Tag Archives: Rod Hobson

Weird and wonderful fungi

It’s October 2022, and Australia has entered its third La Niña event in a row. Part of a natural climate cycle over the tropical Pacific Ocean, varying sea surface temperatures shift weather patterns, bringing floods to some regions and droughts to other places. For most of Australia, La Niña raises the chance of rain, with increased potential for more extreme rainfall in eastern Australia. In other words, it’s wet.

This is good news for some and not so for others, depending on where you live and what species you are. For things like frogs and fungi, these are good times. As a fan of fungi, it’s been a great time to see all sorts of fascinating fungi appearing around us in backyards, parks and wilder places.

This blog post presents an article by Rod Hobson on a particularly strange-looking species of fungus with a fascinating history, as well as a gallery of images of some of the fungi I have had the pleasure of photographing recently, mostly within a short walk of my front door.

“Flowers and bees often have a relationship that promotes the distribution of pollen. Some fungi have a relationship with insects that benefits the distribution of spores. It really is the strangest thing, but it is a clever strategy in Australia where flying insects are abundant. A malodorous smell often accompanies these unworldly-looking fungi (the stinkhorn – Phallales – group), but rest assured, they come in peace and are more like mother nature than the dark emerging underworld.”               2023 calendar of the Queensland Mycological Society

Behold! The Alien Space Fungus.
Rod Hobson

Winter in Toowoomba in the middle of August and I’m sitting over a computer in shirtsleeves! When I was growing up here August was miserable. The westerlies used to howl in off the Downs like a Mongol horde for days and stay. And stay and stay. “When blood is nipped and ways be foul …”, as Shakespeare so descriptively writes of winter in Love’s Labour’s Lost.

But the seasons are surely changing. Already Australian Magpies are nesting. Within the first fortnight of this month Martin Ambrose had recorded his first Painted Honeyeater of the season at his home in Dalby; a very early arrival of this lovely little spring migrant. Around this time, I also watched a foraging Spotted Black Snake Pseudechis guttatus for about ten minutes on Steele Rudd Road at East Greenmount, a magnificent reptile in glorious jet. It was out and about early in the unseasonably warm weather obviously hungry and intent on a meal. At one stage the snake passed within a hand’s breadth of my feet quite unconcerned about my presence. It was a lovely encounter. About a week before I found a pair of adult Condamine Earless Dragons Tympanocryptis condaminensis taking the sun at Evanslea, which is about a month before they usually raise their sleepy heads. There was a Shingleback Tiliqua rugosa out and about at Doctor Creek, Jondaryan, near the start of August.

For many of my friends who are of a like mind where things scaly, feathered or furred are concerned, winter however, is normally looked upon as a time of privation. The microbats and other small mammals are tucked up in torpor, the reptiles and frogs are hunkered down under stones and logs or at the bottom of the cracks in the black clays of the Darling Downs. The coastal mudflats and banks of our local wetlands are deserted. The shorebirds have taken wing for the tundras and shingle banks of the northern hemisphere to preen and strut their breeding colours. The snipe has quit our swamps, but they’ll be back soon; one of our earliest returning wading birds. The Dollarbirds, Channel-billed Cuckoos and Eastern Koels are off to warmer climes. The birdwatchers pass these dismal months contenting themselves with our scant winter visitors like the robins or the rare appearance of a Regent Honeyeater or Swift Parrot. A winter calling Powerful Owl causes all sorts of excitement. The social media hums into life. But the mammal and reptile enthusiasts are out in the cold, literally. I can appreciate their concerns but can’t really sympathise. It’s evolution. Specialists perish whilst generalists thrive. I’m interested in all sorts of stuff, ergo a generalist so can keep happily occupied throughout these drear months.

I quite look forward to winter especially if we have some good rain and mild weather, as has occurred this year. Who needs Animalia? These conditions animate many of our local plants into leaf and flower. And fungi thrive. Every winter I pass many an idyll in our bushland parks looking at terrestrial orchids and fungi. Duggan Bushland, Redwood Park and Glen Lomond are favourite hunting grounds. Two common terrestrial orchids have been out in numbers this winter in all these places. They are the Nodding Greenhood Pterostylis nutans and the Blunt Greenhood P. curta. In Glen Lomond Park recently I found over 130 Blunt Greenhoods “tossing their heads in sprightly dance” as a brisk breeze coursed down their shadowy gully.

Nodding Greenhoods, Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Queens Park and the Botanic Gardens have been a haven for fungi. The mulch placed around the bases of the trees provides a fertile medium for a plethora of fungal species especially those of the family Phallaceae (order Phallales) more commonly, but unflatteringly known as stinkhorns and cage fungi. I’ve long been engrossed by the Phallaceae.

After rain, mulch around the base of trees in Toowoomba’s Queens Park erupts with a variety of emerging fungal fruiting bodies.

The most common of this family and one most often remarked upon is Aseroe rubra variously known as the Stinkhorn, Starfish or Anemone Fungus. In the United States, where this stinkhorn has been introduced it is also known as the Space Alien Fungus. Why should this not surprise us? Hollywood even in the dusty halls of the mycologist. Many readers will be familiar with this freakish fungus from their own back yards. I’ve known it all my life and it’s the Galah of the fungal world to me; ever so common but ever so beautiful (if you will concede that beauty is in the eye of the beholder in the stinkhorn’s case). It’s a fascinating fungus and the history and biology surrounding it is well worth pondering.

Aseroe rubra, the Stinkhorn, Starfish or Anemone Fungus. In the United States, where this stinkhorn has been introduced, it is also known as the Space Alien Fungus.

The etymology of its scientific name can be translated roughly as ‘red and juicy with a disgusting smell’. Lovely stuff. The generic name comes from the Latin ase meaning disgust plus roe translating as juice, which refers to the tarry, foul-smelling spore-bearing gleba. The specific epithet rubra means red. This refers to the red, tentacle-like ‘arms’ of the fungal fruiting body; the part poking out of the ground. The gleba rests within the curvature formed at the base of these tentacles. Aseroe rubra has the honour of being the first fungus recorded from Australia. It was discovered by the French biologist Jacques Labillardière (1755-1834) and is described in his Relation du voyage a la recerche de La Perouse published in 1800, which became a best-seller in its day. In 1804-06 Citizen Labillardière also published his magnus opus Novae Hollandiae plantum specimen now widely regarded as ‘the first general flora of Australia’ (Duyker 2004). He was also the first to publish on the flora of New Caledonia. Many of Labillardière’s botanical specimens are now held in Florence.

French biologist Jacques Labillardière (1755-1834). Labillardière’s scientific collections from the d’Entrecasteaux expedition were seized by the British when the ships reached Java. After lobbying by Joseph Banks, the collections were eventually returned to Labillardière, who arrived back in France with them in 1796. [Sketch by Julien Leopold Boilly, lithographer unknown. The original lithograph is in the Wellcome Library, London. This image was taken from http://www.anbg.gov.au/biography/biog-pics/labillardiere.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=177282]

Labillardière was a member of the d’Entrecasteaux expedition that had been despatched by Louis XVI and France’s National Constituent Assembly to search for the la Perouse expedition that had disappeared without trace into the blue void of the Pacific Ocean. The expedition, under the leadership of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse was last seen departing Botany Bay in March 1788.

The d’Entrecasteaux expedition was captained by Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni, chevalier d’Entrecasteaux. He was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1737 and was to lose his life on this enterprise. He died of scurvy in 1793 off the Hermit Islands in the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea without finding any trace of de la Perouse.

Antoine Raymond Joseph de Bruni, chevalier d’Entrecasteaux led the expedition to search for the lost ships of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse (often referred to as just La Pérouse). [Illustration by Antoine Maurin – http://www.janesoceania.com/oceania_dentrecasteaux/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=170041]

The d’Entrecasteaux expedition had set sail from Brest on September 28, 1791 and anchored in an unnamed bay in Van Diemen’s Land on April 23, 1792. d’Entrecasteaux had under his command two 12-gun frigates, the Recherche and the Esperance. The anchorage was named Recherche Bay, after one of these ships. This was the location where the fungus we now know as Aseroe rubra first revealed itself to western science collected there by Labillardiere on the first day of May that year. The Recherche was later captured by the Dutch at Surabaya in present day Indonesia. It was eventually returned to France in 1793 only to be sold back to the Dutch two months later for scrap. In honour of his many Antipodean discoveries, Labillardiere has had several plants and animals named after him including the Tasmanian Pademelon Thylogale billardierii, a skink, the Red-legged Ctenotus Ctenotus labillardieri and Common Tussock Grass Poa labillardierei. The Western Australian endemic Bluebell Creeper Billardiera heterophylla has escaped from cultivation in southern states and is now considered a serious environmental weed.

The two storm battered ships Recherche (under command of expedition leader D’Entrecasteaux) and the Esperance (commanded by Huon de Kermadec), at anchor in waters off Tasmania’s south-east coast. This waterway was later named D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the kidney-shaped bay they chose for their rest and repair became known as Recherche Bay. Image source: https://www.ourtasmania.com.au/hobart/recherche-bay

The d’Entrecasteaux expedition remained at Recherche Bay for five weeks then set sail directly for the Admiralty Islands where it had been reported natives were seen wearing French uniforms; an account later disavowed by the purported observer. No trace of the la Perouse expedition was ever uncovered by d’Entrecasteaux. The fate of the la Perouse expedition is still speculative, however there is evidence that his ships the Astrolabe and Boussole were wrecked in a storm off Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands where many of the survivors were massacred by the local inhabitants. Some were thought to have escaped this fate after constructing a small boat. They were to disappear at sea without trace. Ironically d’Entrecasteaux had earlier sailed by Vanikoro without dropping anchor. In one of those macabre footnotes that litter history on the very day d’Entrecasteaux reached Recherche Bay, Louis XV1 was taken to the Place de la Revolution (now the Place de la Concorde) to meet his fate. It is reputed that, on the eve of his death Louis asked ‘… a-t-on des Nouvelles de Monsieur de la Perouse?’ “Have you any news of Monsieur de La Perouse”. But there was none. Such is the fascinating history surrounding our fungus.

The Anemone Fungus is a native of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It has also been recorded on several isolated Pacific Islands including Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands. In Australia it is found from south-eastern Queensland and southwards to eastern Victoria and Tasmania. This fungus is now known from many other parts of the world, however, where its spores have arrived in the potting mix and mulch of botanical specimens. In 1829 it fruited in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, southwest London and in 1992 it was collected from Oxshott Heath in the county of Surrey, southeast England (Pegler et al. 1995). It is thought to have arrived in England in potting soil via the Netherlands in 1828. Until recently (2019) all other recordings of the species in Britain have also been from locations in Surrey. Shortly after arriving at Kew, it was recorded in California, and has become well established in Hawaii and the south-eastern states of the USA. It is now the most common stinkhorn species occurring in the Hawaiian Islands (Hemmes and Desjardin 2009).

Despite the assertion that this fungus is most likely introduced to foreign locations in potting mix, it is difficult to account for its appearance in many isolated locations such as the small village of Kirinyaga in Kangaita, Central Province in Kenya. Kirinyaga is remote from any established gardens. A form with unbranched ‘arms’ Aseroe rubra var. zeylanica was described found growing in semi-evergreen to evergreen forests and high-altitude Eucalyptus stands in the Western Ghats, Kerala, India (Mohonan 2011). It should be remarked, however, that this particular fungus, and other subspecies (actinoloba, muelleriana, junghuhnii et al.) of Aseroe rubra are presently considered as synonyms of rubra by many authorities. Locally it is a very common fungus often encountered in the same situation as another common stinkhorn, the cosmopolitan Phallus rubicundus. Both these stinkhorns can be either solitary or gregarious and have certainly increased in numbers aided and abetted by gardeners’ use of mulch and wood chip that provide ideal growing mediums for them. Earlier this year I found 17 Aseroe rubra in all stages of development in wood chip under a tree in Queens Park near its boundary with Lindsay Street, East Toowoomba.

Anemone Fungus (Aseroe rubra). Queens Park, Toowoomba.

The first appearance of fungi generally lumped under the term stinkhorn and cage fungi is of a globose to ovoid immature body comprising a smooth peridium (outer casing) enclosing the gleba (spore bearing tissue) and the unexpanded receptacle, which will become the visible part of the mature fruiting body subtended or not by a column (pseudostipe) depending on species. This immature fruitbody is referred to as the ‘myco-egg’, an other-worldly looking gobbet, which I like to call the ‘Dr. Who stage’. The mature fruiting body of A. rubra is supported by a white to fleshy pink pseudostipe which grows to about eight centimetres high and three centimetres wide (Gates and Ratkowsky 2014). Atop the pseudostipe an array of gaudy red to reddish orange tentacles emerges enfolding at their base the foetid, sticky brownish spore mass of the gleba. The tentacles can reach a span of about 10 centimetres in diameter and can be single or bifurcated (divided) at their tips. The rhizomorphs or root-like structures found in fungi such as A. rubra and other Phallales attach themselves to buried wood hence their penchant for well-mulched garden beds.

The immature fruitbody of the Anemone Fungus is referred to as the ‘myco-egg’.

The Space Alien Fungus begins to emerge from the ground.

These fleshy red tentacles will soon sit atop the extended tubular pseudostipe, which grows to about eight centimetres high and three centimetres wide.

The Stinkhorn (Aseroe rubra) showing black, sticky spore mass and bifurcated ‘tentacles’. Queens Park, Toowoomba.

Atop the pseudostipe of the fully emerged fruiting body of the Anemone Fungus sits an array of gaudy red/orange tentacles, at the base of which is found the foetid, sticky brownish spore mass known as a gleba.

The Anemone Fungus is only weakly odoriferous compared to other members of the family. The unpleasant smell emanating from these fungi has often been described as resembling that of rotting meat. The purpose of the smell and the gummy consistency of stinkhorns’ spore masses is to attract flies and other invertebrates that will take up the fungus’ sticky spores thereby dispersing them to new areas. A small troop of Anemone Fungus growing in our home garden was regularly visited by the metallic green Australian Sheep Blowfly Lucilia cuprina.

The rotting meat smell emerging from the fungal spore mass attracts flies and other invertebrates that will take up the fungus’ sticky spores and disperse them to places afar.

A happy fly romps about the fungus, unwittingly picking up spores that it will carry off to new places.

This strategy of attracting flies and other invertebrates to the smell of rotting flesh or dung for the purpose of fertilisation or spore dispersal is a highly successful one. Aside to the fungi it has been adopted by several types of plants including the largest flowering genus in the world, the Rafflesia of Southeast Asia. Rafflesia arnoldi from the rainforests of Indonesia has the world’s largest flower although it is often claimed that the Titan Arum Amorphophallus titanum that is endemic to Sumatra, holds this honour. The Titan Arum, though, produces an inflorescence rather than a single bloom, a fine distinction in terminology within the botanical world. Semantics aside both these plants employ insects to fertilise their blooms. Rafflesia and Amorphophallus are both called corpse flowers and these giants of the plant kingdom employ similar tactics to our humble stinkhorns to ensure their continued survival. It should be stressed, however that the distinction between fungi and the flowering plants is that the fungi utilise these animals to disperse their spores whereas the plants need them to complete the fertilisation process. Fungi reproduce asexually by fragmentation (of hyphae), budding, or by producing asexual spores with the last being the most common strategy.

Corpse Flower Rafflesia keithii, Poring Hot Spring Reserve, Sabah. The Rafflesia produce the world’s largest blooms. They utilise flies and other invertebrates in their fertilisation process. Image courtesy Terry Reis.

In our home garden we have two African succulents. These belong to the Stapelia; a genus of succulents famed for their gorgeous, star-shaped flowers – and their putrid perfumes. Ours are Black Bells Stapelia leendertziae and Zulu Giant S. gigantea and, on a warm, still day, their odour is quite distinguishable to the noses of passers-by, human or canine. Members of this genus are often referred to collectively as carrion flowers. The Eastern Skunk Cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus from North America also employs this tactic to aid in its reproduction and wasps, flies, butterflies, and stoneflies have all been recorded attending its pongy blooms. Both its common name and specific epithet leave little doubt as to this plant’s ‘attributes’. There is a multitude of other plant and fungi species that could be cited in regard to these fascinating associations, but this should suffice the weary reader and, hopefully, give cause for a moment’s solicitude when you next encounter a Space Alien Fungus invasion of your veggie patch. “Woodman, spare that tree …”. Or fungus.


  • Duyker E. (2004). Citizen Labillardiere, Melbourne University Publishing, Charlton.
  • Gates G. and D. Ratkowsky (2014). A Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi, Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club.
  • Hemmes, D.E. and D.E. Desjardin (2009). ‘Stinkhorns of the Hawaiian Islands’ in Fungi Vol. 2:3
  • Mohonan C. (2011). Macrofungi of Kerala. Kerala, India: Kerala Forest Research Institute.
  • Pegler D.N., Laessoe T. and B.M. Spooner (1995). British Puffballs, Earthstars and Stinkhorns, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 

Footnote: Anyone wishing to follow up on the early French expeditions to the Antipodes especially in regard to their natural history contributions (which easily rival those of our more lauded Banks, Solander et al.) must read Michael Lee’s beautifully written and researched Navigators and Naturalists – French Exploration of New Zealand and the South Seas (1769-1824) published in 2018 by David Bateman Limited, Auckland. A great read and highly recommended.

[This article was first published in the October 2021 edition (767) of the The Darling Downs Naturalist, newsletter of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists Club.]

Rod Hobson is a naturalist and retired Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger who lives in Toowoomba, Queensland. Rod was awarded the 2021 Queensland Natural History Award by the Queensland Naturalists’ Club, an award that is presented annually to recognise people who have made outstanding contributions to natural history in Queensland.

[All photographs by Robert Ashdown, unless otherwise credited.]

A gallery of stinkhorn and cage fungi species, members of the family Phallaceae.


Along came a spider …

Rod Hobson

As many of my friends, including several of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists, are now aware I have spent a good portion of the first four months of 2022 house bound following the total replacement of my left knee. To say the least this gave me a great deal of time for sombre reflection on life in general and, for Betty, on the institution of marriage in particular.

About two months into my confinement, I was able to get about our yard with the aid of a stick and renewed some of the simple delights of the suburban garden that have been, over the years, displaced by frantic dashes around the country in pursuit of the exotic and fabulous. I became reacquainted through circumstance with the beauty of the commonplace, the gorgeous livery of a male Australian King Parrot, the spectacle that is a female Orchard Swallowtail or the aerial wizardry of an Australian Duskhawker.

Aerial sunlight backyard dancer. Orchard Swallowtail (Papilio aegius), Toowoomba. (Photo: Robert Ashdown)

I also caught up on a lot of reading. This has resulted in the following amalgam of reminiscences, obscure facts, and trivia that, hopefully, will bestow upon the reader some moments of pleasure no matter how tenuous are the strands that compose the essence of the story, an invalid’s story, anecdotes of a curmudgeon. In other words, a rambling discourse on things varied and curious.

To begin gathering the disparate mycelia that should, hopefully, form a cogent whole first credit must be given to my old mate and fellow Toowoomba Field Natter Michael Rooke. Michael is an old newspaper man and of my vintage. We have a great fondness for words and are stout defenders of the semi-colon. And not to mention the interrobang. Etymology and punctuation are our thing. Just the sorts of blokes to add glamour and glitz to your dinner party! Another passion we have in common is the local news, though not the stuff about a new bikeway, netball team or shopping centre but what’s going on around your back yard, local swamp, or patch of remnant bushland, which denizen feathered, furred, or squamous has popped up there lately. How many of your avocados, tomatoes or electrical wires did it chew through? The guts of a good newsletter. Michael has been the untiring champion of local content for many a year now and has contributed more than his fair share to our newsletter. Thanks, Michael.

As I said my recent forced confinement to barracks gave me ample spare time to sit and think, usually on our back stoop if a sunshiny morning. During that time, a Satin Bowerbird established his bower under the drooping branches of one of our avocados. Australian Admirals, White-banded Planes, Tailed Emperors, Pale Triangles and Tau Emeralds, usually occasional visitors to our yard at best were around in numbers. One morning, by our front stairs, as I was staring, mind blank, into our overgrown flower garden I suddenly became aware of the skeletal form of a male Net-casting Spider Deinopus subrufa suspended, as if frozen in time, in an angle of the house wall. I’ve often encountered this spider in our yard over the years and it certainly appears to be a common local species. It’s a favourite of mine and never fails to elicit comment from people who encounter it.

Net-casting spider – a fence-dwelling, ogre-faced urban arachnid. (Photo: Robert Ashdown)

Over this last spring/summer I have received two reports of this spider from the Ashdown residence east Toowoomba, and one each from the Thorn Street wall of the Toowoomba Office Works and from Duggan Bushland and near Bunkers Hill State School. Further afield I’ve received recent reports of the spider from a friend’s house yard in Redbank Plains (J. Sparks pers. comm.). There is a skate park, one of those lekking grounds for disenchanted youth, near Lake Annand. For all this summer a female Net-caster has been in residence there tucked up under a concrete lip out of sight, out of mind despite the almost constant hubbub around her.

Adult male net-casting spider (Deinopsis subrufa) not caring a jot about camouflage as it hangs about the wall of the Toowoomba Office Works. (Photo: Robert Ashdown)

One of my first spider books that I acquired in my early teenage years was Keith C. McKeown’s Australian Spiders first published by Angus and Robertson in 1936 as Spider Wonders of Australia. Mine is the version revised by N.L. Roberts and published by Sirius Books in 1963. I still have it and it is beside me as I write. I remember seeing my first net-caster long before I got this book. It was holed up under Pat Walker’s Japanese Honeysuckle vine at his home in Jennings Street. I have never lost my fascination with this spider. The Net-caster Spider goes under the aliases Ogre-faced Spider, Stick Spider, Gladiator Spider and Retiarius, the last of which is used by Mc Keown in his book above. I’ve always preferred Retiarius likely from the early influence of this book. The scientific name of our local net-caster is Deinopis subrufa (family Deinopidae). Deinopis is from the Greek deinos meaning fearful plus opis meaning appearance. Deinopis subrufa was described by the German entomologist and arachnologist Ludwig Carl Christian Koch (1825-1908). Its specific epithet means light red. The light red, fearful-looking spider.

Lamp-shade ornament – net-casting spider indoors. (Photo: Robert Ashdown)

The Deinopidae was first described by the British civil servant and entomologist William Sharp Macleay (1792-1865) (Macleay, 1839). This is a pantropical family of sixty-seven species in three genera, the Asianopsis, Deinopis and Menneus (= Avella) (Friedrich and Lehmann, 2020). The World Spider Catalog (Natural History Museum Bern, 2021) lists nine species of Asianopsis confined to SE Asia and China and fourteen species of Menneus found in Australia as well as Lord Howe Island, New Caledonia, “possibly New Guinea”, and South Africa. The Catalog lists Deinopis as the largest genus (44 species). It is found on all continents except for Europe and Antarctica. All Australian Deinopis were described before 1900 with six species entering the literature. These are (fasciata, ravida and tabida, Queensland; schomburgki, South Australia; unicolor, Western Australia and subrufa, eastern Australia). All except subrufa are now considered nomen dubia. Nomen dubium (doubtful name) is a name used in zoology that is of unknown or doubtful use i.e., dodgy. This also includes a spider originally named Deinopis bicornis that is now recognised as subrufa.

Certain individuals of subrufa have two dorsolateral bumps halfway along their abdomen that initially gave rise to bicornis being thought a separate species. Toowoomba arachnologist Dr. Ron Atkinson, and other authorities (Volker et al., 2014; Whyte and Anderson, 2017) acknowledge that the taxonomic status of Australian Deinopis, though, is not yet fully resolved; a refrain echoed ad infinitum by taxonomists in disciplines not solely confined to arachnology. The local species, however, is certainly subrufa (R. Atkinson pers comm., 01/06/2022). Two subrufa, a male and a female have even managed to cross The Ditch to New Zealand (Forster and Forster, 1999). There have been no recent observations of net-casters, however, in that country.

Deinopis subrufa with the pair of dorsolateral “bumps” that led to this form being originally described as Deinopis bicornis. (Photo: Jane Sparks)

The Menneus or hump-backed spiders were originally placed with the cribellate orb-weavers but moved to Deinopidae in 1967. There are seven species in Australia (Coddington et al., 2012) that include two Queensland species viz. aussie and trinodosus. The pair are found in New South Wales, as well with aussie extending to Lord Howe Island. Aussie is suspected of being in New Guinea, too. For brevity in scientific names, it be hard to go past the Western Australian species Menneus wa. And who said taxonomists are humourless types. Western Australia also has Menneus quasimodo. Howzat for a name for a hump-backed spider? The net-caster genus Asianopis was only described in 2020 (Lin et al., 2020a) and is absent from Australia. The three genera have all adopted ‘net-casting’ for procuring prey, though with slight variations in techniques across the genera.

Net-casters have an elongated body hence Stick Spider being a popular vernacular. The legs are long, spindly with the third pair being the shortest. Body length across the family ranges from 5-28 mm. The prey capturing strategy within this family is unique. The spider’s snare is produced from an organ on the ventral side of the abdomen near the spinnerets called a cribellum. The snare is entire and broad resembling a net hence the spider’s name. This rectangular snare is held by the spider between their first three-pairs of legs with the spider, in turn, suspended by its hind legs by what is thought to be a reduced web. On the arrival of an unsuspecting feed the spider stretches its legs thereby expanding its net. Following the release of its fourth limbs the spider is free to throw its net over the prey. The net can be dispatched to capture aerial or ground dwelling prey. Aerial prey capture is more usual in the Menneus whilst Deinopis generally hunts pedestrian prey, however methods are not mutually exclusive (Volker et al., 2014). Prey as large as trapdoors and gryllacridid crickets are taken. To increase the spider’s net-casting efficiency it often deposits white faecal spots on the leaves below its ambush used as aiming spots by the arachnid. It’s a touch and go strategy and the spider is often left holding an empty net. The spider’s net is dismantled during daylight hours, and it retreats into the surrounding area where its lanky morphology and stoical demure provides excellent camouflage from hungry predators.

A net-caster Deinopis subrufa with net in place awaiting its next meal. (Photo: Robert Ashdown)

A closer scrutiny of Deinopis will quicky reinforce another of its trivial names, Ogre-faced Spider. It’s got a physiognomy that only a mother could love. The most conspicuous feature of the spider’s head is two massive staring jet eyes, the posterior median eyes in the crusty parlance of science. These, along with a huge set of jaws seem to almost comprise its entire ‘face.’ Four additional but miniscule eyes, by comparison, subtend these mighty, beetle-browed gogglers. There are also another two small eyes behind the posterior median eyes so, eight eyes in all for the net-casters, which is standard for most species of spider. Asianopis has similar-sized posterior median eyes, however these are smaller and more widely spaced in Menneus. Net-caster eyes are remarkable organs. They are far more efficient in gathering light than in animals such as cats and owls. This is despite the spider lacking the reflective layer (tapetum lucidum) present in the eyes of many vertebrates. The tapetum lucidum is a layer of tissue immediately behind the retina, a retroreflector that increases the light available to the photoreceptors (image forming cells). In our spiders a large area of light-sensitive membrane is produced within the eyes nightly which, since spider eyes lack irises, is rapidly destroyed by the arrival of day. The spider’s enormous posterior median eyes give the animal a very wide field of vision to complement its excellent night vision. The post median eyes of Deinopis are believed to be the largest ocelli relative to body size of any invertebrate with those of subrufa measuring up to 1.4 mm in diameter (Volker et al., 2014).

A male Deinopis subrufa. The two large, clubbed organs at the bottom of the photograph are the palps, the reproductive organs in male spiders. (Photo: Bruce Thomson)

These spiders mature in summer. Mating and egg-laying occurs in autumn with spiderlings emerging in spring. Hatched spiderlings remain massed in a communal web before finally dispersing. Egg sacs are round balls up to 10 mm in diameter. The sacs possess a tough and intricately woven silk exterior of an ochre-brown, dark-flecked colouration. These are hidden, suspended in low vegetation, and camouflaged with bits and pieces of twig and leaf-litter. Up to four egg sacs are produced. The reproductive process in these spiders is ingenious and best described by Whyte and Anderson (2017) quote, “In this family the male’s inseminating embolus is tightly coiled up to 20 times in a spiral. The female organ has corresponding coils to receive it. During copulation the embolus unwinds, rotating itself into the female in a marvel of sexual engineering.” The net-casters are truly one of the wonders of our bushland and the world of arachnids generally.

So, “now for something entirely different” to explain my preferred colloquial name for Deinopis subrufa viz. Retiarius I’ll return to my sunny doorstep earlier this year. I was contemplating my Retiarius when I noticed, nary a spiderspit away, a small clump of those flowers that have entered Australian iconography courtesy of our celebrity Housewife from Moonie Ponds. That plant, of course, is the gladiola Gladiolus sp., one of over three hundred species in the Iris family Gladiolaceae. Ours have valiantly rejuvenated themselves every other year despite being completely ignored by the homeowners. It dawned on me that, perhaps, the origin of this plant’s name came from the Latin gladius meaning sword. And so, it proved and refers to plant’s sword-shaped leaves.

The gladius was a short sword perfectly designed for close combat. It reached its zenith as a combat weapon in the hands of the legions of the Roman Empire. Roman foot-soldiers adopted this sword from that used by the Celtiberians in Hispania late in the Punic Wars (264-146 BC). The sword was also used in the Roman arena hence we also have the word gladiator or swordsman from this root. There were distinct types of gladiators and one, armed with a trident (fuscina), dagger (pugio) and a weighted net (rete) was known as the net-man (retiarius). The retiarius was usually matched against the secutor (follower or chaser) who was more heavily armed with a gladius and curved, rectangular shield (scutum). The secutor’s head was encased in a distinctive, claustrophobic helmet, with only two small holes for the eyes, to prevent a trident thrust into the face. The secutor, being much more heavily encumbered than the lightly armed retiarius had to finish the combat quickly before being overtaken by exhaustion hence his name of follower or chaser (secutor). The was also a gladiator who was known as the contraretiarius or contrarete. This was simply another name for a retiarius pitched against a second retiarius. So, hereby hangs my tale with three of my favourite subjects, zoology, history, and etymology coalescing on that sunny morning.

“What have the Romans ever done for us,” Reg, the leader of the People’s Front of Judea harangues his audience in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Well, Reg, aside to aqueducts and roads they have bequeathed to us a great name for an amazing spider. Viva Retiarius may your casts be fruitful these summer eves.

I would like to thank Toowoomba arachnologist Dr. Ron Atkinson for his comments on the taxonomy of the Deinopidae. Ron’s sharing of his extensive arachnological knowledge over many years is also acknowledged. Thanks Ron.


  • Coddington J.A., Kuntner M., and Opell, B.D. (2012). Systematics of the spider family Deinopidae with a revision of the genus Menneus. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. 636:12.
  • Forster, R., and Forster, L. (1999). Spiders of New Zealand and their Worldwide Kin. University of Otago Press, Dunedin.
  • Friedrich S. and Lehmann T. (2020). Second record of Net-casting Spiders in Peru. Spixiana. 43 (2): 304.
  • Lin, Y.J., Shao, L., Hangii, A., Caleb, J.T.D., Koh, J.K.H., Jager, P. and Li, S.Q. (2020a). Asianopsis gen. nov., a new genus of the spider family Deinopidae from Asia. Zookeys 911; 67-69.
  • Macleay, W.S. (1839). “On some new forms of Arachnida” in Annals of Natural History. 2 (7): 1-2.
  • Volker, W.F., Baehr, B.C., and Zborowski, P. (2014). A Guide to the Spiders of Australia. Reed New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd., Sydney.
  • Whyte, R., and Anderson, G. (2017). A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Clayton South.

[This article was first published in the July 2022 edition (775) of The Darling Downs Naturalist, newsletter of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists Club.]


The Chestnut Polypore — a fascinating fungus

It’s been raining now for days. Walks with my small black dog are sodden affairs, but the little hound always seems happy enough, as hounds are when out just sniffing about.

Extended rain means at least one interesting thing for those keen on natural history – fungi! And sure enough, there have been all sorts of weird and wonderful fungal fruiting bodies rising above the soil in Toowoomba’s Queens’ Park Botanic Gardens, a favourite spot for a walk for me and the dog. 

So, on the theme of fungi, and with a link to Queen’s Park, here is an article by Rod Hobson on a fascinating and uncommon local fungus, the Chestnut Polypore.

An Interesting Fungus from Duggan Bushland, Toowooomba.
Rod Hobson

Anyone with an interest in the Toowoomba’s past, especially its botanical and colonial history will be familiar with the name Carl Heinrich Hartmann (1833-1887).

Hartmann was born in Dahlen in Saxony, Germany. He emigrated to Australia in 1850 and eventually settled in Toowoomba with his wife Georgina Elizabeth Anna nee Pringle around 1865. He set up his home in what is now the Alderley Street depot of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) and Hartmann Bushland Reserve. Here, he established the Range Nursery and an arboretum. Several survivors from his arboretum persist there to this day. His nursery became a major supplier of ornamental and commercial plants within Toowoomba and beyond, including plantings for Toowoomba’s fledgling Queens Park Gardens. Aside to his horticultural ventures Hartmann was an accomplished botanist and a founding member of the Royal Society of Queensland. He sent zoological specimens to the Queensland Museum and plants to Ferdinand Mueller (1825-1896) who was, for a time, the Victorian Government Botanist. Carl Hartmann travelled widely collecting botanical specimens, including two trips to New Guinea in 1885 and 1887. He died soon after returning from his second trip, from a fever contracted in New Guinea. Several species of plants and insects have been named in Hartmann’s honour. He was also a devoted theosophist.

C. H. Hartmann’s advertisement for his Toowoomba nursery in the Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser, 16 September, 1865. (Source: Trove).

I grew up in Rowbotham Street in Toowoomba in the 1950-60s, just around the corner from “Hartmann’s” as the site of the old nursery and arboretum was known locally. It still is, though Hartman(n) is now variously spelt with one or two n’s. My family was friends of some of the Hartmann descendants who still lived in the area and I went to Rangeville State School with two of the Hartmann boys. We stole bamboo Bambusa sp. (balcooa?) from the old arboretum site when we were kids, but the species made poor fishing poles. The name Hartmann is firmly ensconced in local lore. So, anytime I hear or read the name Hartmann my interest is immediately piqued.

Rod with bamboo still growing in the Hartman’s Reserve, Toowoomba. This is quite probably Bambusa balcooa, a ‘descendant’ of the original bamboo planted by C. H. Hartmann in the 1800s. This would then be a remnant of one of the few clumping bamboos planted in Australia during the first half of the 20th century. Photo R. Ashdown

On the 28 October, 2020 I was walking the dog in Duggan Bushland in Leslie Street, which is only about five to 10 minutes’ walk from the site of Hartmann’s original residence and today’s QPWS depot. At one stage my interest was attracted to two large fungi growing at the foot of an old, fire-scarred eucalypt just off in the bush from one of the walking tracks. On a closer inspection I found them to be a species of polypore, large and irregularly shaped with a rich red-brown cap and yellowish underside. I didn’t know what to make of the fungus so took one, as a specimen. I remember that the stipe did not come free of the ground with its distal portion intact, as I expected it would. It broke with a jagged end, but I put this down to my inadvertent rough handling of the specimen. This fracture was later to provide supportive evidence in the identification of the specimen.

Chestnut Polypore Laccocephalum hartmannii, at the base of a burnt eucalypt, J. E. Duggan Park, Toowoomba, October 2020. Photo R. Ashdown

When I arrived home, I spent several hours in an attempt to identify the fungus but could not come up with a satisfactory identification so sent off some photographs to a few acquaintances whom I know to be adept at fungi identification. The answer to my conundrum arrived quickly, from Nigel Fechner through Vanessa Ryan. Nigel is the Queensland Herbarium’s mycologist, and he was very interested in my find that he identified as a species of Laccocephalum (lakkos = stone + kephalos = head; from the Ancient Greek). He also told me that specimens of this genus were poorly represented in the Queensland Herbarium’s collection and hoped that I’d retained it. As I read this email the fungus was on my desk in front of me awaiting its fate. Fortunately, Nigel’s interest prevented it from becoming compost and, as circumstance would have it, I was heading off to the Queensland Museum next day so was able to deliver him the specimen en route. Not long afterwards Nigel informed me that my find was the Chestnut Polypore Laccocephalum hartmannii.

Here, then, was that name Hartmann again. Searching the records, I could only find two previous specimen records of this species for Queensland. One was collected by L. Bolland at Salisbury, Brisbane on 17.02.1975 and is held, as a preserved specimen, in the National Herbarium of Victoria (catalogue number MEL 2301256A). The second, also a preserved specimen in the Queensland Herbarium (catalogue number BRI AQO645866), was collected by Francis Manson Bailey (1827-1915) but no data, other than it was collected in “Queensland”, are available. Bailey was appointed Colonial Botanist of Queensland in 1881, a position he held until his death. He was the author of the seminal work on Queensland botany The Queensland Flora published in six volumes between 1899 and 1902, followed by the index in 1905. He also published on Queensland’s grasses and Australian ferns.

The Chstnut Polypore Laccocephalum hartmannii. There are five recognised species of Laccocephalum in Australia. One of them, L. mylittae, was eaten by the Indigenous people of Australia — a common name for it was Native or Blackfellow’s Bread. It has been variously described as a ‘delicacy’ by some diners and ‘dull and uninteresting’ by others.

There are quite a few Chestnut Polypore records from the eastern coast south of the Queensland border including Tasmania, however, so it would appear that SEQ is likely the northern range limit for the species. There are five recognised species of Laccocephalum in Australia. They, along with Neolentinus and Pleurotus tuber-regium form a group generally referred to as stonemaker fungi. Laccocephalum is an interesting genus that grows from an underground storage-organ called a pseudosclerotium (sclerotium) although it has been recorded fruiting directly on tree trunks on rare occasions. The pseudosclerotium can weigh up to 20 kilograms in one species L. mylittae. This formation in mylittae wLaccocephalum The snapped off stipe of the Duggan Bushland specimen was due to my forcefully but unwittingly detaching the stipe from its pseudosclerotium, which helped Nigel with his initial identification. The fact that this genus is also fire-responsive, and my specimen was growing at the foot of a eucalypt recently charred by fire also supported the Laccocephalum case. The fungus is also said to respond to drought conditions and mechanical disturbance.

Chestnut Polypore Laccocephalum hartmannii, J. E. Duggan Park, Toowoomba, October 2020. Photo R. Ashdown

I was intrigued by the specific epithet of the Duggan Bushland specimen. I was unaware such a fungus existed until then. Was the holotype collected by Carl Hartmann and named in his honour? He lived only a stone’s throw from where I collected my specimen. Had the species persisted under our very noses undisturbed for nearly 150 years? For the next week I dredged the literature to see if my hunch was right. And it appears it was. The species was described by Mordecai Cubitt Cooke (1825-1914) as “Polyporus (Mesopus), Hartmannii Cke. – Type sp. No. 42968” and annotated “On ground, Toowoomba, Queensland (Hartmann, No. 10)”. This was published in Grevillea 12 (No. 61) :14 (September,1883) in Grevillea – a Quarterly Record of Cryptogamic Botany and its Literature. Cooke was an enthusiastic mycologist. He launched and edited Grevillea during the last 12 years of his working life in the botany department of London’s Kew Gardens museum. On his retirement in 1892, the publication of Grevillea fell into the hands of his successor George Edward Masse (1845-1917) and ceased publication soon after in 1893. In 1896 Cooke, Masse, Carlton Rea and Charles Bagge Plowright, along with other mycologists, co-founded the British Mycological Society. It was in a copy of Grevillea held in the Farlow Reference Library of Cryptogamic Botany, Harvard University Herbaria and Libraries that I eventually tracked down Cooke’s description of what we now know as the Chestnut Polypore Laccocephalum hartmannii. To date (December 2020) the only Chestnut Polypore specimen held in the Queensland Herbarium, aside to Bailey’s old, preserved one, is the Duggan Bushland individual from October 2020.

The genus Laccocephalum (Polyporaceae) was erected in 1895 by Daniel McAlpine and Otto Tepper. McAlpine (1849-1932) was appointed Government Vegetable Pathologist in May 1890 in the Victorian Department of Agriculture. Johann Gottlieb Tepper (1841-1923) was a Prussian-born botanist, plant collector and entomologist who spent most of his career with the South Australian Museum. According to Pat Leonard (2012) writing of the genus in the Queensland Mycological Society’s Queensland Fungal Record, “No true Laccocephalum species have yet been sequenced.” Nigel Fechner was happy to get this fresh material, which certainly appears to have been collected from the immediate area of Carl Hartmann’s original specimen, in order to carry out this genetic work. It appears that Carl Hartmann also collected Native Bread described by Cooke and Masse in 1893 as Polyporous mylittae. Hartmann collected a specimen near Toowoomba in 1884 that is held in the National Herbarium of Victoria (catalogue number MEL 1054943A). I kept an eye on the remaining Duggan Bushland fungus until the 9 November when the survivor was a desiccated and amorphous mass on the woodland floor and, tempted as I was on several occasions to exhume the pseudo-sclerotium resisted the urge. Hopefully, this Chestnut Polypore will regenerate post the next fire, a fascinating fungus.

Everyone needs a truffle-hound when out looking for fascinating fungi. Rod with Gordy, inspecting the elusive Chestnut Polypore. Photo R. Ashdown

Finally, an interesting aside to my find was the emergence from the specimen of several small, brown beetles that spent the evening disporting themselves over my desk. These proved to be a species of Pleasing Fungus Beetle of the Family Erotylidae (ref: Chris Burwell in The Queensland Mycologist, Vol. 2, Issue 3 – Spring 2007). As the family name suggests, some species can be brightly coloured and patterned but mine were mere small brown jobbies. The fungus’ cap and underside were riddled with the pinhole-sized entrances of these beetles.

And now there’s also the Ravine Orchid Sarcochilus hartmannii from the, “timbered mountain ranges behind Toowoomba …”. The thread that runs through these stories is a never-ending one. Still unravelling. Still fascinating. Carl Heinrich Hartmann – what a legacy you’ve left Toowoomba in particular and botany in general, and me.

The Ravine Orchid Sarcochilus hartmannii, near Toowoomba. Photo R. Ashdown

Footnote: Any reader wishing to know more about Carl Hartmann should talk with Toowoomba Field Naturalists’ Dr. John Swarbrick who is an authority on Hartmann’s life and times. 

— Rod Hobson

[This article was first published in the March 2021 edition of the The Darling Downs Naturalist, newsletter of the Toowoomba Field Naturalists Club.]

Rod Hobson is a naturalist and retired Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger who lives in Toowoomba, Queensland. Rod was awarded the 2021 Queensland Natural History Award by the Queensland Naturalists’ Club, an award that is presented annually to recognise people who have made outstanding contributions to natural history in Queensland.

The diverting history of an earless dragon

An article published in the Summer 2015 edition of Wildlife Australia features words by Rod Hobson and images by Rob Ashdown.

  • The article can be downloaded here (PDF, 1.2MB).
  • An earlier blog post on the taxonomy of Grassland Earless Dragons can be read here.

Wildlife of the Lockyer Valley calendar 2016

The Wildlife of the Upper Lockyer Valley calendar for 2016 is now available for ordering.

Burton’s Snake Lizard. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Proceeds from the sale of this calendar go toward The Citizens of the Lockyer Inc. This community group aims to increase awareness of the rich biodiversity to be found throughout the Lockyer Valley and to promote the adoption of sustainable lifestyles in this unique rural environment.

The calendar features some wonderful images from Bruce Thomson, Mike Peisley and Russell Jenkins (and a few from me), and includes information about the area’s wildlife from naturalist par-excellence Rod Hobson. Design was by the talented Rob and Terttu Mancini of Evergreen Design. The calendar was produced through an Community Environment grant from the Lockyer Valley Regional Council.

Graphic Flutterer. Photo by Bruce Thomson.

Wedge-tailed Eagle and Magpie. Photo by Russell Jenkins.

Scarlet Honeyeater. Photo by Mike Piesley.

Copies are $15 (+ postage) and can be ordered from Roxanne Blackley at bioearth@bigpond.com.

New summer singers

Cicadas have been described as Australia’s best-loved insect.° What other type of insect has species with such fabulous common names as Greengrocer (Cyclochila australasiae), Yellow Monday (Cyclochila australasiae), Redeye (Psaltoda moerens), Floury Baker (Abricta curvicosta), Razor Grinder (Henicopsaltria eydouxii) and Cherrynose (Macrotristria angularis)?

Since the first Australian cicada was formally described in 1803 (the Double Drummer, Thopha saccata), the list of known Australian species has grown to over 240. New cicadas continue to be found.

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) ranger Rod Hobson, who shares an office with me and bunch of other characters in Toowoomba, has just had the honour of having his name attached to a recently described species.

Drymopsalta hobsoni, a newly described specis of cicada found only in Bringalily State Forest. This is the male holotype of the species ( QM T183037), which was found about 9 km form the Robert Wicks Research Station near Inglewood. Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov., a newly described species of cicada found only in Bringalily State Forest, near Inglewood in southern Queensland. This is the male holotype^ of the species (QM T183037), which was found about 9 km from the Robert Wicks Research Station. Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. is one of three new species of cicada described this year by Tony Ewart and Lindsay Popple.* Tony and Lindsay had participated in a QPWS fauna survey at Bringalily State Forest, near Inglewood in  southern inland Queensland. When returning to the site subsequently for a follow-up cicada search, Tony located the new cicada.

D. hobsoni is described as ‘small (less than 15 mm in length) and inconspicuous’ — which is not how I’d describe Hobson. While Ewart and Popple do not suggest a common name, I’d go for something like “The Small and Inconspicuous (Unlike It’s Dodgy Namesake) Brown Cicada”, or similar.

The discovery and scientific description of these three new species of cicada has been part of an ongoing, systematic collection of cicadas throughout Queensland and parts of the Northern Territory. Many new species, especially smaller ones, are being discovered from a wide range of woodland, heath and grassland habitats. Apart from catching the cicadas, researchers also record their distinctive songs, which become valuable tools in identifying known species of these bugs in the wild and for detecting what could be a new species.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. Female.

Drymopsalta hobsoni sp. nov. Female. “Cicadas occur in almost all parts of Australia, from the tropical north to Tasmania’s snowfields, from beach sand dunes to the driest desert. The variety of their habitats is almost endless.”° Photograph © Queensland Museum, Geoff Thompson.

While the three new species of cicadas are superficially similar in appearance, their songs are quite distinct from other cicadas — which is usually the case. However, two of the three new species (separated as species by a range of features) have quite similar calls. The buzzing, chirping calls of D. hobsoni and D. acrotela are very close, and the authors describe this as the first formal documentation of a ‘shared calling structure’ between two species of cicada in Australia.


Drymopsalta hobsoni was “Named after Mr Rod Hobson, who organised and arranged the original survey at Bringalily State Forest that led to the discovery of this new species. Mr Hobson has also contributed passionately to furthering the understanding of Queensland’s natural history, particularly in the Darling Downs region*.”

Rod has also had a new species of native snail named after him. See my blog entry from January 2011.


* Ewart, A. and Popple, L. W. (2013) New species of Drymopsalta Heath Cicadas (Cicadidae: Cicadettinae: Cicadettini) from Queensland and the Northern Territory, Australia, with overview of genus. Zootaxa 3620 (1).

° Moulds, M.S. (1990) Australian Cicadas. New South Wales University Press.


^ “The association of a name with a species, by necessity, must be associated in a way that is beyond question. When a researcher is naming a species (or describing a new species  as it is often put) a single reference specimen is chosen to represent the species; this is known  as the type specimen or holotype.”°

Holotypes form the core of the natural history collections of institutions such as the Queensland Museum (where the holotype of Drymopsalta hobsoni is stored).


New tropical island yabbies discovered

While the impact of development on our coastal habitats is a topic constantly in the news, it’s sobering to be reminded that we are still finding out what species of plants and animals actually live in these fragile places.

Cherax austini

Cherax austini, one of two recently described species of freshwater crayfish from Whitsunday Island. Preserved specimen, photo R. Ashdown.

For zoologists, the discovery of a new species is always significant. It’s like finding another piece in the threatened and fragile jigsaw of life that surrounds us and on which we depend so much.

The Whitsunday Ngaro Sea Trail is a mix of seaways and picturesque walks across Whitsunday, South Molle and Hook islands. The walk leads through open forests, grasslands and rainforest, and includes climbs up rugged peaks and strolls along winding pathways.

Created by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), the walking tracks and other infrastructure associated with the Sea Trail were yet more ‘development’. So, before this project was completed, a careful analysis of any associated impacts was carried out, to make sure they’d be kept as small as possible. As a part of that process, new surveys of the fauna and flora of Whitsunday Island were completed.

In 2010, while undertaking one of these surveys, QPWS employees Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson discovered the remains of a freshwater crayfish Cherax sp. These were forwarded to crayfish researcher Jason Coughran for comment. Jason recognised these remains to be those of a yet undescribed species. A return trip was arranged to collect live specimens for description, which was duly accomplished later that year. During this trip a second species of freshwater crayfish was also found on the island.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile. Yelarbon. Photo R. Ashdown.

Rod Hobson and Richard Johnson in pursuit of an interesting reptile on a QPWS fauna survey, Yelarbon, 2006. Photo R. Ashdown.

These crustaceans have now been formally recognised as two new species — Cherax austini sp. n. Coughran & Hobson and Cherax cid sp. n. Dawkins & Furse (Coughran et al 2012).

Cherax austini and Cherax cid

Cherax austini (left) and Cherax cid (right). These specimens are the holotypes of the two new species, stored permanently in the collections  of the Queensland Museum. The museum’s zoological collections represent the ever-growing and priceless database of Queensland’s faunal diversity. [A holotype is the actual physical specimen of an organism that was used when the species was officially described]. Photo courtesy Queensland Museum.

Freshwater crayfish, known variously as yabbies, lobbies, crawchies, craybobs, craydads, marron, gilgies and koonacs, are creatures well known across Australia. There are over a 100 species (family Parastacidae) in Australia, with more than 20 native to Queensland, including one of the smallest in the world (the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which reaches about 25 mm in length — by contrast, the Giant Tasmanian Crayfish Astacopsis gouldii reaches up to about 4.5 kg in weight and is the world’s largest freshwater crayfish — see * below)


The Swamp Crayfish (Tenibranchiurus glypticus), at about 2.5 cm in length, is one of the world’s smallest freshwater crayfish. Thorneside, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Queensland species belong to three genera: Cherax (smooth freshwater crayfish or freshwater yabbies); Euastacus (spiny freshwater crayfish) and Tenuibranchiurus (swamp crayfish).

According to the authors of the paper on these two new Cherax species, there is no information on any other species of freshwater crayfish inhabiting islands this far north in the Coral Sea, apart from a single specimen of the Orange-fingered Yabby Cherax depressus collected at Lindemann Island about 12 km south of Whitsunday Island. The next closest island species is the Sand Yabby Cherax robustus, found on Fraser Island, about 700 km south. Interestingly, Cherax austini displays a feature (a median ridge on the cephalon) that is associated with crayfish in the extreme south-west of Western Australia (Coughran et al 2012).

The results of genetic work on the two new species, however, show that they are related to the mainland Cherax depressus group of yabbies, but as with island species of all types, they are busy evolving down their own divergent paths.

Cherax depressus.

An Orange-fingered Yabby (Cherax depressus), roaming around a walking track like a small armoured tank after heavy rain at Lota, Brisbane. Photo R. Ashdown.

Euastachus suttoni

Euastacus suttoni, a colourful member of the spiny crayfish group, strikes a defensive pose as the terrifying photographer approaches. Bald Rock National Park, New South Wales. Photo R. Ashdown.

While probably confined to Whitsunday Island, the discovery of these two new species highlights the importance of continuing surveys on other Coral Sea Islands. There aren’t many suitable wetlands on Whitsunday Island, so checking out ephemeral wetlands and drainages on other islands in the group may just reveal further new creatures.

When species are restricted to islands, careful management is needed, as they are potentially vulnerable to various human-induced and naturally-occuring impacts. The value of national parks for protecting biodiversity is once again underlined. Cherax austini was discovered in a single Melaleuca (paperbark) swamp, a particular type of habitat that is classified as an “endangered” Regional Ecosystem. This particular location is one of only four protected areas of this habitat type in Queensland. The specimen was first detected as shell remains in midden formations around the shoreline of the swamp, probably from a predator such as an Eastern Water Rat.

Cherax cid was found in a small, clear flowing stream within notophyll vine forest, a type of coastal rainforest scrub. The specific type of Regional Ecosystem that this locality fell within is found only within six protected areas in Queensland.

The discovery of new species of such well-known creatures as yabbies is a pleasant surprise. It’s a find that once more increases our understanding of the the size and beauty of Australia’s biological diversity — our irreplaceable natural heritage.

Common yabby, Cherax destructor

The Common yabby (Cherax destructor), a well-known (and dined-upon) crustacean of the Australian west. Lake Broadwater Conservation Park, near Dalby, Darling Downs. Photo R. Ashdown.

*The large and the small (from Rod Hobson, 7/4/2013)

It has long been a matter of Aussie pride among those of us interested in our freshwater crayfish (from perspectives other than gastronomic) that we have both the largest and smallest freshwater yabby in the world. Whilst there is no argument whatsoever about our having the largest our contention that we also have the smallest is hotly contested by our friends from under The Star Spangled Banner. Our local contender is the Swamp Crayfish Tenuibranchiurus glypticus, which is a Wallum denizen of south-east Queensland reaching a grandiose length of 25 mm. South of the Mason-Dixon in the Deep South of the USA the flyweight belt is claimed by the Dwarf Crayfish Cambarellus diminutus. The Dwarf Crayfish is one of 17 species of freshwater crayfish of the family Cambaridae found in Mexico and the Gulf States of the USA. This family are all generally known en masse as dwarf crayfish, or more likely as crawdads or craybobs. Crawdad and craybob have also been absorbed into the Australian vernacular for our freshwater yabbies but are actually American terms. We owe a lot to The Beverly Hillbillies.

Cambarellus diminutus is a rare and threatened species known only from about 15 locations in Mobile County, Alabama and Jackson and George Counties in Mississippi. This crawdad also reaches an upper length of 25 mm so it’s actually a photofinish for the title of the world’s smallest crayfish. It’s a tie and we cannot, in all fairness, claim our crustacean, as the world’s smallest yabby. We still, however have a “no contest” for the world’s largest in the Tasmanian Giant Crayfish Astacopsis gouldi tipping the scales at 5 kilograms wringing wet and attaining a length of 80 cms. In fact not only is Astacopsis the world’s largest freshwater crayfish it is actually the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate. Let’s see someone beat that one!


Coughran Jason, Dawkins Kathryn L., Hobson Rod and Furse James M., 2012. ‘Two new freshwater crayfishes (Decapoda: Parastacidae) from Whitsunday Island, The Coral Sea, Australia’ in Crustacean Research, Special Number 7, 45-51, 2012.


Life at the edges continues

Like humans, wild creatures get hammered by storms and cyclones. How do the little things survive? Many of them of course don’t, while others find safe places to ride it out, and some get blown to distant locations. And of course, water brings life in many ways, long after errant ex-cyclones have departed. Once-dry creeks spring to life.

Soon after Oswald my son and I went dragonfly chasing with some naturalist mates. Water ran through patches of sunlight, while all about was evidence that great masses of water had recently torn downhill.

Redwood Creek, Toowoomba

A small creek runs through Redwood Park, at the base of the Toowoomba escarpment. Often dry, it was now alive with water, light, life and sound. Photo Harry Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Four-barred Swordtail, Protographium leosthenes.

A Four-barred Swordtail (Protographium leosthenes). A member of the Swallowtail family of butterflies. All other photos by R. Ashdown.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Odonata expeditioners Rod Hobson, Al Young and Mark Weaver seek that perfect image of butterfly or dragonfly. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba. Common Flatwing. Austroargiolestes icteromelas.

A pair of Common Flatwings (Austroargiolestes icteromelas) in the ‘wheel’ position. The male (front) is transferring sperm to storage sacs in the female. The female later uses the sperm to fertilise eggs as she lays them.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Water Striders (Limnogonus luctosus).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Redwood Park, Toowoomba.

Ashdown and Hazza look for things to shoot, Redwood park. Photo courtesy Mark Weaver.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek.

We moved downstream. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Slightly closed to traffic for a bit thanks to Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis

Dragonflies scooted about near the bridge. The beautiful, aptly named Australian Tiger (Ictinogomphus australis).

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

The same species, photographed against the wrecked poly water tank wrapped around the bridge.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Australian Tiger, Ictinogomphus australis.

Poised for take-off. Australian Tiger again, different angle.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Murphys Bridge, Lockyer Creek. Hemicordulia superba. Superb Emerald.

This one may look at first glance like an Australian Tiger, but the seasoned eyes of the dragonfly spotters immediately pegged it as different. It’s a Superb Emerald (note the colour of the eyes). Hemicordulia superba. The only shot I managed to grab of it. Normally found further to the east, perhaps blown inland by the winds of Oswald.

Dragonfly trip with Rod Hosbon, Al Young, Mark Weaver and Harry Ashdown. Stockyard Creek, Rockmount.

We moved on again. Rod surveys Stockyard Creek, near Rockmount.


A female Scarlet Percher lays eggs in the water, male still attached.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel (Pseudagrion aureofrons), Stockyard Creek.



I’ve been gradually enlightened about the mysterious and marvelous world of dragonflies and damselflies. 

Dragonflies have always fascinated me, but I’ve only recently  been switched on to their more delicate relatives, the damselflies.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

Gold-fronted Riverdamsel. Pseudagrion aureofrons. Stockyard Creek.

This post is dedicated to Barry Kenway, highly-respected and knowledgeable Toowoomba naturalist, who passed away last week. I had the good fortune to spend some time with Barry, and Rod Hobson, chasing dragonflies in February 2012 (see Rockmasters and other legendary dragonflies). Barry’s knowledge about, and infectious enthusiasm for, these wonderful creatures was a joy. It would be hard to forget Barry’s smile as he spied yet another species of Odonata zipping about a creek sparkling with summer light.

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson

Barry Kenway and Rod Hobson, Rockmount, February 2012.

Here’s a gallery of damselflies I’ve encountered over the last few years. They are a challenge to photograph! 

Damselflies are primitive insects belonging to the order Odonata (a name that refers to the large teeth-like mandibles of both larva and adult). There are two suborders of Odonata in Australia — the damselflies (Zygoptera)and the dragonflies (Epiproctophora or Anisoptera). There are 12 families of damselflies in Australia.

How do damselflies differ from dragonflies? Damselflies are generally very slender insects, with fore- and  hindwings similar in shape and venation and usually held closed above their bodies at rest. Their larvae have external gills on the end of the abdomen. Dragonflies are stouter and stronger flying insects, with fore- and hindwings more or less dissimilar in shape and venation, which they hold spread out when at rest. Their larvae have internal, rectal gills.

Second chance for a Brown Falcon

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora), Goomburra

Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) on the wing, Darling Downs. Described in a field guide as “pot-bellied and scruffy”, I consider this to be a most striking raptor. All photos R. Ashdown.

On the second day of November in 2012, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Rod Hobson spied an adult male Brown Falcon trapped on a barbed-wire fence on the Back Flagstone Creek Road, at Lilydale, to the east of Toowoomba.

He extricated the injured bird and left it with wildlife carer Trish LeeHong at Murphys Creek. Trish who does a wonderful and difficult job looking after all manner of native creatures.

Nineteen days later Rod returned the rehabilitated bird to Lilydale for release. “The female will be here somewhere,” Rod said as we approached the spot. Sure enough, we soon found the female falcon perched close to the road.

Female Brown Falcon

The female Brown Falcon eyes us warily from her perch close to the road. One of six Australian falcon species, Brown Falcons are typically seen perched on fences, poles, tops of dead trees and even electricity wires.

Rod carefully extricated the the feisty male falcon from a carrying box and it was soon on its way skyward.

Brown Falcon

Rehabilitated male Brown Falcon, not happy about being handled by a human. The dark facial markings  and dark eyes, as well as conspicuous orbital skin and other bare parts, is typical of our falcons.

Brown Falcon

On its way up and out. Brown falcons are slow and heavy fliers, with a flight action described as “often erratic with jinking and side-slipping”. They can fly swiftly in pursuit  of prey, with short, stiff wing beats.

Brown Falcon

Heading off. Brown Falcons glide on raised wings, and soar with rounded wing-tips upswept. They often give cackling, chattering and screeching calls.

Brown Falcon

The released falcon gains some altitude. A soaring raptor is a sight to lift the spirits of any naturalist!

Brown falcons are one of my favourite birds, so it was a thrill to see one up close and to witness it winging its way back into the skies.

Postscript: Last week Rod revisited the spot and spied the male and female falcons sitting together  A good news tale!

Thanks to Trish LeeHong, Jonno McDonald, Raelene Neilson and Rod Hobson.

Trish LeeHong was the founding secretary of the Toowoomba branch of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland  A wildlife carer of over 20 years’ experience, she has a BAppSc in Animal Studies with Honours in echidna research at the University of Queensland.


Face-to-face with Great Whites

South Australian authorities are battling wet weather in their search for the body of a man killed in a shark attack. It’s believed two great whites grabbed abalone diver Peter Clarkson as he was surfacing near Coffin Bay on the Eyre Peninsula yesterday. http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2011/s3142709.htm


The tragic death of an abalone diver in South Australia this week has brought the spectre of shark attack back into the public consciousness. It has also re-ignited debate about the conservation of Great White Sharks, with some fisherman concerned that conservation measures will mean that numbers of this top-order predator increase, and along with it, attacks on humans. Conservationists and biologists, on the other hand, believe that shark numbers around the world are continuing to decline, with inevitable effects on marine ecosystems.

Great White Shark

Great White Sharks are majestic, and feared, ocean predators. While invincible in appearance, these animals are in decline. They are targeted commercially and by recreational fishermen throughout parts of the world for their valuable jaws and teeth. Their fins, like those of other sharks, are in high demand for soup. It is estimated there are fewer than 10,000 Great Whites in Australian waters, with South Australia recording a 94% drop in numbers in the decade from 1980. Photograph courtesy Marcel Steinmeier.

Great White Sharks

Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are large, warm-blooded marine predators. Their maximum length is listed at 6.4 metres, although larger specimens have been reported. They are long-lived, and slow-maturing (12-18 years for females, 8-10 years for males). They reproduce only every two or three years, producing between two and ten pups per litter.

Great Whites are found throughout temperate and sub-tropical regions in the northern and southern hemispheres. They are most frequently found off Southern Australia, South Africa, northern California and the north-eastern United States. In Australian waters the Great White Shark’s range extends primarily from southern Queensland, around the southern coastline and to the North West Cape in Western Australia.

There appears to be a long-term decline in the numbers of Great White Sharks in Australian waters. Globally, there has been a reported decline of between 60-95% in numbers in the last fifty years. In 2002 the Australian Government listed the Great White Shark within the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The listing was important in leading towards conservation and management agreements between the range states for this shark. In 2004 the Australian Government, in cooperation with the Government of Madagascar, successfully listed the Great White Shark on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). The listing aims to prevent the highly lucrative illegal trade in Great White Shark products such as teeth, jaws and fins. http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/species/sharks/greatwhite/index.html


Diving with Great Whites

While there is still much public fear and misinformation about these predators, many people are working hard to present balanced views on the place of sharks in the ocean’s ecosystems. For some keen naturalists, getting the chance to safely come eye-to-eye with one of these powerful creatures is an opportunity not to be missed. Rod Hobson and Marcel Steinmeier describe their recent experiences viewing Great Whites with Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions in South Australia.

Rod Hobson

I recently achieved one of those milestones that we all set ourselves as keen natural historians; an Holy Grail as my herpetological buddy Steve Wilson puts it. From the 14-17th September I spent an unforgettable couple of days looking at Great White Sharks off the North Neptune Islands in South Australia. I was one of eight patrons on the “Princess 11” operated out of Port Lincoln by Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. The eight of us were a mixed bag with the majority being purely divers. Only a visiting German diver Marcel Steinmeier, and I were true-blue animal freaks; but a merry company nevertheless especially as the Coopers flowed!

On our first morning outbound, the “Princess 11” was accompanied by large numbers of Great-winged Petrels with an occasional Yellow-nosed Albatross putting in an appearance. There might well have been other seabirds in the mix but we were buffeting a heavy sea and sharks were the objective; no time to dally over seabirds. I felt like an heretic, as I contented myself with the petrels and a vanguard of Common Dolpins (Delphinus delphis) on our bow.

On reaching the islands we moored in their lee in shelterd waters. These islands are home to large colonies of Australian Sea Lions (Neophoca cinerea). These are what attracts Great White Sharks to these waters. Within an half hour of anchoring the crew had lured in our first Great White using tuna offal suspended under a float. What a creature, and a moment that I’ll never forget. Awesome is a much abused word these days and I cringe when I hear it used so offhandedly but in some cases it’s an entirely appropriate adjective. Carcharodon carcharias is awesome. A remarkable animal, and this a moment that I’ll never forget.

Over the next two days we were to get great views of up to seven individual Great White Sharks including two large females over 4.5 metres in length. They are magnificent beasts especially when seen underwater and within a metre of your face mask. Fortunately there is a well constructed and strong ‘shark cage’ between you and the shark. I had two dives of 90 and 60 minutes each.

This is an unashamed plug for Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. Their bread and butter is showing people one of the world’s greatest predators in its natural environment. And they know how to do it. The atmosphere on board is casual, the crew all very friendly and skilled and the food is exceptional, especially the fresh fish straight from ocean to plate in a couple of hours. And the beer is cold. What else do you need? Welcome aboard.

Great White Shark

A formidable set of dentures. Photograph courtesy Marcel Steinmeier.

Marcel Steinmeier

I have been interested in sharks for all my life. Since I have been diving I have been travelling the world to get to see these beautiful animals – Egypt, Maldives and various spots in Spain. When I booked the flight to Australia it was clear to me that I would have to take up the chance to go to Rodney Fox. And in my last week I finally made it. The boat and crew were great. The baits were already prepared and after five long hours we arrived at the Neptune Islands. The excitement was rising and after a short while there was the first white shark. Impressive! It took me the blink of an eye to prepare my camera and to put on the wetsuit.

The first dive was in the bottom cage. In my opinion the best way to watch them. Of course initially adrenaline was high! But then there was a really calm mood. The sharks were just there, surrounding the cage and watching you. They never seemed to be very aggressive and never attacked the cage. Andrew Fox and his crew did not try to make it as spectacular as possible. It is their goal to protect the sharks and to inform their guests about their way of life. There is no comparison to the pictures of cage diving that you know from South Africa. When you join a tour with Rodney Fox you can really learn a lot and spend a lot time in the cages. There is one at the surface that you can use all day long and the other one that will take you down to the bottom at least once a day. It is hard to describe what it feels like exactly.

White sharks do not even seem to make any efforts to get ahead. There is no hurry in their movements. They are elegant and majestic. I was just fascinated. It was a dream come true to be that close to an animal that survived millions of years in our oceans and now is one of the most endangered species because people are afraid of them and just do not know enough about them. I appreciate that there are people like Rodney and Andrew Fox who look after them.

Great White Shark

Much is still to be learned about Great White Sharks. In 2004, a female Great White Shark tagged in waters off South Africa traveled 20,000 kilometres to the coast of Australia and back again. Named Nicole, after actress Nicole Kidman, the shark changed long-held notions about how these animals moved through the world’s oceans. The journey was completed in just under nine months, the fastest return migration of any swimming marine organism known. Photograph courtesy Marcel Steinmeier.

More information on Great White Sharks

Thanks To Rod Hobson and Marcel Steinmeier.

Naming snails

The Jimbour Black Soil Snail (Jimbouria rodhobsoni) — one of 308 new species of land snail described in Australian Land Snails, Volume 1. A Field Guide to Eastern Australian Species, by John Stanisic, Michael Shea, Darryl Potter and Owen Griffiths. The Jimbour Black Soil Snail, named after Rod Hobson from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS), is found in remnant native grasslands of the Darling Downs, in southern Queensland, Australia. Photograph courtesy of John Stanisic, Queensland Museum. 

Having a newly ‘discovered’ species of plant or animal named after you is something that any naturalist would be excited about. While the ‘common’ name for a species may vary over time and from place to place, a scientific name usually remains fixed and unchanging. Consisting of a two-part label (a genus name followed by a species name, in Latin or Greek), a scientific name can tell us something about the species, inform us of that species’ relationship to other species, reflect common names given to the animal by indigenous people or bear the names of people.

In the latter case, the names are often of people who have discovered the species, or who have worked in some related field of biology. This isn’t always the case though — Myrmekiaphila neilyoungi is a species of trapdoor spider described in 2007 by East Carolina University. It is named after Canadian rock musician Neil Young.  Cirolana mercuryi is a species of isopod found on coral reefs off Bawe Island, (Zanzibar, Tanzania) in East Africa and named for Freddie Mercury, “arguably Zanzibar’s most famous popular musician and singer”. Agathidium vaderi is a species of beetle named after Star Wars character Darth Vader, while Aegrotocatellus jaggeri is a species of trilobite bearing the name of British musician Mick Jagger (no such honour for Keith Richards, unfortunately). Closer to home, and to the subject of this post, Steve Irwin’s Treesnail, Crikey steveirwini, is a beautifully patterned snail named after the Australian naturalist, educator and conservationist Steve Irwin.

I have several naturalist friends who have already had species named after them — Angus Emmott from out Longreach way (Lerista emmotti — the Noonbah Robust Slider), and Steve Wilson (Strophurus wilsoni — a gecko from Western Australia). Recently, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) colleague Rod Hobson joined them, with a new species of native snail now bearing his distinguished moniker.

The Jimbour Black Soil Snail (Jimbouria rodhobsoni) is one of 308 new species of eastern Australian snail named in a landmark book — Australian Land Snails, Volume 1, by John Stanisic, Michael Shea, Darryl Potter and Owen Griffiths. This book represents thirty years of work, and reflects a lifelong fascination for snails held by John Stanisic, Curator and Biodiversity Scientist at the Queensland Centre for Biodiversity, Queensland Museum.

Representing thirty years of work, this book describes 794 species of land snails from the eastern coast of Australia, as well as Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Volume 2 will describe species from the rest of Australia.

There are 44 families of land snail in eastern Australia, with approximately 794 species and 3 sub-species. These misunderstood native animals share an important role in the environment — they are indicators of environmental health, filling niches throughout Australia’s varied ecosystems. They are also fascinating animals, with many having striking and intricately patterned shells.

Land snails are an important group of invertebrate animals that can provide unique insights into the management and conservation of forests. In general, the distribution patterns of Australian land snails reflect the events that have forged the continent’s varied environments, in particular its wetter communities. The close association of land snails with rainforest means they are sensitive indicators of biological change, However, in many instances their existence is under threat. — John Stanisic and Darryl Potter, Wildlife of Greater Brisbane

Found on remnant native grassland on black soils plains in the area around Jimbour, on the Darling Downs, this snail is described as a ‘poorly known but distinctive animal’. It’s appropriate that this snail has been named after Rod, who collected the first specimen of this invertebrate from the Jimbour Town Common in October 2001. Rod has worked extensively on the Darling Downs grasslands — and, like the snail, he’s a distinctive character.

The remnant native grasslands of Jimbour, on the Darling Downs. Only about 1% of this original ecosystem remains intact, and supports a diverse array of plants and animals. Photo Robert Ashdown.

Once covering a vast area, the native grasslands of the Darling Downs have been greatly reduced since European settlement. Today, only about one percent of original grasslands remain — mostly within stock reserves, railway corridors and roadside verges. These remnant native grasslands are one of Queensland’s most endangered ecosystems. The black cracking clay soils that support these grasslands provide refuges and foraging habitat for many creatures, some threatened. It is an ecosystem that needs conservation and careful management.

Rod Hobson keeps an eye out for snails, or anything really, at Jimbour. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

As a Resource Ranger with QPWS, Rod has worked extensively on fauna surveys and conservation projects on the Darling Downs remnant grasslands. He has collected specimens for the Queensland Museum, and worked with great enthusiasm with locals on many practical conservation projects, such as with the endangered Grassland Earless Dragon. Although Rod hasn’t said much about ‘his’ snail, I’m sure he is excited that this ‘distinctive’ creature will carry his name. I’m also sure he’ll enjoy being part of a special club that includes not only Angus Emmott and Steve Wilson, but a host of other legendary scientists — and also Darth Vader, Neil Young and Mick Jagger! And, he’s a big fan of Keith Richards, so this might be the closest Keith gets to scientific immortality.

[Postscript 11/01/2011. Rod mentions that there are four other newly described species of snails in the book named after highly-regarded naturalist/ecologist friends of his — Adrian Caneris, Craig Eddie, Terry Reis and Mark Sanders.]

[Postscript 25/04/2022. A Guide to the Land Snails of Australia is to be published in July, 2022. For more info see here.]

The shell of the Jimbour Black Soil Snail (Jimbouria rodhobsoni). Photograph courtesy John Stanisic, Queensland Museum.

For more information on snails and the Darling Downs grasslands:

In search of monitors – alive

Unlike my herpetologist mates Steve Wilson and Rod Hobson, I’ve spent little time wandering the remote parts of the scrub tracking down rare and elusive members of that wonderful family Varanidae — the monitors or goannas. Unlike those gents, I have never grappled with the elusive green Emerald Monitor (Varanus prasinus) from Moa Island in the Torres Strait, or scruffled about in the sharp spinifex chasing the tiny but beautful Short-tailed Pygmy Monitor (Varanus brevicauda).

One goanna I have been chasing, and trying to photograph live for years (well, at times, not constantly) is the Freckled Monitor (Varanus tristus). With a total length of only 76cm, and a striking pattern of dark-centred circles, it’s a reptile I’ve been hoping to get an image of. So, in typical Ashdown fashion, with both Steve and Rod in the car, I managed to actually run over one and kill it just outside Barakula State Forest. You can imagine how I felt gazing at this stunning, but very dead, reptile while my ever-supportive colleagues bombarded me with a relentless torrent of abuse for my woeful lack of ability to swerve around reptiles without rolling the car.

Freckled Monitor

Road-killed Freckled Monitor (Varanus tristis).

Skip ahead to Isla Gorge National Park this year, on the last stage of a long day’s walk with mates James Hunt, Rob Mancini and son Harry. I’m tired and way behind. Rob calls out, “Ashdown, there’s an interesting goanna here.” Another lace monitor, I think wearily . “Is it big or small?” “Small, and interesting,” comes Rob’s reply. I wander down and am stunned to see a spectacular Freckled Monitor on a tree right next to Rob. “Nobody move!” I shout like some demented bushranger and stagger about trying to haul the camera out of the bag. My luck holds and I finally get some shots of this exquisite reptile — alive and breathing, even better. Thanks heaps, Mancini.

Freckled Monitor

Very much alive — Freckled Monitor, Isla Gorge National Park.

Here are some shots of a couple of other monitors I’ve had the good luck to encounter. How can anyone get enough of these wonderfully intelligent and diverse reptiles?

Gillen's Monitor

Lace Monitor in old 44-gallon drum, Minyon, New South Wales.


Very young Lace Monitor eating a centipede, Lake Freshwater, Cooloola National Park. Photo by Steve Wilson (my pics of this lizard were ordinary).

Steve Wilson and sand goanna

Herpetologist Steve Wilson with young Sand Goanna (Varanus gouldii).

For many great shots of monitors, and other reptiles, check out Steve’s two field guides to Australian reptiles. Available at bookshops and online at Andrew Isles.