Tag Archives: Rod Hobson

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. 

The mini-wolf is startled by the alien-like form of an Anemone Stinkhorn Fungus (Aseroe rubra) emerging from the leaf litter in Queen’s Park

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 Chestnut Polypore 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 was eaten by the Indigenous people of Australia and a common name for it is Native or Blackfellow’s Bread. It has been variously described as a “delicacy” by some diners and “dull and uninteresting” by others. 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.

 Etymology

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.

References

* 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.

Glossary

^ “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).

Links

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)

SWAMP CRAYFISH, TENIBRANCHIURUS GLYPTICUS. Thorneside.

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!

Reference:

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.

Links

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.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-171

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.

Dragonflies_02_03_13-151

Damselflies

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.

Links:

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.

Varanus-varius-and-centipede.-Cooloola-NP,-SEQ.

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.