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DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Mark Norman (6)

A moth flurry on the Murray

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
15 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

There was a flurry of excitement among our moth team over the diversity of moths and some exciting new records for the region and state. Members of the Entomological Society of Victoria, Marilyn and Dean Hewish, Grace Lewis, Ken Harris and Josh Grub, set up night light stations with bright mercury vapour lamps in front a large white sheet. They run all night, as different groups of moths arrive at different times of the night. They clocked up over 120 moth species.

Two Neds Corner moths Left:Sceliodes cordalis | Right: A perfectly camouflagued Convolvulus Hawk Moth, Agrius convolvuli.
Image: M. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

There are several theories on why moths come to human light sources. The generally accepted theory is that moths use points of light in the night sky (such as the moon) to orient their flight paths. They keep the brightest light at a particular angle to their flight direction in order to fly straight. As they go past our electric lights they keep turning inwards to maintain the correct angle until they spiral into the porch light or the light station sheets.

The arriving moths came in all shapes and sizes. Two of the weirdest were the Twisted Moth and the plume moths. The Twisted Moth contorts its body as part of its camouflage to look very not-moth-like. The plume moths have long narrow wings with the rear pair hidden under the front pair. They get their name from the feathery tips to their wings.

Two Neds Corner moths Above: Twisted Moth, Circopetes obtusata looks just like a dry eucalyptus leaf. | Below: A plume moth, Stenoptilia zophodactylus
Image: M. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

Colour patterns ranged from the excellent camouflage of the hawk moths that perfectly match the grey tree bark to brightly coloured forms including some with false eye spots, known as ocelli.

Two brightly-coloured Neds Corner moths Two brightly-coloured Neds Corner moths. Left: Pale Spotted Tiger Moth, Amata aperta | Right: Grammodes ocellata with beautiful eye-spots, or ocelli.
Image: M. Hewish | D. Hewish
Source: M. Hewish | D. Hewish
 

The wood moths (family Cossidae) caused the most excitement. These beautiful moths are not particularly common and the three species found included two ornately-patterned species and a third smaller species that is a new record for Victoria. The males of these moths (and many other moth groups) can be recognised by their large feather-like antennae. These are the chemosensory organs of the males, used to 'smell' the pheromones released by the females. By contrast, females have much narrower, less-feathery antennae.

two wood moths Two wood moths. Left: Endoxyla sp. | Right: Endoxyla neuroxantha representing a new Victorian record for this species.
Image: M.Hewish
Source: M. Hewish
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Spider city

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
7 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

One of the priority groups of animals for the Bush Blitz surveys is the primitive mygalomorph spiders, such as trapdoor spiders and tarantulas. This group of spiders have large fangs that point down and can only be used to pin and pierce their prey. The 'modern' spiders (araneomorphs) have fangs that turn towards each other, so can be used more easily to grab their prey. We found only one small mygalomorph spider species.

Mygalomorph spider Mygalomorph spider
Image: M Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wolf spiders are the other focus group for these surveys and we found them everywhere. Dr Barbara Baehr from Queensland Museum was the wolf spider expert on the team. On night walks the blue eye shine of hundreds of wolf spiders can be seen over the ground and in the trees. Some larger ones build trapdoors over their burrow, complete with a perfect hinged lid.

Wolf spider and burrow Left: Wolf spider | Right: Wolf spider burrow with trapdoor
Image: Patrick Honan | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The huntsman spiders here were very impressive, being among the largest in Australia with the females reaching 20cm across. Close-up images showed that many had small red mites crawling over their bodies.

huntsman spider Huntsman spider
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A Redback Spider nest was found by BHP participant Paul Simper where a large female was guarding two round egg masses while the tiny attendant male sat nearby.

Redback Spider family A Redback Spider family - the large female is in the centre, with the small male to the left and an egg sac to the right.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The list of other spider types at Neds Corner is long, and includes ant spiders, ant-mimicking spiders, jumping spiders, orb weavers, social spiders, crab spiders and cellar spiders.

Ant spider Ant spider (family Zodariidae).
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Neds Corner Station

Cute creepy crawlies

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
3 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

The range of invertebrate animals that we found at Neds Corner was spectacular. At the robust end of the scale were the Rasping Crickets with their big jaws and impressive biting powers. We encountered pairs of these large crickets, the females having the long egg-laying ovipositor off the tip of their tail.

Rasping Cricket Rasping Cricket
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We also found the delicate pottery brood chambers built by potter wasps. They build these perfect small chambers to contain their young and then bring food to the developing grubs.

Potter wasp adult and nest Above: Adult potter wasp | Below: The nest of the potter wasp.
Image: Patrick Honan | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Grace Lewis from the Entomological Society of Victoria witnessed the life and death tug-of-war between a spider wasp and meat ants over a paralysed wolf spider. The ants won.

Antlion larva and adult Above: Antlion larva in its conical pit | Below: Winged antlion adult
Image: David Paul | Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The ants were not so lucky in the many antlion pits we found scattered in the red sand. Antlions are the juvenile stage of an insect related to the lacewings (order Neuroptera). The young antlions with their big jaws dig a conical pit in the sand and sit in the bottom waiting for ants to slide in. The flying adults were attracted to our night lights. We also saw another related insect known as a mantis fly or mantispid – it has a lacewing body with the attacking front end of a praying mantis.

Mantispid Mantispid or mantis fly
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The centipedes were beautiful and fast, with lots of legs for running. We also found small red-eyed cicadas everywhere and saw them emerge from their wingless cases.

Colourful centipede Colourful centipede
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dr John Stanisic of the Queensland Museum was pleased with his tally of ten land snail species including some of the smallest animals imaginable. Our photographer David Paul has perfected photographing "gliding sand grains".

Tiny land snail Tiny land snail
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Every day we found more radical colours, shapes and sizes amongst the invertebrate fauna than the day before.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Frogs, bogs and fungi

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
2 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

By 25 November, rain drenched Neds Corner and the clay turned to slippery mud. Great weather for frogs. With the rain's arrival, frogs emerged from the mud as our vehicles sank into it.

Rain at Ned's Corner Rain at Ned's Corner. Left: The view from the homestead porch | Right: Boggy road
Image: M. Hewish / M. Cheng
Source: M. Hewish / M. Cheng
 

Pobblebonk frogs turned up everywhere. In our pitfall trap lines, 30 pits contained 37 frogs. These frogs bury into the soil in the dry weather and wait for the rains. Then they emerge to feed and mate.

Pobblebonk Frog Pobblebonk Frog (Limnodynastes dumerili) at Neds Corner.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The other frogs we encountered were the Spadefoot, Spotted and Barking Marsh Frogs, Peron's Tree Frog and a froglet (genus Crinia). The tree frogs can be recognised by their padded toes, good for climbing.

Peron's Tree Frog Peron's Tree Frog (Litoria peroni) with beautiful green spots.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The wetter weather was also good for the fungi and Dr Teresa Lebel from the National Herbarium of Victoria found many new records for this region. In arid country many types of fungus rest under the soil in a shrivelled state. As soon as the water reaches them, their stalks hydrate and the heads of species like puffball fungi emerge above the mud to release their spores.

Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Fungi after rain at Ned's Corner. Left: Fruiting bodies of the Earth Star fungus | Right: Tinder Conch fungus
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of the fungus highlights was finding fallen white shelf fungi at the bases of big River Red Gums. The spongy dead fungus is called Tinder Conch fungus as Aboriginal peoples used it for carrying the slow-burning coals needed for fire starting.

Our survey team was not as well-adapted as the frogs and managed to bog three cars in one day, but a combination of winches and effort got us all home safe and sound.

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Frogs of Victoria infosheet series

Royal Botanical Gardens Fungimap

Reptile central

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
1 December 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

With the warm weather we experienced at the start of the survey, the Neds Corner Bush Blitz team clocked up an impressive tally of reptile species. Being in the driest corner of Victoria, the desert influence is obvious in a wonderful range of skinks, dragons, geckoes and snakes.

Four of the larger lizards have been found. The Inland Bearded Dragon has the scales and scutes of the best fictional dragons and has been found sunning itself on dead logs and fence posts. From above these spikes help them blend against the background. The Shingleback with its bright blue tongue has been observed many times living up to its other name (Sleepy Lizard) by sleeping or slowly loping on the roadsides. They are often in pairs. This species mates for life and can live to up to 50 years old. Sand goannas and a large Lace Monitor have also been recorded.

Shingleback Skink Shingleback Skink
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Five gecko species (Bynoe's, Thick-tailed, Tree Dtella, Tassellated and Marbled) have already been found through night walks or searching under bark and through leaf litter. They are a mix of ground dwellers (with normal claws) and tree-climbers with their fat fleshy toes. Many gecko species store fat in their tails and our ones seem well fed. We've been finding some very pregnant females bulging with the two eggs they lay at a time.

Thick-tailed Gecko Thick-tailed Gecko
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In addition to the Shingleback, five other skink species have been found including Tree Skink, Boulanger's Skink, Carneby's Wall Skink and several yet-to-be resolved Ctenotus species.

Boulanger's Skink Boulanger's Skink
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The snake highlight has been a Curl Snake, a small species around 30 cm long. It was found while researchers Patrick Honan and Chloe Miller were searching at night for tiger beetles on clay pans. Though small, this species is highly venomous and has caused human fatalities so we handled it very carefully. It is listed as threatened in Victoria under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Curl Snake Curl Snake
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

Bush Blitz at Neds Corner

Author
by Mark Norman
Publish date
30 November 2011
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Mark is Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria. He's reporting back from Neds Corner in this series of blog posts.

Researchers from the museum's Sciences and Live Exhibits departments have gathered in the far north-west corner of Victoria to survey the wildlife of Neds Corner Station on the state's desert fringe. The Neds Corner survey is part of the Bush Blitz program, a biodiversity discovery partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia. It aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. The 30,000 hectare reserve is managed by the Trust for Nature, an independent not-for-profit organisation that purchases and permanently protects properties to conserve nature.

Saltbush Saltbush at Ned's Corner
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The survey encompasses animals, plants and fungi, so the museum team has joined scientists from the National Herbarium of Victoria, the Queensland Museum and the University of New South Wales. They have also been joined by five staff from BHP's Environmental Division around Australia, who will be aiding the researchers in the field and lab.

Ned's Corner Bush Blitz team The Ned's Corner Bush Blitz team.
Source: Museum Victoria

The aim is to survey across the many arid fringe habitats found in the Neds Corner reserve including saltbush plains, mallee scrub, clay pans, sandy rises and amongst the River Red Gums and Black Box eucalypts that line the adjacent Murray River.

Ned's Corner habitats Habitats at Ned's Corner. Above: River Red Gum forest. Below: Black Box eucalypts.
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The survey runs from 21 November to 2 December and the museum team are using extensive visual and acoustic surveys, pitfall trap lines, small mammal traps, baited cage traps, bat sonic listening devices and moth light stations to census the wildlife.

two types of traps Two types of traps in use at Ned's Corner. Above: small mammal trap Below: pitfall trap
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Bush Blitz is a biodiversity partnership discovery program between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia, that aims to document the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System. Museum Victoria also participated in Bush Blitz at Lake Condah in March 2011.

Links:

Parks Australia blog

Bush Blitz

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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