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!!)

Monday, 4 January 2016

New Year's Eve 2015- A Cockroach Bonanza!

Click on the images to see them in larger size
We spent part of New Year's Eve with hundreds of other people sitting on the sand at Clifton Beach, just north of Cairns, Queensland. It was a pleasant night with no rain and bearable humidity.

It took a while for the fireworks to get underway, and I decided to have a look at the strand vegetation, just above the the highest of the high tide mark.

To my delight I discovered a treasure trove of local cockroaches.
They were on a oddly named shrub called Sea Lettuce Tree, Scaevola taccada.
This is a widespread native coastal plant.
The fruits are eaten by a Silvereyes, Cassowaries and small mammals. As you will see below, the flowers are attractive to insects, and at night, especially cockroaches.
Here a the widespread small cockroach, Balta scripta Hebard,  is feeding on exudates from the buds and developing seeds of the Scaevola.

Balta scripta is a very widespread and common cockroach in northern Queensland. It has a very broad range of habitat preferences ranging from this coastal strand habitat to the much more arid inland mixed woodland an grassland sites. Wherever it is found, it is common.

The strand flora at Clifton Beach comprises a mixture of native and local plants. There is a small reserve where a creek empties into the ocean that may harbour reptiles of the more bitey kind.

A dominant plant beyond the Scaevola is Singapore Daisy, Sphagneticola trilobata, a central American native that, although very attractive, has gotten away with itself. It occurs in marginal habitats in northern Queensland and outcompetes native plants, literally overtaking them. It can occupy long stretches of rainforest edges. It propagates from nodes and is difficult to control.

The prolific flowers are loaded with pollen and that attracts insects.
Here we see one of the many undescribed species of Johnrehnia with Singapore Daisy pollen attached to its antennae.
Note the pollen!

Here we see two undescribed species of the diverse genus Johnrehnia on the leaves of Singapore Daisy.

 Normally nocturnal cockroaches wander about at night and feed on particulate matter on leaf surfaces. It is like a smorgasbord to them!

Above are two undescribed species of Johnrehnia searching for food, the top on a Singapore Daisy leaf, the other on Mangrove Lily, Crinum pedunculatum. This plant is a native but is cultivated and the ones at Clifton Beach have been planted. They provide a very acceptable habitats to a variety of insects.

Above Johnrehnia sp feeds on Singapore Daisy pollen. Note the nymphs (small cockroaches) which may be young of its species or some other cockroach.
Another undescribed species of Johnrehnia attracted to the pollen banquet.

 Present in smaller numbers was this slightly larger native cockroach, Carbrunneria barrinensis Roth. It was also found feeding on Singapore Daisy pollen.
This very flat cockroach, Megamareta phaneropyga (Chopard) spends the daylight hours in leaf axils of pandanus, which was present in the area. Developing Crinum leaves, as well,  also harbour this species during the day.
All of the above cockroaches are in the very large family Ectobiidae. Two representatives of another family, the Blaberidae, were found in the strand vegeation at Clifton Beach. The one above is a species of the large and widespread genus Calolampra. Males are fully winged and commonly fly to lights. Females are flightless and live in leaf litter.
The Surinam Cockroach, Pycnoscelus surinamensis (Linnaeus) is a widespread, introduced cockroach whose origins are a mystery despite its common name. It is parthenogenetic. That means that it is represented only by females. So it takes only one individual to start a colony. That is how it gets around so easily. It occurs in suitable habitats along the east coast from Queensland to New South Wales. It does not seem to enter houses but can be found in compost heaps, gutters and here in a natural habitat where there is plenty of cover, food and high humidity. This is one of several cockroaches that is "falsely" ovoviviparous. Females produce an ootheca, eggcase, from which the young emerge while it is carried around by their mother. The young cluster around the mother feeding on exudates that she produces. Eventually they go off on their own. This was the least common of the cockroaches encountered on New Year's Eve. It can easily be moved around in compost, pot plants and the like.
 Other orthopteroid insects similarly attracted to the strand flora are this Raspy Cricket, Hyalogryllacris sp. This is a last instar and is probably preparing to moult into an adult under the cover of darkness.
 This predatory katydid, Phisis jinae Rentz was described from Green Island, not far from Clifton Beach. It has been subsequently found along the coast in several localities and always in the strand  and mangrove flora. It too is a last instar and appears to be readying itself to moult into an adult.
The Northern Grass Pyrgomorph, Atractomorpha similis Bolivar, is very widespread in northern and eastern Australia. It prefers grassy habitats and is commonly found in the strand vegetation along beaches.
These small stinkbugs, Pentatomidae, are using the Scaevola leaves for a get together.
This crambid moth, Nacoleia glageropa, is a very common species and it is probably attracted to the the pollen and nectar of the flowering plants.
The "abundance of riches" brings along the vertebrate predators. This is a small Mourning Gecko, Lepidodactylus lugubris. A cockroach would be a very suitable New Year's feast.
A larger Mourning Gecko lying in wait for a meal.

It should be stressed that all of the above cockroaches, with the possible exception of the Pycnoscelus, are native species and would not find your pantry suitable for survival. On the other hand, they live mostly in leaf litter, in large numbers, and they are probably very important in the breakdown of this material and its return to soil. Because their numbers are so high, they are most likely important food sources for vertebrates such as birds, lizards and frogs as well as other insects. So they should be encouraged. They are probably important pollinators of native plants as well.

The take home message here is that these insects are important members of our biota. Prescribed burning of their habitat will result in their loss for many years and eliminate the roles that they fulfil.