Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spikes - big and small - at Bungonia

It hardly seems fair to combine an Orchid and an Echidna, but both live at Bungonia and both have spikes on them - so there you go.

I had been to Canberra to check out some of the Orchids on Black Mountain (which I shall reveal more in due course). Then I went back to stay with Martin and Frances at Carwoola (between Queanbeyan and Captains Flat). That left me the opportunity to visit Bungonia Nature Reserve on the way back to Robertson.

Apart from the issue of duelling with some crazed 4WD drivers (blokes in Big Utes and Camper-trailers on behind) who were driving too fast for the conditions of the country roads we were "sharing". I find the word "sharing" inappropriate as I had to escape to the dirt on several occasions, as I passed these large vehicles which were "hogging" more of the road than seemed fair - to me. They were apparently reluctant to leave the narrow country-road strip of bitumen. My answer is DRIVE TO THE CONDITIONS). I assume there is some 4WD "event" on in the Canberra or Bungendore region this long weekend. I would hate to be sharing a camping ground with these guys if they don't calm down. So that's my first lot of "spikes" - spiky moods of 4WD drivers.


I got to Bungonia Nature Reserve and had a chat with the ever-helpful Ranger, Audrey.

Then I went off in search of any Orchids I might be able to find there. I have previously found an endemic Orchid, the unfortunately named Oligochaetochilus calceolus at Bungonia. It earns the specific name because of its preference for limestone-derived soils. Today's visit is somewhat earlier than the previous visit (when I had seen this species), and the country is (was) terribly dry. (It was starting to rain as I left). However I managed to find 3 plants with buds and one (only) plant with an open flower. It was a terribly small plant, with a stem with one open flower and another bud, and the stem was less than 100 mm high.

A "rufa-type" Greenhood
Oligochaetochilus calceolus
But the thing to note about this plant 
is the hard spikes on the labellum.
I assume they assist the plant with the movement sensitivity
which, as with all Greenhoods,
causes the "labellum" to snap closed
if an insect (or a casual photographer)
triggers the labellum.

The flower of Oligochaetochilus calceolus
Click on this image to enlarge it.
The spikes on the labellum helps distinguish
Oligochaetochilus calceolus

And now to the third of my "spiky" encounters today.

I saw an Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)
crossing the road in front of me, 
just as I left the gates of Bungonia National Park today.

It crossed off the bitumen
and there was a patch of hard clay below the road.
It meant the Echidna felt exposed, and was not inclined to "dig in"
(which is the natural defence mechanism of the Echidna).
Click on these images to see better details.
I got close to this fellow and sat down.

It decided I might be a rock or something it could "hide under"

So it headed straight towards me, albeit very slowly.

Then it realised I was not a suitable hiding spot
and started to move around me.
It gave me a great chance to see the head fur.
This little Echidna was in great condition
and was not infected with Ticks
(Unlike many of its colleagues).
You can see the left front foot just visible below the nose.
That shows how strongly their legs move sideways as they walk.
But it has a great advantage when they are digging
as they "remove" debris out and to the side
allowing them to dig a hole beneath their body
so they appear to go straight down into the ground.
It moved to the edge of the roadside tree litter

It had to lift its nose over a small branch on the ground

Once it made it to the leaf litter (and softer soil beneath)
It immediately started digging itself down into the ground.
First place was not successful, so it moved a little further forward.
This was good enough for the Echidna
It was starting to burrow straight down through the leaf litter
and into the soil below.
Echidna's legs are set very wide and they scrape the soil outwards
so, effectively they just go straight down into the soil.
Their legs and claws are immensely powerful
and the tail is protected by a special clump of spines
to protect its weakest point
(the tail is at the lowest part of this image)

For those interested in the naming of the "Echidna" the original name comes from Greek Mythology:According to Wikipedia, "In Greek mythology, Echidna was half woman, half snake, known as the "Mother of All Monsters" because most of the monsters in Greek myth were mothered by her." So I think we can assume that the early naturalists were both puzzled and possibly repulsed by this creature.

Of course, from a scientific point of view, they are fascinating creatures, for not only are they "egg-laying mammals" (something they share with the Platypus). But Echidnas are claimed to be the "the oldest surviving mammal on the planet today". 

The generic name Tachyglossis means "rapid tongue". The specific name aculeatus means spiny. There is a CSIRO publication about the Echidna of which you can inspect a "sample" here.

I have been out in the bush for most of my life, but this was the healthiest Echidna I have ever examined, and certainly these are the best photos I have ever been able to take of an Echidna.


So, having got off to a bad start with my "spiky encounter" with some 4WD drivers, the day ended on a peaceful note, at Bungonia.


Snail said...

What a great encounter with the echidna. I am terribly envious.

(As an complete aside, I think that Echidna is also a genus of moray eels, which seems more appropriate.)

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Snail.
I found a reference to the fact that the name "Echidna" was "taken" - but that does not prohibit popular usage. It is only the scientists who are so pedantic (except the rules break down with some plants and insect names - from memory).
Moray Eels are famous for their "attitude" I understand.

Ford said...

Perhaps the snake reference was an acknowledgement of the reptilian physiological features of the echidna?

Merv Griffith published some interesting papers on echidnas in the 80s - worth a Google.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Ford.
I will chase up the references you mentioned.
Much appreciated.