Sunday, 14 February 2016

Giant Robbers!

This has been a strange year in the northern tropics. There has been no wet season at all. A few showers here and there but nothing approaching a normal wet. To the west, there has been a few good showers that have greened up the outback but no monsoonal drops at all.

Insect populations seem to be unusual as well. A recent few nights in the Daintree resulted in huge hauls of insects at the light sheets. But these were of a few species represented hundreds of individuals. Daintree lightsheets are usually quite sparse.

A lightsheet in the Daintree. Most of the moths represent a couple of species. B Richardson photo

This summer has seen large numbers of the very large robberfly (ca. 40 mm) identified by Greg Daniels as probably Dolopus genitalis (Hardy).

Robberflies are predaceous insects. They catch other insects, including robberflies, on the wing. Most species are diurnal, but a few Australian ones are active at night. These big fellows seem to prefer dark areas and will enter houses if doors and windows are left open. Their buzzing attracts attention but being a good Samaritan can result in a painful bite. The mouthparts are an effective syringe which conveys a concoction of painful chemicals. If they have to be handled, the flies can be dealt with effectively if grasped from the side, thereby, avoiding the beak coming into contact with the finger.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Curious Visitor

Every so often we get a visit during the day from a Green Tree Snake, Dendrelaphis punctulata. this is a harmless snake--at least to humans. It prey on small lizards, frogs and even small turtles.

This one was about 50cm long. Whenever we see them, they are curious and often follow us around for a short distance. They certainly do not bolt in retreat at first.

Looking closely at this little fellow, I noticed it is a swelling on its head.
It had a few marks on the rest of its body. It could be the result of an attack by a bird or feral cat or, perhaps, a subcutaneous parasite, like a fly. And then within a few minutes, the visitor was gone.

The Zika Virus

As a follow-up to the blog on the influx of mosquitoes around Kuranda (see below), I am grateful to Eve for the link and precis to the Zika Virus. The handsome mosquito also transmits Dengue which occurs in Cairns, Townsville and other places along the coast.

Zika Virus is spread by the Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti. This mossie is a "domestic insect". It occurs in and around human domestic habitats but usually not in nature. It breeds in birdbaths, flowerpot bottoms, clogged roof gutters and the like. Best to monitor potential sources and avoid the general aerial spraying that goes on in some Asian countries. This kills all the native insects and renders the habitats rather sterile as far as insects are concerned. Let's hope we do not get to that extreme in Australia.

Friday, 15 January 2016

They're Back

This seems to be a Cassowary Day.
We had a visit from Junior Cassowary and then after several months' absence, we had Mr Cassowary and his chick of the year showed up only briefly.

I only had the chance to take a photo with my phone and then they vapourised just as quickly as they appeared.

"Spud" Deflated

After a week in the limelight, Spud the Titan Arum has done his (her?) thing.
We all feel this way from time to time!

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Couple of Biteys

In the past few days Kuranda residents have been well aware of mosquitoes. We like to think of our patch of the land as being largely mosquito-free.

But in the past few days, we have been attacked almost as soon as we venture outside.
The culprits seem to be everywhere at present. A quick note to my friend Scott and he identified them as, wait for it, Salt Marsh Mosquitoes, Aedes vigilax. But then there are no salt marshes in Kuranda.

The scenario is that the recent rains, after a long dry spell, have filled the salt marshes around Cairns and this has resulted in a super abundance of these flies. Winds coupled with the storms of the past few days have blown them up the range to Kuranda.

The good news is that Scott feels they are here only temporarily and will be gone in a few days time. Salt marshes are in short supply around Kuranda.

Another bitey concerns our "friends" the Brush Turkeys. If you watch them carefully you will see winged, flattened insects darting around on their feathers. They have to be quick because the birds are constantly trying to rid themselves of these pests. And you have to be quick to see them.

These are flies of the family Hippoboscidae. The common names are louse flies, wallaby flies, and  for those into scrabble, "keds". These flies are ideally suited for their task. They have flattened bodies, elongated legs with sensitive claws and a piercing mouthparts. They pierce the feathers of the bird and feed on blood.

They have characteristic flattened wings with strong venation.
Hippoboscid flies can be quite devastating to livestock. One imported wingless species species, Melophagus ovinus, called the "sheep tick", can cause losses due to aenemia and staining of the wool.

Winged hippoboscids often make mistakes! I was wearing a black teeshirt when this fellow landed on me and began darting around looking for feathers which I was not wearing at the time. I retreated into the house where I captured the fly and put it in a jar. Its activity was quite remarkable as it darted around the jar for several days.

Graeme Cocks attempted to have it identified by some European friends and they decided that it was probably Icosta australica.

Our resident male turkey still has a nice fauna of these flies darting around on his feathers.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Titan of an Arum

Cairns residents and visitors are in for a special treat if the hurry to the Cairns Botanic Gardens. The Giant Arum Lily, Amorphophallus titan is in full "flower". This year it is massive with the flower approaching 3 metres in height. Last year's was nearly a record.

It is displayed in the new Conservatory, so if you have not had the chance to visit, this is the perfect opportunity. But it won't last long. In a few days the flower will begin to wither and that will be it. As of yesterday (8 Jan. 2016), the smell was not overwhelming--even to this non-smeller. But it will become overpowering in due course.

Everyone wants a photo. And not many cameras were in evidence. It's the phone that people were using.
That perfect shot.
The life cycle of the Arum Lily. This blog has covered these flowerings before. 
The girth of the flower this year is truly amazing and must be seen to be believed.
(By the way, these shots were taken with my phone!!)