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Above: The Narrow-leaf Fuchsia Bush (Eremophila alternifolia) has a flower shaped to welcome honeyeaters, as its stamen are long enough to deposit pollen on their head. 

Land for Wildlife

Garden for Wildlife


Central Australia

Newsletter September 2015

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Paper daisies carpet gardens around town, although this  Rhodanthe spp. from southern Western Australia is not locally native to Alice Springs, these beauties play a wonderful role attracting bees. Photo: Jen Kreusser.

Hi Everyone!

We hope everyone is going well and maintaining momentum while the mild weather supports us to actively manage our blocks.

This month we take an insight into the life of ants (thanks to Dr Kirsti Abbott), we offer a gentle reminder about bushfire preparedness for your block and we have found out about the unidentified moth that visited our office!

Be Involved:

Would you like to conduct a fauna survey on your block? If you are interested in finding out which fauna species visit and/or live on your block, contact the Land for Wildlife team as we are looking for properties to conduct fauna surveys (from the end of September and through October, 2015). Contact:

Upcoming Events:

Biodiversity Matters Field trip: Fauna trapping and surveying hosted by Land for Wildlife, 23rd-26th September, 2015.
Meet at 5pm Wednesday 23rd September at the information shelter opposite Old Timers, Stuart Highway. Cost: Free. RSVP to by Friday 18th September. Bring hats and sun protective clothing, sunscreen, sturdy footwear, and water bottles.

Keep in touch!

Jen, Tim and Bill
LfW and GfW team

Correction from the August 2015 newsletter: the field excursion to Peter Latz' block was organised by the Alice Springs Plants Society rather than the Alice Springs Field Naturalist Club. Our apologies.

School of Ants: An innovative science inquiry project with Dr Kirsti Abbott.

Scientist and expert ant lover Dr Kirsti Abbott has recently visited Alice Springs and delivered workshops and presentations at the DesertSmart Ecofair, Junior Ranger program and Alice Springs Field Naturalists Club.

Photo: Dr Kirsti Abbott and Costa Georgiadis get excited about soil and ants at the DesertSmart Ecofair. Photo: Dr Kirsti Abbott.

Land for Wildlife are inspired by the citizen science project that Dr. Kirsti Abbott and her team are coordinating - The School of Ants. The project aims to engage Australian students, teachers, parents, kids, and junior and senior enthusiasts to help document ants around homes and schools in urban areas. Not only is it a great practical project for school students in many locations around Australia in their school playground, but anyone can conduct inquiry projects about the ants in their backyard. If you want to get involved, anywhere in Australia, just go to the School of Ants website to find out what you need to do to count and collect ants in urban areas where you live.

Here's a snap shot from Kirsti's presentation:
Many of us know the significant role that ants play in ecosystem processes -nutrient and carbon cycling, soil aeration, decomposition, soil movement and seed dispersal to name a few! They only feed on liquids, which is why you often see them 'stuck' onto food scraps.

Science inquiry project - setting 'traps' to collect ants. Photo: Dr. Kirsti Abbott.

Ants have an exoskeleton upon which hydrocarbon molecules stick to, to give them a specific ‘smell’ to other ant species and their sisters. Their unique signature on their exoskeletons provides information on their genetic identity as well as what they’ve been eating. It also allows ants to tell if another ant is genetically related (from the same colony), or not; non-related ants sometimes fight to the death!

Interestingly, all ants that we will most likely see running around on the ground are female! Truely. Males play an important, however short role in maintaining the genetic diversity and the colony population. You might see them after rains when often the males and females emerge from nest entrances, both with wings, in order to partake in a nuptial flight to make new nests. The males are the smaller winged ants.

In Australia there are over 1300 species of ants, comprising 10 subfamilies and 101 genera. It's a really tough task identifying ants, and requires a powerful microscope and knowledge of some very technical ant jargon!

From this great diversity of ants, there are certain species that actually 'farm' scale insects. The relationship between the ants and the honeydew producing insect is a mutualism because they both benefit from the interaction.  Ants protect these honeydew producing insects from being eaten and enjoy the sugary excretion that they produce! Examples of this can be seen in Central Australia, where you see 'honey bag' along the branches of various Acacia and Eucalyptus spp. 

Some ant species live in symbiosis with particular microbes on their exterior that fight bacteria, fungi and viruses so they can live in the soil without getting diseases. For example, Leaf cutter ants (although not found in Australia) forage for pieces of leaves and return them to their nest where they feed the leaves to a fungus, which is in turn what they feed on. They can live with and in amongst the fungus due to the antibiotics on their exoskeletons that keep them from being infected. Incredible!

If you can't tell, our team were really excited about the presentation and the opportunity for the community to be involved in this project.

Unfortunately invasive (feral) ants are also in Australia and include: Red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta; in Brisbane); Tropical fire ant (Solenopsis geminata; across northern Australia); Electric ant (Wasmannia auropunctata; in Cairns); Yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes; in Cairns); and African big headed ant (Pheidole megacephala; widespread tropical and sub-tropical areas as well as in Alice Springs). Invasive ants take over habitat and food supplies for native ants and can disrupt seed dispersal and other ecosystem functions that native ants do.
If you suspect that you may have big headed ants at your place, you may want to consider getting in a professional pest team to make an assessment OR do a School of Ants collection and Kirsti’s team back at the University of New England will tell you which species inhabit your backyard OR go to our special article in the February 2009 newsletter and learn to identify them yourself and how you can go about controlling the introduced species!

If you would like more information about ants in general, here are some great websites to start you off:

Alexander Wild photography (amazing photographs of more than ants, but the ants are the cool bit):

AntWiki (the go to place for info on ants):

Atlas of Living Australia (ants page)

Image: School of Ants - Dr Kirsti Abbott.

Bushfires: are you ready ?

Although Alice Springs enjoyed a light shower last week (0.2mm recorded at the Airport), we must be vigilant as the cool weather diminishes and the warm dry and possibly windy conditions continue throughout September.

Being prepared is critical and every landowner's responsibility;
  • Is your fire evacuation plan ready?
  • Have you maintained firebreaks along all directions/boundaries of your property, particularly around dwellings and infrastructure? 
  • Is vegetation height along firebreaks less than 50mm high and are firebreaks at least four metres wide?
  • Have you reduced fuel loads, where appropriate, by undertaking controlled cool burns or slashing or chipping Buffel Grass? (If your property falls outside of a 25km boundary from Alice Springs, contact Bushfires NT to obtain a burning off permit, otherwise contact the Alice Springs Rural Fire Brigade for a permit to burn within 25 km of town).
  • Are water points and firefighting equipment ready and accessible for use? 
  • Have you prepared emergency contact phone numbers (neighbours, emergency contacts etc.)?
  • See more from Bushfires NT about safeguarding your home.
For more information contact:

Northern Territory Fire and Rescue Service (website)

Bushfires NT (website)

Bushfires burn typically hotter than planned burns and can cause irreversible damage to the environment and infrastructure. Image: Bushfires NT.

Photos and stories from you...

  • New Garden for Wildlife property in eastside!

A new Garden for Wildlife property shows a diversity of habitat structures, food supplies and water allowing homes for spiders, invertebrates, reptiles and birds (similar to the 'habitat diorama' below).
  • Land for Wildlife talking about habitat structure at the DesertSmart Ecofair.
  • Image above: A 'habitat diorama' constructed by participants at the Land for Wildlife stall during the DesertSmart Ecofair, represents the diversity of structures that you can incorporate into your space to attract more species that live and visit your block. Upper storey trees, middle storey shrubs, ground covers, forbs as well as logs, bark, rocks, soil, feathers...all combine to create a playhouse for wildlife! Thank you to Katie Degnian for your creative facilitation of this activity!
  • A visit from Grey Shrike Thrush (Colluricincla harmonica), by Dave Price.
"I don’t know if I told you about my visitor back in March. I love the call of the grey shrike thrush and if anybody can give me a hint on how to encourage them to turn up in my yard more I’d appreciate this. The one below flew into my house through the back door, down the hall way and into our bedroom. I opened as many windows as I could to give it a way out, but it got very upset if I went anywhere near it and hurt itself a couple of times by flying panic stricken into a closed window, some furniture and a wall. It eventually found it’s way out onto the back verandah where it sat on the tiles crying plaintively. It’s mate turned up and gave me a stern talking to. I managed to manoeuvre it into the back garden and haven’t seen it since. When I hear a grey shrike thrush's song I hope it’s my little mate all healed and happy." Dave Price.

A Grey Shrike-thrush (Colluricincla harmonica) accidentally has a go at indoor life. Photo: Dave Price.

Frost's Lerista (Lerista frosti) has a characteristic gold/bronze luster with a narrow black line along their side from head through eye to the start of their tail. Common in Alice Springs gardens where they enjoy hiding underneath debris. Have you seen this Lerista at your place? Photo: Dave Price.
  • Australian Moths Online resourceCSIRO.

Our friends at the CSIRO Entomology team were able to help us out (thank you Ted and the team!)

The pictured moth is one of the
 Anthela xantharcha complex of species in the family Anthelidae. They are a group of arid and semi-arid zone species which feed as larvae on Acacia spp., or occasionally Senna spp., of usually old mature trees. Their cocoons may be found under gnarled loose bark on the food plant or on trees nearby. A. xantharcha has a stiff cocoon which hangs from a suitable point of attachment and is not spiny.  Some related species with similar adults have a very spiny cocoon attached at both ends to the inside of the loose bark.  They all seem to have a similar biology with eggs laid in late autumn or early winter, larvae feeding through to November and then as pupae in cocoons from November to say May. The Anthelidae family are only found in Australia and New Guinea [contribution by Ted Edwards, August 2015: CSIRO].

The white spots on the fore wing of Anthela Xantharcha can vary in size.

The intensity of the lemon on the hind wing can also vary in specimens: apparently specimens in NSW have a more intense lemon colour! 
  • Insect Orders - Mobile App!

As the weather warms up, a wave of insects will no doubt be taking refuge in our gardens. Check out this useful app to classify the insect down to order.

Thanks for reading folks.

As always, we love hearing from you. Keep in touch. Give us a buzz or email through a story and a photo.

Happy exploring!

Jen, Tim & Bill.
September 2015
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