Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Brown Katydid or Spider Cricket?

I drafted this post as "Unknown Brown Grasshopper-like thing".
That very unscientific draft title tells it all, really.

I found this insect last week, and after a bit of a close-up look, I realised I had no idea what class/family it is from.
Extra long antennae.
Wings are held closely together, at a very high angle.
The insect flew quite readily, from a broom handle to the plant.
So, despite the odd angle, the wings were perfectly functional.

You see, any self-respecting Grasshopper, (and their cousins the Crickets) have great big mandibles for chewing stuff. Grasshoppers are primarily vegetarian, but some of our local Crickets are famously carnivorous (but that is another story). (DJW note: See my comment below) My creature has eyes on the side of its head, which is not well placed if it is a predatory insect.
Anyway, this insect has a very soft throat and gentle mandibles. Not anything like a decent Grasshopper or Cricket at all. But what is it?
Underneath view of throat and mandible.
Eye visible above.
I have searched the most obvious internet sources of information on Grasshoppers and Crickets. Few of the Grasshoppers or related Katydids have such long antennae as my specimen. I know many Crickets have long antennae, but usually large forward-facing eyes and heavy jaws.

But then there is in Western Australia a creature called a "Spider Cricket", (Oecanthus adyeri) which looks reasonably close to my creature, except for the angle at which it holds its wings.
Wings held together, centrally,
higher than the angle of the legs.
head held flat, eyes and antennae.
In this image, the head is held at a steep angle.
An over-head shot of the eyes and the base of the antennae.
This insect was perfectly comfortable walking down a stick
- which is what it is doing here.
Here is a low or side view of the insect.
Finally, here are the wings visible
and the back of the thorax and abdomen.
the legs are also clearly visible.
If anyone can help, it would be greatly appreciated.

Well, if anyone in Australia could help, it would have to be Dave Rentz, our fellow Nature Blogger - of BunyipCo
Dave came through with the following information:
Hi Denis
"That’s easy. It a female of the pollen and nectar feeding katydid Zaprochilus australis (Brullé). A nice find. The "Balsam Beasts" of Densey Clyne fame are close relatives. There is a rare one down your way. Z. ninae is known only from Jervis Bay and South Durras."
Since Dave gave me the name of my insect, I did a Google Image search, and found that Dave had previously written a Blog post on the Pollen and Nectar Feeding Katydids, complete with a few illustrations, including a male of this species.

He describes the unusual angled wings: "The long-winged species have the wings held at a distinctive angle with the body. In addition, the outer wings (tegmina) seem to be rolled or cylindrical. This and the mottled greyish colour serves in twig mimicry."
He also has some fascinating history of this species, which I noticed had the name of a French scientist Brullé as the person who first "described" (named) the species: " Zaprochilus australis (Brullé) is one of the earliest described species of Australian Orthoptera. The first specimen was collected on an expedition authorised by Napoleon Bonaparte." Read more of this interesting history, and other fascinating details of these insects on Dave's Blog..
Dave Rentz is the principle author of "A monograph of the Tettigoniidae of Australia: The Tettigoniinae" - volume 1 and volume 2 (reviewed at this link). on Tettigoniidae. He is described by that reviewer as "The World's foremost authority on Tettigoniidae (Orthoptera)"

More information is found in my "comment" below, where I quote from Dave's email response to me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More about Christmas Bells around Robbo

Today I found Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis) flowering close to the roadside edge of Butler's Swamp. This area was crucial in the dispute with the Sydney Catchment Authority as it is rated as having the highest diodivesity rating (species per sq metre) of any area in the Kangaloon Aquifer. It is also the "Type Locality" (the place where the specimen from which a species was named) for the Kangaloon Sun Orchid (Thelymitra kangaloonica).

Interestingly, although this Swamp was studied extensively by the environmental consultants SMEC, they never recorded Christmas Bells in Butler's Swamp. That simply means they did not look at the right time, because today I spotted these plants after about 5 minutes looking, from the edge of the easement beside the swamp proper (I did not "trespass").
These "Environmental Studies" are always very limited, and that is why the "experts" ought seek the assistance and advice of local enthusiasts, because we can tell them when and where to look. Otherwise, trying to find a Christmas Bell, by leaf shape alone (when it is not in flower or seed) is far harder than looking for the proverbial "needle in a haystack".
This shows the location of these flowers
vis-a-vis the rest of Butler's Swamp.
See the two red circles drawn in on the image - in the foreground.
(Click to enlarge the image)
There is a monitoring bore (pipe) visible in the far distance.
To my left, from where I took the other photos,
you can see I was close to a monitoring bore.
The SCA boundary warning notice is in the far distance.
I am parallel with that notice, just outside their boundary line.
I have gone back through my old photos of Christmas Bells, and checked the dates for flowering times, in the local area. The earliest I have ever seen them in flower was 2 December 2007, on dry sandstone heath at Budderoo Plateau. Next was 1 January 2009, also on Budderoo, then in Butler's Swamp, from 21 January onwards (over several different years). The latest I have seen them flower there is 5 February 2007. Butler's Swamp is both wetter and colder than other habitats where I have seen Christmas Bells in the Southern Highlands, so that obviously delays their flowering time here.

Interestingly, in the Royal National Park (just south of Sydney, a warm spot on the coast), I have seen Christmas Bells in flower on 22 July 2009. That record (even if unusual) confirms the range of flowering times of this species, and the need for local knowledge, when trying to conduct environmental studies, to find ephemeral flowers, particularly in an environment such as an "Upland Swamp".
A rare golden form of Christmas Bell
in Butler's Swamp 25/1/2007
I have published this image before, but just for old times sake, here is a photo of a rare golden form of the Christmas Bell, which flowered in Butler's Swamp on 25 January 2007. It is regarded by the botanists as a variant form, within the basic species.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Seeing Robertson through New Eyes.

I have entitled this posting "Seeing Robertson through New Eyes", as I have been asked to present some photographs by a young visitor to Robertson, Helena Redwood. I am happy to do this, as different people do see things differently.
Denis Wilson

Helena has provided this brief introductory statement:

"Helena is a young and talented self-taught artist with an eye for "behind the lens". She has a true artistic gift, inspiring us all with her paintings and photography.

"Stumbling into photography by pure chance at the age of fourteen she has enjoyed experimenting with scenic views from around the world. A young further developing artist we are sure to enjoy in the further future.

"Growing up in South Australia, Helena moved to the green pastures of New Zealand at the age of nine. She has lived and studied in the ice cold land of Sweden for the past two years taking her artistic venture further in photography.

"In her recent working stop-over in beautiful Robertson, Helena enjoyed venturing around, appreciating its scenic views and history.

"The rainforests made the perfect place for her landscape photos. Her quote was "I welcome you to view Robertson in a new way".
Old Vine snaking across path in Nature Reserve
Fence and tree through soft mist
Railway Line, Robertson, in heavy mist.
Spider Web with dew
"The Long Road Downhill"
the road to the Cemetery
Powerlines on a Grey Day
Green Grass, Spider Web with dew
Traditional Milk Pail
Steel Wheel
Wooden post and rail
Natural archway entrance to house.
Robertson Rainforest - fallen branch, and vines
Silhouette of dead Blackwood Wattle Tree
Contrast - vines framing fog
Paired Chairs
A View of Robertson Cemetery
Helena Terese Redwood

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eucryphia flowering in Robertson

Eucryphia moorei, or "Pinkwood" as it is known locally, is currently flowering in and around the village of Robertson. This plant has been adopted as the local floral emblem for several clubs and societies, as we are on the northern end of its range. Furthermore, the fact that in and around Robertson, it is growing on basalt soil here is of botanical interest, as it normally grows in moist soil, often basically a leaf-mold, over sandstone, in the wet gullies on cool, south-facing slopes of the Escarpment. So, the Eucryphias of Robertson are regarded as exceptional.

Out local Eucryphia is closely related to the "Tasmanian Leatherwood"(Eucryphia lucida), which is famous for the honey produced from it.

I know of numerous old trees which have "coppiced" - where the old original tree has died out and younger trees have grown from the roots of the original tree. As a result, these trees usually are found to be growing in a circle of trunks. This is commonly noticed in wet gullies.

There is one huge tree - the largest Eucryphia of which I know - growing as a free standing tree, with a massive trunk. It is growing on a private property at Knights Hill, on red basalt soil. It is unusual that this tree has survived a history of logging in the early days of European settlement in this district.
Rose and Carol posed underneath the tree
to provide a sense of scale of this massive tree.
Eucryphia leaves are located "opposite" to each other, and the next leaves appear at right angles to the last pair. The flowers are located in opposite pairs, coming from the leaf axil (emerging above the leaf).
Here is an individual leaf.
If you enlarge the image, you can see it has delicate hairs,
but, by contrast, the stem is markedly hairy.
the term for this is "tomentose"
"plant hairs that are bent and matted, forming a woolly coating".
Here you can see the buds forming in a tight cluster,
on the growth tips of the stem.
The buds at left and right are a matched pair.
The inner buds, also paired, at growing at right angles to the other buds,
as befits the "opposite" structure of leaves and buds.
According to the ANBG Website, the covered buds are
the source of the name Eucryphia:
-->- from the Greek "eu", well and "kryphia", cover, from the cap-like calyx. Here is a fresh flower, with the "calyptra" falling off.
The "calyptra" is a combination of the sepals (collectively called a calyx)
(protective sheath over the bud), which falls as the flower opens.
This sheath is noticeably sticky when the buds are developing.
That stickiness is most likely an insect protection
(much like a natural "fly paper").
The Eucryphia flower is the prettiest, purest flower.
The stamens radiate from the base.
The carpels are fused together in a central structure
which becomes the seed capsule once the flower is pollinated.
The style protrudes beyond the anthers, with pink stigma visible.
the function of the stigma is to receive the pollen
and to allow the pollen grains to grow down into the ovaries.
Here is a seed pod from last year's flower.
The style is persistent as a multi-pointed hard tip to the seed capsule.
Once again you can see the "tomentose" coating.
The seed capsule splits along the lines of the original carpel.
There are numerous "walls" (each called a "septum")
within the seed capsule.
When the seed is ripe, the capsule splits open along the lines of the "septa"
to release tiny winged seeds.
("septa" is merely the plural of "septum")

Botanically speaking Eucryphia is regarded as an ancient plant genus.

It has a "Gondwanan" distribution, with two species in South America (Chile and Argentina) and five in Australia.

Such a distribution pattern immediately tells you that these plants are of great antiquity - having formed into a recognisable genus while the giant supercontinent Gondwana was still a single unit. That means we are talking about period prior to the separation of Australia, Antarctica and South America.

Click here to view a computer generated graphic of the drift of the continents.

According to the geologists, Australia and South America were on opposite sides of Gondwana, but still fused together, at 200 million years ago. South America is believed to have split away some time before 60 million years ago. That dates the origin of Eucryphia genus at between 200 and 60 million years.

Eucryphias were regarded as belonging to a separate family (Eucryphiaceae), but recent classifications place them within the Cunoniaceae - along with the Coachwood, another dominant plant of the Robertson Cool Temperate Rainforest.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Australia Day outing (and BBQ)

Yes, I went to an Australia Day Barbeque *** yesterday. It was not my idea. Nor was I persuaded by the Australia Day Council advertising, I assure you.
No, I was invited by friends!
It was a private Barbie - at the house of two friends of mine, John and Toni, in Bundanoon.

As a preamble, I was invited to go for a swim with John at the Bundanoon Creek swimming hole, off Meryla Road. Although I had no intention of stripping down, nor of getting wet.I was happy to go along, to check out this location (which I had heard about, but never visited). And a very pretty spot it was. It is in a deep valley (not yet a Gorge) in the Sandstone plateau, between Meryla Pass and Bundanoon village. It is formed by a dam on Bundanoon Creek.
The water was deep, ideal for swimming (on a moderately hot afternoon). It would be unbelievably cold on a cool day, owing to the deep gully location.

This is a view from Bundanoon, looking south, to Wombat Hill - the point of a very long promontory - overlooking the Shoalhaven River Valley. Bundanoon Creek runs down in the valley between my location and the cliffs. The swimming hole is well tucked in the upper valley, further back to the left.
Google Earth image of Meryla Road and the Bundanoon Creek Reservoir.
The swimming pool is accessed just north
of the Fire Trail going off to the bottom-right.
There is a parking area, and a track down to the Creek.
This is some 300 metres beyond the second bridge on Meryla Road.
Click to enlarge the image.
The dammed edge of the water is visible on the far left of the image.
The swimming point is way around to the right.Here are the boys doing their stuff.

John using the fixed rope to climb out of the water, up to the tree.
The trick is to bring the swinging rope, the one with the handle, with you.
That's the one you swing back out over the water with.
Holding on to rope with the handle.
Pull back to tension the rope, and jump off the rock.Swinging outAfter going past the low point, one lets go.Magnus shows how to do it properly.
A neat tuck up of the legs, to start the swing out.At the low point, Mag starts to tuck his legs up,
and pulls his body upwards to achieve a reverse somersault.
Mag got much further out and higher than John.
Lena and I decided that going swimming was not quite right.
But she was hot., even though she was right beside the water.
Schnauzers don't "do" water sports.
I momentarily dunked her in the cool water
(her body but not her head)
by hanging on to her collar,
so that she did not get scared.
Schnauzer's eyebrows close down over their eyes when they get wet.
She would have been temporarily blinded if I had dropped her in the pool.
That's not funny for the dog - so I made sure not to do that.

Thanks to John and Toni for suggesting a nice afternoon excursion,
and for their hospitality with the Barbeque.
A very nice day was enjoyed.

Shock Horror.
"Spellchecker" want me to spell it "barbecue".
I refuse.
Wikipedia records my preferred spelling is an optional variant.
Just as well.