoot, Redwood park. Photo courtesy Mark Weaver.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek.

We moved downstream. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Slightly closed to traffic for a bit thanks to Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis

Dragonflies scooted about near the bridge. The beautiful, aptly named Australian Tiger (Ictinogomphus australis).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

The same species, photographed against the wrecked poly water tank wrapped around the bridge.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

Poised for take-off. Australian Tiger again, different angle.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Hemicordulia superba. Superb Emerald.

This one may look at first glance like an Australian Tiger, but the seasoned eyes of the dragonfly spotters immediately pegged it as different. It’s a Superb Emerald (note the colour of the eyes). Hemicordulia superba. The only shot I managed to grab of it. Normally found further to the east, perhaps blown inland by the winds of Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Stockyard Creek, Rockmount.

We moved on again. Rod surveys Stockyard Creek, near Rockmount.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-171

A female Scarlet Percher lays eggs in the water, male still attached.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel (Pseudagrion aureofrons), Stockyard Creek.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-151

The cyclone formerly known as Oswald

Tropical Cyclone Oswald hit the coast of Queensland in January 2013 and headed south as  an “ex-tropical cyclone”, causing havoc and heartache for a considerable length of time.

Three images sent to me by artist Adrienne Williams once again reminded me of the power of water at such times. Adrienne lives at Mount Perry, south-west of Bundaberg — an area hit particularly hard by wind and rain.

flood-cut roads #1

These photos show the minor pot-holes created in the three roads linking Adrienne’s home to the rest of the world after ‘ex-cyclone’ Oswald passed by. They received 600 mm of rain in 72 hours. That’s Sunday, the ‘50% Lab 50% Rotti’ casting a cool eye over the scene. All photos courtesy (and copyright) Adrienne Williams.

adrienne #3

adrienne #2

It’s difficult to find one site on the web that gives an overview of the history and impact of this particular cyclone. It’s just all too big. The strength of nature when things gets fired up is expressed instead at a local level in images like these from Adrienne.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) website states that “Although the considerable majority of cyclone impacts are located in north Queensland, occasionally a cyclone affects areas further south down the east coast.” Oswald certainly fell into that category, even reaching Sydney eventually.

If you’re after some great stuff on cyclones, the BOM site has a stack of fascinating information on these things in Australia, including the following snippets on Queensland cyclones:

  • There have been 207 known impacts from tropical cyclones along the east coast since 1858. Australia’s deadliest tropical cyclone occurred on 4 March 1899 when a cyclone hit a pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay (north of Cooktown) and caused a massive storm surge accounting for 307 known fatalities.
  • On average 4.7 tropical cyclones per year affect the Queensland Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre Area of Responsibility. There is a strong relationship with eastern Australian tropical cyclone impacts and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, with almost twice as many impacts during La Niña than during El Niño. The likelihood of this occurring by pure chance is remote (significant at 99% level).
  •  The Queensland region of the Gulf of Carpentaria region has been hit by several disastrous tropical cyclones. These include The 1887 Burketown cyclone, The 1923 Douglas Mawson cyclone, The 1936 Mornington Island cyclone; the 1948 Bentick Island cyclone and Ted in 1976.

Some of Adrienne’s beautiful artwork can be seen at www.adriennewilliams.com

Rust never sleeps

Stanthorpe shed, January, 2013.

Click on bottom-right button below image to resize show to full-screen.

 

Damselflies

I’ve been gradually enlightened about the mysterious and marvellous world of dragonflies and damselflies. Dragonflies have always fascinated me, but only recently have been I been switched on to their more delicate relatives, the damselflies.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

This post is dedicated to Barry Kenway, highly-respected and knowledgeable Toowoomba naturalist, who passed away last week. I had the good fortune to spend some time with Barry, and Rod Hobson, chasing dragonflies in February 2012 (see Rockmasters and other legendary dragonflies). Barry’s knowledge about, and infectious enthusiasm for, these wonderful creatures was a joy. It would be hard to forget Barry’s smile as he spied yet another species of Odonata zipping about a creek sparkling with summer light.

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson, Rockmount, February 2012.

Here’s a slideshow of damselflies I’ve encountered over the last few years. They are a challenge to photograph! [Click on arrow-box, bottom right, to enlarge the slideshow.]

Damselflies are primitive insects belonging to the order Odonata (a name that refers to the large teeth-like mandibles of both larva and adult). There are two suborders of Odonata in Australia — the damselflies (Zygoptera)and the dragonflies (Epiproctophora or Anisoptera). There are 12 families of damselflies in Australia.
How do damselflies differ from dragonflies? Damselflies are generally very slender insects, with fore- and  hindwings similar in shape and venation and usually held closed above their bodies at rest. Their larvae have external gills on the end of the abdomen. Dragonflies are stouter and stronger flying insects, with fore- and hindwings more or less dissimilar in shape and venation, which they hold spread out when at rest. Their larvae have internal, rectal gills.

Brachychiton survivors

Most working days I walk through Queens Park on my way to and from town, passing a beautiful Queensland Bottle Tree (Brachychiton rupestris).

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba. I ended 2012 by taking some extended leave, and each morning I walked the little black dog through the park, gradually slowing down and looking around instead of rushing to work.

While I’m a bigger fan of wild areas, there are always things to discover in parks. The more I looked at this tree, the more I saw and liked. Walkers, dogs, joggers ands cyclists pass directly under its canopy, lost in their thoughts and usually oblivious to its charms.

Over the next three months I kept looking, photographing it with whatever I had on hand. Not knowing anything about Brachychitons I was concerned when it shed most of its leaves in the hot, dry October/November weeks, thinking it was drought stressed.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

A carpet of dead leaves during dry summer months. All photos R. Ashdown.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

However, a bloom of new orange and pink foliage belayed my fears. I found out later that this is a characteristic of these trees — they often do this before flowering, and they can also shed leaves to conserve moisture during prolonged drought.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Queensland Bottle Trees often shed their leaves before flowering, or during drought times. New growth is a beautiful pink colour.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Good to see I’m not the only one admiring this tree.

Also known as the Narrow-leaved Bottle Tree, this is one of  31 species of Brachychiton, with 30 found in Australia and one species in New Guinea. The common name “bottle tree” refers to the characteristic trunk of the tree, which can reach up to seven metres in circumference. Fossils from New South Wales and New Zealand have been dated at 50 million years old.

Pale-headed rosella in Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Pale-headed Rosellas seem to enjoy chewing the bark of bottle trees. A pair  regularly hang out quietly in the tree.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba

The tree supports  a mosaic of lichens, usually very pale and hard to see during dry times.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Midday, and bloody hot! A distinguishing feature of this particular tree is a water-mark that runs down one side. These trees do not store reservoirs of water, but their interior is made of a spongy, fibrous material that holds moisture. Photo by Harry Ashdown.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Sometimes, despite there being no rain for days, moisture seeps down the water-mark. Maybe early morning condensation moving down branches?

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Rain at last — summer thunderstorms appear in December 2012.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Workers return home through welcome rain …

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

… while, soaked with water and lit by the twilight, the tree glows quietly.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

A dark, rain-soaked trunk sports subtle hues …

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

… and the lichens seem to spring outward.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Before long we are back to long, searing days again in January 2013’s record heat wave.

Queensland Bottle Trees are endemic to a limited region of Australia — Central Queensland through to northern New South Wales. In 1845 the explorer Thomas Mitchell led an expedition seeking an overland route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He ran into these trees on his journey, within the brigalow (Acacia harpophylla) scrub that covered much of central Queensland. Mitchell found some trees so wide that a horse standing side on was said to disappear from view. This tree would be the saviour of many early squatters.

Barakula State Forest, Kurrajong.

A name-carved bottle tree has witnessed families come and go in Central Queensland.

The Bottle Tree’s most striking characteristic was that its trunk was not made of sapwood like ordinary trees, but rather consisted of a spongy fibre, which was also filled with moisture. In times of drought, settlers would cut down bottle trees and peel off the bark —  exposing the fleshy fibre, which cattle would eat. A large tree could satisfy a hungry, thirsty herd for weeks.

Indigenous peoples of course knew the value of this tree, carving holes into the soft bark to create reservoir-like structures, and the seeds, roots, stems, and bark have all been a source of food for people and animals alike long before white settlers arrived. The fibrous inner bark was used to make twine or rope and even woven together to make fishing nets.

Kurrajong

The strange, spongy bark of a Queensland Bottle Tree.

Auburn River NP 2004.

Bottle tree seed-pods, Auburn River National Park. This is a close-relative, the Broad-leaved Bottle Tree (Brachychiton australis).

qweqeqeq

Seed-pods of Brachychiton australis. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

Deemed a ‘useful’ tree, bottle trees were often left by settlers when they were clearing land. Today, solitary specimens are often seen in fields. To me they are reminders of times not so long ago when vast areas of central Queensland were covered in scrub.

Near Proston, Bottle trees

Near Proston, Central Queensland. A hill once covered in ‘softwood scrub’.

Kurrajong, Roma.

Farmlands and remnant bottle trees, Roma.

Kurrajong, Roma.

Roma, central Queensland.

In the brigalow-dominated landscape of the Queensland bio-region known as the Brigalow Belt, Queensland Bottle Trees were found within pockets of ‘softwood scrub’ —  or ‘semi-evergreen vine thicket’, a type of scrubby, dry rainforest. These ecosystems show some of the characteristics associated with the wetter tropical type of rainforest but are less luxuriant, lacking species such as tree ferns, palms and epiphytes. They also have a reduced canopy height and are simpler in structure.

A Brachychiton standsout amongst the silver foliage of Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla).

A Brachychiton stands out amongst the silver foliage of Brigalow (Acacia harpophylla). Arcadia Valley, central Queensland.

Auburn River NP 2004.

Queensland Bottle Trees are lit by the afternoon sun within remnant softwood scrub, Auburn River National Park.

Isla Gorge NP

Down at ground level within softwood scrub at Isla Gorge National Park (the trunk of a bottle tree is on the right). The technical term for these scrubs is ‘semi-evergreen vine thicket’.

Adaptations found in these forests to drier environments include smaller, thicker leaves, swollen roots and stems, and an (optional) deciduous habit — meaning that plants can preserve moisture by losing their leaves in times of extreme drought.

Auburn River NP 2004. Bottletree, Brachychiton.

Auburn River National Park. A Queensland Bottle Tree stands over the flooded river, 2004.

Auburn River NP 2004. Bottletree, Brachychiton.

The same location — a Broad-leaved Bottle Tree in its original habitat. A tad wilder, and a lot more interesting, than Queens Park.

Since white settlement approximately 83 percent of this type of ecosystem has been cleared, and the remaining patches are classified as endangered ecological communities.

About 20 percent of the remaining patches are found in protected areas, such as Cania Gorge, Carnarvon, Bunya Mountains and Expedition national parks. I’ve spent some magic hours walking within these remaining patches of softwood scrub, and it’s always exciting to come across a large bottle tree within its original habitat.

Kurrajong

A mighty specimen reaches high above cleared farmland in central Queensland.

Bottle Trees are also sought-after ornamentals, and line the streets of towns from Brisbane to Roma.

Queensland Bottle Tree, Brisbane

Queensland Bottle Tree, Brisbane (thanks, Susan).

Queensland Bottle Tree, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

Queensland Bottle Tree, Anzac Square, Brisbane. Photo courtesy Vanessa Ryan.

My solitary Queens Park tree, looking down onto Toowoomba’s central business district, seems odd and out of place to me in this cultivated landscape — a strange, silent, and somewhat troubling reminder of wild times past, when tangles of un-tamed vine scrub ruled much of the land now civilised and ordered by farms and towns.

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba

Kurrajong, Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

January 27, 2013. Ex-tropical cyclone Oswald works its way down the east coast, bringing heavy rain and winds, and soaking ground for thirsty trees.

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

Bottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, ToowombaBottle Tree, Queens Park, Toowomba

Queensland Bottle Tree.

Next day. The rain and wind has gone, the ground is soaked, shadows are back with the afternoon sun.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

Water still soaks down the tree’s side.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

A millipede enjoys the water.

Queensland Bottle Tree.

Second chance for a Brown Falcon

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Goomburra

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) on the wing, Darling Downs. Described in a field guide as “pot-bellied and scruffy”, I consider this to be a most striking raptor. All photos R. Ashdown (click on image for larger view)

On the second day of November in 2012, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Rod Hobson spied an adult male Brown Falcon trapped on a barbed-wire fence on the Back Flagstone Creek Road, at Lilydale, to the east of Toowoomba.

He extricated the injured bird and left it with wildlife carer Trish LeeHong at Murphys Creek. Trish who does a wonderful and difficult job looking after all manner of native creatures.

Nineteen days later Rod returned the rehabilitated bird to Lilydale for release. “The female will be here somewhere,” Rod said as we approached the spot. Sure enough, we soon found the female falcon perched close to the road.

Female Brown Falcon

The female Brown Falcon eyes us warily from her perch close to the road. One of six Australian falcon species, Brown Falcons are typically seen perched on fences, poles, tops of dead trees and even electricity wires.

Rod carefully extricated the the feisty male falcon from a carrying box and it was soon on its way skyward.

Brown Falcon

Rehabilitated male Brown Falcon, not happy about being handled by a human. The dark facial markings  and dark eyes, as well as conspicuous orbital skin and other bare parts, is typical of our falcons.

Brown Falcon

On its way up and out. Brown falcons are slow and heavy fliers, with a flight action described as “often erratic with jinking and side-slipping”. They can fly swiftly in pursuit  of prey, with short, stiff wing beats.

Brown Falcon

Heading off. Brown Falcons glide on raised wings, and soar with rounded wing-tips upswept. They often give cackling, chattering and screeching calls.

Brown Falcon

The released falcon gains some altitude. A soaring raptor is a sight to lift the spirits of any naturalist!

Brown falcons are one of my favourite birds, so it was a thrill to see one up close and to witness it winging its way back into the skies.

Postscript: Last week Rod revisited the spot and spied the male and female falcons sitting together  A good news tale!

Thanks to Trish LeeHong, Jonno McDonald, Raelene Neilson and Rod Hobson.

Trish LeeHong was the founding secretary of the Toowoomba branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland  A wildlife carer of over 20 years’ experience, she has a BAppSc in Animal Studies with Honours in echidna research at the University of Queensland.

Links:

Wooli and Yuraygir National Park

Some images from a trip in October 2012 to Wooli and Yuraygir National Park, east of Grafton in New South Wales.

Click on the ‘enlarge’ button (at right) to fill your screen with the slide-show. You can click ahead on images during the slide-show.

Dripping Dragons

Reproduction of a small article I wrote for the NatureWatch section of the Summer 2012 edition of Wildlife Australia, the magazine of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

Australia is a land blessed with dragons — lizards of the family Agamidae — with at least 75 species, mostly in arid-to-dry tropical areas. Queensland has a great variety of these wonderful reptiles, although only two are found in rainforests.

Boyd's Forest Dragon

Boyd’s Forest Dragon. Photos R. Ashdown

The spectacular Boyd’s Forest Dragon (Hypsilurus boydii) inhabits Queensland’s northern wet tropics. Both temperature and mood influence a male dragon’s features. Warm summers, the time for courtship and mating, bring on displays of their brightest colours and patterns. The female digs a burrow to lay her parchment-shelled eggs.

At the southern end of the State, Australia’s only other rainforest dragon species is also active, in its own cautious, cryptic way. The smaller, similarly camouflaged Southern Angle-headed Dragon (H. spinipes) warms itself in morning patches of sunlight while clinging motionless to saplings and the buttresses of larger trees.

Southern angle-headed dragon, Goomburra NP.

Southern Angle-headed Dragon, Goomburra National Park.

Southern Angle-headed Dragon

Southern Angle-headed Dragon, Goomburra National Park.

 

Frogs and lizards in print

I’ve recently had some images published in several new books on Australian reptiles and frogs. It’s always fun to see an image in print, especially when two of the books are by friends with whom I’ve spent some great time in the scrub messing about with cameras, and the third one includes images by another good photographer mate.

Cooloola Sedgefrog, Litoria cooloolensis, Freshwater Lake.

Cooloola Sedgefrogs (Litoria cooloolensis), at Freshwater Lake, Cooloola. This photograph, taken on a trip with Steve Wilson (see book further below), has been used in the newly published Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland by Eric Vanderduys.

Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland.

Find out more about the Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland, including how to order, here.

Eulamprus tryoni + funnel-web spider

Tryon’s Skink (Eulamprus tryoni) with a Funnelweb Spider (Hadronyche sp.) While deadly to humans, the spider makes a great meal for this lizard. This image, taken at Lamington Plateau while on a walk with Eric Vanderduys (see book above), has been used in the recently published Australian Lizards, A Natural History, by Steve Wilson.

Australian Lizards

Find out more about Australian Lizards, including how to order, here.

small-eyed snake, Isla Gorge NP

Small-eyed Snake (Crytophis nigrescens), Isla Gorge NP.  This image was used in the recently published The Reptiles of Brisbane, by the Queensland Museum. This field guide features the wonderful images of Museum photographers Jeff Wright (with whom I’ve also spent some time in the wild with cameras) and Gary Cranitch as well as contributions by Mark Sanders, Steve Wilson and John Cann.

The Reptiles of Brisbane

Find out more about The Reptiles of Brisbane, including how to order, here.

Giant Spear Lilly

Tucked away in a corner of the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens is a fairly nondescript plant with a rosette of large sword-like fronds. Barely noticed for most of the time, it captures walkers’ attention once a year when it throws up a large spike of bright red flowers. It’s a Giant Spear Lilly (Doryanthes palmeri).

Giant Spear Lilly, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens

Native bee on giant spear lilly flower

Struggling for a foothold — a native bee inside a flower of the Giant Spear Lilly in the Toowoomba Botanic Gardens. The leaves of this native plant can reach up to 3 metres, while their flower stalks (known as scapes) extend even further — up to 5 metres. Photo R. Ashdown.

The flower spike of 2012 was fairly low to the ground, so I had the chance to peer inside the flowers, where native bees could be seen covered in pollen and struggling to escape.

Native bee in Giant Spear Lilly flower, Toowoomba.

Native bee in Giant Spear Lilly flower, Toowoomba Botanic  Gardens. Photo R. Ashdown.

Named after English botanist Edward Palmer (1833-?1899), the Giant Spear Lilly is found in south-eastern Queensland and far north-eastern New South Wales. It lives on exposed rocky outcrops on infertile soils, or on bare rock. In New South Wales it is listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ species, as it is threatened in the wild by weed invasion, frequent fires and illegal seed harvesting.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

In their element. Giant Spear Lillies, Main Range. Photo courtesy Karen Smith, NPRSR.

A great place to see these plants in the wild is at Cunningham’s Gap, where the cliff face of Mount Cordeaux is covered in them. Mount Cordeaux (1135 m) is known to Aboriginal people as ‘Niamboyoo’. Part of Main Range National Park, a walking track here leads off  the rainforest circuit and zigzags through rainforest to the exposed upper slopes, ending at a lookout on the southern side (take great care if walking this track).

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

Giant Spear Lillies cling to the cliff face of Mount Cordeaux. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

They share their rocky habitat with Grass Trees. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lillies can grow to three metres tall and four metres wide. The leaves are ribbed to provide structural support. Giant Spear Lillies are known as xerophytes, meaning that they have adapted to dry conditions and do not require much water.

Each rosette of the Spear Lilly flowers once in its lifetime, but after flowering, the plant is able to produce more rosettes. Giant Spear Lillies flower in spring but can take over 13 years to flower. Flowering can be brought on by bushfires, which also promotes the sprouting of root bulbs.

Roasted Doryanthes flower spikes were used as a food source for Indigenous Australians and the roots were mashed into a pulp and made into cakes.

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range

Giant Spear Lilly, Main Range. Looking  south-east from Mount Cordeaux toward Boonah. The flower spike of this species will droop due to the weight of the flowers. Photo R. Ashdown.

Giant Spear Lilly, Toowoomba Botanic Gardens

A new flower spike begins to grow. I’ll keep you posted!

More information on Giant Spear Lillies:

Life in the drains

A day off work  a good time to explore the drains of town. With (small) dog and (smaller) camera, of course.

I say drains, because unfortunately it’s about the closest thing you get to a creek or some kind of natural waterway in this part of town. Still,  drains and water always have life of some kind, even if a tad feral.

[Blog update: Clicking on any image will bring up a larger version of the image.]

Pluto

A walk is always an exciting thing for a dog, in this case our midget mutt Pluto. The world is just full of stuff to explore. Like when we were kids. (Photos R. Ashdown)

Pluto

Why walk when you can fly?

IMG_4032

Are we going in here, boss?

Pluto

OK, let’s move into the light …

Cane Toad

… where we meet one of the underworld locals — a Cane Toad (Bufo marinus), seeking peace in the dark during the daylight hours.

 

Tracks in the sand

Tracks, Windorah

Tracks of night-movers. An early morning on the red sand dunes near Windorah.

Reproduction of text and images from a small article of mine recently published in the Spring 2012 edition of Wildlife Australia, the magazine of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

Who goes there?

We might have missed the wildlife but, with careful observation, we can tell who’s been there – and, possibly, which way they’ve gone, and how quickly.

Tracks — ephemeral trails in time — are always exciting to a naturalist. As windows into the lives of often elusive and shy animals, animal tracks open up an unseen world. They invite investigation and further detective work to figure out what wildlife has travelled the land before you. Along with scats and other markings, tracks bear witness not only to what animals have passed by, but what they did, where they went and more. Ground that others might not look at twice comes alive with a wealth of information.

Red-necked Wallaby and tracks

The closely-placed prints of the front and fore-limbs of a macropod, possibly a Red-necked Wallaby, in the bed of the Maranoa River at Mount Moffatt National Park show that it was not moving quickly.

Interpreting animal tracks has been, and still is, an essential life-skill for many people. Historically, animal tracking skills helped people find food, avoid dangerous predators and read the stories on the landscape. Indigenous Australians are masters in this field. My favourite description comes from Stanley Breeden, in his wonderful book Uluru: Looking after Uluru-Kata Tjuta — the Anangu Way. Breeden devotes an entire chapter to tracks and describes the exciting experience of exploring tracks and trails in the red sand with Anangu People.

The dense patterns of tracks I see in the sand everywhere are almost entirely made by small to tiny animals, their passages written in a fine handwriting. Luckily the sand is a perfect medium. The smallest toes and the lightest footfalls leave their marks.

For months now I have puzzled over these bewildering scrawls of hieroglyphics. A few I can identify … but most tracks are indecipherable. I need an interpreter, and there is none better than Edith Imantura Richards. To her the tracks are a clear text, an open book that she reads in great details and with a casual ease that comes from long practice. Reading tracks is routine to her but never dull. She enjoys telling interested people about the plants and animals, to share her knowledge with them.

Stanley Breeden, Uluru : looking after Uluru-Kata Tjuta — the Anangu way

Following the footsteps

Identification of wildlife tracks is employed today in wildlife research, conservation, and outdoor education. I’ve always found it extremely difficult. It’s hard to find ‘perfect’ tracks, and the surfaces on which the tracks are left make a lot of difference. The tracks by a particular animal will look different on different surfaces. The speed and gait of the animal varies the tracks and they are also affected by weathering.

Red Triangle Slug

Footprints are tracks, but not all tracks are footprints. These mysterious circular marks are found on the bark of eucalypts in wild places, as well as on the fences of towns like Toowoomba. They are made by the mouths of nocturnal molluscs, the native Red Triangle Slug, which grazes on wet nights on the algae that grows on those surfaces.

Gillen's Monitor

Goannas and other lizards leave distinctive tracks that include their feet and a tail-mark. Some goannas , such as the tree-loving, tiny and elusive Gillen’s Monitor (Varanus gilleni) are hard to spot, their presence perhaps best detected by marks in the sand.

The best places to find tracks are in locations with little vegetation and impressionable surfaces, such as sand or mud. The best times are generally early in the morning or late afternoon, as the oblique rays of the sun create shadows that make the tracks easier to see and to photograph.

Luckily these days we have several great guides to animal tracks and traces. For many years I carried A Field Guide to the Tracks and Traces of Australian Animals by R.G.B. Morrison, while today Barbara Triggs’ Tracks, Scats and Other Traces — a Field Guide to Australian Mammals is an essential book for any naturalist. Both Morrison and Triggs note that it is important to know something of the way that animals’ feet and limbs are constructed and how they move at different speeds — and both books give detailed descriptions of these factors.

Carpet python

Snakes, such as this Carpet Python at Arcadia Valley, leave unusual winding patterns on dusty roads and sand.

birds

Some tracks left by birds. Migratory wader prints in the sands of Moreton Bay (left), wet footprints from a just-departed White-faced Heron at Carnarvon Gorge (middle), and the wing marks of a Superb Blue Fairy Wren on a dewy car windscreen (right).

Matching the tracks

I’ve collected quite a few photographs of animal tracks over the years, but have identified very few of them, at least to species level. There’s something fascinating about them from a photographer’s point of view, particularly when you enjoy photographing the patterns in nature. It’s the intriguing evidence of an animal you’ve just missed seeing, but are now aware is around you somewhere. The bush speaks to us in many ways.

Bulldog ant, Wooli

Insects also leave their mark. A Bulldog Ant struggles to cross the sands of a steep dune at Wooli.

Loggerhead Turtle, Mon Repos Beach.

Tracks on a beach near Bundaberg are evidence of a natural history event that has been played out here for millennia. At night, in summer, between November and February, turtles, such as this Loggerhead, lumber up beaches to dunes to lay eggs, before returning to the ocean. These strange and large tracks are quickly obliterated by the rising tide.

My favourite tracking experience was stumbling upon the fresh marks in the red sand of the Simpson Desert, soon after arriving on a trip there. I had not seen a thorny devil (Moloch horridus) at that stage, but was fairly sure that these parallel lines of small footprints might belong to one of these wonderful native dragons.

I followed the tracks into the setting sun and, sure enough, came across my first thorny devil making its way slowly but purposefully across the sand. Photographing it as it wandered along in the setting sun was a memorable experience, and a lasting reminder to me that the tracks of other creatures can be worth following.

Thorny devil

Following tracks can sometimes lead to the track-maker. My track marks and those of the Thorny Devil I eventually found, Simpson Desert, western Queensland.

Thorny Devil

 

Flight of the stingless bees

My son has been keeping an eye on a colony of Stingless Native Bees (Trigona carbonaria) in his school grounds. These tiny (4mm) native insects are found across open forest, woodland and rainforest through coastal areas of eastern Australia.

We stopped to look at the bees after school recently, and found them swarming in the air, with hundreds moving about in a group being gently pushed backwards and forwards by the breeze. I took some images with a compact camera, which gave quite a surreal effect.

What were they up to? Native Stingless Bees do not sting (hence the name), but can defend their nests by biting and swarming. There seemed to be no attackers about, however.

I asked QPWS Resource Ranger Rod Hobson what they might be doing, and he replied in his usual helpful way. Clearly he failed to see the aesthetic appeal of my abstract bee images:

Ashdown,

Due to the fact that all but one of your images concentrates on the arty-farty depiction of this phenomenon and only one is of any value whatsoever in deciding on what is actually happening with the colony concerned it is impossible to give a definite explanation to your observation. There are three possible scenarios to this particular incident:

•  Native bees of this genus do swarm and can do so at any time of year including winter. Most of the swarming bees are drones obviously with a virgin female attending. These swarms are usually small up to about 200 individual bees.

•  Pheromones bind a hive together and each have has a pheromone particular to itself. Occasionally a hive gets so big that there is not enough pheromone to go around and bees that miss out are driven from the hive because they are not recognised by other members of the hive. These swarms can be of considerable size.

•  Trigona spp. (yours are carbonaria) are an aggressive mob towards others of the same species from different hives and pitched battles often take place between hives resulting in many casualties. The area around the defending hive is often left with a litter of corpses around its entrance after the battle ceases.

Judging by the number of bees that you report and appear in your images I’d go for either the second or third scenarios. Have a look around the hive ASAP to see if there is any evidence of victims of an invasion remaining although these could have already blown away after last nights wind or have been carried off by scavengers especially ants.

The bees at the entrance to their hive. These social insects make nests out of wax and resin in hollow tree trunks, branches, fallen logs and rock crevices. The brood comb is a horizontal spiral and pollen and honey are stored in pots.

Grey Goshawk

Some wonderful images of a Grey Goshawk (Accipiter novaehollandiae) taken by Mike Peisley at Boondall on the edges of Brisbane.