26 June 2018

Dragon head fits the bright green caterpillar I found on this morning’s walk. I have never seen its like, with four menacing horns growing from its head. But it is smooth-skinned and harmless. Tailed emperor, Charaxes sempronius, is the name of the butterfly it becomes. The butterfly has a wingspan of up to 11 cm. It occurs throughout Australia other than Tasmania, though mainly in tropical and subtropical regions.

 18 June 2018

That is how emails from Chris Burwell of the Queensland Museum, who has long been my mainstay on insect identification, are now titled. Chris doesn’t just provide an attribution when possible, he adds snippets of fascinating information. Today’s arrival was a gem. Without Lumart’s sophisticated uv torch, we would never have seen the shield bug on the forest floor, one night in April this year. I filmed it under the spotlight as well as under uv. It was a female Peltocopta crassiventris which is unique in transporting her hatchlings under the concave underside of her abdomen. This feat qualifies the species for inclusion in a CSIRO list of five of Australia’s most amazing examples of animal behaviour.

 11 June 2018

Last year, I filmed and photographed a cotton shrub growing in a front garden, starting with the flowers in January, then the pods and the first cotton boll in March and finally a cotton harlequin bug in early April, followed by a female tending her newly laid eggs two weeks later. I photographed the nymphs on the 3rd of June, within a day of their hatching. The female never left her eggs for an incredible six weeks. At most, I counted ten bugs scattered throughout the shrubs at any one time, plus eventually, the hatchlings.

Noticing bolls on the shrub in early May this year, I crossed the road to take a look and was greeted by swarms of nymphs in various stages of development and plenty of adults, on leaf after leaf and crawling on stems, which I avidly photographed and filmed, returning for more photographs on succeeding days. Today I took another look and photographed a late instar female. There were more bugs than ever. I knocked on the door and spoke to one of the owners who admitted that he had never seen so many in the five years since he planted the shrubs.


 8 June 2018

Today I received two emails requesting a species identification from mountain residents.More often than not, I refer the enquirer to the Queensland Museum. Today I identified both the creatures, a moth and a spider. Also, this evening, I was asked permission for an early piece of mine about an orange-eyed treefrog in the Tamborine Mountain News to be used in a summary about an excellent recent series of seminars on Resilience.

 20 May 2018

Jack Hasenpusch emailed me a pdf of a chapter on camouflage and natural history, he and Paul Brock wrote for the book Camouflage Cultures, Beyond the Art of Disappearance. This was in response to a number of questions I asked him about spiny leaf insects, also known as giant prickly stick insects, Extatosoma tiaratum. The females can take a leaf-mimicking or lichen-mimicking shape. I had heard that the lichen-mimicking insects were instars which lost their lichen pattern and reverted to an overall light colour as adults. The pdf confirmed that the lichen pattern can be retained by adult females on rare occasions. The shape of the leaf-mimicking form is so different from the lichen-mimicking form that it is hard to believe they are the same species. I have filmed brown and green leaf-mimicking adult females on the mountain as well as an adult male and late and early lichen-mimicking instars.


 9 May 2018

On my morning walk I happened to glance towards the garden with the cotton shrubs and noticed the bolls dotting the vegetation with their white fluff. I crossed the road to take a closer look and was regaled with a profusion of harlequin bugs clustering on leaves, on unopened bolls, crawling on stems, which totally eclipsed anything I saw and filmed last year. The bugs were early to late instars, with countless males replacing the lone specimens on the shrubs I saw previously. There may have been a greater number of adult females  than before, but because of the profusion of instars it was difficult to tell.

 8 May 2018

Today I renewed the domain name for this website for another two years until May 17 2020. The cost increased by over 200% which led me not to renew a matching domain name which I thought might have some commercial value. A Chinese company once contacted me wanting to use it, but without making an offer, so I didn’t reply.

 7 May 2018

This year’s stay with Simon & Nicole,  brief as it was, had everything – inter alia, being licked and nuzzled by their cattle dog Pepper; a convivial gathering for Simon’s birthday dinner at the Wellshot hotel in Ilfracombe (a standout being the brilliant birthday cake featuring Shaun the sheep, a present from a professional baker friend of theirs); seeing the Qantas Founders Museum’s Super Constellation being restored, thanks to Nicole (the four impressive engines, lined up on pallets, looked brand new in their shiny grey cowlings, but are not airworthy); attending Pepper’s dog training class, which was a hoot and going on walks with her and swarming flies; binging on minced beef (a keema curry and spaghetti bolognese cooked by Simon) and watching the new 65” telly which was just brilliant. The weather was cloudy, with warm day and night temperatures. I couldn’t have envisaged a more enjoyable time.

The highlight was a grand day out organised by Nicole, touring Noonbah, a working cattle station 160 km south west of Longreach, the final 60 km on well-graded dirt roads. Even before we arrived, I was thrilled to see two wedge-tailed eagles at a road kill. The station is immense, has been the home of Angus Emmott’s family for over a century and reflects his priorities of preserving the land and recording its flora and fauna, so that cattle are now less of a priority, with tourism an increasing revenue stream. Angus’s fascination with the natural world started in his childhood. He is an accomplished self-taught biologist and has discovered new species and had species named after him. His wife Karen, has a nursing background and is a registered carer of injured and abandoned wildlife. A large enclosure in front of the house contained kangaroo joeys of different ages awaiting their return to the wild. Wherever Karen and Angus travel in the world, they seek out the plants and animals.

After a smoko of tea, fruit and homemade cake, we set off on our tour to a large lake which had been augmented by recent rain. I found a kindred soul in Angus. We compared notes to see which of the species we encountered on the tour or existed on the property, were local to both of us (such as the crested doves and the willy wagtails) and which were not.  En route we drove past a 2 km long emergency airstrip. Noonbah’s bird list contains more than 200 species, whereas the mountain’s has 150 or so; the difference partly accounted for by the absence of a large lake with a variety of water fowl. Angus would point out a succession of birds which were too small or too swift for me to see unless they appeared a second or third time. The lake covered 800 acres. From its bank we saw yellow-billed spoonbills, plumed whistling-ducks, black-tailed native hens (totally new to me), wood ducks and pacific herons (both of which we get on the mountain),  grey teal, pink-eared ducks and distant brolgas. The flies were in full force here due to the rain, (which may also have accounted for the number of caper white butterflies feeding on a plentiful supply of their host plant in the Emmott’s front garden). I was delighted to see red river and ghost gums.

The tour should have ended when we returned to the homestead, but we were invited to join the family for a generous lunch followed by a drive to the site where Angus’s grandmother pitched her tent to first settle Noonbah. It was near a spring on a plateau roughly 50 m above the surrounding terrain. Karen insisted we have afternoon tea after which Angus invited us to inspect his study, a chamber on a scale in keeping with Noonbah’s  vast dimensions. One wall was lined with library shelves from floor to ceiling, housing Angus’s huge collection of natural history books. We were shown drawers of pinned insect specimens, many collected on the property, and other drawers containing maps. We inspected several fossils from his collection. His study reminded me of a cabinet of curiosities assembled by a gentleman of the enlightenment. Angus is an eccentric in the best sense of the word, retrieving sufficiently intact road kill birds and reptiles, which he preserves and sends to the Queensland Museum. Back in Longreach I looked up all the birds whose names I had made a note of on the tour, in Simon & Nicole’s bird book. Angus and Karen appear to be exemplary custodians of Noonbah’s thousands of hectares in Queensland’s channel country.

 28 April 2018

This evening we filmed in a new location, 696 Main Western Road. In addition to Mark, Lumart and Jaap, the party included Karen, a skilled photographer and the owners of the property, Cobie and Kate. They have planted extensive areas of native vegetation to compliment some of the splendid, mature trees which adorn the 3 ½ acre grounds. Mark found several moths for me to film, a juvenile red triangle slug (among several fully grown specimens) and the pièce de résistance, a Robust Velvet Gecko. This is a beautiful creature with a broad, dark grey stripe from its eyes to the tip of its tail, covered in whitish,  lichen crypsis (mimicking) patches. It was attached to the outside of a window at a good angle for filming. The gecko is nearly as big as its leaf-tailed namesake. It is aptly named with its plump body, limbs and tail.

 20 April 2018

Peter Hendry and his wife left on a 3 ½ month overseas trip 6 weeks ago. This means that I have to upload new moth images to my album with a record of their file number, so that in due course I can attach them to emails to send to Peter. This is by way of a back story for today’s moths at the garage. Moths enjoy vegetation, so the removal of a large tree and various shrubs from one side of the drive a year or more ago has affected their numbers at the garage. Moths enjoy rain even more, which they did last night, resulting in a greater number than I have seen for months. I photographed three of them; one was a species new to me, but I won’t find out what it is until July, alas.