April, 2011

Possum

This is an Australian possum.  I believe that this particular possum is a Brushtail possum, a species commonly found around campus.  Possums are nocturnal marsupials that may be herbivores or omnivores.  At night I would often see this very possum foraging in this tree, sometimes trying to get the nectar from the trees’ blossoms.  One of the main things that my friends and I would point out about these animals was just how much cuter they are than North American opossums.  Something about possums’ long snouts, big eyes, and long, furry tails makes them easier on the eyes than opossums are, but the two animals are in separate orders, so they are not all that closely related, which may account for this difference in appearance.

Curlew

This is a curlew.  I can’t tell you a whole lot about this bird except that it is nocturnal and makes a very loud, distinct screeching call.  The call sounds like a long scream and at night, it can sometimes be mistaken for a girl screaming if you are not aware.  I had been warned of this and the first time I heard it I still thought that it was a person until about the third call.  Being nocturnal, these are the main noises that I would hear at night in Australia.  At first, it is difficult to get used to, but after a while it became just another sound of Australia that has come to remind me of my time there.

Leech

This is a leech that I saw at Paluma.  It had rained recently so the moist environment was perfect for leeches.  This leech is very small but they can drink up to ten times their body weight.  With each feeding, they gorge themselves so that they do not need another meal for a long time.  Mutualistic bacteria in their stomachs help prevent other bacteria from infecting the leech and feeding on the blood, which is how they can take an incredibly long time to digest it.  When leeches bite, they secrete an anesthetic so that you don’t realize that you’ve been bitten and they have more time to feed unnoticed.  They also secrete an anticoagulant to prevent the blood from clotting and a vasodilator to increase blood flow as well.

When I later traveled to Sydney from Melbourne, my Dad had a cut in between his toes that did not stop bleeding for a couple of hours and I strongly believe that he had been bitten by a leech that just did not hang on to him very well.  Interestingly, only about 50 to 75% of the class Hirunidinomorpha are blood-sucking ectoparasites.  The rest just feed on live or dead organisms.

Plants

I went on a field trip for one of my classes up to Paluma, a rainforest a couple of hours north of Townsville.  One of the things I noticed on some of the plants in the rainforest was thorns on the trees.  This is a defense mechanism that was developed to prevent various animals from eating and damaging the plant.  This is something that was prominent in Costa Rica as well.  Another adaptation that I noticed was tree bark on various trees, such as Gum trees, being lighter in color.  I believe that this is due to the fact that the sun is more intense in Australia and so the bark is a lighter color to reflect some of the rays so that the tree does not absorb as much light and heat.

These were just some trees that I saw all the time around campus.  These particular trees were located on one of the hills with hiking paths near campus.

Great Bowerbird

This is a Great Bowerbird, one of twenty species of Bowerbirds.  All bowerbirds, except for catbirds, which don’t make bowers, are found only in Australia and New Guinea.  The building of bowers solely for the purpose of attracting a mate is what makes these birds so unique.  They will use twigs and assorted “decorations” that they find lying around to add to their bowers.  A female will chose a mate based on the impressiveness of his bower and how well he shows it off by presenting various decorations to her and showing off his plumage.  This is a picture of one of the bowers found on my campus:

This is what is considered to be an avenue bower because of the pathway made by the walls of twigs.  Many bowerbirds will also have a certain color preference for the toys it brings to its bower.  This particular bowerbird seemed to be partial to red and pink, in addition to white stones.  While the Great Bowerbird is not very flashy in its coloration, it makes up for this in its construction of its bower.  Bowers are not nests, just decoration.  When a female is intrigued enough to come closer, the male bowerbird will begin performing a courting dance making almost a short rattling sound.  He will also sometimes flash the back of his head to her, where his crest is.  Great Bowerbirds have one of the less showy crests but as you can barely see in this picture, the purple feathers are present.

I was lucky enough to be on a campus that had a good number of Great Bowerbird bowers scattered around campus and, on multiple occasions, was able to see the males performing courtship behaviors for the females.  We even had a juvenile bower that was maintained by multiple juvenile males as practice.  Bowerbirds are definitely one of the main things that I miss from Australia.  They are just so representative of just how interesting the wildlife in other parts of the world can be.

Green Ant

I apologize that this is not the best photograph, but this is a Green Weaver Ant.  These ants are primarily located in the northern part of Australia.  I saw them all over Queensland, including on my campus.  This social species of ant makes its nests by weaving large leaves together.  It does this by having many ants hold the leaves together while another ant uses one of the larvae to produce an adhesive substance with which to hold the leaves together.  It requires a great deal of coordination.  These ants are also known for making chains to get down to a lower surface.  The ants just start climbing on one another until the chain of ants reaches their destination.

On a complete side note, I had heard from multiple people that their gaster (the last part of their abdomen) tastes a little bit sour.  I later learned that the aborigines would collect these for various uses, ranging from making jams, to being used as cold remedies.  If I ever get back to Australia (which I hope I do) I am definitely going to lick a green ant abdomen to see.  One of the problems, however, is that they are very defensive of their nest and when they are ready to attack you with a painful bite, they put their abdomens up in the air as an indicator.

Carpet Python Siting

And this is a Carpet Python spotted on campus that had recently eaten a scrub turkey.  The news of the prolonged visit from this snake got around and once I had heard, I, of course, had to get as close as I possibly could (without being unsafe) to take some pictures of the shape of a scrub turkey inside a python.

Scrub Turkey

I felt that, while the ecosystems and plants and animals were all different in Australia from what we have here in the U. S., I really felt that the birds were drastically different.  It is actually one of the main aspects of Australia that I miss the most in terms of both the birds’ colorations and vocalizations.  This is a scrub turkey or a brush turkey.  I saw these all over campus.  What I find most interesting about them is that their tail is flat, and is vertical, as opposed to being horizontal as our turkeys’ tails are.  While these birds seem surprisingly clumsy, they would still be found perched up in low branches of trees every so often.  Their waddles are bright yellow, while their heads are red.  The males are more brightly colored than the females for sexual selection and a brighter waddle gives the turkey a greater chance of reproductive opportunities.  Their nests were also all over campus.  These were essentially made by kicking fallen leaves into piles.  There was never a day where I wouldn’t pass at least one scrub turkey kicking leaves to add to a nest.  This bird was another commonly seen bird that will always be very characteristic of Australia.

Rainbow Lorikeet

I’m sorry that this picture is a little bit blurry, but these birds were always moving around so it was difficult to capture a good picture.  This is a Rainbow Lorikeet.  They are seen all over Australia (definitely all along the East coast, as far as I could tell) and they are very screechy, making a lot of noise early in the morning.  They’re easily spotted in trees because of their bright coloration and are always found in groups which makes them all the louder.  This is the main bird that I think of when I think of Australia birds, mostly just because of how often I saw it and how identifiable it is.

Wallaby

This was the first wallaby that I ever saw.  It was one of the first days that I was in Townsville on campus and I went for a morning hike at a nearby trail.  There were wallabies every so often, feeding in the long grasses before it got too hot.  I would often see them on my way back from my night class, as well, when it was reaching dusk.  Wallabies and kangaroos are both marsupials and are very similar, but their faces are slightly different and wallabies tend to be smaller than kangaroos.  In Townsville, wallabies are much more common than kangaroos, which is why I don’t think that I saw a true kangaroo until I began traveling toward the end of my trip.

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