Here’s an animal that every Australian knows. The Blue Tongue Lizard is common in bushland and suburban backyards of Eastern Australia, but even the familiar has the capacity to surprise as I found out with this one!
The family was visiting friends in Gerringong 1 1/2 hrs south of Sydney. The kids came running in from the back yard saying they they had found a snake. We went out to take a look and found what was clearly a Blue Tongue Lizard half obscured under the back step. It’s legs were tucked under it’s body so it’s understandable that the kids though it was a snake. There was a small crowd of us watching it when it started to slowly lumber out of it’s hiding spot. The lizard seemed quite fat even for a Blue Tongue which I commented on, then all of a sudden a fully formed baby lizard popped out from the underside! It was a mum giving birth!
I’d assumed that Blue Tongues laid eggs like almost every other reptile, but a quick search confirmed that they, along with Red Bellied Black Snakes do indeed give birth to live young.
With enough food Blue Tongues are able to breed every year. They have litters of around 10 young at a time, but have been known have up to 25. Once born the young are independent and will disperse within a few days.
There are a number of species of Blue Tongue, they are found in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. I believe this one was a Eastern Blue-tongued Lizard. Eastern Blue-tongued Lizards are found within a few hundred Kms of the coast all around North, South and Eastern Australia. They are a silvery colour with dark banding across their body and tail, they can grow up to 60cm. If handled roughly by the tail Blue Tongues may drop their tail. The tail stump rapidly heals and a shorter regenerated tail grows back after a while. It looks like this has happened to the mum in the picture.
I was working in the yard when Jess called me over to see a beetle she’d found. I was a bit reluctant to stop work but she convinced me “c’mon dad, you’ll love it!” She was right. With a quick search this beetle was simple to identify as a Fiddler Beetle.
Fiddler Beetles are native to Australia, they are found all the way up and down the east coast. The first thing you notice about them is their appearance, they are black with a striking pattern of yellow or green markings that look like they have been applied as part of a carefully thought out tribal design. The one Jess found had green markings. Not sure if it was male or female, often in nature the males are more visually striking than the ladies but I couldn’t find any sources that distinguished between the two in appearance. Fiddler beetles live in heathland, eucalypt forest and suburban parks and yards. They lay their eggs in rotting logs or damp soil. After hatching the grubs eat wood until they are ready to emerge as adult beetles in the early summer.
Stop the presses right. Hah, well I still think this is pretty cool. The last time the cycad sprouted new leaves was almost 4 years ago.
Cycads are ancient plants that in some ways resemble palms or tree ferns. They have tough evergreen leaves that grow in a fan like arrangement from a single central trunk. Cycads are slow growing and can live for a long time, up to 1000 years. They are thought to have been much more widespread in the ancient past 100’s of millions of years ago, today they are still found around the world in tropical and subtropical climates.
The new shoots emerge at the top of the plant like a ring of spears from the central ball of coralloid roots. They grow very rapidly, up to 20cm per day for the first week after they emerge. As the spears emerge the leaves are each individually coiled up tight in intricate spirals. At first the leaves are very soft and flexible, and the undersides are covered with a film of fine hair/fur. Once they unroll the hair is lost and the leaves become stiff and hard.
I’m not sure what is behind the strategy of waiting years then growing all the leaves at once. Not long after the last time the leaves grew there was a scorcher of a day that burnt some of the new leaves leaving them dead and brown. That cant be good when new leaf growth is years away.
It took 4 years for me to finally work out what my “Unknown Bug” is! Finding the Cotton Harlequin Bug was what lead me to it. I recognized that they look quite similar in structure and shape. This gave me some more terms to search for ( shield bug ) and I finally got a match!
So it’s with belated pride I’d like to introduce to you, the “Gum Tree Shield Bug” otherwise known as a “Stink Bug”!
The bugs that I found appear to be in the nymph stage. The nymphs spend most of their time under the bark while the adults roam about on the outside of the tree and are better camouflaged. The patterns on the nymphs is captivating, it looks like an Aboriginal painting come to life.
Gum Tree Shield Bugs are found all over Australia in open forests or woodlands. They get their Stink Bug label from their ability to secrete a smelly corrosive substance as a defence against predators. Glad I avoided that.