Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Spud is no dud

We were all surprised with on the 24th of Jan. "Spud" was fully opened. You could almost see it happening. The small produced was quite different from that of "Hannibal", who seems a bit sick. It may not open fully but may still produce pollen and the cross pollination may occur.
Within a few hours, the frilly edges had started to discolor and shrivel. So Spud may not last for long.
A couple of out-of-town visitors were happy they were able to see the giant flower.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


Well as a tropical low develops over the city of Cairns, the Titan Arum in the Cairns Botanic Gardens continues to develop. It is a wet time but hundreds of people, both locals and tourists alike, visit the gardens each day to "see if it has opened". It might be a couple more days till it does but the spathe is starting to unfold and with it the smell is attracting an array of local insects. here we see a group if visitors and the arum, named Hannibal, in the background. Judi and Donn Corcoran have been keeping vigil at the "site" every day for a week. They have met a lot of folks!

The life cycle of the Titan Arum. The bulb can be massive weighing more than 100 lbs in some examples. [The would be a challenge, but would not deter our local Brush Turkeys from attempting to dismember a plant] (from the web)
Not only children find the smell repulsive. The foetid odour has been likened to rotting fish, gym socks, porta potties and the like. But it is the smell that attracts the potential pollinators.
"Hannibal" is in the foreground and "Spud" is just behind it. The idea is to have two plants flower at the same time. The reason is that the plant requires cross pollination to set seeds. In nature the strong odour wafts through the jungle deceiving a variety of insects that normally congregate on dead matter.

Fortunately, it does not appear that there are very specific pollinators, otherwise we might not have any luck with the plants in Cairns. The Titan Arum is native to Indonesia and we have few insects in common. It is thought that certain bees, called Sweat Bees, halictids that are attracted to human sweat for the salt and mineral content, are the pollinators in nature. But there are other more general visitors to dead animals that are also involved and we have plenty of them here in Cairns.

A patch was cut at the base of the plant so we could get an idea of what was going on inside. You can see the flies resting on the spathe.
Looking inside we can see the female parts sticking up and ready to be fertillised. The pollen is in the yellow capsules at the top, But it will not be released for a while. Since the plant must be cross pollinated to produce seed, holding back the pollen plant for a while would allow pollinators, in nature, to visit and bring pollen from other plants. This is the reason we have two plants that we hope will flower simultaneously. If you look carefully, you can see several insects in the flower.This is a bug, probably lygaeid. It is very small and we wonder what it is doing there.

This is one of several species of blowfly that we have observed on the plant. This sort of blowfly is attracted to decaying animal matter. What is surprising about the flies on the Arum at this point is that they do not seem interested in feeding. They are "just there". [Look carefully!]
Two smaller blowflies.
Perched atop the female flower but with no mouthparts engaged in feeding.Here are a couple of blowflies and, either a small blowfly species of a fly of the family Muscidae and a Flesh Fly, Sarcophagidae. Flesh Flies breed in carrion and dung and usually have a greyish and striped appearance.
A flesh Fly and Blow Fly side by side.
Blowfly bliss. This fly seems quite content resting on the stigma. It made no attempt to feed. It was just "drawn" there.As noted above, careful observers would have seen these little cuties at the base of the stigmas. They are Springtails, order Collembola. These are arthropods that are no longer considered to be insects. They are of a different lineage. They are found in most habitats. They would have had to do some fancy "springing" to find themselves within the developing Arum titan. The would probably feed on the pollen and even some microorganisms that might also be attracted to flower.

This is "Spud", the second Titan Arum. It looks about a week away from flowering. We'll keep you posted. (By the way, the names were chosen by "Jacko", the gardener who has been caring for the plants. How he chose the names, well you'll have to ask him. He says all this is like waiting for the first child to be born!)

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Botanical Bonanza

In a few days time the Cairns Botanic Gardens will host the opening of the giant Arum Titan, Amorphophallus titanum. This is a lily of truly gigantic proportions. The plant is not yet as advanced as the one below. From the ground to the tip of the spadix is well over 4 ft at present and it grows several inches per day.

And there are two of them getting ready to flower. It is hope that they will flower together so that some cross pollination will result in fertile seed.

Arum lilies have flowered in the gardens before and they have flowered elsewhere. The Sydney Botanic Gardens had a successful flowering in 2004.

This was the plant a couple of weeks ago.

The tip of the spadix has grown considerably and the bract dropped off today. It's now a question as to when it will open. The best guess is the end of the week or on the weekend.

Although the flower will be spectacular, it won't last more than a few days. During that time it will produce a foetid odour reminiscent of rotting meat. The pollinating agents are probably blowflies of the family Calliphoridae. We will keep close tabs on this phenomenon and report back on the pollinators, should they show up at the flower.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Tableland Treasures

A recent evening trip between thunderstorms to the Atherton Tableland did not reveal many orthopteroid species, but there was quality material in what was observed.

We were perplexed at the condition of the forest but then came realise that it had been in the path of Cyclone Larry a few years ago. That explained the tangle of branches and timber on the ground in the forest itself. We were in an area of about 1100m elevation, considerably higher than that of Kuranda which is about 330 m. It was cooler, of course, species component of plants quite different. The orthopteroid fauna in large measure was also quite different. Some of the results of our investigation are noted below.
This delicate little katydid is an undescribed species in the genus Chloracantha. it is a member of the tribe Simoderini in the subfamily Pseudophyllinae. It is known from a handful of specimens from the Atherton Tableland and the Kuranda region.

The Silent Spiny Katydid, Phricta tortuwallina Rentz, Su and Ueshima, was only recently described Rentz et al. (2005). It differs in many respects from the more widespread and more common Spiny Katydid, Phricta spinosa (Redtenbacher). It is smaller, more spiny, with the spines of the thorax vertical in position and, unusually lacks a stridulatory file. This is one of the few katydids where the males do not produce a call.
This Silent Spiny Katydid was feeding on the seedhead of a tall grass plant along the margin of the rainforest.
Caedicia goobita Rentz, Su and Ueshima is an uncommon resident of the rainforests in the Kuranda region. It was hitherto unknown from the Atherton Tableland. It was also recently described, Rentz et al. (2008)
This agraeciine katydid is one of several species in an undescribed genus. It is fairly common in the Atherton Tableland but not know from the rainforest in Kuranda or the Daintree region.

A nice find. This Raspy Cricket, Acanthogryllacris curvispina (Karny), was described in 1929 from Malanda, not far from where we were searching. It received its name because of the two prominent spines on the hind femora. It apparently has a very restricted geographical distribution and has not been found far from its type locality.

An unusual cricket, Transaevum laudatum Johns, lives in burrows underground and emerges after dark to forage. This species also occurs in the rainforests around Kuranda.

The white-kneed King Cricket, Penalva flavocalceata (Karny), spends the day underground in vertical burrows underground, emerging at night to feed. It seems to be an opportunistic feeder. This female unsuccessfully attacked a large cicada that was attracted to lights.
The Bull Cricket, Gryllotaurus bicornis Walker, is so named because males have short horn at the base of the antennae on each side of the face. This is a female and was feeding on the seed heads of a grass in the evening. This species seems restricted to higher elevations and has not been found in Kuranda.

Literature Cited

Rentz, DCF, Su, Y-N., Ueshima, N. 2005. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae. The genus Phricta Redtenbacher (Orthoptera: Pseudophyllinae; Phrictini). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 131: 131-158.

Rentz, DCF, Su, Y-N., Ueshima, N. 2005. Studies in Australian Tettigoniidae: New Phaneropterine katydids from Queensland Rainforests (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae; Phaneropterinae). Zootaxa 1964: 1-39.


No, there are no otters in the Barron River. Recently we spent Christmas holidays in Sarawak and at the Cultural Centre in Kuching, I observed a troupe, pack, bevy (or whatever you would call them) of otters in a large pond on the premises. This was not far from the river and the otters seem to have moved in and taken over the pond. I sent photos to the Camera Trap Codger for identification and he prompted this blog.

It seems that these are Asian or Oriental Small-clawed Otters, Aoynx cinerea, the world's smallest otter. They form small family groups and defend them strongly against non-family intruders. The Codger informs that zoos get into trouble when they try to introduce new members to a group. The newcomers often received fatal injuries or lost limbs.

This is the pond harboring the group of otters. I counted nine with several juveniles amongst them.
Otters are often inquisitive and members of the group kept a close watch on those oddballs on the bank.
The group was actively feeding and although they are known to prefer shellfish rather than fish, I saw them feeding on what appeared to be catfish.
I was a considerable distance away from the group but you could hear them crunching (or crushing) their food. I now believe they were crunching on some sort of shellfish at least part of the time.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Welcome Home!

We were away for a few days recently and returned home to find this fellow a few metres away from the house basking in the morning sun. It is probably not the same Australian Scrub (Amethystine Python) noted in the Watchful Eye blog. It seems smaller. I was not willing to wrestle with it to determine its precise size! It seemed quite relaxed at our presence.