One of our readers, contributor and stellar mate on a road trip in Tasmania.
One of our readers, contributor and stellar mate on a road trip in Tasmania.
❝ It’s no partridge in a pear tree but a Melbourne woman got a seasonal surprise when she found a tiger snake entwined among the tinsel on her Christmas tree.
The Frankston woman discovered the snake in her tree on Sunday morning and called in professional snake catcher Barry Goldsmith.
“It’s one of the more different ones, but we find them in all sorts of places,” Goldsmith said. “Tiger snakes are very good climbers.”…
❝ With the warmer weather, snakes are more active, but people should leave them alone and not try to kill them, Goldsmith said. “It’s dangerous, it’s illegal, and it’s cruel.”
Thanks, Honeyman – I think
❝ You’re driving along and you open the sun visor. You’re cleaning at home and bump a painting hanging on the wall. Suddenly, out runs a huge, hairy spider. Australia’s huntsman spiders are the stuff of myths and nightmares.
But these are also the most interesting of their family, and deserve their place in the pantheon of Australian wildlife…
❝ First, let’s talk numbers: there are currently 1,207 species of huntsman spider in the Family Sparassidae, out of the total 45,881 described spider species worldwide. It is estimated that there are 155 huntsman spider species found throughout Australia.
Of those, approximately 95 species are found only in Australia. All of these are probably descended from a single common ancestor that immigrated from Papua New Guinea or elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Huntsmen are big spiders…many of the endemics are sizeable animals that can weigh 1-2 grams and may be as big as the palm of your hand.
The world’s second largest species, the massive Golden Huntsman (Beregama aurea) from tropical Queensland, weighs over 5.5 grams. An adult’s forelegs may stretch 15 cm, and they lay egg sacs the size of golf balls…
❝ All huntsman spiders are active at night, emerging from their retreats to forage for insects and other invertebrates, and occasionally small vertebrates. They are ambush predators, generally sitting and waiting for prey to come close before running and leaping on it…
During the day, most huntsman prefer to rest in retreats under bark, crevices, or other protected areas. This is why so many people encounter the spiders under the sun visors of their cars or behind curtains in their homes, because those are perfect tight spaces for a sleepy spider…
❝ What should you do if you do find a big spider in your car or living room? First, get a grip! She isn’t going to hurt you.
Second, find a take-away container, scoop the spider into the container and release it outside. Huntsman spiders almost never bite humans since they rely on speed to escape most predators. When they do bite, most bites are quick defensive nips without injecting venom…
Treasure your huntsman spiders. They deserve a place alongside koalas and kangaroos as iconic Australian wildlife.
Really nice article and this is only a small portion. Click the link up top in this post and read the whole thing. Interesting, entertaining, stuff worth learning.
We get Golden Orb Weaver spiders here in New Mexico that think they’re as big as a Huntsman – but, they really aren’t. They are just as pretty. You really should get to know all your housemates.
Unboxing the prototype
❝ Domino’s has announced its own autonomous pizza delivery machine. Built on military technology, DRU (Domino’s Robotic Unit) can keep pizza hot and drinks cold on the way to your house and is set to hit the streets of Australia in prototype form for testing.
❝ Designed in Domino’s DLAB innovation hub in Brisbane, Australia, DRU is built to handle short-range deliveries with very little human intervention, has a heated compartment to keep your capricciosa warm, and a chiller to keep your drinks cool, inbuilt GPS for navigation and a bunch of sensors to try to stop it from running into things on the pavement. Domino’s says it is working with the government to build a legal framework in which it can start testing DRU in the real world…
❝ DRU is part of a broader automation movement in the fast food industry that seeks to replace human workers with cheaper, more efficient and oftentimes more effective machines. And while Domino’s has made fun of the concept in the past, the company swears that DRU is no April Fool’s joke.
In a civilized, urban society this could work fine. Between income inequity, ignorance and greed, I can see the average neighborhood anarchist-cum-gangbanger looking at one of these as a rolling piggybank with edibles. Smash-and-grab on wheels.
OTOH, our leading contributor down under in Oz suggests a contender for useful robot employment.
The southern sand octopus has taken hide-and-seek to a whole new level. It shoots jets of water into the seafloor creating quicksand that allows it to vanish.
A skilled architect, the octopus can build a mucus-lined home – complete with a chimney –20 centimetres down into the seabed, where it holes up during the day. It only emerges from its underground burrow at night to crawl over the seafloor and snack on small crustaceans…
Other octopuses, including Octopus berrima bury themselves under a thin layer of sediment by digging into it with sweeping arm movements. But because they need direct access to the water column to breath, they remain close to the sediment surface, with their funnel sticking out.
The sand octopus has a rather different technique – it actively digs deeper though the soft sand and constructs an actual subsurface burrow, says Jasper Montana of the University of Melbourne. “This is the first known cephalopod to burrow,” he says.
Montana and his team first caught the octopus in the act of burrowing in 2008 when they were scuba diving at night in Port Philip Bay, south of Melbourne, Australia. When they shone a light on the octopus, the startled animal spread out its arms and repeatedly injected high-powered jets of water into the sediment using its funnel. This caused grains of sand to be temporarily suspended in water, making it like sandy water…
The team later collected some specimens from the wild and put five of them in an aquarium designed to show what happened once the octopus was underneath the sediment…
They found that the animal used its arms and mantle to push the sand away and form a burrow. It also extended two arms to the surface to create a narrow chimney to breathe through. Finally, it secured the walls of its new home with a layer of mucus that kept the grains of sand together so the entire thing maintained its shape.
A witness to the intense fire said the police officer pulled over a speeding motorbike rider at the intersection of Wivenhoe-Somerset Drive and Northbrook Parkway near Mount Glorious but when the bike took off again, it looked like the officer tried to give chase.
“Next minute the bloody cop car drives down the bank,” truck driver David Hunn said…
The Logan resident, who’d been out for a ride on his own motorbike, said the bike rider had stopped about 50 metres up the road.
He said by the time the police officer had “scrambled” up the bank and yelled at the rider to stop, there was smoke coming from the long grass under the unmarked car, likely from the hot exhaust pipe.
The 65-year-old said it was only minutes before flames had completely engulfed the car, which was eventually left a blackened shell.
“It was long grass so the car was basically nestled in the grass,” Mr Hunn said.
“It just caught fire straight away basically.”…
Mr Hunn described the stretch of road coming down from Mount Glorious as “a racetrack at the best of times” and accused both the motorcyclist and policeman of driving like maniacs.
“The bike came around me and I thought ‘shit he’s going quick’,” he said,
“The next minute, the bloody car came past me with no siren on. He was going like a bat out of hell.”
Mr Hunn said according to the rider’s friends they were going as much as 180km/h and the police car was catching up with the bike.
He said the officer caught up with the bike at the T-intersection, where he cut him off and attempted to block him in…
“If he’d kept the speed down a bit and saw which way it was going, he could have had the posse out and waiting for him because a bloody radio’s quicker than a bloody motorbike.”
A mate of mine down in Oz sent me this. Don’t know how he stopped laughing long enough to press the send key.
Yes, he’s a biker.
They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.
Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.
While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.
With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.
Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.
Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too…
Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.
Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.
Only symbolism, folks – but, you get the idea 🙂
New research out of Melbourne has broken records and brought emission-less hydrogen energy a step closer to commercial production. Thom Mitchell reports.
Researchers at Monash University have published a breakthrough paper detailing their success in creating hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight in a process which artificially mimics photosynthesis, the source of most of the world’s energy, including the fossil fuels that currently dominate energy markets.
The research represents a new level of efficiency in this so-called ‘artificial leaf’ technology which scientists say could become commercially viable within a few years because researchers have managed to produce a record-high level of hydrogen using nickel as a type of conductor, rather than more expensive precious metals.
“The reason this technology has not been at the forefront [of the discussion around renewable energy] is that it’s not that efficient,” said Professor Douglas MacFarlane, one of the researchers behind the paper…“There are better catalysts and materials that people have been working on for probably 10 or 15 years, but what we’ve done is show that you can actually do this with cheaper materials that are [still, and in this case particularly, efficient ].”
The process the researchers followed involves taking water, sunlight, and some conventional wiring, and using them to produce oxygen and the hydrogen that can then be converted into a range of fuels, including electricity, and stored with relative ease…
“The idea of making a fuel directly from sunlight is rapidly becoming practical at a household and petrol station level, and even at the solar farm level.”…
‘Artificial leaf’ devices are considered to be effective if 10 per cent of the solar energy captured is converted into hydrogen and earlier efforts had resulted in a conversion rate of around 18 per cent.
However they required more expensive and rarer metals for use as catalysts, whereas the Monash researchers were able to achieve a conversion rate of solar energy to hydrogen of around 22 per cent using nickel instead.
And hydrogen is a simple clean-burning gas. Storable, usable in fuel cells, a replacement for fossil fuels and absent the storage questions required of direct conversion of solar energy to electricity.
The kind of Green Science bound to piss off fossil fuel-reactionaries like the Koch Brothers even more than the EPA or James Hansen do.