In the desert…

Well, I have been back and forth from Alice Springs of late, and on the way I have been stopping to check out the wildlife. The word on the street is rain, rain and more rain! The desert is alive! So kick back and enjoy some pictures:

The desert crab (Holthuisana spp) is an amazing collection of species. It lives in burrows in dry creek beds, emerging after heavy rains flood them out. They browse on grass and anything dead that has washed in, and when times are tough will eat each other. The life cycle is unusual, most if not all other crabs have an aquatic stage where the young are free-swimming before settling. The desert crab does not. Young hatch as fully formed crabs in the mother’s burrow after she carries them under her abdomen. One species is currently recognized, but we now know there is a whole complex of un-described species…

Related to the desert crab is this unlikely animal, the shield shrimp, also known as the tadpole shrimp or Triops. These are remarkable, surviving as eggs blown about in the hot, dry dust for years until heavy rains cause them to hatch and grow rapidly, feeding on algae, smaller animals and anything else they can devour. Life is frantic, they only have days to breed before the puddles dry and all of the adults perish. The young will have to wait until the next big rain…

And an underside shot of a triops or shield shrimp, just to freak you out…

This is the Gillen’s or Centralian tree frog, Litoria gilleni. They live in rocky gorges around Alice Springs and are closely related to the Green or White’s tree frog found elsewhere in the country. They call after rain with a slow, deep “cawk…cawk…cawk” sound.

Found in the dry parts of tropical and subtropical Australia is the Stimson’s python (Antaresia stimsoni). A small python it takes frogs, lizards, mammals and birds. This one was at Ellery Creek near Alice Springs.

The most spectacular lizard in Australia’s north is the Frill Neck (Chlamydosaurus kingii) which uses its frill to frighten enemies or rivals. These are common after rain when they descend from the trees.

At the Devil’s Marbles there have been a number of juvenile Merten’s water monitors (Varanus mertensi) hunting desert crabs and tadpoles in the temporary creeks. Well outside their accepted range I have no idea how they got here, but I have never seen them here before…

An unusual monitor (goanna) lizard is the Spiny tailed (Varanus acanthurus) which normally lives in rocky outcrops or buildings but in this case was well out into the mulga woodlands. We found him with his head stuck in a beer can beside the road, so carefully cutting him free I got a picture before he rocketed off through the bush. Now I know how my Aboriginal mate Murray got the term “Runnin’ like a goanna in the spinifex…”

I had stayed at Banka Banka on the Stuart Highway just north of Tennant Creek a bunch of times but heard a new frog call. A burst of four rapid pulses. It didn’t sound far away, but 3km later I finally found the frog. Kneeling down I put my hand on a scorpion. OUCH! But I got some pictures of a frog I had never seen, the Blacksoil Toadlet (Uperoleia trachyderma). It is the size of a thumbnail or smaller.

Also out in force with a peculiar owl-like “whooping” call is the Nicholl’s or desert spadefoot toad. Globular and obese, they sit near ant hills and lap up the ants as they emerge. They are equipped with a nasty toxin they can release when upset. It is milky in colour and extremely sticky.


How could you not love this face?


Other burrowers have been at it too. The Main’s frog (Cyclorana maini) sounds like a sheep! This one was from Alice Springs.


But this one, Cyclorana cultripes, makes a rapid “wahhh.. wahhh…” call

A drying claypan with loads of tadpoles which may never make it…


Boo! This is a huge spider from the desert known as the Barking, Whistling or Bird eating spider (Selenocosmia). The names given to it mostly refer to the sound it can apparently make (never heard it) by rubbing the fangs on a special area. Just to make it creepier! It is massive, enough to cover much of your face. And yes, you’re welcome!



Betta brace yourselves…

Betta brace yourselves…

No, it’s not a spelling mistake. The wetlands of the Northern Territory of Australia are in big trouble.

And it’s all because of this small fish, the Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). Native to Southeast Asia and living in wetlands and small streams, this is one of the toughest fish of all, and some complete idiot released them into the Adelaide River system near Fogg Dam, possibly either as mosquito control (which native fish such as rainbowfish and blue-eyes do very well at anyway) or because they wanted to get rid of unwanted aquarium fish. Either way, it was three years ago that I was out at Fogg dam with friend Richard, and he asked what kind of fish it was lying on its side in some shallow water. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so I collected it and took some pictures before handing it in to Fisheries who were very interested. That fish is pictured above and is the very first record of this species (and likely ANY introduced species) making it successfully into the NT. Fast forward to now, and the damn things are everywhere in the lower Adelaide system. I got a call from Dr Michael Hammer from the NT Museum and Art Gallery who had found hundreds of them migrating at a small weir at Fogg Dam a week or two ago after someone had turned one in. In Beatrice Creek they outnumber natives in one spot (at least). Some have suggested that they are no threat. This is rubbish:

  1. They are in plague proportions already, meaning that they are displacing natives and are successfully competing for food resources
  2. They are aggressive to other fish. Although supposed to only attack their own kind I observed one rip the legs off a tadpole, killing it. Rainbow fish and anything coming near the heavily guarded nests will be attacked for sure
  3. It is suggested they will be washed out of the swamps, which they may, but this species has a very strong upstream urge and will rapidly colonise any swamp they can reach
  4. They can wriggle over land in the tiniest trickles of water and survive zero oxygen in the water, breathing through a special “labyrinth organ” which acts like a lung
  5. Mosquitoes are already controlled by native fish, when they can reach them. As many mozzies will breed in temporary puddles well out of reach of even fighting fish, the mosquito population is unlikely to suffer

In short, this looks to be the new cane toad of the swamps, a fish at least as problematic as the mosquito fish (Gambusia) which has caused untold damage to native frogs and fish in the south. The NT enjoyed not having any feral populations of noxious fish… until now.

So please, NEVER release aquarium fish into the wild. Give them back to the pet shop or a friend. “Saving” your unwanted fish is likely to kill millions more.

The Siamese fighting fish have returned back to their native look, with shorter fins.

The Great Southeastern Road Trip – Washpool

The Washpool is an amazing relict rainforest in the higher country of northern NSW, home to some truly bizarre animals. We spent two nights checking out everything from a deadly snake to a very strange cousin of the spiders- an oplionid and even a most unlikely predator – the strange velvet worm. Frogs of course were the main target and we managed to find one of the most unusual – the marsupial frog – a species that carries its young in pouches!

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So sit back and enjoy!

The rough scaled or Clarence River snake (Tropidechis carinatus) is extremely venomous and feeds on frogs and reptiles.


Marsupial frogs (Assa darlingtoni) are remarkable. Only 2cm long, they have two hip pockets that act as pouches for developing young, like a kangaroo! … well sort of.

The beautiful glandular tree frog is becoming rare overall.

Male glandular tree frogs are very variable.