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A Beetle with Many Secrets:

Rhipicera femorata.

By Dave King.

rhipiceraThis beetle, though of spectacular appearance, has many secrets yet to be unravelled. It is not found in great numbers around the Geelong area, which is not surprising, because the literature maintains it to be a member of a sub-tropical family, and confined to northern New South Wales and Queensland.

It belongs in the superfamily Dascilloidea and family Rhipiceridaeand goes under the nameRhipicera femorata. The writer has only come upon two specimens in the Geelong area, the specimen illustrated was collected in the garden at Portarlington, whilst the other specimen was found at Anglesea some years ago. it is a matter of some conjecture as to whether these beetles have migrated from the north or they are rare residents in the Geelong area.

Little is known of the biology of this species, the larvae being unknown. Larvae of related species in America are known to parasitise immature stages of cicadas.

Male R. femorata, as illustrated, have spectacular flabellate (fan-like) antennae. The female, unfamiliar to the writer, has antennae of pectinate form. The beetle is entirely black, with the exception that the proximal portion of the femora is yellow, blending into a black apex. The elytra and pronotum are marked with a series of spots consisting of white setae. Each individual beetle appears to have a unique pattern of these spots.

Both sexes having elaborate antennae suggests that they must be highly sensitive to extremely low concentrations of chemicals. Whatever these chemicals might be, it is possible they would be the main key to their biology, i.e. for sensing suitable food source, a prospective mate, etc.

References :-
Clarke, K.U. (1973), Biology of the Arthropodal Edward Arnold, London.
Lawrence, J.F. & Britton, E.S. (1994), Australian Beetles, Melbourne University Press.

Note: Dave King died in 2012

An Ant of the Inverleigh Common:

Camponotus innexus.

By Dave King.

ant1Introduction:
During November, 1999, the writer visited Inverleigh Common, 38 1 03' S 144 1 02' E, and came across an interesting nest on the ground which at first was thought to be that of a Wolf Spider. The feature that caught the eye was a relatively high turret entrance in which an animal was ensconced, and thought to be the spider. Carefully vibrating the turret aperture with a blade of grass coaxed the creature up to the rim, where it was revealed as an ant. This particular individual with its large head, virtually filling the aperture, was obviously a major worker, or 'soldier', of the species.

Several specimens of both the major and minor worker were taken with the view to determining their identity. The nest was situated in open woodland of Black Wattle and Eucalypt, with ground cover of grasses, sedges and some rush, an area obviously subject to periods of being damp and retaining surface water during wet weather - a sandy soil with a bleached upper horizon, typical of a duplex soil.

Description:
Examination of the specimens revealed them to be ants of the genus Camponotus and a species of the 'innexus' group, a polymorphic species of the sub-family Formacinae. The term 'group' is here applied for the reason it is not yet firmly established that species assigned to 'innexus' are in fact more than one species, only genetics can resolve this dilemma. The genus Camponotus has a worldwide distribution, as well as having several hundreds of native species.

ant2Morphologically the subject worker castes are very similar, except for overall size, the minor being somewhat smaller, particularly with regard to the head, Fig.2 a & b. The head, the anterior half of the trunk and the gaster or abdomen are black. Legs and anterior trunk are red. The antennae insertion and the eyes are set well above the centre of the head. Referring to Fig. 2, it will be seen that the antennae of the minor is longer relative to the head, conceivably as a sensory organ it would be developed for efficient location prey and sources of food, whereas, a long antennae for the major could be vulnerable in a defence role. Two features of note - one is the possession of a strigil on the femur of each foreleg. For a description of a strigil refer to G.N. Vol. 34, No 4, page 4. The second feature is the head does not possess the three ocelli found in many ants and their allies.

Devoid of a sting, C. 'innexus' has in its place an acidopore gland placed ventrally on the last segment of the gaster. It is seen as an opening surrounded by a circlet of hairs. Excreted from this gland are gases of various composition, depending upon whether it is for an alarm signal, indicator of a food source, or forming a scent trail for other community members to follow.

According to the literature, C. innexus' is restricted to wetter sites. This is supported by the fact that the nest was found in an area subject to surface water retention and generally damp situation. Nests constructed in damp situations are by nature subject to bacterial and fungal diseases. This problem has been overcome, amongst other species, by possession of a metapieural gland that secretes a substance able to destroy. bacteria and fungi, (Holldobler & Wilson, 1994). The metapleural gland is situated on the trunk immediately above the point of attachment of the rear leg, Fig. l.

ant3

As in all cases the workers are female, the major being assigned to guard duty and first line of defence role, and minors to act as food gatherers and general nest duties, again differentiated by the younger minors doing nest duties and their older sisters food gathering. Not wishing to totally destroy the nest, a casual examination was made, indicating the number of individuals in the nest was not high relative to that of the majority of ant species. As a nocturnal species all members would have been present within the nest at this time

Construction of the nest entrance turret (Fig. 3) is of interest in that it is composed of small pieces of vegetation and sand grains effectively cemented together by means of a substance that could only have been applied by its regurgitation from the ant. The interior surface of the turret is exceptionally smooth and consists entirely of vegetable fibres. Tested by immersion in water, the turret readily absorbed water, but did not disintegrate, indicating it would easily survive wet conditions.

References
Anderson, A.N. (1991), The Ants of Southern Australia, CSIRO, Melbourne
Holldobler, B. & Will E.O. (1994), Journey to the Ant, Harvard University Press, Cambridge
Shattuck, S.O., (1999), Australian Ants, CSIRO, Melbourne

Note: Dave King died in 2012

At the Pool:

Bathing Behaviour of Birds in the Lerderderg Gorge.
By Marilyn Hewish.

In May this year the drought was still with us in the Bacchus Marsh area. Over 10 months I watched the river along my 2 km survey route in the Lerderderg Gorge shrink to three brown and stagnant pools. These became the best bird-watching places in the gorge. During a morning walk (9 a.m.) on 30 May 1998, 1 lingered to watch the birds which had gathered to bathe at one of these pools. This was a deep open area of water about 20 metres across, with a shallow overflow, a narrow ribbon of water no more than a metre wide and 10 cm deep, winding among the pebbles and lined in parts by low shrubs and rushes.

As the procession of different species continued for over an hour, I became intrigued by the different ways in which the birds bathed.

Six adult Crimson Rosellas were bathing in an open part of the overflow. This was quite a relaxed and prolonged procedure, and only ended when the birds were completely saturated. Each bird walked deliberately down the sloping pebbly shore into the water until its belly was submerged. Then it fluttered its wings in the water, dipped its head right under and raised it sharply so the water sloshed over its back, and leaned forward to shake and fluff its breast feathers in the water. This was repeated several times and then the bird turned to face the shore, leaned back to submerge its tail and rump, fanned its tail and shuffled it from side to side. After a few minutes of this, the bird walked out of the pool.

At the main pool, Honeyeaters were putting on a spectacular show. A fallen sapling protruded several metres out over the water, and Yellow-tufted, Yellow-faced and White-naped Honeyeaters were using its bare branches as launching points for their vigorous bathing sallies. The birds perched in the outer branches of the sapling, and then one at a time, flew out over the centre of the pool, dropped abruptly and plunged underwater with a splash submerging fully, turned in the water, lifted out immediately and flew back to the branch. I was taken by their boldness. Their launching place was exposed, they were bathing far out in the pool, and their flight was high, direct and purposeful. However there was a subtle pecking order within the three species. When all three were perched in the fallen sapling, the Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters were the bosses. They constantly chased the other birds, perched at the tip of the sapling and flew furthest out over the water. The Yellow-faced Honeyeater held its ground when chased by the Yellow-tufted, but perched further back in the sapling. The White-naped Honeyeaters perched lower down and to the side of the sapling, and tended to plunge not so far out. They were constantly harassed, and eventually one White-naped Honeyeater was forced to move to another overhanging branch.

The bathing action of two Eastern Spinebills was similar to that of the other honeyeaters, but they were much more timid. They chose the smaller and more sheltered shallow overflow and their perch was deep within a dense patch of rush and low shrubs right beside the water. In turn they fluttered low over the water venturing no more than half a metre out, plunged right under with a splash, turned in the water, lifted out, hovered for a split second, and then dashed back into the cover of the shrubbery. Their flight was lower, less direct and more fluttering than that of the other honeyeaters.

The Crested Shrike-tit looked like a bold bird with its robust build, massive bill and striking colours, but it was a most nervous bather. It chose areas of water even more secluded than the pool overflow, firstly a small separate puddle among the rocks and secondly an inlet off the overflow. In each case its approach was over rocks and quite exposed and the bird advanced slowly and hesitantly, pausing repeatedly and scanning around as it hopped towards the water. At each of its bathing areas, there was a slightly taller rock right beside the water and the bird used that as a vantage point for a last look around the area, and as a launching place. The bath was as fast as the approach was slow - if I'd blinked I could have missed it. The bird jumped into the water right beside the rock, fluttered, never completely submerging, and leapt out immediately onto the rock. One more time: look, leap, splash, out, and then it was gone. I wondered whether it actually got wet.

At the main pool, a Brown Thornbill surreptitiously approached down the gently-sloping pebbly bank, stood at the shoreline and made several single short fluttering dips in the very shallow water right by the shoreline. A Grey Fantail then came down to the same place, but flew out into the slightly deeper water about half a metre out, sat in the water With its belly immersed, fluttered vigorously for about ten seconds, then flew back to the shore. It repeated this routine several times.

The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Ornithology (eds. M. Brooke and T. Birkhead, Cambridge University Press, 1991) is a mine of information on bathing behaviour. Bathing is necessary to birds for comfort and feather care, a vital part of their routine as the plumage must be in top condition for flight and insulation. When bathing some birds saturate themselves (like the Crimson Rosella), a process which may clean the feathers and skin. However most birds just dampen the feathers (like the Crested Shrike-tit), and this may make the feathers flexible and assist preening.

The encyclopaedia lists several types of bathing behaviour including: stand-in bathing, where the bird stands in shallow water (Crimson Rosella, Grey Fantail); in-out bathing, where the bird jumps in and out of the water (Crested Shrike-tit, Brown Thornbill); and plunge-bathing, where the bird launches from a perch into the water (the honeyeaters). Most groups of birds have their own characteristic bathing behaviour; for instance, the honeyeaters I saw all plunge-bathed. However even within groups, species can show subtle differences in bathing habits, and the types of launching places and bathing areas they choose, as I noticed with the four honeyeater species I observed. During my observations, I was reminded what a precious resource fresh water is for birds and for all life.

bathing

Australian Mudfish

Galaxias cleaveri
A threatened species found on Belmont Common
by Valda Dedman

mudfishA threatened species has recently been found at Belmont Common by officers of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (D.N.R.E.). The tiny Australian Mudfish lives in a drainage wetland near the river.

The fish is formally protected under Schedule 2 of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. It is regarded as very rare in abundance and distribution. At the time of its nomination in 1991, only 27 individuals had ever been found in Victoria, at Wilson's Promontory and in the western Otways. Belmont Common is one of only six sites in Victoria where the Australian Mudfish is known to exist.

Galaxias cleaveri is a small elongate tubular fish, with a bluntly-rounded head and an average length of 80 mm, though it may grow to 140 mm. It is distinguished from other related species by a very small eye and a rounded tail fin. It is greenish brown on the back and sides, with a greyish belly and is blotched and irregularly striped all over with darker brown.

The species is said to favour a coastal heath land swamp habitat with access to the ocean. Eggs and larvae drift down to the sea, then juveniles return to rivers as 'whitebait'. It is difficult to find as it occurs in muddy water, may aestivate when water dries up and is almost certainly nocturnal. It is found under logs and stones.

It may once have been much more widespread, but its habitat has declined through swamp drainage, wetland modification and/or inappropriate management, as well as the introduction of exotic predatory species and pollution from herbicide runoff.

It is therefore amazing that it has survived at Belmont Common. If the proposed water sports channel is built, it will be very difficult to protect this rare fish, since the drainage patterns will be radically altered. The creation of new wetlands for mudfish may be prevented by the perceived need for attractive ponds for more visible species such as ducks and moorhens. Open drains are generally not looked upon favourably by developers or landscape architects.

Not enough is known about the local distribution of Galaxias cleaveri. There may be other sites on Belmont Common, south of Breakwater Road I for instance, which would be I destroyed or changed by the construction of the watersports channel and banks. Even building a new bridge on the amended alignment would be a threat.

Nor do we know exactly where they spawn. The Barwon estuary is complex and even minute changes caused by upstream developments could present a breeding risk.

References-
Flora and Fauna Guarantee. Scientific Advisory Committee. (1 991) Final recommendation on a nomination for listing. Nomination No. 142.
McDowall, R.M., ed. (1980) Freshwater fishes of south-eastern Australia, Reed, 1980.

Basin Magic

Bird-watching in Ironbark Basin

by Barry Lingham

basinThe hillside drops quickly towards the distant sea. The dull roar of the surf permeates the tree canopy to provide the rhythmic audio backdrop over which is written the melodic tones of birdsong. Here, the lronbark dominates all. The trunks are dark, gaunt and furrowed from centuries of battle against the elements. Branches twist in surreal patterns, but the harshness is broken by the blue-green foliage capped by an explosion of flowering buds.

In the canopy, the Red Wattlebirds use bully-boy tactics to repel the interloping smaller honeyeaters. The bush echoes with their coarse language. Floral rain drifts from above as the lronbark flowers are carelessly discarded or dislodged by the Wattlebirds in their greedy pursuit of more nectar. The call of a lone Golden Whistler adds a civilised tone to the proceedings, the beauty of the notes wasted on the garrulous wattlebirds.

A splash of red from a flock of Crimson Rosellas flashes against the darker background and I follow them further downhill. This is the habitat of the Powerful owl, but my straining eyes cannot locate any today. I am attracted towards the sounds of many honeyeaters. This is a border zone with multiple canopy layers surrounding a small clearing. Ironbarks give way to the smaller Messmates with a denser understorey of Wattles. Below them is a ground cover of Bracken.

Each species favours its own particular zone, but a few adventurous types wander beyond the norm. The Wattlebirds occasionally attempt to evict the White-naped Honeyeaters who stray to the top of the Ironbarks at this site, but they are heavily outnumbered and seem only half-hearted in their efforts. Most of the White-napes are carefully picking over the Wattles, chattering to each other with soft buzzing notes. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters prefer the Messmates, but they too annoy the Wattlebirds by trespassing in the Ironbarks. Crescent Honeyeaters are also seen amongst the Wattles and the bright colours of the Eastern Spinebill flash amongst the Messmates.

A single warning call is enough for silent panic to encompass the scene. The Yellow-faced Honeyeaters fly low and swiftly through the Wattles. White-napes drop rapidly into the Bracken, whilst some species flock together and speed zigzagging amongst the lronbark canopy. The whole area is now silent and still.

It takes at least ten seconds for the cause of this fearsome panic to appear. Flying at speed, only inches above the canopy is a Brown Goshawk. It dives low through the clearing but the early warning has left no victims available for the powerful talons to snatch from the air. The goshawk wheels and returns to perch beside a large stick nest directly above my head. It is only after I have studied the bird for some time that it becomes aware of my presence and takes off to terrorise a new area of the Basin. Within thirty seconds of the departure of the danger, the honeyeaters reappear and the scene again fills with the feeding activity of many birds.

Further down the slope the scenery changes rapidly. The Ironbarks disappear and the Messmates become smaller. Grasstrees thrust their elegant fronds skywards and the tinkling call of the Buff-rumped Thornbill is heard. A hundred metres further and the undergrowth changes to the spectacular heathland flowers. Careful examination shows many individual species but, as with many things in nature, the pattern of the whole is more admirable than the sum of the individual parts.

A bird flies amongst the undergrowth. The white eyebrow is prominent and the tail is cocked - probably a Chestnut-rumped Hylacola (Heath wren) but I cannot be sure as it has disappeared into the under growth. A careful scan cannot locate the Tawny-crowned Honeyeater which is another bird often seen here. The 'squeaky wheel' call of the Rufous Bristlebird issues from a distant patch of heath, but after twenty minutes patient waiting I realise that today will not be the day for me to get a good view of this secretive bird.

My patience is rewarded by a faint call from the heath in front of me. By making my own high pitched notes I am able to entice the originator of the call to see who is invading his territory. A beautiful Southern Emuwren perches on a branch only metres from me and scolds me for daring to impersonate its call.

All too soon I must leave this place and return to the rush and demands of urban living. But I return renewed, my spirit alive and optimistic after the tonic of Basin magic.

 

Blackfellow's Bread

The fungus Polyporus mylittae

Blackfellow's Bread

by Valda Dedman

I was recently given a specimen of a most unusual fungus. Jo Mann, one of my U3A students, had collected it at Moggs Creek, just off the path on the road to the lookout over Fairhaven. It was on the dry side of the hill, and the fungus was lying on the top of the soil. It was more or less round, soft and spongy but with a tough dark brown skin, and appeared to have been dug up, for there were particles of clayey soil and fine rootlets adhering to ft. Jo took it home, put in on the back veranda, watered it sporadically, and even broke off a piece to give to her grandson. For three weeks ft showed no change, then it began to develop a white spongy growth close to the broken-off area. At the same time the ball began to harden and collapse inwards.

It was found on 5th March and brought to me on 5th April. I kept it in a plastic bag in a warm room. The fruiting body continued to grow. Each morning when I took it out, it was covered with droplets of moisture, the flesh a fresh, velvety white with sulphur yellow patches which faded as the day progressed. It developed no real stem, but spread out in a series of lobes, with fine closely-packed pores on the under surface. I photographed it often. After a week it appeared to have reached its optimum size, so I removed the bag and placed the fungus on a sheet of black paper, hoping to catch some spores, but in this I was unsuccessful. The fungus merely gradually dried up and shrank in size and weight. The fruiting body (sporophore) became firm, cream or buff-coloured and the ball (sclerotium) wrinkled, contorted and extremely hard. At no time did it have a strong smell and it was not attacked by insects. On 11th April I noticed a curious blue-green to grey patch, I cm in diameter, like a secondary mould. This remained constant as the sporophore shrank.

Polyporus mylittae is unusual in that is more commonly known from its vegetative stage than from its fruiting stage. It produces large underground food reserves known as sclerotia, which were ploughed up in great numbers by early farmers. They are commonly found in forest or woodland, were very numerous in Gippsland and well-known from the Otways. They lie from a few centimetres to more than a metre below the surface and look something like large potatoes, varying in size from an apple to a soccer ball, and up to 15 kg in weight. Sclerotia are composed of a dense mass of fungus mycelium, the individual strands of hyphae being closely interwoven, enclosed in a thin rough crust that may flake off with age. When cut or broken, the interior is seen to have a rice-pudding appearance, with waxy-yellowish compartments of irregular shape separated by white walls (septa) less than 2 mm thick. The sclerotium shrinks as its food reserves are used by the fruiting body.

The sclerotium may remain dormant for many years before producing one or more fruiting bodies. Fruiting was first described by Henry Thomas Tisdall in a paper read before the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria on 11th November, 1885. Tisdall realised that the species was one of the polyporoid fungi, whose spores are produced in a series of tubes rather than along radiating gills. The spores are white. It is not known what stimulates the fungus to fruit. Perhaps it is damage to the skin. Tisdall first noticed a 'whitish-looking substance oozing through in two places, one portion from what I then imagined to be the stem, and the other from the cut side of the fungus'. He put the cut side face down to get rid of "the mould", and when he next visited it, 'the new growth had made wonderful progress" and had raised the whole specimen nearly half an inch. He put his collection away in a cellar and two months later found more fruiting bodies.

The species was formally described in 1892. Scierotia were first reported in 1834 and were thought to be a kind of native truffle. Since sporophores are so rarely found on buried specimens in situ, it has been suggested (Sinnott 1974) that animals such as wombats or bettongs might assist in triggering fruiting behaviour and dispersal of spores. It has also been claimed that fire is a stimulant.

Polyporus mylittae is commonly known as Blackfellows' Bread and was an aboriginal food. Dr. Milligan saw Tasmanian aborigines eating it. Aldo Massola cites it as being sought by aborigines at Lal Lal, Tisdall asked Alfred Howift (who was later to write the authoritative The Native Tribes of South-east Australia) and received conflicting replies.

As to its palatability, Jim Willis wrote " ... it is almost incredible that such hard sclerotia could have been eaten at all - in the fresh state they have somewhat the consistency of very rubbery gristle, while dried examples are always as hard as horn". Tasting tests on raw material were carried out by members of the Victorian Archaeological Survey at Yambuk in December 1976 and in Melbourne in January 1977. Everyone taking part agreed that it was not unpalatable, although somewhat bland and even slightly sour. Trevor Pescott relates that Bill Robertson, as a lad in Forrest, used to eat slices raw. Trevor was also told of a member of a forestry crew who 'used to cut it up into slices, fry it in the pan, then eat it with honey and butter. Its taste is said to be unchanged in cooking.

The sclerotium when freshly dug could resemble a cottage loaf just out of the fire; the fruiting body reminded me of rising bread dough. When Dr Milligan asked the aborigines how they found the native bread, they universally replied, 'A Rotten Tree." This gives a clue as to the original source of nourishment and energy for the sclerotia. Polyporoid fungi help to break down dead and decaying organic matter in soil, lifter or wood.

Scierotia which have not fruited become very hard and have been put to a variety of uses. Nigel Sinnott used one as a doorstop and thought it would make a good cannonball. There are reports of them being made into walking-stick handles and Trevor Pescott photographed one hand sculpted from Blackfellows' Bread perhaps a hundred years earlier.

A visit to the Internet shows that the fungus is also used in herbal remedies. Polyporus mylittae is one of the ingredients in a 'natural" de-wormer for cats and dogs. It is not clear what the source for the ingredients is, but the trade could pose a serious danger to the species, which is one of Fungi map's target species (1 1 records to 27 March 2000).

References:
Bougher, N.L. & Syme, K. (1 998). Fungi of Southern Australia. University of Western Australia Press, Nediands, W.A.
calcite.apana.org.au/fungimap (5/4/2000). Polyporus mylittae. Cleland, J.B.(1976 reprint). Toadstools and Mushrooms and other Larger Fungi of South Australia. Govt. Pr., Adelaide.
Cooke. M.C. (1 893).Native Bread. Vic Nat. 9: 114. Fuhrer, B. (1 985). A Field Companion to Australian Fungi. Five Mile Press, Hawthorn, Vic.
McAlpine, D. (1 904). Bibliography of the fungus Polyporus mylittae, Cook and Massee. Vic Nat. 1 1: 59-60 Pescott, T. (1 992). Geelong Advertiser, December 24.
Roth, H. L. (1 890). The Aborigines of Tasmania. F. King & Sons, Halifax. Shepherd, C.J. & Totterdell, C.J.(1988). Mushrooms and Toadstools of Australia. Inkata, Melbourne.
Sinnott, M.H. (1 974). Blackfellows' Bread. Vic Nat. 94: 96-98.
Tisdall, H.T. (1 886). Fungi of North Gippsland. Vic Nat. 2: 106-109.
Tisdall, H.T. (1904). Notes on the 'Native Bread' Polyporus mylittae. Vic. Nat. 11: 56-59.
Willis, J.H. (1950). Victorian Toadstools and Mushrooms. FNCV, Melbourne. www. holisticgoid. corn (5/04/2000). Natural De-wormer for Cats and Dogs.

Brown Treefrog

Litoria ewingii

by Ade Foster

ewings

With the recent rains, frogs have begun calling again. The very dry weather of the past couple of years seems to have kept them quiet, but three species were calling from my back yard pond this week, the most pleasing of which is the Brown or Ewing's Tree Frog, Litoria ewingii.

Brown tree frogs are smallish, reaching about 35mm, pale brown or fawnish above and cream or white below. The back is usually marked with dark brown spots and there is a distinct blackish stripe extending from the nostrils, through the eye to the flank. The skin inside the thighs is often a warm orange. The belly skin is unmarked.. They have the toe discs typical of tree frogs, but these are small and scarcely wider than the toes.

They are found across south eastern Australia from south eastern South Australia through Victoria to southern New South Wales. They are also widely distributed through Tasmania. They are found in coastal swamps, lagoons, dry sclerophyll forests, wet sclerophyll forests, grasslandsÂ…. and suburban gardens where suitable habitat occurs. It was introduced to New Zealand in 1875.

The call is a high pitched whistle - "weep .. eep .. eep .. eep .. eep", which, in a good season can be heard all year round. Males call from low vegetation bordering water or while floating among aquatic plants. After a good summer or autumn rain, the chorus can be very load indeed, and females can be attracted to the pond from as far as one hundred metres away. The male grasps the female under the armpits and rides her as she swims into the water to lay her eggs among the vegetation. He does this with the aid of spiky pads on the inside of the first finger, called nuptial pads. These differ between species and can be very small or quite spectacular.

The eggs are coated with a substance which swells on contact with the water to form a substance very much like clear jelly, and the female lays short strings of these eggs attached to plants stems and the like. The tadpoles hatch after a few days, depending on water temperature, and grow very quickly. Metamorphlings are striped green and cinnamon brown but this colour lasts only a few days.

Most treefrogs are able to change colour quite dramatically to suit their mood or situation. L. ewingii seems to be remarkably consistent in its colouration. There is reportedly a green colour phase of L. ewingii, but, though I have kept and bred them for many years, I have yet to see a green one in the field.

References
Cogger - Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia - Reed, 1994
Robinson - A Field guide to Frogs of Australia - Reed, 1996
Tyler - Frogs - Collins, 1976

Author's note: A young friend recently brought me a jar of tadpoles which she rescued from a fast-drying puddle on her property at Barongarook, near Colac. I reared them at home. They were L. ewingii, and all were green-phase!. They have since been released into a dam near the site where they were found.

You are invited to join the Geelong Field Naturalist Cadets.

 

Young people from the age of 6 years are welcome.

We meet at the Geelong Botanic Gardens Friends Room. Entrance is from the

intersection of Holt Road and Eastern Park Circuit. See the map on the

Meetings page.

Our meeting nights are on the third Wednesday of the month; 6pm to 7.30 pm.

We also plan one half or full day activity each month.

Activities will include a mix of bushcraft, nature talks, nature crafts and day or night

walks into the bush.

Anything to do with nature If you have an interest we will help.

Contact Jeff: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or just come with mum or dad on a meeting

night. Please remember to bring to our Wedneday meeting anything interesting you find

so others can see it, or even something you would like identified. You are also welcome

at any of the senior club trips. Let have some fun.

Jeff and Georgi

Creeping Waterbug

Naucoris sp. (Naucoridae - Hemiptera)

by Dave King

creeping

Introduction:

The ongoing survey of the invertebrate fauna of the wetlands that consist of Jerringot Reserve and contiguous wetlands within the Barwon Valley Golf Club has collected many species of aquatic fauna. Although all these wetlands are in close proximity, several differences are manifest, in particular water depth, water source and vegetation. Up until now most sampling has been of terrestrial fauna by means of pit-fall traps and foliage beating. The added advantage of determining aquatic fauna is that water quality can be effectively gauged. The range and specificity of fauna is a valuable way of determining water quality.

Jerringot Reserve receives the greater part of its water from storm water drains encompassing both urban housing and a wide variety of industrial complexes, plus a number of roads carrying large amounts of traffic. The golf course wetlands by comparison are charged by run-off from the surrounding open grass land, and tend by nature to be shallow and in some cases ephemeral.

The periodic flooding of the whole area will tend to make the population diversity of each wetland comparable - a state that will tend to become less comparable as time passes between flooding and/or relatively wet periods. The abundant bird life using all of the wetlands also plays a part in maintaining comparable invertebrate fauna by transport of eggs and small animals attached to their feathers. Having said this , it was interesting to come upon the subject Creeping Water-bug in only one wetland, situated on the golf course.

Description

The number of species of aquatic bugs is quite extensive, even within individual families of aquatic Hemiptera. The subject species belongs to the Naucoridae, although not rare, it is limited to just two genera in Australia, the Naucoris andAphelocheirus, Woodward et al (1970). Members of the family Naucoridae are bugs completely adapted to aquatic life, from egg through the nymphal stage to adult. The adult relies on atmospheric oxygen, which is obtained by periodically collecting a bubble of air at the water surface. This bubble of air is held on the underside of the abdomen by a series of fine hairs. Adult Naucoris are equipped with wings which enables them to disperse to other habitats if conditions in their present one deteriorates.

The Naucoridae are predacious, the adult stage being equipped with raptorial fore legs. Grabbed by the fore legs prey is held to facilitate the insertion of the beak-like proboscis, and the victim's body fluids then extracted.

Discussion
The presence or absence of various invertebrates is a good indication of the state of health of any wetlands. Variation, as delineated by Kabisch et al (1982), is from polysaprobic (heavy pollution with decaying organic matter) with low dissolved oxygen, through alpha - mesosaprobic and beta - mesosaprobic, to oligosaprobic (high dissolved oxygen and little organic decomposition) with limited biodiversity.

No one faunal organism can be used to identify positively the saprobic level of any body of water, but some indication can be drawn. In this case , the Naucoridae, can only handle prey of size close to its own size, which means there must be a population of lesser animals, and so on down the food chain. To maintain such a food chain the health of the water must be somewhere within the alpha and beta-mesosaprobic class.

References

Kabisch, K. & Hemming, J. (1982), Ponds & Pools - Oases in the Landscape, Croom Heim, London & Canberra.
Woodward, T. Evans J., & Eastop, V. (1970), in The Insects of Australia, Melbourne Univ. Press.

Cuckoo Bees

Thyreus (Anthophoridae - Melectini)

by Dave King

cbeeIntroduction
At a recent meeting of the GFNC, a specimen of a bee was placed on the specimen table. It was at first thought to be a fly, but on closer examination was determined to be that of the bee family Apoidea. Val and Alban Lloyd- Jones had collected this specimen at Tawonga (147deg-06'E 36deg-38'S) whilst it was seeking nectar from Marigold flowers. After relaxing and setting, the specimen revealed much of its features, allowing it to be identified as most probably Thyreus nitidulus. 

Description
The general appearance of the bee is as illustrated in Fig.1. Predominantly black, with a series of light blue patches of hairs on the dorsal and lateral sides. Apart from these patches it is relatively free of hairs compared to the majority of members in this family. The hind and mid-legs also have patches of blue hair on the dorsal area of the femur and tibia. No scopa (pollen basket) is present on the hind leg, as is the case in other members of this family.cbee2On each fore leg a process is developed for the cleaning of the antennae, Fig. 2, the strigil. It consists of a comb of short hairs, situated ventrally on the proximal region of the tarsus, and on the distal end of the femur a spine carrying a series of hairs, the calcar. The mid and hind legs also carry a calcar consisting of a spine having a series of short teeth, used as a means of cleaning the wings and body regions. A diagnostic feature of the Apoidea family are the three sub-marginal cells in the fore-wing, as illustrated.

Habit
The Thyreus are social parasites in the nests of Amegilla, who in a strange twist of fate are also of the Apoidea family.Amegilla, individually build a nest in soil as a burrow lined with wax-like material (Michener,1970). The Thyreus will deposit its egg in the burrow and rely upon Amegilla to provision the resulting larva, which will have destroyed the host's egg or larva, hence the term cuckoo-bee.

Acknowledgments
I thank Val and Alban Lloyd-Jones for allowing me to study this specimen, and to its eventual depositing in the Museum of Victoria collection.

References:
Michener, C.D. (1970), in Insects of Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Fairy Flies

Jerringot survey reveals a minute wasp

by Dave King


fairyfly

Introduction
Flora and fauna surveys have been conducted continuously at the Jerringot Wildlife Reserve for a number of years. Until more recently the invertebrates have not been studied to any great degree. Over the last two years a survey has been conducted by the writer, not in an intense manner, but in what might be described as of a casual nature. Using pitfall traps in the main, a whole variety of invertebrates have been collected; nothing that can be described as new to science as yet, but as is often the case, new to we non-professionals.

A case in point was, amongst a batch of specimens taken from the pitfall traps, the discovery of a minute parasitic wasp; barely discernible to the naked eye. Once under magnification its uniqueness is revealed, in particular the form of its wings. It is one of a family called 'Fairy Flies', although strictly not flies, but wasps. Scientifically they are of the family Chalcidoidae (Hymanoptera), and placed in the sub-family Mymaridae, and genus Mymar.

Description
General appearance of the subject specimen is shown in Fig. 1, only one of each pair of appendages is shown, for the purpose of clarity. The immediate points of interest are the wings, which bear no resemblance to those possessed by other members of the insect add. The fore-wing is a stem surmounted by a membranous cell, which in turn is surrounded by a series of fine hairs. In addition, shorter and more stout hairs act as a fringe along the proximal perimeter of the cell and extending part way down the stem. The hind wing consists merely of a short stem, which appears able to be attached to the fore-wing's stem when in flight.

The tarsus of each leg consists of four segments and terminating in a pair of simple claws. The foreleg has a strigil (antennae cleaning mechanism) at the junction of tibia and tarsus. The ovipositor is short, and retracted in ordinary circumstances. Antennae are relatively long, particularly the scape, which occupies nearly 50% of the total length. A distinctive club terminates the antennae.

Compound eyes are large, and three ocelli (simple eyes) are placed on the top of the relatively flat head.

Natural History
This family of wasp are egg parasites of a variety of insects; it is unknown whether or not the Mymar are species specific, as many are of the closely related wasps. These are, in many instances, used for biological control of pest insects.

Although it is uncertain in the case of the subject species, polyembronic development may occur. This is where the ovum divides in multiples to form a series of embryos, in some cases as many as 3000 (Hinton, 1970). It is common in the Hymenoptera, but not so in other Orders of insect. Maggot-like larva result from eggs laid by the Chalcidoidae, and proceed to devour the host egg. lnterjacent between larva and adult stage is the pupal stage, where reconstitution takes place to produce all the adult attributes. A great deal is yet to be learnt about these intervening stages.

References

Hinton, H. E. (1 970), Insects of Australia, C. S. 1. R. O., Melbourne University Press New, T.R. (1996), Name That Insect, Oxford University Press, Australia.

Freshwater Shrimp

Paratya australiensis

by Dave King

shrimpIntroduction
During the last session of the Reedy Lake Survey (38'-12'E 1440-26'S), on 14th October, 1999, the writer operated as the appointed collector of invertebrates, these being primarily aquatic. On this occasion it was observed that a notable increase had occurred in numbers of the subject shrimp species. They were variable in size up to that of the adult.

It is conceivable that the springtime upsurge in shrimp numbers has, at this time, initiated the presence of a considerable flock of the Whiskered Tern. They were seen constantly diving into the water at that region where the recent rise of water level had submerged vegetation. Paratya australiensis tend to concentrate where vegetation cover is present.

Description
The fresh-water shrimp, P. ausraliensis is a species found throughout the Australian continent, in fresh-water lakes, rivers and creeks. On occasions the numbers are considerable. They are surface feeding shrimp, moving about on aquatic vegetation, logs, rocks etc. In appearance it is a typical shrimp as illustrated, laterally compressed and largely translucent. A carapace covers the thorax, attached to which are the five pairs of walking legs. The first leg-like appendage is not a true leg, it is a maxilliped (jaw-foot), used to conduct food to the mouth parts. The first two pairs of walking legs are described as chelate, each terminated by a pincer-like process. Third, fourth and fifth pairs terminate in a single simple claw.

Attached to the abdomen, the last five pairs of leg are termed pleopods (swimming-foot), used for locomotion through the water. In addition the female will use the pleopods to support and brood her eggs under the abdomen. It will be noted that each of the five walking legs are biramous (two branched) due to an additional appendage attached to the upper end, this is an expodite (without-foot). Continual vibration of the expodite, together with an additional fan-like appendage above, it causes water to circulate over the gills that are situated under the carapace of the thorax. The last five pairs of legs are also biramous, the outer limb an expodite, the inner limb an endopodite (without foot).

The terminal process of the abdomen consists of three parts, a single dorsal segment, the telson, and two fan-like blades called uropods (tail foot). This terminal process is used effectively as an escape mechanism by flexing rapidly as a paddle.

The main sensory appendages are situated on the head. Relatively large eyes are protrusive, being placed on pedicels that afford articulation. Immediately below the eye emerges the first antenna consisting of two filaments. Below these, and separated by a scale-like process, is the second antenna., a single filament proportionally of considerable length compared with the body size.

P. australiensis are oviparous, with the female carrying the eggs until hatching occurs after a short incubation period. The larva at this stage bears no resemblance to the adult, and become a component of aquatic plankton, going through many metamorphic stages before reaching adulthood.

References
Bayly, I.A.E. et al (1 967) The Crustaceans of Australian Inland Waters, Australian Soc. for Limnology, Melbourne.
Hale, H.M. (1 927), The Crustaceans of South Australia, Government Printer, Adelaide.
Williams, W.D. (1 980), Australian Freshwater Life, Macmillan, Melbourne.

Fungi and Liverwort of the Ocean Grove Nature Reserve

by Dave King

lwortIntroduction
Over the last few years a number of deliberately lit fires have occurred in the O.G.N.R., two of which have been relatively extensive in area burnt. Each of these fires produced some interesting explosions in growth of a fungi and a liverwort. The fungi, Peziza scuttelata (Ascomycetes), was the first to appear immediately after the first rains following the fire. Some months later, together with further rains, the liverwort Marchantia berteroana (Marchantiaceae) appeared in place of the Ascomycetes. Both erupted in relatively large patches of ash and carbon debris situated beneath openings in the canopy consisting mainly of Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) and She Oak (Casuarina littoralisand C. stricta).

Fungi
The Ascomycetes first develops from the hypha, conspicuous amongst the coal-black carbonaceous debris, as dense white filaments, not unlike spider web, forming what is known as the mycelium. The hypha are initiated from the fungal spore when conditions in the substrate are such as to support it. Primarily in this case, the products of a woodland fire and moisture. Extending in every direction to form the mycelium, individual hypha often fuse with others of its own kind, spreading at a great rate forming a widespread colony. The fruiting body P. scuttelata develops as an extensive mat of cellular material consisting largely of cup shaped bodies having a vivid orange-red colour. A startling contrast to the blackened landscape. The part played by this fungi, as in all fungi, is the breaking down of the debris constituents into nutrients that may be easily taken up by the colonising higher plants.

Liverwort
After the fungi died and decayed, the liverwort began to develop, covering much of the same area as had the P. scuttelata. It was obvious the fire debris and the nutrients released by the fungi proved favourable to the liverwort M. berteroana, which, it would appear, supplement conditions for the recovery of the woodland. M. berteroana is one of the more common liverworts. It grows in damp areas, such as on the edge of creeks, in drainage systems and after fire on suitable damp substrate (Scott, 1985), which in the subject case is carbon and ash debris. The thallus, typical of the Marchantiaceae (Fig.1), appears first. It is a leaf-like structure several cells thick, the upper surface covered in numerous air pores. The under surface produces a series of rhizoids anchoring it to the ground, and conducting water and nutrients to the plant.

In the Marchantiaceae male and female plants are produced. Reproduction is achieved in two ways, asexual and sexual. Asexual is probably most often to occur (Scott, 1985), by means of gemmae, that is by budding or shedding of cellular material. In M. berteroana this is achieved by dispersal of minute leaf-like gametes from within gemmae cups. Thegemmae cups are circular outgrowths from the thallus, (Fig.1). Their appearance is like a crown with a series of small protuberances around the rim.

Sexual reproduction is achieved by spore-like gamete dispersal. These are held in the archegoniophore, (Fig.1), which in the female plant are produced from the underside of the wheel-like head, in appearance, resembling a yellow powder held in cotton wool. In the male plant sperm is produced on the upper side of the head. Water, either as rain or dew, forms the transporting medium in uniting the male and female gametes. Once united they produce the zygote that proceeds to cellularly divide to become another individual liverwort.

References
Jarman, S.J. & Fuhrer, B.A. (1995), Mosses & Liverworts of Tasmania & S.E. Australia, CSIRO, Melbourne.
Scott, G.A.M. (1985), Southern Australian Liverworts, AGPS, Canberra.

Hairy Cicadas

by Ade Foster


cicada

On a recent trip to Apollo Bay, Les Barrow and I captured a most unusual member of the Cicada family while insect trapping with UV lights.

The Hairy Cicada, Tettigarcta crinita, is a high country species found in the mountains of New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria west into the Otways, and usually occurring above 1200m. Most specimens have been taken in forests supporting snow gums, Eucalyptus pauciflora or mountain gums, E. dalrympleana. It is also found in wet sclerophyll forests with large eucalypts and abundant tree ferns, such as the ranges behind Apollo Bay. The only other member of the genus,T. tomentosa, is found only in Tasmania.

The Hairy Cicada is primarily dark brown, with a tan coloured wash on the fore-wings, and a yellowish tint to the base of the hind-wings. As the name suggests, the body is covered with long, blackish hairs especially on the abdomen and underside of the thorax. The eyes are pale brown. Our specimen had a wingspan of 85mm and a body length of 35mm.

Hairy Cicadas rest by day under the bark of trees, always aligned vertically, but head may be up or down. They tend to use shelters which are free of other insects and spiders. They become very active at dusk and fly into the hours of darkness. Ours were taken at about 10.30 PM. some two hours after dark. They can stand very low temperatures, and are often found right through winter, even amongst the snow in Tasmania. Eggs are laid on Eucalyptus, and larvae emerge after dark, from January to May, but mostly in February and early March. Adults suck the sap of eucalypts.

The Hairy Cicada, and its Tasmanian relative are incapable of producing sound, either in the audible or high-frequency inaudible ranges. While both males and females possess the tymbals used by other cicadas for sound production, they are very poorly developed. It is believed that Hairy Cicadas may practice sound communication via low intensity vibrations which are felt through the plant on which the cicadas are situated. This is widespread in other Homoptera like the leafhoppers and plant-hoppers, but is yet to be proven to exist in the cicadas. How they attract mates from a distance remains a mystery.

Reference:

Moulds, M.S. , Australian Cicadas, NSWU Press. 1990

Interpretive signs at Jerringot Reserve

Members of the GFNC and the Barwon Valley Golf Course were joined by several dignitaries for the official opening of the new interpretive signs at the Jerringot Wetlands on the Belmont Common. A glorious summer morning welcomed everyone, and Valda Dedman lead an early morning bird walk around Jerringot, the adjacent golf course and its associated wetlands. We were treated to quite a show - Latham's Snipe were seen several times along with many of the more common Jerringot inhabitants. The interpretive signs were designed by Valda, and funded by a grant from the Corangamite Catchment Authority.

sunrise

breakfast3breakfast8signbreakfast2breakfast4breakfast9breakfast10

 

In 2004, two new seats were installed at Jerringot, thanks to the team from Conservation Volunteers Australia and Valda Dedman. One is located across the entry roadway from the bird hide, the other is at the eastern end of the main lagoon.

The Jerringot Wetlands are an important habitat, in the middle of urban Geelong, bordered on one side by industrial estates along the Barwon Heads Road, a Geelong City Council depot, the Belmont Golf Course and the Belmont Common open ground. It is a wonderful place to see birds at any time, and Marlene and Ian, birdos down from Melbourne were doing just that while the opening ceremonies took place.

So, do yourselves a favour. If you are in the Geelong area, pay a visit to wonderful Jerringot. Take a stroll and read the signs, watch for wildlife, and enjoy the wonderful environment that Geelong has to offer.

Mouse Spider

Missulena bradleyi

By Dave King

mspider

Earlier this year it was decided, by the Flora & Fauna sub-committee of the Friends of Ocean Grove Nature Reserve, that a survey be initiated into the invertebrate fauna of the Reserve. As a consequence the writer was given responsibility for conducting the survey. It was decided in the first instance that an ongoing survey would best be served using pit-fall traps that could be cleared at irregular intervals without deterioration of the captured specimens.

The type of trap used has been previously described, (King, 1997).Traps were set initially in parts of the Reserve subjected to the wild-fire that burnt a large proportion of the south-western area in May,1997. The first collection made from the traps was in the following June. Amongst a variety of invertebrates it was found that three male specimens of a Mouse Spider had been collected. Identity of the spider was confirmed, by comparison with specimens held in the collection of the Museum of Victoria, as being Missulena bradleyi.This species lives in tunnels excavated in the ground; they also incorporate a lid at the entrance. As yet no such tunnel has been discovered in the Reserve, a search that will continue, and hopefully result in finding a female of the species. Females do not generally stray far from their tunnel retreat , whereas males will. During the early winter period males wander around in search of a female mate. Thus it is the main reason the males were captured during June.

The males are active during daylight at this time. It was in daylight that the writer, some years ago, saw an M. bradleyifor the first time in the O.G.N.R. It was after a period of rain, and puddles had collected on the tracks. Attention was drawn to something crawling along the bottom of one puddle, which on close inspection was seen to be a mouse spider. It appeared in no way affected by being submerged and continued on its way. Why it would traverse a puddle in such a manner remains a mystery. General appearance of the spider is as illustrated. The female is a little larger and the abdomen more of a triangular shape, widest at the posterior. As in all mygalomorph spiders the fangs are paraxial and relatively large. Eight eyes are arranged across the anterior edge of the cephalothorax, not as in most related spiders, where the eyes are in a closely confined group. The male cephalothorax is shining black, as are the legs, the joints of which are distinctly white. The abdomen is of a dark slate blue colour, covered in fine hairs, with a lighter coloured patch covering the anterior-dorsal surface. Females are of similar colouring, without having the abdominal patch.

It appears that this species is more prevalent to the east of Melbourne than it is in the Geelong area, judging by the Museum collection. As with all mygalomorph they should be treated with due care, as a bite can produce severe symptoms, though not necessarily fatal.

Acknowledgments
I thank Dr. Alan Yen for allowing me access to the spider collection in the Museum of Victoria.

References: Brunet, B. 1996, Spiderwatch: a Guide to Australian Spiders, Reed, Melbourne 
King, D. 1997, A Pit-fall Trap Invertebrate Capture, Geelong Naturalist, Vol. 33, No.4 
York-Main, B. 1976, Spiders, Collins , Sydney.

Paper Wasp

Polistes humilis

By Dave King

wasp1

At a recent GFNC meeting, a member, Mrs. Beverly McNay, submitted a specimen of Paper Wasp nest together with a number of the adult wasps. This nest was found at the Belmont home of the member.

Examination of the specimens revealed them to be Polistes humilis (Vespoidae: Polistinae). Like many of the Vespoidae family, these wasps possess a powerful sting. Fortunately they are not aggressive unless provoked and do not hanker after sweet tasting dishes of we humans. From the Greek Polistes means 'founder of a city."

Description and Biology

P. humilus are classed as social wasps. A colony consists of a number of females- some of whom are purely workers who do not lay eggs but participate in the feeding of the larvae resulting from the eggs laid by the nest founder female, and in some cases including co-founder females.

The form of P. humilus is typical of Polistinae social wasps, as illustrated in Fig. 1, with perhaps, the exception that when at rest the wings are not held flat but rolled-up longitudinally such that they appear to have extremely narrow wings.

wasp2Usually a new nest is built every year typically of the form shown in Fig.2. It consists of vegetable fibre masticated in the jaws to form a pulp, then deposited and moulded into a nest. Nest commencement is a pad of pulp smeared on the underside of some firm structure, in many cases a part of a human dwelling. Once a pad is secured, a pedicel is constructed, much like a stalk, upon which the nest is suspended. Progressively built, the nest consists of a series of uniform hexagonal cells, each around 4mm across.

A fertilised female, the "foundress," initiates building of the nest, and in some cases can be helped by female co-workers who may or may not be fertilised. Fertilisation occurs in the autumn preceding the spring and summer building of the nest. The males do not survive the winter by means of hibernation, as do the females. In any case female helpers will be progressively produced as the nest is expanded to its maximum, by which time empty cells will become available for restocking.

As a cell is completed an egg is laid and cemented in that cell, and upon hatching into a larval grub, it must be fed with insect larvae, nectar and water (Evans & Eberhard, 1973). Small prey will be transported whole to the nest, and larger prey dismembered into manageable chunks by the adult. Mastication of prey occurs on the nest and then presented to their larvae, much in the way of birds with their nestlings. In some instances exchange of food is made with female siblings.

Polistinae larvae are basically gormandizers, just building up an organism to maximum size and fitness to form a viable adult. Once the larva has reached its programmed size it will pupate after sealing itself within its cell by excreting a silken cap over the opening. After a period of some 20 days the metamorphosed adult will emerge. In the spring they will consist of female workers.

Toward the season's end, late summer, some of the workers, as unmated females, will lay eggs that will mature into males. These males are destined to die after mating with females that will spend winter in hibernation destined to reproduce the following spring.

References:
Evans. H.E. & Eberhard, M.J.W. (1973), The Wasps, Univ. of Michigan
Goode, J. (1 980), Insects of Australia, Angus & Robertson, Melbourne
Hughes, R. D. (1 974), Living Insects, Collins, Sydney

Swift Moths

by Ade Foster

swift

Autumn, after the first decent rain, is the time of the swift moths. Their distinctively shaped brown pupal cases are often seen at this time of year, sticking up from the larval tunnel, the only indication most of us have that swift moths are about. Adults males come readily to lights on misty nights, sometimes in surprisingly large numbers.

Swift moths belong to the family, Hepialidae, a cosmopolitan group with about 100 species represented in Australia. Most are endemic, although members of the genus Aenetus are found in New Zealand, New Guinea and New Caledonia. Most of the local swifts are various shades of brown with sometimes striking markings of black, white and silver. Many of the tropical species are very brightly coloured in blues, greens and pinks. They are a very diverse group and my collection has specimens ranging in size from 30 mm to 170 mm. The Splendid Ghost moth of northern Australia is one of the most spectacular Hepialids with a pale blue male, a green and pink female and a wingspan of 250 mm.

Females lay vast numbers of eggs, over 20,000 in some species. Eggs may be broadcast over grassland while the female is in flight, or sprinkled over a smaller area as she flutters among the grass and low shrubs. Larvae of Hepialids are all burrowers. Some burrow directly into the ground, coming to the surface at night to feed on living leaves, others are borers into roots and stems of plants. Hosts include, Eucalypt, Melaleuca, Callistemon, Leptospermum, Acacia and others. Some have taken to introduced apples and even the canes of raspberries. In eastern Australia Hepialids may be serious pests of pastures.

Pupation takes place in the tunnel, and the pupae, equipped with dorsal spines and movable ventral plates, are quite mobile. Adults hold the wings in a tentlike fashion over the abdomen, and have a curious habit of hanging from vertical surfaces by the tarsal claws of their fore-legs. If you are lucky enough to encounter a swift moth, you will notice just how well those tiny claws can grip.

Reference:
Moths of Australia. I.F.B. Common. Melbourne University Press. 1990.

The Soil Lives, OK!!!

The wonderful world of soil organisms

by Bernie Franke

Have a penchant for the weird, the bizarre and the extraordinary? Well get into soil organisms and you'll probably have a lifetime (or three) worth of study and exploration!

Soil Organisms
The soil biotal range from the macroscopic to the microscopic and they are another classic case of "the more we know, the less we know". A few interesting facts:

  1. Over half the world's biomass exists under the surface of the soil. While plant roots are included in this figure, it is still quite incredible to think that what we see on the surface is only half of the complete picture.
  2. Agricultural researchers in Canada have estimated that a hectare of temperate Canadian pasture could easily contain up to 20 tonnes of soil organisms (Gregorich, 1995). This is the equivalent to about 40 .horses underneath the surface of that one hectare of land (not a bad stocking rate in anyone's language!)
  3. A spade-full of soil from the backyard of the proverbial quarter acre block will contain hundreds (if not thousands) of different species and the majority of these are undescribed by science.

Introducing Some Of The Critters That Call The Soil Home
The soil contains fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, nematodes, protozoa, algae, viruses, micro-arthropods (collembola and mites) and of course earthworms. Of these, science has classified 5% of fungi, 12% of soil bacteria, 3% of nematodes, 31% of protozoa, 67% of algae and 4% of viruses (Mussared, 1997).

Most of our knowledge relates to soil organisms that are agricultural pests (i.e. some species of protozoa, nematodes and viruses). Some would argue that the problem of pests is not so much the opportunistic organisms themselves but the low diversity agricultural systems we use (monoculture crops).

Actinomycetes
Actinomycetes are organisms that share characteristics between bacteria an fungi. They are closely related to the bacteria but have fungi-like appendages. These are the organisms that dominate a well functioning compost heap. They prefer higher temperatures and they can tolerate fairly dry conditions. A carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25:1 is generally regarded as optimal for decomposition of dead plant matter in a compost heap. Actinomycetes prefer a neutral or alkaline pH.

Bacteria
Soil bacteria tend to be more numerous in tilled soils while minimum tillage encourages the fungi. Some soil bacteria produce polysaccharide "glues", which help to improve soil structure. Some soil bacteria are symbiotic and are responsible for nitrogen fixation in the roots of legumes.

Fungi
The fungi tend to be more numerous under pasture and minimum-tilled soil. Fungal hyphae can physically bind soil particles together. The fungi are responsible for the first attacks on cellulose and lignin and can also be partners in symbiotic relationships with plants, where they help to make phosphorous available. They tend to be able to tolerate lower pH conditions (i.e. acid forest soils).

Nematodes
Nematodes are basically microscopic worm-like creatures that live in the water that surrounds soil particles. Some species are rather nasty human pests.

Protozoa
Protozoa keep the number of bacteria in balance by predation. The protozoa are actually classified as aquatic organisms and they live in water that surrounds each soil particle.

Mineralization
The process whereby nutrients held in an organic form are transformed into an inorganic form by soil microbes and are therefore made available for plant use. Immobilisation is a term that refers to the period when nutrients have been released from the decaying substrate but is still temporarily unavailable for plant use because it is 'locked up' in the soil microbes themselves.

The barriers to increasing our knowledge of soil organisms include:-

  1. The difficulties of studying them (you obviously can't see most of them with the naked eye)
  2. They're generally not cute and cuddly, and they don't do much to attract our attention.
  3. Even the professionals can't culture and grow many of these organisms in the lab.
  4. There's just too many species out there!

The Role of Soil Organisms in Ecosystems
Soil organisms regulate the flow of energy through the soil (via various trophic levels), cycle nutrients, contribute to soil formation and are also a vital element in the complex sequence of soil processes that contribute to soil structure (Sparling, 1996). Without soil organisms there would simply be no ecosystem!

Soil structure
Soil structure is becoming the main game in agriculture and basically refers to how soil particles are 'glued' together in order to create the desirable conditions for plant roots (generally the more air in soil the better). Soil structure is a bit like a building made of bricks - individual soil particles are the bricks but it is how the building is put together (with large or small rooms or air spaces) that made up the structure. Soil organisms produce much of the mortar.

Fungal hyphae and the appendages of actinomycetes help to physically hold soil particles together and soil bacteria can feed from the sugars excreted from plant roots and produce 'glues' which bind particles together. Fungi are important decomposers of woody tissue and predominate in forests and no-till agricultural systems, while the bacteria find the disturbance of soil by the plough more to their liking. Earthworms and the macropores they produce in soil are important for water infiltration and drainage and the accidentally introduced Lumbricidae from Europe are found in most garden soils and farms (Lee, 19 , 85). Surprisingly, many of our endemic earthworms remain undescribed.

Nutrients
A primary function of soil organisms is the cycling of nutrients, either releasing it from dead organisms or "fixing" it directly from the atmosphere or soil. Particular strains of rhizobia (a bacteria) form an association with plant roots where they are able to make atmospheric nitrogen available for plant growth (i.e. acacias, she-oaks, peas, beans clovers etc). Mycorrhizae (fungi) also form mutually beneficial associations with plant roots in order to make phosphorous available for some groups of Australian plants. In some areas where that were completely cleared for agriculture, the re-establishment of eucalypts has been difficult and this may be due to the local extinction of mycorrhizal fungi and the resulting inability of the trees to obtain their phosphorous requirements.

It is thought that the flush of growth following a bushfire (the ash-bed effect) is predominantly due to the release (mineralisation) of plant nutrients from soil organisms rather than by the nutrients in the ash itself (Ashton and Attiwill, 1994). In fact a substantial amount of nutrients are lost in smoke from a fire.

The soil organisms are killed by the heat of the fire, the intensity of which may even temporarily sterilise areas of soil where the heat was most intense. Soil temperatures are able to reach more than 5500 C, the point at which soil organic matter begins to combust (this has occurred with crown fires in tall open forest). The soil biota is thought to be completely changed for several years, coinciding with a 2-3 fold increase in tree growth for 2-3 years following the fire (Ashton and Attiwill, 1994).

Thinking Biodiversity? Think Soil !!
Next time that you're out and about spare a thought for the upper 10-15 cm of soil below your feet. It contains more life than you will probably see above the ground.

Take a fresh clod and give it a good sniff. The sweet smell of a biologically active soil is thought to be due to the presence the soil fungi. You might not be rushing to the microscope or spending your weekend out looking for soil life, but it's good to know that they're there. However don't hold you breath waiting to see them included in a biological survey!

Water Plantain

Alisma plantago aquatica

by Valda Dedman

plantainA plant has just finished flowering in the drain to the east of the Jerringot wetlands. In early February I had noticed groups of large leaves, like a set of elongated green hearts on solid round stems, above which towered a tall stem surrounded with a living filigree of tiny flowers and buds in a series of whorls.

The drain had almost dried up over the hot summer, but had been recently refreshed by storm water from thunder showers. Conditions this season had been good for germination, and there were a dozen or so plants of Water Plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica flourishing in the mud.

The Water Plantain is a cosmopolitan plant, and is widespread in temperate Europe, western Asia and northern and central Africa. It has been introduced to New Zealand. The closely-related A. lanceolata has become naturalised in a few places in Victoria and South Australia. The indigenous A. plantago-aquatica is found only in eastern New South Wales and Victoria. It is not common west of Melbourne, although it is known from Lake Wendouree and (unexpectedly) from the Wimmera River.

It is a fascinating plant; each part has a beauty of its own. The fan shaped leaves, up to 30 cm long, have seven longitudinal ribs, linked by a series of fine parallel cross veins, giving strength and stability. Heart-shaped at the base, they seem to be clasping the round sturdy stems. By the third week of February, after many days of heat, the leaves of the Jerringot plants were badly browned off at the tip.

Each flower spike may rise well over a metre tall and contain a couple of hundred flowers on slender stems in a series of whorls and mini-whorls along its branches. Buds open in succession and at any one time only a small number of flowers will be fully expanded. Each tiny pink flower lasts but a day. Mature buds start opening about 9.30 am and flowering may be finished by 4 pm. (In England they are said to open from 1 to 7 pm). The delicate petals unfurl into a cup shape; by mid afternoon they are hanging down like a skirt, then they start to shrivel and long before the sun has gone down they have tucked themselves away between the sepals.

The plants are monocotyledons and have bisexual flowers, with three petals and three sepals. Six stamens, topped with pollen-laden anthers, surround a ring of about twenty tightly packed carpels which are ridged on the outside. The styles, arising from the inner edge of the carpels, form a dense mass at the centre of the flower. The flowering season here is from November to March.

After pollination each seed develops inside its own carpel envelope. The seed is about 1 mm long and contains one embryo which is looped back on itself. The mature seeds are buoyant and may float for several months before germinating in mud or damp soil, rather than water.

Below the ground, the plants have a short tuberous rhizome, and like the rhizomes of the more common Water Ribbons Triglochin procerum, may have been eaten by the aboriginal people who over wintered on the Belmont Common. Mature plants can form a large clump from which several flower heads may be produced in one season. Both leaves and flowers are eaten by stock.

Water Plantain, although not previously listed for Jerringot Wildlife Reserve, was recorded by Trevor Pescott in 1994 along the Wal Whiteside Walk upstream of the Breakwater, and it may occur in wetlands on the Barwon Valley Golf Course and to the south of Breakwater Road. It grows in fresh water up to 45 cm deep and persists in drying mud after water levels fall.

Ephemeral wetlands, and muddy river edges, which dry out in summer, may be essential for the plants' long-term survival. It is important therefore to understand the hydrology of the Jerringot wetlands, the Belmont Common and the Barwon River.

I would be interested to learn of any other local occurrences of this interesting plant.

References:
Aston,H. 1973. Aquatic plants of Australia. Melbourne University Press
Walsh, N.G. & Entwistle, T.J. (eds.) 1994. Flora of Victoria. Volume 2. Inkata Press.

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