Monday, 22 April 2013

Things that go bump in the night....

First we heard it at the front door then a similar noise a little later at the back window....Too loud to be a moth, not loud enough to be an owl crashing into the window (as has happened). We turned off all the inside lights and walked quietly to the back window...and waited...a scrabbling noise and there it was, a ringtail possum hanging on to the windowsill. It was chasing moths :-).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

A Plethora of New Species Named

As it cools down and Autumn progresses, a few new things have popped out of the woodwork. Apart from the two damselflies, spider hunting wasp and Ichneumon wasp dealt with in other articles, the following other species have been found and named in Riddells Creek ...

As spiders go they don't get much prettier than this (above and below). There is some debate as to what to call this entity as there are apparently four species that look like this one that can only be reliably distinguished by their genitalia. They are generally referred to as Storena formosa but for now it is probably best to call it Storena spp.. It is probably an ant hunting spider.

While wandering down Narelle's creek bed this large 'Bee Fly' was noticed (very flighty so I couldn't get a great photo - ID to genus level by Ken Walker), Villa spp., 

I watched as this Red-headed Spider Ant (Leptomyrmex erythrocephalus) killed and carried off a Jumping Jack (Myrmecia pilosula),  (both are formally named for the first time in Riddells Creek collections):

This pretty wasp spent quite some time flying around the developing seeds of Bursaria spinosa subsp. spinosa. It is Williamsita spp. (ID by Ken Walker at the Museum),

This pretty beetle was on a Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata subsp. dealbata) in Sandy Creek Reserve. It is Calomela parilis (Calomela species are generically known as Acacia Leaf Beetles - ID by Chris Read, Australian Museum, via Ken Walker). Pics I can find on the web for similar species often show the beetles on Silver Wattle.

And below are a few weeds/introduced pests, formally named and recorded for the first time.

This one was probably planted at Rowallan Scout Camp in the 1960-70s and it is now spreading along Kent Road (Rowallan have recently been funded to help get rid of this plant from the area). It is Hakea salicifolia subsp. salicifolia (Willow-leaf Hakea),

Melaleuca armillaris subsp. armillaris (Giant Honey-myrtle) is actually rare in Victoria in its natural range (east of Orbost) but a weed (garden escapee) around Melbourne. I've seen it at a couple of locations locally,

Juncus acutus subsp. acutus (Spiny Rush) is a hideous weed of Volcanic Plains waterways. Again, Melbourne Water are funding works to get rid of this weed at this location,

Blattella germanica (German Cockroach) is, unfortunately, rife throughout Victoria. The two parallel black bars on the pronotum are usually characteristic,

And finally, the following aren't new species for Riddells Creek but they are two plant species not previously recorded for Conglomerate Gully Reserve. Tricoryne elatior (Yellow Rush-lily),

... and Hypoxis hygrometrica var. villosisepala (Golden Weather-glass),

The species count for Riddells Creek is now at 1180.

Two new Damselflies for Riddells Creek

Riddells Creek (the creek itself) is proving to be a great place for spotting dragonflies and damselflies. In late Summer and Autumn the creek dries to a relative trickle and a few large pools, making it possible to walk down the centre of much of the creek bed.

Last week I walked along the creek at Narelle's property and found a new damselfly, previously not recorded in Riddells Creek, Austrolestes annulosus (Blue Ringtail),

The above species was also found at Wybejong Park that same week and, I think, a female was spotted on Barrm Birrm.

Then a few days ago, while wandering down the creek at Wybejong, a tiny (really tiny!) damselfly flew in front of me - so small that it only caught my eye because of a flash of colour. It was a male Ischnura aurora (Aurora Bluetail),

By my reckoning this takes us to over a quarter of all Victorian species found in Riddells Creek (there are 76 species of dragonfly & damselfly in Victoria and we are now at 20 species in Riddells Creek).

All of our dragonflies and damselflies can be viewed on NatureShare:

You Wouldn't Want to be a Spider - Spider Hunting Wasps

Spiders and snakes are probably the most maligned groups of species. Spiders are renowned for catching eating unsuspecting prey but spiders too are under attack.

There is a group of wasps specifically known as Spider Hunting Wasps. They comprise the family Pompilidae and this week I've spotted or named two species from Riddells Creek and another from Daly Reserve in Gisborne. They are quite noticeable by their behaviour - they fly just above the ground scanning an area for spiders, landing occasionally but forever on the move.

A few weeks ago I spotted a Zebra Spider Hunter Wasp at Daly Reserve and this species I finally spotted in Riddells Creek last week (a new species record for Riddells Creek). I managed to key it out via a 1984 paper from the Australian Journal of Zoology as Turneromyia bassiana and this ID was later confirmed by Ken Walker (Head of Entomology at the Museum),

As mentioned, this species was also spotted at Daly Reserve, Gisborne, where more details of its behaviour was observed. The pic below was taken while it 'tapped' on the stick across the small hole in the ground. It is assumed this is its den since we later saw another individual digging a similar hole. The dirt from the diggings is seen right of the picture below,

The above species inspired my daughter, Lydia (10), to draw the lesser known 'Zebra Spider Hunter Elephant' ...

I've only seen the Zebra Spider Hunter Wasp in forested areas (with grass-dominated understorey) but the next species I've only seen (but regularly see) on Riddells Creek's grasslands. It is easily seen because it is very brightly coloured. It is Cryptocheilus bicolor (Orange Spider Wasp). It is also very difficult to photograph because it is very flighty and keeps a good distance (from me anyway). The individual pictured below is pulling a spider into a large crack in the drying basalt clay,

The spider wasp below is commonly seen but more commonly heard at my house. It is a hyperactive wasp and forever building mud nests all around the house, especially buzzing away in the grooves of our fly-wire security doors. I accidentally knocked off a nest once and found it contained more than a dozen small spiders. I have only worked it out to genus level, Fabriogenia spp., 
... and this dead one spotted by my daughter Ellena,

At Daly Reserve, in the same area covered by the Zebra, I also spotted a much smaller spider wasp which turned out to be Psoropempula erythrostethus (ID by Ken Walker), I haven't spotted this species in Riddells Creek (yet):

But it doesn't stop there for the poor old spiders ... on the same day I spotted the Zebra in Riddells Creek, I also spotted this species exhibiting the same hovering/scouting close to the ground behaviour that is a feature of spider hunter wasps:
I initially thought this was also a Spider Wasp but close inspection of the photo shows the large spike emanating from the rear. This looks like a horrific stinger but is actually an ovipositor (used for egg-laying). This is a feature of Ichneumon Wasps (family Ichneumonidae). It was named to species level by Ken Walker as Tryonocryptus gigas, I suspect this species might be a spider hunter too. Ichneumon Wasps lay eggs in the host using the ovipositor. I also spotted this species at Daly Reserve within just a few metres of the two spider wasps.

So next time you see a spider, you may view it with a little more sympathy (or maybe not). Humans aren't the only ones giving them a hard time.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Four mid-Autumn Orchids Flowering on Barrm Birmm

Walk in the foothill forests in mid-Autumn and you'd think hardly anything is flowering. But if you know where to look ... I found four tiny orchid species flowering on the amazing Barrm Birrm land, in Riddells Creek.

I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just out for a walk with the kids during their Easter school holidays (April 12). If anything, I was looking for the last of the dragonflies for the season and spider hunting wasps.

The first orchid I came across was the tiny-flowered Corunastylis morrisii (Bearded Midge-orchid):

Having seen the Midge Orchid, I then realised that I knew of a nearby colony of what I call Autumn Greenhoods (or Tiny Greenhoods) from previous years and I thought they might be flowering too, and sure enough they were. We think the species name is Pterostylis sp. aff. parviflora (Southern Victoria) or Red-tip Greenhood (parviflora means small flowers):

Then I started wondering about other orchid species that might be in flower now. Next I remembered an orchid I've only seen occasionally, only in March, and only in a very small area of a shady, damp part of Barrm Birrm. But there it was, Eriochilus cucullatus (Parson's Bands) - another tiny flower but in close-up it is quite amazing. 

Finally, realising I was on a roll, if the Bearded Midge-orchid was in flower I thought there is a good chance the other Midge Orchid species known on Barrm Birrm was also in flower. This species is a nightmare to find because it is so small it is almost invisible. But I went to a place where I'd seen it before and after a short search I spotted one, Corunastylis despectans (Sharp Midge-orchid):

My guess is this last orchid could be commonplace, but it is so ridiculously small it is rarely seen. Even when I know where to look, it takes me a few minutes to spot one!

Barrm Birrm is an amazing place.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Update on the Amazing 'Dancing Flies'

Recently I reported on some 'dancing flies' that were spotted on a giant mushroom. Are they fighting or dancing? Well the verdict is in! 

Here's a link to the original article:

... and here they are again ...

From Ken Walker (Head of Entomology at the Melbourne Museum) ...
"I believe it is the first time that this species has been photographed and probably the first time that the female (on the left) has been associated with the known male. The species was originally described by Francis Walker back in 1853 and the genus was not again revised until McAlpine and Kent published a paper in 1983. That paper has a key to species which allowed me to determine the species identification. It was fortunate that your images show both sexes as the key is only to one sex - the male. Your photos showing the black spots on the thorax of the fly were diagnostic for this species. Interestingly, while I was delving into the taxonomy of this species, I sent a copy of the image up to the Australian Museum. Fortunately, David McAlpine (now retired) was working in the Museum at the time and was able to confirm my species identification. The genus Tapeigaster, in general, has a well known association with fungi. This species, T. cinctipes is known to occur in NSW, Victoria, Tas and WA."

Ken added, along with the picture below "The key in couplet 9 says: “Mesoscutum pale brownish with a large, round blackish dot before and behind transverse suture on each side”."

Great detective work - and great fun! So they probably are dancing, and sizing up - but not sizing up in a fight for territory.

There is only one previous record of this species on the Atlas of Living Australia, a single male, and amazingly this was collected by a Mr A. Musgrave at Mt Macedon on December 30, 1932:

Here is the updated observation on NatureShare:

It is amazing what is out there waiting to be found.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Faster, Higher, Stronger

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin coined the motto for the Olympic movement "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (faster, higher, stronger) I'm sure he could have got the inspiration for the phrase from the flora and fauna in the Riddells Creek area.

Did you know we have many of Australia's, and sometimes the world's, 'biggest', 'fastest', 'tallest' and 'most beautiful' things living right here in the Riddells Creek area?

The fastest moving, reusable part on any plant in the world is thought to be the trigger arm on Stylidium plants (commonly known as Triggerplants). We have three species in this area, including the newly discovered (by RCL) and critically endangered Hairy-leaf Triggerplant (Stylidium armeria subsp. pilosifolium).
I photographed this Reed Bee carrying pollen to the Triggerplant. When the bee lands on the flower, the trigger arm, sitting behind the flower, releases and whacks the bee on the back, picking up the pollen from the bee. The arm then takes 10 minutes of so to reset.

The tallest flowering plant species in the world is the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans), which can be found just down the road near Cherokee. I was once told that the Musk Daisy-bush was the tallest daisy species but I can't find anything on this subject (do you know?). We certainly have two of the largest daisy species in Australia growing here ... Olearia argophylla (Musk Daisy-Bush)

... and Bedfordia arborescens (Blanket Leaf - photo by RCL member David Francis, via NatureShare) - see also

We have what is thought to be the largest mushroom species in Australia (see recent article on that subject), Phlebolopus marginatus

On to birds ... we get the largest owl in Australia (Powerful Owl)

... and the largest bird of prey in Australia, the Wedge-tailed Eagle (photo by RCL member James Booth, via NatureShare)

We have every species of monotreme (egg-laying mammals) that remain in the world, the Platypus and the Echidna.

We also have one of the rarest plants in the world, the Large-flower Geranium (Geranium sp. 1) - it was thought to be extinct for about 100 years until re-discovered in Riddells Creek a few years ago. Now known from only a few small populations.

We also, very occasionally, get what is often referred to as the most beautiful butterfly in the world (one which also has one of the longest migrations), the Monarch or Wanderer Butterfly. Technically not an indigenous butterfly, it has made its own way here from North America. This is the butterfly that is always used in TV adverts (watch out for them). It also has one of the more amazing stories, both in terms of its own migration and the story of where it migrates to, which was only quite recently discovered (the 3D film of the story is now playing at IMAX at the Melbourne Museum - well worth going!) - photo below is by RCL member Julie Macdonald, via NatureShare

I'm sure there are more - so let me know what I've missed.

Monday, 1 April 2013

How to get the most out of Nuts about Nature

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An Easter Monday story...

We were driving home after a lovely morning walking through the bush when we saw a dead kangaroo in the middle of the road. It wasn't marked with the pink cross that we know signifies it has been checked by a wildlife carer. In these situations we have always been told to look to see if there's a live baby in the pouch. In this case there was. It was hairless and about 30cm long. Russell and our daughters pulled its dead mother to the side of the road and rang our local wildlife person who cares for creatures in these situations. When she arrived we watched in awe and with great respect as she pulled the joey from the pouch, wrapped it up and put it close to her body to keep warm. We can only hope that the little one survives. Phone Wildlife Victoria 1300 094535 if you are in a similar situation.

Clean Up Australia Day- Barrm Birrm 2013


Reported by our Site Supervisor Lachlan Milne: We had 13 people help out on the day.  Overall rubbish was way down, especially on the road reserve which was a great outcome. There was less ‘gross’ rubbish, that is big piles that are deliberately dumped, and would take a lot of effort, eg the pile of books.  Mostly it was soft drinks, particularly energy and sports drinks and McDonalds waste, with less alcohol containers than in previous years which is interesting.  Some syringes were found, which is a concern.