Monthly Archives: September 2015


Telopia speciosissima

“A magnificent flower long valued for its exceptional beauty” NPOS p. 104

Everyone knows the waratah, it’s big, voluminous and deep red in colour, it can’t be missed or mistaken for anything else. The Waratah is the state flower of NSW and narrowly missed out on being chosen as Australia’s national flower. Golden Wattle only became the official national flower in 1988!

The botanist R.T. Baker was a vocal advocate of the waratah arguing that it alone was unique to Australia, whereas, “in the wattle, Australia has not a monopoly like the waratah, for Africa has over one hundred native wattles, and it also occurs in America, East and West Indies and the Islands.”

The only Waratahs I’ve seen in the wild have been at Muogamarra. They are found dotted about the coast of southeast Australia, with a larger concentration centered on the sydney basin and surrounds. The Waratah grows in rocky places in woodland on sandstone.  Flowering time is September to October.

The magnificent Waratah. I came across this while walking with the family at Muogamarra Nature reserve. It was a popular plant, I had to wait my turn to take a photo.
We only saw the one Waratah, it was shorter than I was expecting in person.

Resources and references

Sydney Climate Update

We’re just coming out of what felt like a freezing cold winter, it seemed like it was bitter and dark for so long. But when it comes to accuracy human skin and brain cells are really terrible at remembering and comparing the weather. Lucky for us we have the data!

Cold and wet at the Mt Tomah botanical gardens

The BOM have updated their long term climate data again. This time we’re in for a treat, we have updates to temperature, sea level and rainfall.

Looking at the maximum and minimum monthly temperature averages we have indeed had some cold months. The July average minimum of 8C is the coldest since 2002 when it was 7.9C, and looking back 30 years only 1995 was colder. The mean maximum for July was cool but many years have been cooler over the past 30 years. 2013 and 2014 were quite warm by comparison though, maybe that’s why it felt cold this year. As we’ve only got up to July we can’t compare moving averages yet.

For sea levels the short term averages actually show a drop in 2014. The 5yr and above moving averages still show an unmistakable upward trend.

Rainfall averages are up, I don’t recall it being particularly wet though, so much for memory.

Back to Muogamarra

For fathers day day this year the family took a trip back to Muogamarra Nature Reserve. Muogamarra is located about an hour north of Sydney just off the old Pacific highway past Cowan. Visiting is a bit of a treat as the reserve is only open to the public for 6 weeks per year. It’s closed at other times to protect sensitive natural and cultural heritage areas.

It rained a bit on the way up but by the time we got there it had cleared. much better than last year. We opted to do the point loop trail. Even though we’d done it before it was the best suited for the time we had. Also one of the Nation Parks and Wildlife ladies said that the wildflowers were especially stunning this year and could not be missed! The point loop is an easy 2km loop with a lookout over the Hawkesbury half  way along.

The flowers didn’t disappoint, there were seas of yellow bush peas and pink wax flowers. Also a stunning Waratah by the side of the trail, a much better specimen than the one we saw last year.

Waratah growing by the side of the trail.
Pink wax flowers. Good to be able to identify them after the post a few weeks ago

We had a packed lunch at the lookout, the view was great, it looks north towards the Hawkesbury over an ancient maar volcano. It would have been a relaxing if it wasn’t for the kids antagonizing each other, running toward the cliff edge and destroying and hacking at the bush in front of the Nation Parks staff.

At the lookout at Muogamarra

Lunch at the lookout

Next year I’d really like to take the crater walk down into the old volcano, it’s a longer walk but I’m sure the family could do it, we just need to get away early in the morning.

Spitfire Caterpillar

Perga dorsalis

First up it’s not a caterpillar, it totally looks like one but it’s not! It took a bit of searching to find it’s actually a Steel Blue Sawfly Larvae. Sawflys are large flying insects that are closely related to wasps. Caterpillars on the other hand are the larvae of butterflies and moths. The Steel Blue Sawfly Larvae is commonly known as a “spitfire” or “spitfire caterpillar”.

A sawfly larvae, AKA spitfire, on my hand. Just after the photo it had a big “spit” of yucky yellow fluid onto my hand

I found this one out the back while putting the clothes on the line. It was crawling on the grass near a small hole that looked like it had been recently dug by a bandicoot. Spitfires are distinctive looking, quite a chunky things growing up to 8cm long. Their bodies are black and covered by sparse tufts of short white hairs. They have six large distinctive legs near the front of their body, this gives the larvae the appearance of having a long tail. The tip of the tail is yellow.

Steel blue sawfly larvae
Spitfire head and legs. The hairs are softer than they look.

The Spitfire name comes from the larvaes behaviour of excreting a smelly yellow liquid from it’s mouth as a defence when disturbed. Growing up we were always told that it would burn and cause an irritating “bite”, this one had a spit in my hand when I picked it up and it didn’t do anything. It was pretty yuck though, I wiped it off.

Spitfires like to clump together in groups during the day, presumably for protection, then at night they venture out alone to feed. By coincidence I’d observed a clump of them on a small shrub only 2 weekends ago while visiting Leura in the Blue Mountains. I took a photo because it looked interesting but at the time I didn’t know what they were.

Spitfire clump. They clump together during the day for protection then split up at night to feed.

Spitfires are active during late winter and spring, after which they burrow into the soil to make a cocoon and pupate. They can remain in the soil for two or three years before emerging as an adult saw fly. I think the one I found was trying to bury itself or had just been dug up. I had no idea what it was at the time, so after picking it up and taking the photos I placed it in a Banksia tree. It would have been double pissed at that because they only eat eucalyptus leaves! Oh well, hope it found it’s way back down to the ground.

unhappy spitfire caterpillar
Look at the size of those legs! It was arching it’s back, I don’t think it was happy

I couldn’t find much information of where they live but it looks like they are considered to be an Australian native. From the various sites and Atlas of Living Australia occurrences they are at least found in Eastern Australia from Brisbane in the north down through Victoria in the south

Resources and References