Sunday, 16 June 2013

100 Spiders

What's so special about this spider?
 Well, firstly, it's really tiny - about the size of a pinhead. Even if you're looking at this on a smartphone, you can probably see it larger than life size.
It's also pretty cute. Sorry arachnophobiacs.

What makes it special to me, though, is that it's the hundredth species of spider I've photographed at my house. Sorry again, arachnophobiacs.

 The diversity of animal life that's all around us never ceases to amaze me, but I've been stuck on 99 spiders for quite a while so this made me happy. I'm on 558 insects, so let's see how long it takes to reach 600.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

It's planting time

We went to the Friends of Kings Park May native plant sale on Sunday, and bought a lot of plants that you won't often find elsewhere, mostly for $3 a tube. They'll be going in the ground next weekend. This is the only time of the year when it's practical to plant - with half an acre, and not wanting to waste water, I refuse to water anything except vegetables. Natives go in the ground in late Autumn / early Winter, get well watered in and then they're pretty much on their own.

This technique is actually working pretty well. Some plants do die, but that's OK. It's enabled us to work out which species are best for our conditions, and so we just get more of the happy ones. Grevilleas and Hakeas have been the most successful and have the advantage of attracting birds and providing shelter for the bandicoots.

The land my house is on used to be part of a horse property. When we bought it, there were a few trees - Eucalyptus rudis (Flooded Gum), Corymbia calophylla (Marri), and two species of wattles. There were no native understorey plants - just a whole lot of weeds. The only birds that liked to hang around were the large ones - magpies and galahs, mostly. Since introducing a wide variety of flowering natives, we're now a regular stopover for many species of smaller birds.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Build a camera trap for under $10

Last Spring, I found some footprints next to the shed and realised that a bandicoot had been visiting. I wanted to set up a camera trap (night vision camera with motion detection) to get a photo, but was too cheap to buy a commercial trap. Here's the cheap solution.

You will need:

  • A PC or laptop, and somewhere safe, dry, and preferably powered, to place it, e.g. the shed. I haven't included this in the cost, because I already had a netbook and most people have some sort of PC.
  • Motion capture software. There are a few free options, but I chose Dorgem because it was easy to set up and worked really well.
  • A webcam with infra red LEDs (some "night vision" webcams have visible LEDs). I got one for $1.49 + $4.69 postage from eBay seller 24hrseclub 
  • A clean jar with flat sides, large enough to put the webcam in. A square Golden Syrup jar is ideal.
  • Padding to hold the webcam steady in the jar, e.g. bubble wrap, a bit of foam or a chopped up stress ball.
  • A knife to cut a hole in the lid, and some waterproof tape to tape up the hole.
  • You might also need a USB extension cable. These are a few dollars on eBay, but I already had a couple that came with thumb drives.

What you do:
  1. Install the software on the laptop, and test the camera to make sure it works.
  2. Put the laptop somewhere safe & dry, near the place you'll be placing the camera.
  3. Cut a hole in the container's lid, just large enough to push a USB cable through.
  4. Push the USB cable through the hole from the underside so the plug will be on the outside.
  5. Put the webcam into the container. Push in enough padding to hold the camera's lens against the wall of the jar. This is important to prevent the LEDs from reflecting off the plastic and ruining the image.
  6. Screw the lid on, and place the jar where you want to film. You might need to place some rocks or bricks on/around it (not on the lens side, of course) to hold it in place & stop it moving.
  7. Run the cable (with extension if necessary) to the laptop and plug it in.
  8. Test the camera to make sure the position is correct, and that there's no close leaves or anything else that might blow around & trigger the camera.
  9. Tape over the hold in the top of the jar, and any USB cable joins, with the waterproof tape.
  10. Just before it gets dark, start the motion capture software and leave it running overnight.
  11. In the morning, stop the software and check the photos to see what you've got. There might be a lot of photos to look through - but that's part of the fun!!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Bandicoots, Cats and playing "Bones"

Live Bandicoot
A couple of weeks ago, there was a dreadful smell near my wheelie bins - I mean really bad, like the bins out the back of a dodgy restaurant. This was a bit odd, because all food scraps go in the compost. It eventually turned out to be a dead bandicoot nearby. That made me sad.

Now I can't say for sure that the neighbours' cat did it, and the body was a bit too far gone to check for injuries, but there are clues:
  1. Next door has a cat, and I've seen it in the places the bandicoots visit at night
  2. The body was on top of a low wall, not on the ground
  3. In recent months the remains of two twenty-eight parrots have been scattered nearby
I can say for sure that my cat didn't do it because:
  1. She's 18 years old and too slow to catch one
  2. I've shown her bandicoots and birds before and she'd rather chat with them than chase them
  3. She has a cat run, so unless an animal climbs into the run she doesn't have physical access to it
This week's local paper had an article about bandicoots in the area, and mentioned that cats are their major predator. Please, cat owners, don't let your cat out at night and take steps such as creating a cat enclosure to protect the native animals in your area. You don't need to buy a commercial cat run. We created ours from some pine poles, a roll of 10cm square welded wire from the local hardware store, and a box of cheap bird netting to go over the top. The cats ever worked out that up was an option, anyway, so when trees grew through the bird netting we didn't bother to replace it.

The Bones bit
The TV shows Bones and CSI are always going on about hide beetles indicating the age of a corpse. Since the poor little bandy is dead anyway, I figured I might as well leave it there and let nature take care of it. By the time we found it, the ants had already moved in.
Hide Beetle

 By the next day, it had stopped smelling and the hide beetles arrived.  This means the body had been there for at least four days by the time we found it. It also means I was able to add hide beetles to my photo collection - this is the 101st beetle species I've found at my house.

The beetles are still around, slowly cleaning the fur & skin away. I'm waiting for them to finish so I can do my next Bones activity, and check the skeleton to see if there is evidence of a cat attack. Just so I know.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Insect of the month: Megachile aurifrons

Megachile aurifrons
 Megachile aurifrons is a very large resin bee. They are black with lines of white hairs, a ginger toupee and red eyes. Loudly buzzing as it flies past, you could be forgiven for thinking one was a blowfly.
This month they have found the nesting block I built. After choosing an appropriate hole, a bee will lay an egg and then cover the hole with resin. They're currently making bright green resin by chewing up wattle (Acacia) leaves.

Gasteruptiid wasp
While the bee is collecting resin, parasitic wasps duck in to lay their own eggs in the hole. If successful, the bee egg/larva will become food for a newly hatched wasp. Ants and skinks also help themselves to bee eggs if they have the chance.

In a single trip to the nesting block, the bee lays eggs in some holes and fills others, so hopefully some will escape the predators.

 Making a nesting block

Adding resin to the nest
To make your own nesting block, you will need a chunk of untreated wood. Drill a series of holes of different diameters and depths. Let the drill bit spin at the end to smooth the inside of the hole. The various hole sizes should appeal to different species of bee. I've had a few resin bee species, as well as some Hylaeus species, which cover the holes with something resembling cellophane, rather than resin.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Let's kill ALL the flies!!

At the Perth train station a couple of weeks ago, there was an elderly lady wearing a fly net under her hat. I didn't notice her until, waving her arms about, she shouted "When will they spray this city for flies?"

Great Red-Eyed Flesh Fly
Liosarcophaga dux
It had never crossed my mind that people might expect such a thing and, personally, I'd much prefer the odd fly (they are a bit pesky at the moment) to having the entire city sprayed with poison. I also suspect that the consequence of mass spraying would be the exact opposite of what this lady wants, because spraying would also kill the beneficial insects. If you killed off all flies and all dung beetles at the same time, the fly population would recover much faster. With no dung beetles, the flies would have a plentiful supply of food and before we knew it there would be more flies than ever before.
Western Dung Beetle
Onthophagus ferox

Lets just hope this was the ranting of a crazy woman*, and no-one ever takes her seriously.

* OK, to be fair, maybe she was just misinformed, or had a bad experience with flies once. Maybe she saw The Fly as a child and was scarred for life, or something. but, hey, she was shouting to the world at the train station!