Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Foo meets the Bowerbirds

Look who jumped up out of a cupboard under construction, today.

(Click to check the eye colour!)My memory of this character was that he always signed his presence: "Foo Woz 'ere". However Wikipedia gives a more grammatical version, with the classic image - a little bald guy (or in some cases, with a bit of hairy fuzz) peering over a wall, with his fingers just poking over, gripping the wall. And the subscript: "Foo was here".
In case you missed the eyes, I think Foo has spent too long admiring the Bowerbirds, and some of their eye character has rubbed off on him.
Bowerbirds make good builders, too.
My brother's business name is "Bower Builders".

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Australian Admiral shows its colours

Ever since my brother, Brendan has been working here, he has been feeding the birds (or so he intended). He has used fruit, such as Watermelons (his favourite), Grapes, (the Bowerbirds' favourite) and Pears (the Butterflies' favourite). As a result, he has also been feeding Butterflies (or some of them, anyway). None of the Macleay's Swallowtails have come in to feed, nor the abundant Cabbage Whites (which love the Wild Turnip weeds around this district). But these guys obviously have a taste for juices of fresh fruit.
One Butterfly species has been a regular visitor, but it has been oh so hard to capture with its wings open, revealing the diagnostic upper wing patterns.

Today I got lucky.As you have seen already, we had two butterflies at once, and one of them was sufficiently relaxed to open the wings, revealing the russet colouring, and the yellow patches.

This is Vanessa itea, the Australian Admiral. And a darned nice Butterfly it is too.

The closed-wing position reveals none of the bright colouring, but it does show the bright blue ring marking quite nicely.
More importantly (for the species' survival) this photo reveals a remarkable camouflage technique. It is very hard to focus on anything other than the blue ring, and so it is almost impossible for a predator to gauge "distance" to the "object". Mind you, sitting on a pear in the open, does limit the effectiveness of that technique.

Tonight, with a crystal clear sky I was able to capture a nice image of the full moon.
Here it is cropped to full pixels.
It doesn't get much rounder than that.

My Moon Phase calculator (well not mine, if you know what I mean) - the one I have on my side-bar of my Blog, is available for downloading from this site:
Its free, and you can select southern and northern hemisphere orientations (of the moon), and your time zone (as I recall).
You need to register, that's all. Follow the instructions.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunsets (after Turner)

Over the weekend, there was a delightful pink sunset forming over a nice set of cloud, over the ridge to the south-west from my house.For some reason, this set of clouds and the late afternoon sun combined to present some glorious views.I think Mr Turner, in grimy London, with his sunset skies brought to life by the volcanic eruptions in far away Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), would have liked to share my enjoyment of the more commonplace sunsets of Robertson.

Its all in the clarity of light we get here, I think.
No wonder the hills of Robertson are populated by artists.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Minute Creatures (Mighty Mites)

The other day one of my work companions showed me a strange creature (so he thought) in an equally strange structured object he had put on the work bench. He kept saying: "Its moving". Looking at the obviously dead Sassafras seed capsule, I wondered what he was on about. Then I looked more closely! Sure enough, there were things moving around in there.
As I have indicated, the main object was easy enough to work out. It was the seed capsule from a Sassafras Trees. In this case the whole seed capsule had fallen from a Sassafras tree.

The local Sassafras trees flowered very heavily last spring. This is the result. The Sassafras seeds have been blowing around us all the time, over the last two weeks, and if one is house painting, it is a challenge to keep one's work clean from these hairy seeds, which blow around so profusely on the wind. As you can imagine, they stick to wet paint very readily. Annoyingly so.
Loose Sassafras seeds blown onto the ground.
Each seed is in a soft shell, attached below the hairs, which allow the seed to be blown on the wind, sometimes for hundreds of metres.
Inside the seed capsule (Top image above) were lots of tiny dark red-brown creatures.
As with yesterday's posting, a leg-count seemed in order: Six legs for insects, eight legs for Spiders, Ticks and Mites. Well, try as I might I cannot get 8 legs on these creatures, yet, it is pretty obvious that they are some kind of Mite.
They look like over-bloated micro-sized Spiders similar in shape (only) to the familiar Red-backed Spider. That's about the best I can do to describe them.

Apparently they feed on vegetable material, or certainly they are feeding within vegetable material. But perhaps they are hunting ever-smaller creatures. They were very active, scrambling through the hairs of the unreleased seeds in the leathery capsule of the Sassafras tree.

In case you are wondering about Mites, (being related to Spiders, but being "vegetarians") read this:
  • "The only group of arachnids that has managed to break out of the predatory habit on a large scale is the mites, which have diversified into an extraordinary range of niches. Many are still predatory, but there are also thousands of species of plant feeders, fungivores, saprophytes, pollen and nectar feeders, microbial filter feeders, and internal and external parasites on a wide range of vertebrates and invertebrates."
  • Source:

My creatures are about 2mm long, with very high set body and a triangular shaped head and mouth arrangement (the "capitulum"). The body is extremely round ("bloated" as I said) (It is called the "idiosoma")

Note the protruding "v" shaped head portion
(partially hidden at top left of the Mite)
Their legs are all located in towards the front of the body, in a way which almost seems make them look overbalanced. Yet they manage to scramble through the dense hairs of the seeds with nimble ease.

Larval mites are usually hexapod (6 legs); nymphs and adults usually octopod (8 legs). (Wikipedia)
Once again, there's that issue of juvenile stages of various multi-legged creatures developing their full sets of legs later in life, as Bob Mesibov explained in the "comments" section yesterday. That process is called "anamorphosis", and the adjectival form is "anamorphic". So, with six legs, but looking and behaving like Mites, I conclude that these are larval stage Mites.

I mentioned that these are large Mites, simply because many (most) species of mites are so small that they are invisible to the naked eye. Many are microscopic creatures which parasitise airways of birds (notably the endangered Gouldian Finch) and the ears of dogs and cats. That same group of Mites (as the dog and cat ear mites - Sarcoptiformes) also causes Mange in Wombats.

Click to enlarge this next image.
This is the rear view of the Mite.
(it is walking on its side away from camera)
You can clearly see a lateral groove running around the side and rear.
That groove, is called a "peritreme - a groove or gutter on the surface connecting to a stigmatal opening. In Mesostigmata the peritremes are lateral and run above the coxae of the legs and usually run to near the anterior margin of the idiosoma, but they may be very short or vestigial." Source: Glossary of Acarine Terms

I think my Mites might belong to the order Holothyrida.
(Grateful for any advice to set me straight - THIS IS NOT MY AREA OF SPECIALISATION).

The website for the Australasian Arachnology Society (yes folks, it is 2010, of course they have their own Webpage!) tells me that:
  • "The order Holothyrida includes large mites (larger than 2 mm) with a heavily sclerotised and highly-arched body, which feed readily on dead arthropods (Walter and Proctor 1998). The order includes about 25 species in three families, and has a Gondwanan distribution. Only three species have been described from Australia, all in the family Allothyridae (van der Hammen 1983), but many other undescribed species have been collected and await study."
In the Lucid Key to Invasive Mites, the illustrated member of the order Holothyrida is a member of the genus Allothyrus.

Here is an Electron Microscopic image of Allothyrus - Photo by D.E.Walter, Colorado State University, from the Lucid Key to Invasive Mites. (details below).
Note the body shape, and the prominent peritrematal groove (at rear).
Mite: Allothyrus

Sources: Walter, D.E., Invasive Mite Identification: Tools for Quarantine and Plant Protection, Lucid v. 3.3, last updated July 24, 2006, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO and USDA/APHIS/PPQ Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, Raleigh, NC.
[date accessed 27.04.2010] -

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Multipedal Creatures cannot count

The other day I was cleaning out some timber which was left over form my house building project (the original project was to re-build the house after it was moved in to Robertson from Sydney).

Anyway, I foolishly just threw some bits of good "3x2" hardwood (which had been used to reinforce the house during the original move) under the house. I figured that as they would be dry under the house, everything would be OK. Of course, "dry" is a relative term in Robertson, and anything in contact with the soil here will not be completely dry, ever. That means potential mould, potential insect attack, potential disaster.

Local wisdom has it that termites do not like Robertson's rich red basalt, so they are not a threat (supposedly). But why take the risk? Plus, in the Post- Marysville-Kinglake Fires era, it is obvious that an open-sided, under-house area (the house is built up at the deep end on brick piers) is a potential fire hazard. One should not discount the fact that I have local rainforest on the south-west of the house. It is not Eucalypt Forest. Local rainforest is established, historically, to be far less likely to burn (than Eucalypt forest), and if it does burn, it tends to burn slowly, not "explode".

All that aside, I have decided to clear out the under-floor area completely.

***** ***** *****

I made a start by pulling out the rubbishy bits of timber and spare "weatherboards" which I no longer need as spares, in view of the fact that I am replacing the timber boards with Hardiplank (in a profile matching the original Weatherboards, to suit the styling of the era of the original house).

Then it came to pulling out some really long boards of hardwood (those 3x2s I mentioned). I had used these long boards to strap down the tarpaulin which the removalist had supplied. He had made a supposed attempt to weather-proof the house after he had moved it here. His tarpaulins were really cheap and nasty and could not withstand the wind (firstly) and then the rain of that season. We had 12 inches of rain in February and 15 inches in May, that year. It nearly destroyed my little house before I could get the roof rebuilt. Fortunately, I got the roof re-built - properly, eventually, and then replaced much of the damaged interior plaster. Not a drop of moisture has entered the house since the newly rebuilt roof was completed.

***** ***** *****
What has all this got to do with nearly microscopic creatures?

Well, while I was under the house, pulling out the timber I noticed some signs of insect damage to the timber. Alarm bells rang in my mind. Were these Termites?

I quickly called my brother Brendan, (who is the builder doing most of the reconstruction work on the re-cladding project) and we examined these insects microscopically (courtesy of the camera's excellent new 105mm "Micro" lens). I could see immediately that they (whatever they were) had lots of legs. Termites have 6 legs (only), as they are classic "insects". So that was ruled out. But what were these little white creatures?

A "gorgeous Symphyla" according to Bob Mesibov.
I agree, now that I know it and its friends are not going to eat my house.
Click to see the full details of this tiny creature, and its very fine antennae.
Fortunately, last year I had met Australia's leading Millipede expert (or should that be Australia's "sole" Millipede expert?) - Bob Mesibov of Tasmania.

I sent Bob a message yesterday, with a photo and a query.

From several websites he runs, on behalf of the Tasmanian University, I had already worked out that my little creatures were likely to be a class of tiny "multipedes" known as Symphyla.

I knew it wasn't a Millipede (single legs, not paired) but when I went searching for Centipedes I found Bob's page on Tasmanian Multipedes,
which led me to this statement:
  • Symphyla have unbranched antennae, 12 pairs of legs and 2 tail-like appendages (cerci) at the rear end (below centre). Centipedes have at least 15 pairs of legs as adults. Some juvenile centipedes have fewer than 15 pairs of legs, but these juveniles can be distinguished from Pauropoda because the antennae are unbranched, and from Symphyla because the rear end lacks cerci.
I then found his page on Tasmanian Symphyla, which tells me:
  • "Symphyla are small, blind, fast-running multipedes which can be very abundant in soil and forest litter. They are generally white, but dark-coloured gut contents can often be seen through the body wall. Not much is known about the biology of Australian native Symphyla. They occur in a wide range of macrohabitats and are believed to feed on soil microbes, both 'free' and attached to decaying wood and vegetation."
Bob kindly sent me the following reply, late last night.
    Hi, Denis.

    Gorgeous Symphyla, great picture, not a threat to anyone's house!

    Dr Robert Mesibov
    Honorary Research Associate
    Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
    School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
***** ***** *****

According to the texts, Symphyla generally have 12 pairs of legs, and unlike millipedes, they have a single pair of legs per body segment (Millipedes have legs in double pairs). That makes these creatures closer to tiny Centipedes, but Centipedes tend to have more legs (except in their immature stages).

And what is my point?

Well, several days ago my Blogging colleague, Martin, objected to the idea of re-classifying Fungi as their own separate Kingdom of creatures (separate from Plants). Fair enough, I grew up with the notion of certainty involved in the classic 3 classifications of Nature: Animal, Vegetable and Mineral. So I can sympathise with Martin in his loss of certainty.

I feel similarly disturbed by the idea that there are creatures out there - tiny creatures which we hardly even notice - which might have 11 or 12 pairs of legs, or that their larval stages might have fewer than the standard number.

What's wrong with these creatures? Haven't they read their own "Manual", which would tell them the proper number of legs for them to have?

We all know that "animals" (quadrupeds) have 4 legs (except in Humans, our "front legs" have become known as "arms", but we do have 4 limbs). Insects have 6 legs, Spiders have 8 (as do Octopuses), and Squid have 10 legs). These creatures known as Symphyla, supposedly have 12 pairs of legs, Centipedes might have up to 15 pairs (not 50 pairs despite their name) and Millipedes.... well, who knows? They do have "two pairs of legs on most posterior body segments". It seems the number of "body segments" might vary, depending upon their level of maturity.

Anyway, I find the casual attitude of many creatures to the number of legs they have quite disturbing. I just learnt that Mites have 8 legs, and so earn a place in the order Arachnida (Spiders and their allies). That's fine, but in their nymph stages of some species may have 6 legs, not 8. There's that casual attitude to Natural Design again. Can't these creatures count?

So, my little Symphyla appears to have 11 pairs of legs (not 12 that I can see). But I would have to say that it has a very handsome set of antennae, which were being waved around very actively.

The fact that this little creature was so active, and so small (I estimated it to be 3mm body and 2mm antennae) meant that it was a challenge to get a decent photograph. I was operating on the maximum close-up range of my "Macro Lens", and as I have to use the optical view finder, (not a digital preview screen), that means I have to get my head in there, and hold both my head and the camera steady (to within a few millimetres) or else the tiny creature goes out of focus. And while I am struggling to get it in focus, it runs under a piece of dirt - and I start all over again.

Its hard work taking clear photos of such tiny creatures. And it does not help the amateur naturalist, when he gets a clear photo (eventually) and looks up the appropriate references, to discover that the creatures themselves cannot count the correct number of legs on which to walk about - in the dirt and detritus which they so love.

But it is a cute Symphyla, as multipedes go!
I hope you agree with me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hugh Waring - 16 July 1917 - 17 April 2010

I learnt today that Hugh Waring has died peacefully at his home in Canberra. There will be a graveside service in Robertson tomorrow.

Hugh and Adele (Del) Waring have lived at the end of the road to the Cemetery in Robertson for more than 50 years. They were famous for selling (growing) "Christmas Firs".

I first met Hugh in 1992 at a funeral for his good friend, and a mutual neighbour in Reid, ACT, the late Dr Wilf Crane. Hugh delivered a brief eulogy to Wilf, and supervised the planting of a tree in his honour, in Geerilong Gardens, Reid - in the park opposite where Wilf lived.

Shortly after I moved to Robertson I called in to visit Hugh and Del, who I had met, but hardly knew well. They were very hospitable and welcomed me warmly to Robertson.

Hugh then took it upon himself to encourage me to grow "interesting plants, especially trees". Hugh loved trees.

He showed me the huge timbers in the main room in their house, which he said modestly that he had grown and harvested to fulfill a promise he made to Del, that he would build her a proper house, (once the trees grew).
There towering above me, in the main room, was the evidence.
I love a Man with a Plan.
It may have taken nearly 45 years (at that stage) but he had completed his commitment to his lovely wife, Del.

Hugh had a particular fondness for Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) the tree from which the timber known as Oregon is harvested. These trees were famously killed in their millions when Mt St Helens erupted in March 1980. They were the trees which looked like matchsticks strewn down the hillside in those famous photographs taken after the eruption.

Hugh had joined CSIRO, in Canberra, after the end of World War 2, and had become the Principal Research Scientist in the Division of Forest Research, at Yarralumla, ACT. Hugh had personally done much research on softwood trees suitable for growing in Australia.

In part, that was why he ended up living in Robertson, because Hugh was a great believer in soil chemistry influencing the outcome of attempts to grow trees, and he chose a south-east sloping hill, in a high rainfall area, with rich acidic soil as an ideal place to try to grow many of the northern hemisphere's most valuable timber trees, (including the Douglas-fir). The best place he could find which met those complex criteria was a little hill on the edge of Robertson, NSW. He and his brother, and their families jointly planted out their seedlings which now constitute a forest.

I look out over the Cemetery Hill, and Hugh's trees, every morning.

Incidentally, Hugh's trees created the backdrop to the main scenic shots in the movie "Babe", which was filmed on the adjacent property, Bell's Farm. But the movie would not have been made there without Hugh's trees creating a "non-typically Australian scene", for the producers of Babe did not want it to be identifiable as Australian scenery (there is scarcely a "Gum Tree" visible in the movie). They wanted an international "feeling" for the movie, and indeed Babe was an international success.

Hugh and Del featured in Andrew Ford's composition "Elegy in a country Graveyard", where they made several humorous contributions to the piece, including by referring to looking forward to being buried in their chosen plot, "next door". There must be something about living next door to a cemetery for 50 years which gives one a particular sense of humour when discussing death - certainly, in their case, there was a great sense of acceptance of death as part of life.

That, in essence, is what one would hope for in a man who devoted most of his life to the commercial growing of trees - and saw that they were harvested when ready.
The Canberra Times has carried this fitting notice of the forthcoming Funeral Service:

16 July 1917 16 April 2010 Late of Robertson (NSW) and Canberra.

Hugh was a very fine man, a philosopher, a scientist. A good brother, husband and father.He will be sadly missed by his extensive family and many friends. He lived each day as a bonus.

Friends and relatives of Hugh are invited to attend a Graveside Service to be held at the family property at 131 Missingham Parade, Robertson (next to Robertson Cemetery) on Friday, 23 April 2010, commencing at 11.30am.

In the Loving Care of G. Beavan Funerals 34 Station Street, Bowral 2576
Ph (02) 4861 2067.
Post script.
The Service was huge, and very moving. People came from all over Australia, especially Canberra, where Hugh had spent most of his working life. I met up with some people I knew from my days in Reid.

Members of the family, and friends spoke lovingly of Hugh. Fond reminiscences, with just a few moments of sadness.

Everyone spoke about the importance of trees in Hugh's life. I am reminded that I ought have mentioned yesterday, the Chapter which Hugh wrote about the "Experiment" he conducted on a steep hillside at Robertson. This is included in a book called, appropriately, "Think Trees, Grow Trees".

Our farewell for Hugh was conducted within his beloved forest. A truly lovely spot, enjoyed by many on a lovely autumn day.

Farewell Hugh Waring.
You have inspired a great many people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fungi of the Robertson Nature Reserve

I have been delayed in processing the photos I took on the day the Sydney Fungal Studies Group came to the Robertson Nature Reserve (over two weeks ago). Hopefully when you realise the work involved in processing the images, and trying to find names for them you will forgive me.

I will do my best to name these Fungi, but in many cases, the names will be approximate, or at best "descriptive". Any assistance with naming would be greatly appreciated. I will give an alphabetical code to assist with re-naming any wrongly named images.

Image A - Pseudocolus fusiformis
This is a form of "Stink Horn" - a gastromycete, which means "stomach fungus" - so named for the fact that they grow out from a kind of "egg" which people thought resembled a stomach. These fungi and their close relatives tend to smell foul, and they do so in order to attract flies to carry their spores away. They are very soft and short-lived. This one was broken in transporting it back to the sorting table, after the walk.
Image B - A Puffball growing on wood. A shrivelled one to the right.
To the left, the star-shaped item is a fallen "seed capsule" from a Coachwood tree above. These seeds litter the ground in autumn in Robertson's cool temperate rainforest. Seedlings coat the ground - each awaiting the death of a tree nearby so it might get a few extra shafts of light, and scramble towards the sky. Judging by the vast number of seedlings, it must be a one in a million chance. But Nature is patient!
Image C - A type of Jelly Fungus - Calocera sp. To me, they look like little white Leeches, but I do tend to be a bit obsessive about Leeches, as you know!
Image D - unknown, but presumably related to the Jelly Fungus (Calocera). I have never seen such a small or fine needle-like structure. I have a feeling this specimen was lost before the SFSG "experts" got to review the day's finds, as I did not see it spread out on the table, after the walk. Hopefully I am wrong, in which case it will eventually get a name. Failing that, one of the Readers of this Blog might be able to assist with a Generic or Family name.Incidentally, as you will realise, the fingers are too fine and too elegant to be mine. They belong to one of the young lady who was on the walk with me, and she found this delightful specimen.

Image E - Talking of fine and elegant, I just love this "Hair Fungus", so named because of the dark, strong stems which are nearly invisible. Marasmius capillaris is as close to an ID"fit" as I can come. Better than the more general Horse-hair Fungus, which has long black fibrous stems which trail around over great distances, unlike my specimen..My specimen is growing out from a dead leaf, as is the one in Wikipedia. It also gathers the name "Pin-wheel Marasmius" from the fine lines in the cap, which you can see in the older specimen, half fallen over (on the right).

Image F - Here is another fine Fungus. Not sure of the type. But it made a very pretty picture, reminscent of an imaginary minature Japanese Garden, complete with seedlings (miniature trees) and the Fungi as Umbrellas. Image G - For a bit of light relief, here is a creature which I have only ever known as a "Flat Worm". I discovered it feeding in some rotten wood in the side of an upright tree stump. A Google Search failed to show any match to what others call "Flat Worms", but I persevered, and found a link to Planarium Worms. Apparently in my photograph, I missed the distinctive bit which is the "hammerhead" shaped head. It is buried in the detritus of the rotting tree. By all accounts, the Planarium Worm would be looking for other tiny creatures to eat. There is no shortage of them in the Robertson Rainforest.

Image H - Back to the Fungi.
The trouble with Fungi experts is that generally they have a hard-enough time working out what they are looking at. When it gets like this, many lose interest. Too small to see with the naked eye.
Image I - These are a variant on the theme of Bracket Fungi. They may be juvenile Brackets, I am not sure. In the Robertson Rainforest there is so much dead timber and so much moisture that the idea that Bracket Fungi are large things sticking out the sides of tall Gum Trees is irrelevant. We do "brackets" in all shapes and sizes and all levels of development.
Image J - I had to save J for this Jelly Fungus. This is not just a bad case of sputum. Frankly it looked like something so disgusting, it would make me rush off to see the Doctor.
The fingernail is there as a scale measure. The hand was holding some bark from a rotten tree branch. I find that fact vaguely reassuring.
Image K - a Cordyceps (or two) in situ - on the forest floor. One is dying and has been invaded by tiny white creatures called "Springtails" (although they do not all look like fleas, as some do). Technically they are called Tetrodontophora. More generally, they are known collectively as "Collembola" and they come in all shapes and sizes, it seems.
All you need to note is the dark colour of the head of the tall Cordyceps gunnii, and how that is all you see sticking up out of the ground.
More will be explained after the next image.

Image L - a cleaned up Cordyceps gunnii specimen. It is approximately 8 inches (20 Cm) long. These things used by known as "Vegetable Caterpillars", but that is an appalling misnomer. There is not now, nor ever was, anything "vegetable" about this Fungus. I have written about their lifecycle previously.
Click on the image to see it properly.
In case you are wondering, the odd shaped part of the "Fungus" - the bit on the right - is the mummified corpse of a large wood-boring grub, the larval stage of a Swift Moth - see below. The larvae of the Swift Moth bore into the roots of the Acacia melanoxylon, the Blackwood Wattle, which is one of the dominant trees in the Robertson Nature Reserve. Hence the Cordyceps fungus is a "regular" find here, at this time of year. But interewsting, none the less.

Image M (for Moth). And what a big fat one it is, as well.
We do serious Moths here. This one escaped being mummified by the attack of the Cordyceps fungus. When you see what that fungus can do to an insect, it makes one never want to worry about Tinea again.
These huge Moths love bright lights, and at this time of year, come beating on my new "Laserlite" awnings, with the spotlights I have out there. I only have to run them lights for a few minutes till I get more moths than I wish to photograph. But that is another story!

Image N - This is a classic Bracket Fungus, but I am not sure of the species (or genus). It has a classic "ring" formation, showing the age of the Fungus, which is quite hard, and nearly permanent (unlike many Fungi which are truly ephemeral - such as Slime Moulds (which technically are NOT fungi I now recall) and Ink Caps, which simply "dissolve themselves" down to slush over the length of a day.
Image O - from this white-pored underneath side image, I have been told one can tell that it is not the more common "Beefsteak Bracket Fungus" Stereum sanguinolentum.
The difference is the way in which that other species stains red when touched underneath. Exactly which species it IS, I cannot say. But its pores did not mark red.

Image P - Finally, here is a double clump of Coral Fungi (Ramaria sp) growing out either side of a rotten log on the ground.
And in all these Fungi, there is a not a classic "Mushroom" or Toadstool to be seen.
My Blogging Colleague, Martin, has raised the issue of the Fungi being animals or plants (or "other") in the comments.

As the Wikipedia answer is too long for a "comment" I will add it here:
  • A fungus (pronounced /ˈfʌŋɡəs/) is a member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi (pronounced /ˈfʌndʒaɪ/ or /ˈfʌŋɡaɪ/) are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants, animals and bacteria. One major difference is that fungal cells have cell walls that contain chitin, unlike the cell walls of plants, which contain cellulose. These and other differences show that the fungi form a single group of related organisms, named the Eumycota (true fungi or Eumycetes), that share a common ancestor (a monophyletic group). This fungal group is distinct from the structurally similar slime molds, (myxomycetes) and water molds (oomycetes). The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.
  • extract from Wikipedia - Fungi

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Frogmouths in Bowral Pine Tree

My friends Bernie and Dorothy have previously sent me a photo of two Frogmouths roosting in a small pine tree in their backyard, in Bowral.

Several days ago, the birds were back, and Bernie rang me to let me know. As they are nocturnal birds, I knew they would stay put until I drove there, and got a photo.

When I arrived, one bird was clearly visible, and it was looking straight at me. You can clearly see how wide the mouth (beak) is.
Seconds later, it "assumed the position" which they use to pretend to be a stump or broken branch in a tree.
You can see the little tuft of feathers in front of the beak. which forms an integral part of their camouflage. as the "freeze" into the "dead stick" pose, those few feathers help break down the solid outline, and blur the appearance of the bird.

In a close-up of a freshly dead "road kill", you can see how these feathers are in fact a very specialised group of feathers - simple tufty feathers, not at all the normal "barbed" body feathers. There is nothing accidental about this little tuft of feathers. Looking back at the photo above, note how prominent these few small feathers are.
This is generally what one sees of Frogmouths in a tree - two lumps.
Thanks to Bernie for ringing me to let me know about these fascinating birds.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Creatures of the Rainforest

Well, my foot is not a creature of the rainforest - it is here to simply demonstrate how one ought not underestimate the effects of simple Leeches. This bite occurred on the Tuesday - the day I found the Earth Star.
36 hours after the bite occurred.
Two and a half days after the bite occurred.
I ended up getting an antihistamine medication and an antibiotic. Simple treatments, such as rubbing alcohol (to cleanse the wound and to cool it, initially, are also helpful., but not sufficient if one is allergic to Leeches, as I am.

Over the next few days I will publish some of the Fungi we found on the visit to the Robertson Nature Reserve, with the Sydney Fungal Studies Group.

It is worth noting that the appropriate authorisations were obtained to allow the SFSG to enter the Nature Reserve, and to collect a limited number of specimens of Fungi. Every year the SFSG visits Robertson, and records the species found, and publishes the results.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tiny Black Weevil likes Watermelon

I have seen several of these tiny Weevils in recent weeks, but the other day one came to a large piece of Watermelon I had put out for the Bowerbirds.
During the afternoon, the birds were quiet, and my brother was still working on the back deck, so, naturally the birds waited - out of sight. This cleared the field for the insects to come in. This one is a Straight-snouted Weevil. It is tiny, about 4mm long.I have seen Weevils before, often quite large insects (over an inch long). But they all have the long "nose" (rostrum) with the two antennae coming off the rostrum well down along the length. A distinctive feature of Weevils.

Next there was a Brown Butterfly (sorry, not sure of the species) which had a lovely time bending its proboscis around, sucking up the juice from the little hollows in the Watermelon flesh. The spike on the right of the image is a screw acting as a spike, holding the fruit in place. You can see the fine antennae, with typical Butterfly "clubs" on the end of the antennae (one of the distinctive features of Butterflies - contrasted with moths).Last week I saw a number of wingless insects which were identified for me by Dr. Bronwen Scott ("Snail") as female Soldier Flies Boreoides subulatus .Well they were back again this week, and as I have a new Macro Lens, I thought I would try it out on getting an eye and antennae shot.
This shows clearly the two tiny antennae, and the large compound eyes typical of flies.

In case you are wondering, these insects wander round in April, on hard wooden surfaces (typically fence posts) looking for deep cracks and holes into which they insert their long tails (ovipositors) so they can lay their eggs there. They do not bite or sting, even though they look vaguely dangerous and certainly prehistoric. Bronwen's comment was that this species looks like it was "designed by a Committee". I agree.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Earth Star Fungus (Geastrum)

Yesterday I went into the Robertson Nature Reserve with Joan Freere, to prepare for the annual visit by the Sydney Fungal Studies Group to our Cool Temperate Rainforest. They are coming here on Saturday.

We found a few interesting specimens, including several Cordyceps, the so-called "Vegetable Caterpillars". These are fungal fruiting bodies which emerge from the ground, having consumed a large Grub of a Moth which was feeding underground, and contacted the spores of the fungus, and the fungus invaded the Grub. Here is a link to a specimen found in a previous SFSG visit, in 2008.

Another thing of interest was this Earth Star (Geastrum sp). These are related to the Puff Balls.
They have a thick outer casing initially which splits, and reverts, and so the tips of the casing touch the ground, lifting the central "ball" higher than its original position. See the discussion in Wikipedia.
Then a pore in the top of the sphere opens, allowing spores to be puffed out, when droplets of rain fall on the thin skin of the inner sphere.
There is something appealing about the near-perfect architecture of these delightful specimens.I should mention that the local Leeches found my left ankle, while I was looking at Fungi. Very painful itching, 30 hours after I found them poking their heads through my socks. I will prepare properly for the weekend visit, with insect repellant.