Monday, August 31, 2009

Interesting inverts - Burrowing bees

Walking near the Bulloo river yesterday I stumbled across a curious little patch of soil alive with activity. I first noticed the buzzing noise of flying insects, then spotted the numerous little burrow entrances, and finally caught sight of the animals causing all this excitement.

They were bees - Burrowing bees. Something similar to Dawson's Burrowing Bee (Amegilla dawsoni), related to the well-known Blue-banded and Teddy-bear bees of suburban gardens.

There were about a hundred burrows, each one featuring a raised turret at the entrance. Occasionally a bee would emerge from one of the holes and fly off, not wasting any time in doing so. It soon became apparent why - the circling, patrolling bees must have been hopeful males, and any female slow enough to be caught would be tackled to the ground by a male who would then do his best to grapple her into submission and have his way with her.

This constant attentions of the guys also must have made it hard for the females to find their own burrow - as they'd sometimes dart down a burrow only to be chased out backwards by the indignantly buzzing resident.

Some females were involved in a bit of construction / maintenance and this gave me a chance to photograph the beautiful golden behind of one.

Interesting inverts - Slater invasion!

I was woken in the night while camped beside the Ward river by raindrops on my face. I had to hurriedly get up and erect my tarp, and then couldn't get back to sleep. I soon heard a strange rushing noise - sort of like raindrops on still water (made sense as I was by the river, but the rain wasn't falling on the tarp anymore). Wind in the trees? No, it was coming from ground level. I grabbed my torch and was about to step out of the tent to investigate when I discovered what the sound was.

Slaters. Thousands upon thousands of them. Right outside my tent. They were massing along the ground in great streams. That's what the sound was - millions of little feet walking along the clay soil.

Stepping out of the tent gingerly I investigated further.

As well as the migrating hordes there were massed bunches here and there where they'd found something on the ground that I'd poured out when cooking:

I couldn't work out where they'd come from or whether they had any particular destination in mind. Why were they in such high density right here?

Interesting inverts - Weevil

I found this bizzare weevil under a piece of timber.

I just can't fathom the strange appendages emerging from its rear. They appeared immovable and fused at their posterior ends. I've never seen anything like it. Ideas?

[Edit - this is a weevil of the genus Phalidura (ID courtesy of Mark Thompson). Only males have the strange appendages.

Flower Show

While staying on the farm near Roma I headed out to Gurulmundi near Miles to check out the heath wildflowers. It was a pretty nice show - enjoy.

The news

Bearded Dragon

Apologies, dear readers, for keeping you all in the dark as to my whereabouts and... whatabouts. But all will be revealed henceforth.

In short: following the Boulia camel races I had about a month in which I was somewhat at a loose end, because I had arranged to meet up with the 'Ratcatchers' / Dickman Simpson desert lab for their September trip. It was cold and dry and it was getting pretty hard to find any interesting critters, so I decided to look for some sort of work in western QLD during this time.

I ended up near Roma, working on the property of some relatives of mine - Jock and Mina Douglas - who farm Australian Desert Limes (Eremocitrus glauca). This is a fantastic little native citrus - intensely flavoured and suitable for a wide variety of culinary uses - jam, marmalade, chutney, cordial or whole in syrup or glac├Ęd. The family has been farming and wild-harvesting the fruit since around 1997. For more information on the limes and the Douglas family operation, see

So for the past month I've been doing a variety of farm jobs - from driving a tractor, slashing, to fixing a windmill. I was also involved in the grafting of 3000 young trees - we collected wood or scions from wild trees with favourable characteristics and grafted them on to hardy citrus rootstock. It was a really interesting and educational experience, not least of all because of Jock's exhaustive knowledge of the country and stories from his varied life as a cattleman, landcare and land management enthusiast and now a horticulturalist!

Desert Lime flowers

The lime picking season is in November; the trees were just starting to bud when I arrived and had just started flowering when I left. After a couple of years of drought where the trees hadn't done so well, the good summer rains this year look like resulting in a big harvest.

While grafting we found an interesting snake - a new one to me, the Pale Headed snake - Hoplocephalus bitorquatus. Closely related to the Broad-headed snake and Stephen's Banded snake (H. bungaroides and stephensi respectively). Quite pretty.

Since leaving the farm I've hit the road again. Heading out to Windorah via Welford National Park, then the Birdsville races before venturing out in to the sand dunes of Ethabuka for about a month.