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

Welcome to the August IRRANTE! This time around we look at cacti, cats, foxes, traps, and moths. Dive in and let us know what you think.

Last month the LFW team was in attendance at  DesertSMART Ecofair. It was another great success this year as we have come to expect from this event. Thanks to Jimmy Cocking, Nicole Pietch, Carmel Vandermolen, and the outstanding crew at ALEC and OPBG for organising another great year. The LFW workshop was on the topic of property conservation planning, and we had a small but active group involved, poring over maps of the Alice Springs district to sort out where their property fits into the land units and vegetation communities of the region. Thanks also to everyone who came along to the stall to say hello, and welcome to the several new members who signed up on the day.

With winter barely registering this year the warm weather has made an early comeback. The wildflowers have been dazzling across much of The Centre and no doubt many of you will have noticed some new plants on your blocks. Always feel free to send in your pictures and we'll see if we can be of assistance in the business of identification.
There was an event that kicked off at the start of the month that was quickly dubbed, "MOTHPOCALYPSE". This might be a slight over-dramatisation, but the abundance of tiny moths around the CBD was certainly noticeable for a few days. This large emergence is probably associated with the winter rains that we have had, and the pleasantly warm daytime temperatures around the 6th and 7th of August. There is plenty of fresh new growth about for larvae to be feeding on, so the moths have obviously timed their emergence well. The insects will be hastily finding a mate and laying eggs as soon as possible.

The precise identity of the moths is a difficult matter, and is unlikely to be a single species. Anthony Molyneux from the Alice Springs Desert Park spent some time scouring the CSIRO online photo archive and directed us toward the family Crambidae. From there, in a stunning bit of natural detective work, he finally, tentatively, narrowed it down to the species Achyra affinitalis - the Cotton Web Spinner (pic at top of story - wikicommons). This is a moth found across Australia and New Zealand which feeds on a variety of tropical and temperate plant species.

If you're interested in gauging precisely what an extraordinary achievement this is, a quick look at the CSIRO website may give you some idea. There is an immense diversity of moths in Australia and it would require a dedicated lepidopterist to separate most of them. By way of demonstration, have a look at the CSIRO moths online page for the Plutellidae; the family that we at LFW first thought might contain the moths responsible for the emergence in Alice Springs:

Staggering! As an interesting challenge, even given that you now know the species name of the moth in question, see how long it takes you to find Achyra affinitalis. It's not easy.

Land for Wildlife member Uwe Path has also been paying attention to Centralian moths for many years now and has amassed a collection of photographs of the individuals he has found around his property. Some of his discoveries have constituted range extensions to the known distributions of some species and his photos have been included in online databases of lepidoptera at the following two links;

This is a great example of a citizen science contribution to knowledge of fauna distribution. Congratulations Uwe and well done!
Many people have been aware of the recent influx of feral cats around Alice Springs and Central Australia in general. LFW wildlife has recently purchased a pallet load of traps to minimize postage and provide these to interested parties.  The newly formed Tjuwampa Women's Ranger group were very interested in kicking off a cat control around Ntaria, and they took delivery of 10 traps last month. In the photo above Matt talks with the Women rangers about the finer points of trap setting.

With the recent abundance of cats the demand for the LFW loan traps has been constant, and those traps that have been on loan have been in constant use. We decided to investigate the possibility of a bulk purchase on behalf of LFW/GFW members.

The cost of the traps through the LFW bulk purchase arrangements is $110 to LFW/GFW members. They're sturdy units that have already proven themselves several times since their deployment in the yard at the LFW offices. The abundance of feral cats is starting to be less obvious now with the onset of the warmer weather. Several studies have shown that the bulk of the diet of feral cats in arid areas is made up of reptiles, so as these start to awake and become available, cats become less obvious, and more difficult to encourage into a trap with dead bait. We're still trapping though and still having some trap success.

Remember - every cat removed from the landscape saves several thousand native mammals and reptiles over a year.

ALEC has also purchased some of the traps that will be available for 'loan'.
Weedy Cylindropuntia cacti in Alice Springs
Mention weed cactus and most people will think of the Common Prickly Pear (Opuntia stricta) that became a major weed problem in Australia by the 1920’s. Less well known is the Cylindropuntia cacti that have been recognised (together with Opuntia and Austrocylindropuntia species) as Weeds of National Significance for their ability to invade and establish in natural areas, harm animals, and affect grazing activities.
Cylindropuntia cacti are found in most mainland states (NT, WA, SA, QLD, NSW) and are now colonising the rocky hills around Alice Springs. Like other cacti they are well adapted for growth in arid areas by utilizing CAM photosynthesis allowing them to close stomata pores during the day to reduce water loss, as well as an ability to produce rapid growth after rainfall events.
Cylindropuntia cacti are generally long-lived shrubs with branched stems consisting of cylindrical or club-shaped segments. The segment surface is covered in tubercules (raised nodules) that produce spines covered by a papery sheath. They are distinguished from Austrocylindropuntia species that lack the papery sheath on the spines, and Opuntia species that have flattened segments (pads).
Three Cylindropuntia species have been found in Alice Springs, Coral Cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mamillata), Devils Rope (Cylindropuntia imbricata), and Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia prolifera - seen at the top of this story). A recent survey conducted by Conservation and land management students with Batchelor Institute confirmed the presence of Jumping Cholla, a new weed record for the Northern Territory.
A population of Coral Cactus in the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve and Spencer Valley area (Eastside) has been known about for some years. Other known locations include Lackman Terrace and Teppa Hill (Northside), and Anzac Hill. Jumping Cholla has been found around upper Burke St and Kurrajong Drive (Eastside). A small population of Devils Rope is present in Davidson Park (Eastside). It is likely that these cacti will be found at more sites around Alice Springs as community awareness and reporting increases.
Coral Cactus (below) is recognised by its blue-green colour and segments that become noticeably distorted on older plants. The spines vary in length (to 2cm but often shorter), with a white or tan coloured sheath. Jumping Cholla is grey-green, with more numerous spines (to 2cm) with a straw to dark-brown coloured sheath. The egg-shaped fruits can grow to form chains. 

Devils Rope (below) is bright green, with narrow segments and elongated tubercles giving it a rope-like appearance. The spines are long (to 3cm) with an off-white coloured sheath.

These cacti primarily reproduce by segments that fall off the parent plant and take root and form new plants. Segments can be as small as a pea or up to 20cm long, and are extremely hardy and known to survive after 3 years of storage in sealed containers. Hooked or barb spines enable segments to attach to passing dogs, kangaroos, or people increasing its ability to spread from the parent plant.
Reproduction by seed is not common. Coral Cactus does not appear to be producing fruits or seed. Jumping Cholla is producing fruits but without seeds. Devils Rope are producing fruits with seed, and have been reported to produce viable seed.

These cacti have probably been introduced to Alice Springs as garden plants. Any plants located near bushland areas, or unwanted plants that are dumped into the bush, are likely to spread further and establish new colonies. It is important that these plants are not propagated or planted in gardens as this increases the risk of spread throughout the region. Cacti gardeners are encouraged to find species that do not spread so easily.
There are generally two treatment options available to control these cacti, to physically remove them, or to treat them with herbicide. Treatment works undertaken so far have provided insight into how these methods are best employed.
A chemical treatment trial conducted at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station has shown that plants can take a long time to perish (12 months or more), and requires thorough application as any missed portions of the plant continue to grow and produce segments. Therefore, multiple applications over a period of 2-3 years or longer may be required to complete treatment effectively. A second trial is planned in 2013 to improve the success rate of this treatment method.
Hand removal can provide a quicker and more effective control method that is suitable for smaller infestations. Significantly, it can offer a lower risk of regrowth provided all material is collected and not inadvertently spread during transport to landfill for burial. With gloves, buckets and tongs Alice Springs Landcare volunteers have been applying this method to remove Coral cactus from Spencer Valley and Cavenagh Crescent. So far approximately 560kg of cactus has been removed during 66 volunteers hours of weeding. More field days are planned to continue this work.

To make the most of these efforts a cactus control work plan has been developed with the aim of eradicating these weeds from Alice Springs and its surrounds. Early detection and treatment is critical if any weed eradication program is to be successful. Investing effort during the early stages of weed establishment is time and money well spent when compared to treating weeds that are well established and widespread. This means allocating resources even before the weed is perceived as being a big problem. Given the ability of these cacti to establish and spread locally, and the fact that Alice Springs could provide a hub for further expansion throughout the region, the time to act on these weeds is now.
To contain the spread of Cylindropuntia cacti it is vital that the location of all plants are recorded. People are encouraged to report new sightings and provide location details and a photograph. The availability of smartphone apps gives everyone walking in the bush the opportunity to record survey tracks and take GPS waypoint locations and photographs of any cacti found. Priority areas to be surveyed include north of the end of Burke St, and north and east of Kurrajong Drive.
To report cacti send information including location details (GPS waypoints), photos, and tracks of the search area to
To find out about future cactus control field days check details on the Alice Springs Landcare website.
For more information on weed cacti visit the websites of these organisations:
Australian Invasive Cacti Network
Weeds Australia
NT Government Department of Land Resource Management
Alice Springs Landcare
Andy Vinter

Lecturer in Conservation and land management,
Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education,
and Alice Springs Landare committee member.
Have you seen a fox around Alice Springs?

The photograph above was taken within the natural range of the European Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, in Scotland. They are a widespread feral predator on the Australian mainland, and are included in the IUCN's list of the worst 100 invasive species on Earth. We're interested to hear about your thoughts and observations of this invasive species from around The Alice. 

Although secretive and not often seen around Alice Springs or in central Australia, foxes are potentially present in most arid zone habitats. The individual shown below was captured on remote camera in sand dune country south of Alice. Interestingly, it was using an excavated rabbit burrow as a den and with the closest watering point 3km away, it shows how adaptable foxes are.  

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 

Spring Begins to Bloom

Have you been out and about taking photographs of some of the wildflowers coming through in recent weeks? Surrounding the Land for Wildlife office, wherever buffel grass has been cleared, great mats of Tricanthodium skirrophorum (above), stork's bills (probably Erodium cygnorum; below centre), camel weed (Senecio magnificus; below left) and silvertails (Ptilotus obovatus; below right) are now in bloom.

We'll have a feature on wildflowers in the next edition and the coordinators are always keen to include your natural history photographs in your newsletter. It looks set to be a bumper season for wildflowers so we'd love to see what you've been snapping.

Books and more...
The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan, and the Bird of Paradise. A Narrative of Travel, with Studies of Man and Nature
Alfred Russell Wallace

Wallace will be well-known to some as the co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the origin of species by natural selection. As a younger naturalist who spent many years in the field during the heyday of the elder Darwin's prestigious career, his work has often been slightly overshadowed by the man who whose name is now inextricably linked with the theory of evolution. But Wallace was a true hero of the classic Victorian era of naturalist-collectors. He journeyed for months and years on end in difficult conditions, aboard rudimentary vessels across the treacherous and pirate-infested waters separating the many islands of Sundaland, Near Oceania, and the region that now bears his name - Wallacea.

Though his privations were many and arduous, these are glossed over by Wallace, if he mentions them at all. This is not the work of a man holding himself up as the great adventurer, and the fauna, landscapes and native inhabitants of the places he visits are more often the subject of his keen eye and accurate descriptions.  Testament to his extraordinary talent as a self-taught naturalist  is the fact that many recent taxonomic works, while necessarily correcting some of his misapprehensions, have upheld a good deal of Wallace's musings on biogeography and natural history in the region.

This will make a great read for anyone with an interest in the history of science and in natural history in general. Far from a series of dry journal entries, this is a thoroughly accessible book for the modern reader, and Wallace's voice speaks clearly and with unmistakable passion over the more than 140 years since its first publication. 

Australian Wildflowers
App for iPhone and iPad by Mushroom Pudding

This is an app that may be handy in future, but perhaps best to hold back on purchasing it just yet. It is still under development and only has some 200 species for the whole of Australia, so not really comprehensive. But in the digital world things change rapidly. I've had email communication with the developer, who is only able to work on the app in spare time, and the database is building. The wildflowers are already beginning to colour the landscape around Alice Springs, so being able to identify species with a convenient phone app would be a great advantage to amateur botanisers. With user-sourced contribution of geo-tagged photographs, I look forward to this app becoming a useful tool in these flowery periods following winter rains.

A Guide to Australian Moths
Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards

This book is in line with the quality we have come to expect of a CSIRO production. This is a field guide illustrating all of the most commonly encountered moth species and should be useful to get most encountered critters identified down to at least family level. An interesting feature are the sections dealing with common moth related questions like the natural histories of witchetty grubs and bogong moths.

The Little Veggie Patch Co.

Fabian Capomolla & Mat Pember

If you're interested in growing your own veggies, but you've only got a small space and limited good soil, then this might be the book for you. This mob have apparently been very popular with those living in small apartments in the capital cities, so if you live with limited garden space in Alice Springs perhaps they could have some answers for you also.

An interesting companion to the book is the website run by the group that puts up month by month lists of the right veggies to be planting in your raised garden beds.

The Weed Forager's Handbook
Adam Grubb & Annie Raser Rowland

This book may seem to have limited relevance to a Centralian readership but it should be interesting for most botanisers all the same. While Peter Latz has made a fairly extensive survey of edible and medicinal plant use of native plants by indigenous Centralians, this book looks at introduced species and their nutritional and healing properties.

Particularly with the medicinal entries it is useful to read this book with your web browser open at the "Vaults of Erowid" page - an exhaustive online database of the chemical and medicinal properties of plants. Being able to quickly research the precise nature and qualities of the active ingredients described is useful for those of us with minimal training in organic chemistry.

There are many plants that live up to their label of medicinal, but there are equally as many that can be toxic and even lethal. While this book might be an interesting read, it shouldn't be used as a field guide to what is safe and not safe to eat.

The State of the Birds 2013: Report on Private Lands, United States of America

Fact-check of the "Savory Method"

Election Issues 2013: Looking After Australia

The CSIRO Online moth gallery - a formidable, and slightly daunting tool

Rare Stygofauna Discovery

A website dedicated to the identification of Australian moths, butterflies, and their caterpillars

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That's your lot for this month

Great to see so many of you at Eco Fair, and our ears (and email inboxes) are always open for more interesting LFW/GFW stories from your patch, so don't hesitate to send us your photos and stories.


Jesse, Chris, Matt & Bill
August 2013.

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