Tag Archives: Steve Wilson

A tiger at the Bunyas

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Bryan Phillips-Petersen recently took this photograph of a Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatis) on a track at Bunya Mountains National Park.

Tiger Snake, Bunya Mountains National Park.

Tiger Snake, Bunya Mountains National Park. Growing to a length of two metres, this is a large, highly venomous member of the Elapid family of snakes. This species varies in colour throughout Australia, but usually they have ragged-edged pale bands (hence the common name). In Queensland they are found in  some upland rainforest areas and in some coastal lowland parts of the Sunshine Coast. They feed mainly on frogs. The flattened head is a warning to stay well clear. Photo courtesy Bryan Phillips-Petersen.

It’s a beautiful reptile — a species that I’ve kept an eye out for at the Bunyas during visits over many years, with only one brief sighting that gave no chance for a photo.

Given its fierce look and common name, this is a snake that might invoke thoughts of an aggressive, attacking reptile. However, while this is a dangerously venomous snake responsible for fatalities, its reputation as a fierce animal is not deserved,  according to herpetologist Steve Wilson:

The Tiger Snake has an undeserved reputation as being very aggressive, yet it is quite a timid snake that avoids confrontation. Very large individuals are often quite unconcerned by the presence of people. Even when provoked they give plenty of warning with an impressive threat display, flattening the neck and forebody and hissing loudly.  Only as  a last resort will the snake strike, but given its abundance around southern cities it is not surprising that this highly venomous species is second only to the Eastern Brown Snake as the most common cause of snake-bite death in Australia.*

Bunya Mountains.

Rising abruptly from the surrounding plains, the cool peaks of the Bunya Mountains reach more than 1,100 metres above sea level and offer spectacular mountain scenery, views and abundant wildlife. Bunya Mountains National Park (declared in 1908) is Queensland’s second oldest national park. It shelters the world’s largest stand of ancient Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwillii).The park is home to about 120 species of birds and many species of mammals, frogs and reptiles. Several rare and threatened animals live here, including sooty owls, powerful owls, the black-breasted button quail, a skink species and a number of mammals. Photograph Robert Ashdown.

Once the most common cause of snake-bite death, Tiger Snakes have now been surpassed by Eastern Brown Snakes. It is thought that this change may be due to the difference in favourite prey items. Tiger snakes like to eat frogs, which have declined in numbers in many areas favoured by humans areas due to habitat clearing and other factors. On the other hand mice — the favourite food of brown snakes — have only increased in numbers around humans.

Tiger Snakes are less common in Queensland than in southern parts of Australia, where they are widespread in cool moist areas such as swamp edges and creek banks. In Queensland they are found in upland rainforests such as the McPherson Ranges and the Bunya Mountains. They can also be found in coastal wallum and heath areas of the Sunshine Coast. An isolated population is found in the Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park.

*Reference: What Snake is That? Gerry Swan and Steve Wilson, 2008.


Frogs and lizards in print

I’ve recently had some images published in several new books on Australian reptiles and frogs. It’s always fun to see an image in print, especially when two of the books are by friends with whom I’ve spent some great time in the scrub messing about with cameras, and the third one includes images by another good photographer mate.

Cooloola Sedgefrog, Litoria cooloolensis, Freshwater Lake.

Cooloola Sedgefrogs (Litoria cooloolensis), at Freshwater Lake, Cooloola. This photograph, taken on a trip with Steve Wilson (see book further below), has been used in the newly published Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland by Eric Vanderduys.

Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland.

Find out more about the Field Guide to the Frogs of Queensland, including how to order, here.

Eulamprus tryoni + funnel-web spider

Tryon’s Skink (Eulamprus tryoni) with a Funnelweb Spider (Hadronyche sp.) While deadly to humans, the spider makes a great meal for this lizard. This image, taken at Lamington Plateau while on a walk with Eric Vanderduys (see book above), has been used in the recently published Australian Lizards, A Natural History, by Steve Wilson.

Australian Lizards

Find out more about Australian Lizards, including how to order, here.

small-eyed snake, Isla Gorge NP

Small-eyed Snake (Crytophis nigrescens), Isla Gorge NP.  This image was used in the recently published The Reptiles of Brisbane, by the Queensland Museum. This field guide features the wonderful images of Museum photographers Jeff Wright (with whom I’ve also spent some time in the wild with cameras) and Gary Cranitch as well as contributions by Mark Sanders, Steve Wilson and John Cann.

The Reptiles of Brisbane

Find out more about The Reptiles of Brisbane, including how to order, here.

Pipeline rescues

I’ve mentioned Steve Wilson in previous blog posts, but he probably never reads these posts so his ego won’t get any larger (a failing of many herpetologists and lots of naturalists, except me of course).

Steve Wilson with Woma

Steve Wilson with Woma (Aspidites ramsayi), rescued from gas pipeline trench in central Queensland.

Steve’s been working out west, on and off since 2008, employed by gas companies to rescue animals that have fallen into the deep trenches built to take pipelines. It’s hard and dangerous work, with anything from enraged Eastern Brown Snakes to confused cows ending up in the trenches and having to be removed. The good side of it for Steve is getting to see some interesting reptiles. The image is of Steve with a Woma, one of Queensland’s larger and more uncommon pythons.

I haven’t asked Steve how many animals he and co-worker Gerry Swan have  pulled out of trenches, but it must be an enormous number. Between November 2008 and March 2009, a total 2,790 animals (comprising 96 species) were recorded from one trench alone. There were plenty of snakes in that list, with 323 individuals of 24 species recorded.

Steve provides data on the animals recorded to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, for logging on the Agency’s Wildnet fauna mapping system.

I’ll see if I can talk Steve into a few words about his recent finds for a future post.

More stuff:

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.