Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Central Australia
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G'day LFWers, GFWers, friends and partners,

Welcome to your May newsletter. It was a busy month with much time spent in the field trying to locate and remove as many feral cats and foxes as possible as part of our TNRM-funded project. After a slow start we have started to see a few cats moving back into town and we've had a few captures, but the foxes elude us still. As always, we're all ears if you see them on your travels.

There's a bit of exciting news with two brand new field guide applications released for smartphone and tablet devices. Surely to be of great interest to keen NT naturalists (and they're both free). See below for a full reviews of each.

Also this month, as most of our reptilian friends disappear for the winter, Jesse has a look at the diverse group of skinks in the genus Ctenotus. Some of them are common around Alice Springs, but identification can be a notoriously difficult job.


 

Striped Skinks in Alice Springs

Words and pictures by Jesse Carpenter
Skinks belonging to the genus Ctenotus are some of the most common and familiar lizards you're likely to encounter around Alice Springs.  These reptiles are generally active during the day and are small to moderately large with a long tail. Smooth scaled, many species are boldly patterned with longitudinal stripes in various colours and arrangements (hence their common name), while their distictive ear lobules lead to the name Ctenotus, meaning 'comb-eared'. These ear lobules are clearly visible when a captured animal is examined closely.


Above: the ear lobules on this Ctenotus are visible as white 'lumps' at the front of the ear opening.
 
These active little creatures are all terrestrial, living amongst rocks, ground vegetation and litter and often sheltering in burrows or crevices in the rocks and soil. If you're working in the garden, you might come across them while chipping out Buffel or landscaping with rocks or fallen timber.

With so many species of Ctenotus around (about 40 species in the NT), identifying one species from another can be confusing, especially when colour variation within a species is considered. Below is a summary of four species that are common in and around Alice Springs to help you build the fauna list on your property.

Leopard Ctenotus (Ctenotus pantherinus)

 
Let's start with one of the most distinctive species out there. Easily identifiable by it's leopard-print outfit, the Leopard Ctenotus (above) is a common species right across the semi-arid to arid parts of Australia. Quite large and robust (the hand in the photo provides a good measure of scale), this is a swift-moving and active lizard. The picture above also shows the typical habitat favoured by this species; sandplains and dunes with an open shrub-lands and spinifex or hummock grassland understorey.

Stony Soil Ctenotus (Ctenotus saxatilis)



Another large species, the Stony Soil Ctenotus (above) shows the more typical longitudinal striped pattern common in the genus. This pattern is key to identifying the species from similar looking lizards. A conspicuous black vertebral (the back of the animal) stripe from behind the head to the tail together with a conspicuous pale dorso-lateral (upper body) stripe from above the eye to the tail bordered above by a blackish-brown stripe distinguish this species. Usually found amongst hummock grasslands in rocky areas, the Stony Soil Ctenotus sometimes occurs on river floodplains in the southern NT. This individual was captured on the Todd River floodplain south of the Gap.

Schomburgk's Ctenotus (Ctenotus schomburgkii)



Schomburgk's Ctenotus (above) is generally found among spinifex and hummock grasslands in sandy areas, although they seem to make use of Buffel Grass on land for wildlife properties, where we've trapped many in pit traps during biodiversity surveys. The broad, black stripe on the side of the body within which a series of orange-brown spots occur is the most distinctive feature of this skink. This is a much smaller species than the two previous examples, with a snout-vent length of only 45 mm (compared to 95 mm in C. saxatilis). Small and difficult to observe, this is one to keep a close eye out for when you're busy digging out Buffel clumps!

Greer's Ctenotus (Ctenotus greeri)



Note the solid, whitish stripe between the back and front limbs on the side of this skink's body (the lateral zone). This distinguishes the species from the very similar Ctenotus leonhardii, in which the solid line is replaced by a series of blotches and spots. Another species that shelters in grass hummocks beneath mulga or mallee, the specimen photographed above was captured in a funnel trap placed amongst Buffel Grass and native grasses. More restricted in distribution than the previous three species, Greer's Ctenotus is found around the cross-border regions of WA, SA and the NT, including Alice Springs. It is another smaller species, reaching 50 mm snout-vent length.

If you have a keen eye and look carefully, you'll probably come across several more Ctenotus species on your land for wildlife property. If you're careful enough, you might even be able to get close enough to take some good photographs. If you do, send them to us for identification - we'll be more than happy to lend a hand. Otherwise, there are plenty of good field guides around that will enable you to identify all kinds of reptiles on your own. The references used to write this article are listed below. Perhaps these would be a good place to start.

References

Cogger, H.G. (2014); Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 7th Edition; CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, VIC.

Wilson, S. & Swan, G. (2008); A Complete Guide to Reptiles of Australia, 2nd Edition; New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd, Sydney.

Horner, P. (1991); Skinks of the Northern Territory; Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin.
Cats and Foxes and Cameras in Boxes

When TNRM put their backing behind Land for Wildlife to conduct a program of feral cat and fox control around Alice Springs there were two things we were sure of: cats were going to be fairly straightforward to locate and trap, and foxes most certainly were not.  

The project has already caught and removed several cats from properties around town, but we haven't seen hide nor hair of the notoriously cunning fox. Numerous people have been coming forward though, with tantalising chance sightings, historical reports, and finds of road-killed animals. The northernmost so far was a road-killed fox reported from Mataranka. More locally, we received 2 eyewitness accounts of animals at the Kuyunba Conservation Reserve at the end of Hatt Road. Another report was of a live animal fleeing across the Ross Highway a little east of town. 



(above) A fox captured on an infrared camera trap near Lyndavale. Jesse Carpenter. 

Have you seen them and where? Have you seen them regularly or sporadically? Have you taken any photographs?

Please email us with your thoughts and any images you have of the animals at lfw@lowecol.com.au 
Books and more...

Field Guide to NT Fauna
Smartphone and tablet app by Museum Victoria

This app is one of a series which have been made for each state and territory. Museum Victoria's first app was so popular that they have expanded the series and this is the NT version. 

It features full descriptions of over 600 species with photos and artwork, sound recording for birds and frogs, and distribution maps depicting where best to look for them. 

This will keep you amused for hours as you fish through learning about all the species you might never have heard of, and it will be an invaluable portable reference when you venture into the field to find them.


Field Guide to Wetland Birds
Smartphone and tablet app by BirdLife Australia



This comprehensive guide covers 63 of the bird species that you might expect to find around wetlands across the whole of Australia. 

It includes audio recordings and the highly accurate illustrations of Jeff Davies as well as photographs for most species. To get the best out of this app you might need to start frequenting the sewage ponds or perhaps get out to the Centralian wetlands farther afield, but most of the species described can be found around Central Australia at least for part of the year.

 

Webwatch...
The Great Tasmanian Fox Hunt
Link to story on Radio National


A good reason for having a register of significant trees
Link to story in the Canberra Times

Record rains made Australia a giant green global carbon sink
Link to story on The Conversation

Hunting down the common myna in the Cook Islands
Link to story on ABC Online

Cane Toads in Perth
Link to story on ABC

New map of Aboriginal bio-cultural knowledge
Link to story on ABC Rural

The changing breeding cycles of birds
Link to story in The Canberra Times
 
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That's your lot for this month

Thanks for all of your feedback over recent weeks. The busy mid-year period is fast approaching so we'll soon be seeing you at the show and Eco-fair stalls.

We're always keen for more contributions for the newsletter so feel free to email through any photographs or stories about the wildlife you find on your block. 

Cheers,

Jesse, Chris, Matt & Bill
May 2014.
 

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