Wild South East

a nature blog of south-east Victoria, mostly Gippsland


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Leaf-curling Spider

During summer a common sight in southern and eastern Australia’s woodlands, open forests and urban gardens is an untidy and almost circular web strung between vegetation with a curled leaf seemingly caught in its centre.  This is usually the workings of the Leaf-curling Spider Phonognatha spp.

Leaf-curling Spider- Phonognatha sp. 10km west of Morwell, Vic.  In web on edge of Leptospermum swamp. 2-3-10

Leaf-curling Spider Phonognatha graeffei outside of its Eucalypt leaf shelter. Morwell, Vic.

There are currently 7 species of Phonognatha recognised wordwide with 4 in Australia. By far the most common and widespread in Australia is P. graeffei (pronounced greef-e-i) which is found in Tasmania and along the entire east coast of Australia to South Australia. Males reach a body length of about 6mm and females 10-12mm. They currently belong to the Orb-weaving family Araneidae but there is ongoing debate as to whether they should be in this family or not and in the past the genus has being placed in other families.

Leaf-curling Spider- Phonognatha sp. 10km west of Morwell, Vic. In web on edge of Leptospermum swamp. 2-3-10

Phonognatha graeffei

Leaf-curling Spiders, after constructing a web, will haul up a leaf from the ground at night using a silk line and attach it to the web. This is then curled up with more silk until it forms a shelter in which to hide. The top end is closed with silk and the base is open. I’ve noticed Eucalyptus leaves are favourites with this species in Victoria but I have seen them use Snowy Daisy-bush Olearia lirata and Hop Goodenia Goodenia ovata leaves as well. Occasionally other items such as paper or even an empty snail shell are used instead.

Leaf curling spider  'nest'. Berrys Creek, Vic. April 2014

Typical web design with the hub being a 3/4 circle with a curled leaf near the centre. This leaf I think is from a Snowy Daisy-bushBerry’s Creek, Vic

Once the leaf shelter is completed the male will shift in with a female or sometimes live close by. This is typically an immature female who lives in the top part of the leaf while the male guards the entrance from rival males and catches insects caught in the web.

Leaf-curling Spider consuming beetle. Dutson Downs, Vic. Open Banksia woodland. 20.3.2015

P. graeffei catching a Soldier Beetle (Cantharidae).

As soon as the female reaches maturity the male mates with her, occasionally resulting in the male being eaten. This female then moves out and constructs her own leaf shelter amongst nearby vegetation where she will lay her eggs. As with most other ‘modern’ spiders (Araneomorphae) they have short lives and both the male and female Leaf-curling Spiders will die at the end of summer to be replaced by their children.

Once hatched, the spiderlings themselves will begin hoisting up small leaves as practice for when they are ready to shift out of home and begin the process all over again.

 

 

 

 


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Gippsland’s Reptiles Part 3- Dragons and Monitors

This is part 3 of a photo essay on Gippsland’s unique reptiles, this time to include dragon and monitor (goanna) lizards.

Although not highly diverse as much of the rest of Australia, particularly the arid parts of the continent, Gippsland’s dragon lizards (family Agamidae) include a handful of interesting species. Their distribution extends throughout the Gippsland region and each has specific habitat and diet requirements.

On the coastal plain of Gippsland you are likely to come across the well camouflaged Jacky Lizard Amphibolurus muricatus, particularly in the drier woodlands and coastal parts of the region where it can be found on the ground or perched on branches. It is found in the coast and ranges of SE Australia from South Australia to south east QLD.

Jacky Dragon-Amphibolurus muricatus. Open Red Gum woodland, Fernbank,Vic. Sept 2013 (3)

Jacky Dragon. Fernbank, Vic.

 

 

Jacky Dragon- Amphibolurus muricatus. Dutson Downs, Vic. Heathy woodland. 16.9.2015 (1)

This species is relatively common in open woodlands and coastal scrub and can be easy to miss when walking through these areas as it blends in well with its surroundings. Growing to a total length of almost 400mm it is very similar to the much smaller Mountain Dragon Rankinia diemensis which also occurs in the region. Jacky Dragons can be identified from this species by the inside of their mouths being bright yellow as well as having no enlarged spines at the sides of the tail base. Mountain Dragon’s mouth is blue inside and they have small spines at the sides of the tail base.

Jacky Dragons have a peculiar way of communicating with each other which include complex movements such as head bobbing, arm waving, push ups, body rocking, tail flicks and colour changes. When disturbed they sometimes run upright on their strong back legs to escape at speed.

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The Mountain Dragon, as its name suggests, is typically found in high country but can also extend to the foothills and some parts of the nearby coastal plain.

Mountain Dragon- Rankinia diemensis. Mitchell River NP, Vic. Dry rainforest gully in leaf litter.  29-12-09

The Mountain Dragon showing its brilliant camouflage. Mitchell River NP, Vic.

As with the Jacky Dragon they are very well camouflaged and difficult to detect due to their ability to change their colour to their surroundings.  Mountain Dragons feed almost primarily on small insects found in leaf litter and low vegetation of dry woodlands. I have often seen them in the high country perched on the top of small termite mounds feeding on termites. This is a small dragon and can grow to a total length of up to 200mm.

Mountain Dragon- Rankinia diemensis. Near Ben Cruachan, N of Heyfield, Vic. 31-12-2011 (2)

Mountain Dragon feeding on termites. Note the way it changes colour to its surroundings.

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When travelling along rivers and large streams in Gippsland you are often aware of frequent splashes in the water. This is often due to the presence of the large Gippsland Water Dragon Intellagama lesueurii howittii, a subspecies of the Eastern Water Dragon which is common along the east coast of Australia and is a semi-aquatic species.

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (2)

Male Gippsland Water Dragon. Yallourn, Vic

 

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (7)

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  23-2-10 (13)

Female or juvenile Water Dragon. Yallourn, Vic

Gippsland Water Dragons inhabit rivers, streams and sometimes rocky intertidal areas of the coast. They frequently perch on rocks, logs and branches overhanging the water and will often use these for a quick access to the water to hunt or escape predators, similar to the freshwater turtle. They have a strong swimming ability and is reputed to be able to remain underwater for over an hour! It feeds on a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species which includes insects, aquatic organisms, small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards and mice as well as fruits and berries.

Gippsland Water Dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. Yallourn, Vic.  5-2-10 (3)

Water Dragons look almost like a swimming snake when they take to the water.

Gippsland Water Dragon males can grow to almost 1m in length and weight up to 1kg. Males have a brilliant colour pattern in the breeding season which includes a bright orange and green blotched neck and green overall body colour with striping on the tail. The Eastern Water Dragon male typically has a reddish pattern on the neck and chest, a dark patch behind the eye and more prominent stripes and the tail and back. It also tends to lack the green body colour of the Gippsland subspecies. Several feral populations of the Eastern Water Dragon have been found in South Australia and Victoria, including Gippsland (Yallourn), presumably escapees from reptile breeders.

Gippsland water dragon- Physignathus lesueurii howittii. (male) Yallourn North along Latrobe River on willow. 18-3-10 (4)

An Eastern Water Dragon male showing red throat and belly and vivid patterns on the face and back. This is a member of a ‘feral’ population at Yallourn, Vic.

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The Lace Monitor Varanus varius is a large species of goanna found throughout Gippsland but is becoming increasingly rare in the western part of the region. As such it is listed as threatened in these parts. In central and eastern Gippsland, including the high country, Lace Monitors are still quite common in forest and woodland and will often hang around campsites or rest stops looking for scraps. Individual can have a large home range of up to 1-2 km² in summer but will remain almost dormant in winter. They are semi-arboreal and will often climb trees to raid nests of birds and mammals and will often use large hollows to shelter in.

Lace Monitor- Varanus varius. Avon-Mt Hedrick Scenic Reserve, N of Heyfield, Vic. Woodland. 29-12-2011.

Lace Monitors are very adept at climbing using their large claws. Heyfield, Vic.

Lace Monitors are one of the biggest goannas in Australia and males can grow to a total length of over 2m. Their name comes from the network of stripes on the body and neck which can vary in colour and pattern. The typical overall colour is dark grey with a complex series of creamy-yellow spots often merging into stripes. The neck and underparts are cream with dark grey stripes or blotches. Some individuals have a blue tinge to the body, especially the throat.

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Lace Monitor showing blue colouration to the throat and face. Buchan, Vic

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Another species, Gould’s Sand-Monitor Varanus gouldii, has historically been recorded from far east Gippsland but this hasn’t been seen for decades and it apparently wasn’t a common species in this area.

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Dragons and monitors probably evolved on the same lineage as snakes very early in reptile evolution in the Cretaceous period. In fact, monitors are the only lizard to share the forked tongue with snakes which they use to smell scents and it is thought that these two are closely related.

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Characteristic forked tongue of the monitor lizards

 

Although not as common as Gippsland’s skinks, the dragons and monitors of the region are always a pleasure to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The secret life of the paddock tree.

The majority of prime agricultural land in southern Australia was once densely vegetated with scrub, woodlands or forests, typically dominated by eucalypts. In Victoria’s Gippsland region, one of Australia’s most fertile areas, most of the land has been so highly modified from clearing it is often difficult to determine what the original vegetation communities were. The only way to do this is to observe the handful of remnant species remaining to work out the original EVC (ecological vegetation class) and this vegetation is often in the form of the paddock tree.

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This drastic change to the landscape is unfortunately typical of a lot of agricultural land in Australia. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century the clearing of vegetation in southern and eastern parts of the continent was on such a grand scale and in such a relatively short period of time that many species, both plant and animal, had no time to adapt to this change and an extraordinary amount of species became extinct or threatened. According to the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council VEAC Report 2011 it has been estimated that 30% of Victoria’s native fauna and 44% of native flora have become extinct or threatened with extinction.

Conilurus_albipes_-_Gould

White-footed Tree-rat Conilurus albipes, a species once widespread in south-eastern Australia but now extinct, probably due to land clearing and predation by foxes and cats. (John Gould [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

In Gippsland, the Strzelecki Ranges and nearby foothills originally consisted of mostly wet or damp forest which before European colonisation was seldom touched by fire, unlike the grasslands or drier forests and woodlands of the Gippsland plain which were periodically burnt by aboriginal people.

In the late 1800’s to early 1900’s these moist slopes were beginning to be transformed into bare rolling hills by the white settlers who were allocated small allotments. These had to be cleared of a certain percent of their vegetation in a short period of time, otherwise they forfeited their rights to occupy the land. At first this was done by axes and saws which must have been an enormous task but later was done by burning the forests to open them up and make them easier to manage and clear. Wet forests are less able to adapt to intense fires and much of the vegetation didn’t recover. These bare areas were then transformed into grassy paddocks where stock and crops were farmed.

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Wet forest typical of the Strzelecki Ranges. Gunyah, Vic

 

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Typical dairy farmland in the western Strzelecki Ranges, originally consisting of wet forests. Note the major landslip in the central left of the photo.

The expansion of rail lines into South Gippsland in the 1890’s created an exponential amount of settlement in the area and subsequent clearing of forests for towns, roads and agriculture. This has resulted in a patchwork of often isolated vegetation in the form of ‘island’ reserves, parks, roadside remnants and the topic of this blog, the paddock tree.

Native paddock trees, however isolated they are, are important in the ecosystem as they provide food, shelter and protection for a wide range of species. Bats will use tree hollows or loose bark for roosting and rearing young. Koalas and possums will often travel over open farmland to utilise isolated trees and many birds will use these to feed or nest in or as stepping stones when accessing other sites.

Koala. Berry's Creek, Vic. In Gippsland Blue-Gum. 23.11.2015 (4)

The Koala often has a wide home range and will travel over open paddocks to access isolated trees.

In agriculture remnant paddock trees can be important for productivity, particularly when farming livestock as these trees provide protection to stock from the elements (less stress=more productivity). So why don’t we put more effort into protecting these assets if they’re so important? Some farmers do a great job at protecting these remnants, often depending on how active or well-funded their local Landcare group is but others can be negligent or misinformed in their approaches.

The problem with many native farm trees which become isolated is that they are more susceptible to diseases, parasites (insects, mites, nematodes and some plants), insect damage, stress from the elements, browsing pressure, excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, drying out of soil, compaction of the ground and rubbing from livestock. A recent study by scientists from Deakin University looked at koala populations and their browsing pressure on Manna Gum Eucalyptus viminalis. It found an initial increase in density of Koala populations resulted in severe browsing of these trees within a small area. This in turn caused a catastrophic drop in Koala numbers due to starvation. Insects also can have a major effect on tree health due to lack of predators and can cause extreme defoliation, root or basal bark damage and are often attracted to an already stressed tree as this is when the tree’s defences are down.

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An insect borer is likely to have caused the death to this Blackwood Acacia melanoxylon.

 

All these above  factors can result in the slow death of the paddock tree with no recruitment of seedlings. Some farmers see their native trees are dying and plant exotic species such as Pines which are less prone to being attacked. But there are steps property owners can undertake to protect isolated native trees while still being productive both in an agricultural and ecological sense.

Remnant trees and other vegetation can be protected firstly by fencing off stock to avoid damage from soil compaction, browsing and rubbing, erecting the fence at least from the canopy-width out from the tree (ideally twice the width of the canopy). By allowing stock to still use the protection of the tree, but excluding them from compacting it’s roots, the farmer still benefits. Whether it’s an isolated patch of vegetation to be created or ideally a corridor the simple recipe for success is a diversity of species to be planted and adequate weed control. This includes trees, shrubs and larger hardy grasses, all of local province. Smaller shrubs, herbs and grasses can be added in the future once the canopy is relatively established and some minor weed control is continued.

Gully area in Jan 2010 for proposed reveg in May 2010 (1)

A neglected paddock with dead, borer- infested Blackwood trees

Gully area in Nov 2015 (2)

The same photo 5 years later after fencing and revegetation

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Due to the 5 year accumulation of leaf litter and dense canopy layer there is no more need for weed control and there is already a recruitment of species from self-seeding.

One mistake that many well-meaning landowners or groups do is lack diversity in their plantings. By having an array of nectar-producing plants, species like honeyeaters, bees, wasps and butterflies are attracted to feed on the flowers. Birds such as parrots and Silvereyes are attracted to fruiting plants and seed-producing plants like grasses attract native Bush Rats and Rosellas, among others. The leaves of different plants often have specialist insects which feed on them and this insect fauna attracts predators such as spiders, reptiles and a wide range of birds. Then there’s the protection from predators and nesting opportunities the plants provide.

All these factors protect any remnant isolated trees from damage and allows the tree to hopefully produce viable germinates and successive generations. Additional vegetation will protect the tree by also increasing the soil’s microbes, humus layer from leaf litter and protection from the elements. By attracting a diversity of fauna to a patch this in turn will protect the vegetation from pests as there will be more predators to keep them under control.

A common example of imbalance with isolated trees is the prevalence of the parasitic Australian mistletoe. The widespread Mistletoe Bird feeds on the fruits of the mistletoe and will often target isolated trees or trees on the edge of a remnant patch. The seeds of the fruit are excreted on the branches of the isolated tree where they grow and often infest the tree to the point of death. This is due to a lack of mistletoe predators in open areas such as some of the Jezebel butterflies Delias spp whose caterpillars feed primarily on mistletoe leaves and keep them relatively in check in healthy bushland.

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A tree heavily infested with Drooping Mistletoe Amyema pendulum.

Imperial White- Delias harpalyce. Emerged from chrysalis found on Blackwood, Fish Creek, Vic. 19.1.16 ©Craig Boase.JPG

Imperial Jezebel Delias harpalyce, Fish Creek, Vic. The caterpillars of this species help control mistletoe.

 

Unfortunately, paddock trees are a dying breed but without more education and funding available to farmers and other landowners we’ll keep losing more and more of them.

 

 


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The Knob Reserve, Stratford

Although it’s got an unfortunate name, the Knob Reserve in Stratford is a hidden little gem tucked away behind the town. This park is 56 hectares of mostly Gippsland Plains Grassy Woodland, an EVC (Ecological Vegetation Class) which is threatened and few relatively intact remnants remain in the region due to clearing for agriculture.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Plains Grassy Woodland, Knob Reserve.

Historically this park is very significant to the indigenous Gunaikurnai people and has been a traditional meeting place for thousands of years. The ‘knob’, a prominent bluff along the banks of the Avon River would have been seen a long distance away. Evidence of their occupation can be found on and around the bluff including scar trees (trees with bark removed for canoes or shields) and sandstone grinding stones which were used to sharpen tools such as axes.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Panorama from the bluff overlooking the Avon River.

Grinding stones

Grinding stones

Early spring is the time when this area comes to life and although the grass is still green from winter it doesn’t take long for the soil and vegetation to dry out to a crisp. When I visited last week a lot of the herbs, lilies and orchids were in full bloom and the birdlife was extraordinary.

The Bulbine Lily Bulbine bulbosa was particularly common and the large yellow flowers could be seen dotted everywhere.

Bulbine Lily

Bulbine Lily

Chocolate Lilies Arthropodium strictum were also very common but only just beginning to form flowers and I think if you went back next week it would be a haze of purple.

Chocolate Lily

Chocolate Lily

This reserve has a high number of Donkey Orchids Diuris spp, one of them, the Purple Diuris Diuris punctata is listed as threatened. Although there weren’t any I could see flowering yet the photo below is from another trip I did to a grassland reserve near Bairnsdale the next day.

Purple Diuris Diuris punctata

Purple Diuris

Leopard Orchids Diuris pardina and Golden Moth Orchids Diuris chryseopsis weren’t common but scattered in the denser grasslands.

Leopard Orchid Diuris pardina

Leopard Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Golden Moth Orchid

Like I mentioned the birdlife was amazing and within half an hour I had a tally of nearly 40 species! Parrots in particular were everywhere and many were searching for nesting hollows in the old Red Gums.

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Sulphur-crested Cockatoo checking out the real estate

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Might need a second opinion from the wife

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Eastern Rosella checking out a hollow

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A moment of contemplation

We’re heading back to this reserve next week for work and it should be great to see what else might pop up.


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Wetland frenzy coming to an end

With summer now ended and autumn started Golden-headed Cisticolas are starting to call less and less as the breeding season is coming to a close. The bird’s incessant buzzing and chirping in spring and summer signifies these warmer times of the year as much as the cicada does. In wetlands and nearby grasslands during these months males are commonly seen perching and calling on the tops of tall grasses, reeds and sedges or conducting elaborate flights while calling to nearby females.

Female Golden-headed Cisticola

Female Golden-headed Cisticola at Wonthaggi

This tiny species is common along the coastal and nearby regions of eastern and northern Australia but during the cooler months it can be quite hard to spot, mainly due to its size and habit of concealing itself amongst wetland vegetation.

While photographing these birds I came across a few other little critters on my travels.

Orb Spider- Eriophora sp

Orb Spider- Eriophora sp

These large Orb Spiders Eriophora sp. are a common sight amongst reeds west of Wonthaggi and some can grow quite big.

The Striped Marsh Frog Limnodynastes peronii with its distinctive sharp and loud “tok” call is one of the most common frogs in the region and can be found in a wide variety of habitats but requires a reliable water source to lay its foaming mass of eggs in the water amongst vegetation. For the most of the year the males can be heard calling, usually while half-submerged in water.

Striped Marsh Frog

Striped Marsh Frog

Dragonflies mating

Dragonflies mating

This pair of dragonflies, most likely Australian Emperors Hemianax papuensis , was mating in the middle of the pond but the female (in the water) seemed like she was having a whole lot of trouble keeping her head above water. The female usually has to extend her abdomen up in order to successfully mate with the male but she was more preoccupied with her own survival. The male finally gave up and they both flew away separately.

The frenzied activity surrounding wetlands may be drawing to a close in readiness for the winter downtime but there’s always something interesting to find.

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Like father like son

When it comes to unique Australian birds the Mistletoe Bird is up there with the best. This striking but usually inconspicuous bird is highly adapted to feeding primarily on the berries of the native parasitic Mistletoe and it’s gut has evolved to pass the berries quickly through it’s digestive system to be excreted on branches. These berries then germinate on the branch and a new plant grows, taking nutrients from the host tree.

I stumbled on an adult male and a juvenile male Mistletoe Bird feeding together on the berries of the Creeping Mistletoe Muellerina eucalyptoides in a Black Wattle Acacia mearnsii at Sunny Creek, Victoria.

Male Mistletoe Bird

Male Mistletoe Bird

Juvenile male Mistletoe Bird

Juvenile male Mistletoe Bird with it’s developing plumage (looks almost like it had been savagely attacked!)

The juvenile, in semi-plumage, was apparently following the adult male (I gather it was his dad) around and eating the plump fruit but its table manners and fruit selection were not as developed as its dad. The poor young guy was taking fruit which was too small and green and was also having trouble swallowing it correctly. Eventually it found the right technique and gorged itself on the fruits.

Feeding on fruits (notice the dribble)

Feeding on fruits (notice the dribble)

You can do it!

You can do it!

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Pear-shaped fruit of the Creeping Mistletoe

Pear-shaped fruit of the Creeping Mistletoe


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A reptile fortnight

Finally we managed to get a handful of warm to hot days in the last two weeks but it was only fleeting as the temperatures have dropped again, typical of this year’s unusually mild summer.

My passion for reptiles has resulted in me studying the weather forecasts every day hoping for a warm sunny day to bring them out. The last two weeks definitely lived up to my expectations.

The first of the hot days we were working for a client in wet forest near Trafalgar. While walking through an open section of the forest where sun was streaming through I came across a fully grown Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus. It was partially hidden in vegetation but I managed to snap some photos of it’s head. It seemed unperturbed by me and sat there while I composed my shots before finally slithering off slowly.

Tiger Snake

Tiger Snake

I’ve noticed in the past with very large, fully grown snakes that they are less frightened by people than younger snakes. One of the biggest Tiger Snakes I’ve ever seen was while working for Parks Vic in Wilson’s Promontory and the body of this snake was as thick as my arm! When we accidentally startled it (and ourselves!) it just raised it’s head and looked at us knowing fully well it could protect itself. We were sure it yawned at us too.

In the same forest near Trafalgar the Southern Water Skink Eulamprus tympanum seemed to be common on logs in open areas. This is a very inquisitive species and I managed to get within 10cm or so from it’s head with my camera. Although it’s called a Water Skink they are often found in areas a long way from any water body. They can, however, swim quite well.

Southern Water Skink

Southern Water Skink

Also in an open area of this same forest was a Blotched Blue-tongue Tiliqua nigrolutea.

Blotched Blue-tongue

Blotched Blue-tongue

I did mange to find a bright rusty-coloured individual near Bairnsdale last week but I didn’t have my camera with me.

While working for another client yesterday to the west of Golden Beach in Banksia woodland and dry heathy woodland I was surprised at the amount of reptiles around. We have a joke at this site that whenever we say “Gee, we haven’t seen a goanna for a while” we usually see one within a few minutes. This happened to be the case yesterday where we saw not one but two after we said this!

Lace Monitor

Lace Monitor

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This old boy was in an open paddock next to the woodland and was not worried about us approaching it one bit (it actually was falling asleep at one stage while I was photographing it!) They are known as Lace or Varied Monitors Varanus varius and many populations, especially in west Gippsland, are disappearing and as such are listed as vulnerable in Victoria.

In an area of Banksia woodland this little fella was found, a young Jacky Dragon Amphibolurus muricatus. This species can be common in areas of dry forests, woodland and heath.

Young Jacky Dragon

Young Jacky Dragon

This last one is a common species along the coastal fringe of Gippsland. The Eastern Three-lined Skink Acritoscincus duperreyi often has a pinkish-orange throat in the spring breeding season.  This one was found in coastal dune scrub west of Wonthaggi.

Eastern Three-lined Skink

Eastern Three-lined Skink


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Bird-dropping Spider

When it comes to camouflage in nature not many evolve to look like poo! The Bird-dropping Spider Celaenia excavata  is one of these.

Bird dropping spider

Female Bird-dropping Spider

I came across this species while working west of Wonthaggi today and if I hadn’t seen one before I wouldn’t have recognised it as a spider. Sitting motionless with its legs and head tucked up it actually does look like bird droppings (my wife thinks it looks like a frog from the back end). It grows to about 12-15mm in length.

This species is nocturnal and hunts mainly moths, in fact it actually hunts for male moths only! This is because at night the spider hangs from a silk thread and releases a pheromone similar to those released by female moths which in turn attracts males.

Bird-dropping Spiders are usually associated with open habitats, often highly degraded, and are found mostly in southern and eastern Australia. The easily recognisable egg sacs are light brown with prominent dark stripes and are similar size to the female.


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Wanderings in a swamp.

I spent my lunchtime at work earlier this week traipsing through a great little wetland along the Bass Coast in SW Gippsland. The main reason was to ‘hunt’ down and photograph the elusive Swamp Skink Lissolepis coventryi which is currently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988Last year I came across a pair of these skinks and only managed a photo of the head of one of them so I was hoping to get a better one this time. The skinks tend to sun themselves on top of dense vegetation on the fringe of this small wetland but will scamper away at the slightest movement.

While waiting for the skinks to emerge into the full sun on top of a thicket of Prickly Moses Acacia verticillata and Coral Fern Gleichenia sp my eyes were diverted to several large iridescent blue-green beetles moving about on the Prickly Moses wattle. These turned out to be the famous Botany Bay Weevil Chrysolopus spectabilis. These are famous because they were one of the first insects to be collected in Australia when the Endeavour landed in 1770 in Botany Bay and it was named by Sir Joseph Banks. The skinks were a no-show so I decided to snap some pics of this beetle.

Botany Bay Weevil- Chrysolopus spectabilis

Botany Bay Weevil- Chrysolopus spectabilis

Some of these were in the process of mating while others were feeding on the new leaves of the Prickly Moses, wattles being their primary food.

Botany Bay Weevils mating

Botany Bay Weevils mating

Being summer the water in the central part of the wetland had receded and many of the wetland plants on the outskirts of the swamp were taking advantage of this and putting on new growth or flowering. The Large Tongue-orchid Cryptostylis subulata was one such plant.

Large Tongue Orchid

Large Tongue Orchid

This spectacular orchid, although not rare, is uncommon in areas of moist soil, particularly around wetlands. Tongue Orchids are pollinated by male Orchid Drupe Wasps Lissopimpla excelsa which confuse the shape and smell of the flower for a female wasp. The male subsequently tries to mate with it and in turn pollinates the flower. Several of these orchids were found but no wasps were seen, maybe next time I’ll get a photo.

So, although it’s a bummer about missing the Swamp Skink again, I did manage to find some interesting things on my half hour lunch break.

Swamp Skink in April 2014 at same wetland.

Swamp Skink in April 2014 at same wetland.


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Day Moth- Phalanoides tristifica

I recently had a short wander around the lower Powlett River area west of Wonthaggi which contains some very interesting coastal vegetation and wetlands including coastal Banksia woodland, primary dune scrub, damp sands herb-rich woodland and swamp scrub.

In some of the open areas, especially disturbed spots, the Willow Herb Epilobium hirtigerum was surrounded by large numbers of the Day Moth Phalanoides tristifica. 

Day Moth on Epilobium hirtigerum
Day Moth on Epilobium hirtigerum
Day Moth

Day Moth

Day Moth laying eggs.

Day Moth laying eggs.

After watching them for a while I noticed they were landing on the Willow Herb and laying small black eggs in large numbers.

Day Moth caterpillar feeding on Epilobium hirtigerum

Some caterpillars had already hatched but most of the plants were covered in many of the eggs.

These caterpillars feed mostly on Epilobium and Oenothera and Hibbertia spp

Epilobium hirtigerum

Epilobium hirtigerum

This is one of two Australian species of the genus Phalanoides, the other P. glycinae is notorious both in Australia and overseas as a pest on grape vines and goes by the name Grape Vine Moth. P. tristifica is also a pest of grape vines but less so.