The Newsletter of Land for Wildlife and Garden for Wildlife in Central Australia - October 2013
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G'day LFWers, GFWers, and friends everywhere.

Welcome to the October issue. This month we have a look at the large group of lizards which become particularly obvious around this time of year. The common, and the not-so-common members that you might find on centralian LFW/GFW blocks this summer are all included.

We're entering that part of the year where things start to slow down. Many Centralians will soon be wrapping up their affairs for the year and heading off to spend the festive season with friends and family, or spend some much needed rest time on their LFW or GFW block.

But as we all know, the wildlife never go on holidays. It's been as busy as ever out around "the blocks". We've had a visit from an interstate film crew who were keen to see what Land for Wildlife was up to around The Centre, and there's more on that further down the page.

Also this month, we pay homage to the humble Euro and take a look at the similarities and differences with other local macropods.


NB: There is a correction to be made from last month's edition. Chris was left red-faced after referring to the butterflies known as Caper Whites by the scientific name Aerva javanica. This name actually refers to the weed commonly known as, Kapok Bush. The name Chris was fishing for was Belenois java - close but no cigar. We apologise for any confusion.
There Be Dragons!
by Christopher Watson


A fairly typical agamid pose; a Ring-tailed Dragon Ctenophorus cauducinctus, at Watarrka NP. Christopher Watson.

One of the reasons many LFWers and GFWers in Central Australia look forward to the return of the warm weather is the reptile life. Living in one of the world's most diverse reptile habitats, we have a wealth of different species, and among the most common, and obvious of these are the dragons in the family Agamidae. There are 77 members of this family present within Australia, and we're lucky that many of them are common around Alice Springs.


Central Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps; you've usually only got to look as far as the nearest fence post. Christopher Watson.

If we're talking about common, it doesn't get much more common than the near ubiquitous Central Bearded Dragon (see also the cover image at the top of the newsletter). An inhabitant of rocky and grassy areas, there are probably few spots in Alice Springs where you would be more than a few hundred metres from one of these colourful lizards. With a bit of practice they are easy to spot as they often favour prominent positions on fence posts, tree stumps or rocks. Sadly, they also have a habit of basking out on the roads and are often the victim of road kills in broad daylight. If you're out driving, keep your eyes well ahead on the road, and you might be able to avoid squashing one.


Central Netted Dragon Ctenophorus nuchalis, enjoying a bask in the late afternoon sun.  Matt Digby.

From the rocks to the sand; if you're headed out to sand areas surrounding Alice Springs you might be lucky enough to come across the intricately patterned Central Netted Dragon Ctenophorus nuchalis. Less than half the size of the Central Bearded Dragon, if has a similar habit of sometimes posing atop a termite mound or the crest of a sand hill. 


Military Dragon - this is a male. Christopher Watson.

Also in the sand country are the pretty Military Dragon Ctenophorus isolepis. This is another intricately patterned species, but can sometimes be trickier to find than its netted cousin, as it tends to live on sand plains and shoot under the nearest clump of spinifex on the approach of an intruder.


Centralian Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis centralis; one of the smallest of the group, and superbly camouflaged in a pebble-strewn habitat. Christopher Watson.

At the smaller end of the scale, there is the tiny Centralian Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis centralis. These are another inhabitant of rocky areas, and are commonly found on the walks in and around Kata-Tjuta. The 'earless' dragons are a widespread group, most of which lack, or have concealed, ear openings.


Ring-tailed Dragon Ctenophorus caudicinctus. The eponymous pale tail rings can be seen in this pose. Christopher Watson.

Another denizen of the rock country is the Ring-tailed Dragon Ctenophorus caudicinctus. Kings Canyon might be the best known spot for finding these, and they are a common distraction for tourists around the rim walk, but they are widespread through central and Western Australia, and can also be found right through the MacDonnell Ranges. 


A brilliantly coloured Long-nosed Dragon Amphibolurus longirostris, at Ellery Creek Big Hole. Christopher Watson.

Around water, or even in dry watercourses, you are likely to come across the oddly named Long-nosed Dragon Amphibolurus longirostris. Although this lizard does have a noticeably elongated snout, the first feature that will probably strike you is the very long tail. This it uses as a counterbalance to assist it when running at high speed on its two hind legs. This is one of the more colourful of the group with the males sporting a richly coloured mask of deep reds, yellows, and blacks, and with a small crest running down the top of the head and neck.


Thorny Devil - the face that launched a thousand postcards. Christopher Watson

But hands-down the most well-known of the centralian dragons has to be the Thorny Devil Moloch horridus. Another inhabitant of sand country, the scientific name makes reference to an unpleasant character of biblical legend who was fond of eating children, but no name could be less apt. The Thorny Devil has a tiny mouth, is incapable of biting (humans anyway) and only eats small black ants. Its superbly cryptic patterning makes it is one of the more difficult to find of our dragons, but vigilant drivers will have seen many of these charismatic creatures crossing the road as they pass through sandy parts of the outback. Sadly, they're much smaller than many visitors imagine and the road to Uluru is paved with the dessicated carcasses of flattened thornies. Their jerky, chameleon-like locomotion is not the most effective for negotiating highway traffic, but if you keep an eye out for that ever-upright tail you should be able to avoid them in most instances. 

To learn more about the Agamid dragons, the Alice Springs Reptile Centre is always open for business. One of the best online resources is AROD: the Australian Reptile Online Database. It has excellent descriptions and distribution maps for most of our reptile species, accompanied by photographs of most species from some of the country's top reptile photographers. You can find the dragons at the following link and then explore from there; http://www.arod.com.au/arod/reptilia/Squamata/Agamidae



An adult female Euro Macropus robustus, with a dependent joey at Alice Springs Telegraph Station. Photo: Christopher Watson.

Euros; A Roo by Another Name

by Christopher Watson

Wallaroo, Hill Kangaroo, Rock Kangaroo, whatever you know them as, most of us recognise the local Euro Macropus robustus, as different to the famous Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus. They're some of the most commonly observed wildlife around Alice Springs, but what are the major differences between these two local roos and between them and their diminutive cousin the Black-footed Rock Wallaby Petrogale lateralis? A lot of it comes down to semantic differences in terminology, but look twice and they are all very different animals. Indigenous inhabitants of the Western Deserts have always known this and call each species by its own name. In Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara, they are Malu the Red Kangaroo, Kanyala the Euro, and Waru the Rock Wallaby.  In English though, we've complicated things with a few different common names.


Male Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus, showing the distinctive short fur, less distinct rhinarium, squarer muzzle, and slender-build that is typical of the species. Photo: Samantha Hopley.

As a tour guide, I became accustomed to hearing names like wallaroo, wallaby, and kangaroo, used interchangeably. But as a naturalist there is a pedantic streak in me which demands everything is accorded its correct name. "Kangaroo" is a term which can be applied to all animals within the family Macropodidae. But there are really only four species that are commonly referred to as kangaroos, and they are all in the genus Macropus.  The Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus (largest of the family), Eastern Grey Kangaroo M. giganteus (most abundant), Western Grey Kangaroo M. fuliginosus, and the tropical Antilopine Kangaroo M. antilopinus. While the rest of the family can correctly be referred to as kangaroos few, if any of them, ever are. Even though many are in the same genus as the larger 'roos, their smaller size means they are only ever referred to as wallabies eg: Agile Wallaby M. agilis.


A Red Kangaroo close-up. Red Kangaroos display a variety of colours in wild populations and are not necessarily red, with variations from deep red right though buff, to pale blue-grey. Always present though is the flash of white up the side of the muzzle. They also exhibit a squarer muzzle (for grazing on flat ground rather than among cracks between rocks), and a partially or fully furred rhinarium. Photo: Samantha Hopley.

So while M. robustus, the most common macropod around Alice Springs, is technically a kangaroo, its appearance, habits, and habitat preferences, are all sufficiently distinct to warrant its own common name - Euro. It's a widespread species which means that it has different common names in different parts of its range with some people employing the portmanteau "wallaroo" (mixing wallaby and kangaroo). But wallaroo is sometimes used to refer to M. antilopinus and M. bernardus. But "Euro", is a term that is applied only to M. robustus, and is the common name for the species through the majority of its range. 


This young Euro joey already exhibits the telltale features of its species; long, shaggy fur, a naked black rhinarium, a more slender muzzle for grazing in among rocks, and a generally squatter more robust stature. Photo: Christopher Watson

It's just as well it has its own name too. When you have a close look, it is a very different animal. For one thing, anyone who rides a bike or walks the dog in some of the bushy fringes around Alice Springs will have noticed that Red Kangaroos are pretty thin on the ground. The Red Kangaroos prefer the flat country a bit away from the ranges, so it's pretty uncommon to see them in and around the rocky environs of the town. Euros do venture out onto flat open areas from time to time, but the long-limbed Red Kangaroo simply isn't built for negotiating precarious, rocky environs. The rocks are where the Euros are most at home. While they don't quite have the cliff-face agility of the rock wallabies, anyone who has climbed Mt Gillen will probably have been amazed at the ability of these large kangaroos to scale near vertical rocks. They have a more slender muzzle than the Red Kangaroo; an adaptation to picking in the cracks among the rocks. Both species vary in colour, but the Euro usually, but not always, has obviously longer, shaggier fur; the Red Kangaroo usually has a very short pelt like that of a short-haired dog breed. The rhinarium (the naked part of the nose of most mammals) on the Euro is black and naked, whereas the Red Kangaroo can have a partially or even full-furred nose with much narrower "slit" nostrils. Lastly, the Euro lives up to the specific name robustus. While the Red Kangaroo attains a larger size, the Euro is more compact, squat, and less long-limbed; another concession to living life in and around the rocks. The Red Kangaroo is built for locomotion at high-speeds and over long-distances out on the plains where the water sources may be considerably farther apart than among the ranges. 


Black-footed Rock Wallaby Petrogale lateralis, near Ormiston Gorge. You won't find a Red Kangaroo up where this bloke is, but you may occasionally find a Euro in similar habitat. Photo: Christopher Watson.

So where does this leave Waru? Well... tiny by comparison really. Rock wallabies, though related to the larger macropods, are really a different group altogether. You may have taken visitors down to see these little rock dwellers in the evenings at Heavitree Gap Resort, but it is when you see them high in their clifftop domain that the difference really becomes apparent. At several sites through the MacDonnell Ranges you can see these animals at their acrobatic best, vaulting up vertical cliff faces at alarming speed and with apparent ease. Even the most precarious ledges are not beyond the reach of them. Standing leaps of 2-3m are well within their ability, and though the Euro is comfortable even on near-vertical rock-faces, it is simply too big and heavy to match the rock-hopping prowess of the wallaby in higher areas.


Black-footed Rock Wallaby - pretty to look at, but anyone who's ever been wallaby spotting at Simpsons Gap or Ormiston Gorge will testify to the effectiveness of their markings. When they're sitting still they can almost vanish. This one has been employing a common macropod technique of wetting its forearms with saliva to cool the blood passing through vessels close to the surface. Photo: Christopher Watson. 

There are 16 species within the genus Petrogale (literally "rock-rat") around Australia, with the largest  sometimes tipping the scales over 10 kilograms (Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby), and the smallest sometimes not even reaching a kilogram as an adult (Monjon). Our Black-footed Rock Wallabies fall somewhere in the middle of this range with well-fed adults reaching 7+ kilograms. So they're much smaller than both of the kangaroos; male reds can top 80 kilograms. Many people miss this size difference unless they have the rare occasion of a direct comparison, and it can be the cause of much confusion. But once you've seen a rock wallaby, you'll never call a Red Kangaroo a wallaby again. 

Regardless of what you call them, they're great to have as fairly common neighbours. All three species of local macropod can be found on Land for Wildlife properties around Alice Springs where they are no doubt benefitting from the protection and careful management of their habitat by hard-working LFWers and GFWers. If you have stories or photographs of macropod encounters you've had around town or on your block we'd love to feature them in future editions. 

You can always feel free to email anything of interest to lfw@lowecol.com.au

Land for Wildlife meets Tim Faulkner's Wild Life

by Chris Watson

At the end of the month, Land for Wildlife conducted a special survey in support of an interstate friend and champion of wildlife everywhere, Tim Faulkner. Many of you may already be familiar with Tim from his appearances on the Nine Network's "Bondi Vet" program or the show which follows his own life, "The Wild Life of Tim Faulkner". The latter show follows Tim as he manages the day-to-day running of the Australian Reptile Park that he and his family call home near Gosford on the NSW Central Coast. 

When he's not busy raising his own family and looking after a captive breeding population of Tasmanian Devils, Tim travels Australia to see all sorts of different wildlife, engage with local land managers, and learn as much as he can about our wildlife. Tim came and helped the Land for Wildlife coordinators conducting a fauna survey to see what we could find on a long-standing Land for Wildlife property. Geoff and Denise Purdie were kind enough to offer up their stunning patch of country and we set to work to see what we could find.

While the pickings were slim after such a long stretch of dry conditions in The Centre, we managed to turn up a few interesting locals. You'll be able to view the full program with Tim's exploits in The Red Centre in 2014.

From the bookshelf...


A Field Guide to Mammals of Australia - 3rd Edition
by Peter Menkhorst and Frank Knight

The Australian field naturalist's "go-to" reference for mammals. This is the most up-to-date reference on these animals and fits easily in a day pack.



Kangaroos
by Terence J Dawson

This is the second edition of this book, and like all books in the excellent CSIRO Natural History series, it provides a full survey of all kangaroo species and their ecology. Not just a reference, but a readable book which offers much to learn about one of our most common and iconic groups of animals. Much of what you think you know may have been updated, and this book makes an informative read, putting many myths and legends to bed and illuminating many other little-known quirks of macropod biology. 



A Complete Field Guide to Reptiles of Australia: 4th Edition.
by Steve Wilson and Gerry Swan

While herpers everywhere await the long-rumoured arrival of an updated edition of Cogger, they're unlikely to ever tote that weighty tome in the field. That is where this book steps in. This unsurpassed field guide to the famously diverse array of reptile life in Australia has recently updated to take in numerous taxonomic revisions, and to include many improved photographs. While still at the hefty end of the field guide genre, it is still an easy glovebox companion which still slips easily into a daypack for the keen herper. 
On The Eco-net...

Bio-invasion brings fears of eco-catastrophe

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/s64563.htm

Bizarre bat behaviour
Link to article in SLATE

Giant carnivorous platypus
Link to article in The Guardian

New dolphin species discovered
Link to article and pictures

New species discovered on Cape York: frog, gecko, and skink
Link to article in Australian Geographic

Could Aboriginal hunting practices protect small species?
Link to story on SBS

Goodbye, farewell, until next issue...

That's it again for this month. Our bumper November/December edition is going to feature a bit of a look back at the year in Centralian wildlife.

If you've got any interesting photographs of strange and interesting wildlife or natural phenomena that you've encountered on your block or during your travels we'd love to include them. Just send any stories or photographs along to lfw@lowecol.com.au

See you next month!

Jesse, Chris, Matt, & Bill.
November 2013
Copyright © 2013 Low Ecological Services, All rights reserved.


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