29 February 2008

The caterpillar, the afflicted leaf, and sea slugs

"It looks like a nudibranch," he said. And though it's only a landlubber, it does have that outrageously foudroyant* appeal.

So should sea slugs be called (in our vulgar common parlance) sea caterpillars?

Or, because
1) sea slugs cavorted way before caterpillars (let alone slugs) were even a glimmer in the big He's eye; and
2) since the sea is more what Earth is than land—
should caterpillars be called land (or false, or more modernly: aspirational) nudibranchs?

Whatever it's called, this

living caterpillar was found on this leaf

and is, I think, closely related to the powerful cup moth desiccating caterpillar featured earlier this month.

Here's a closeup of the afflicted leaf.which leads irresistibly to Patti Baugh's "Sea's Candies", and the rest of this site: nudibranch.com.au with splendid photos by Gary Cobb and David Mullins. Wander in the gallery. Stop by the beautiful and informative book, Undersea Jewels: A Colour Guide to the Nudibranch by Gary Cobb and Richard Willan.

Gary is described as a "nudibranch fanatic". But as anyone who's ever read my Virtuous Medlar Circle features knows because they've been launched on an adventure by the invited confession of the great Hans Bertsch: Why I like Nudibranchs — it's impossible to be a fanatic about nudibranchs. To know them is to be besotted. Their colours, shapes, their moves can lead sensible scientists to intemperate language—and if they knew, who knows what passions possible in the hearts of lepidoptera?

28 February 2008

Tristaniopsis laurina and friends

Bearing flowers that would look at home in the sea,

lovely creamy bark,
and shiny green leaves, the Tristaniopsis laurina (commonly called Kanooka, Kanuka, or Water Gum) is a small tree that is so beautiful, it has caught the eye of industry and inevitably been tarted up as a coarse, blowsy creature "well suited for use in street tree plantings".
Luscious is the new denser improved form of Tristaniopsis laurina. The Luscious features larger, shinier leaves almost double the size of the common... - Product News, Spec-Net
The pictures here are not of Luscious, but of the plant as described in the Australian National Botanical Gardens' site, so informative that I will just say Read: Tristaniopsis laurina.

The site says: Scale insects commonly attack this species and leaf-hoppers and leaf-eating beetles occasionally attack the leaves.

Not with these protectors!

Praying mantis instar nymphs on Tristaniopsis laurina

I could guess, but am not game to specify which species these mantids are, nor whether they're, say, the 4th or 5th instar stage of development.
At the Natural History Museum's restaurant
Waiter! There's a soup in my ministralis.

Sorry sir. We've run out of flies.
For an excellent post on mantids and the difficulties identification pleases to pose, see Gaye from the Hunter's #18 A mantid out of its territory.
And btw, this isn't the first time I've recommended her fascinating blog, Hunter Valley Backyard Nature.

And see the Chew family's Mantids page in their Insects in Brisbane site to find out much more than just about insects in Brisbane. This also gives me a chance to highly recommend their new
Insects and Spiders CD - Version 2007, and to say again that I think their site is one of the best and most generous on the web.

People like Gaye and the Chews are invaluable explorers.

But getting back to the water gum that is not a gum
Beauty is often beyond the beholder's grasp. If only you could smell these leaves, crush them between your fingers. Their fragrance is what first attracted me to this tree, and it is that scent that leads me to wherever it grows – in dense, shady tangles by a creek, in dips and places where runoff water is sure to reach. It is not a packaged-perfume scent. Far more than that.

The fragrance is what the tropics should smell like on an island combed by a breeze. Pineapple, bergamot, star fruit, camphor, bay, coriander seeds, basil, woodmoss and that delicious and sinuously clad charmer, the salak or snakefruit; with a topnote of a healthy ten-year-old boy.

Although it's related, it doesn't smell like any eucalypt I've met.

Refreshing, invigorating, seductive, and, uh, that description is utterly inadequate. I can't pin its scent down – illusive as fog in the hand. But it's one of those smells that never cloys. It's as lovely and classy as its flowers and the size of its leaves.

23 February 2008

A persimmon calyx

On the tip of his tongue

A great doctor swallows your dose for you.

Read Dr. Metablog's John Milton and Docosahexaenoic Acid
When I woke up next morning, there it was on the tip of my tongue (or the top of my brain) -– another line and a half of the sonnet: “Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled/ Mother with infant down the rocks.” Could it have been the DHA? Or did I do it all by myself?

22 February 2008

News on The Sunshine Project from New Scientist

Just out, an astounding piece on The Sunshine Project by Peter Aldhous, San Francisco Bureau Chief for New Scientist.

The title is Sunshine snuffed out, but as Aldhous makes abundantly clear, it would be pathetically easy to bring the sun out again.

Butner blogspot has also been following not only the Project's work, but Ed Hammond's Congressional Testimony, so see Butner's hours-old Sunshine Project Needs Our Help

Putting that laughable
$53,000 in perspective.

"The NIH total Biodefense budget level is $1,891 million, an increase of $110 million and 6.2 percent over FY 2006."
(US) National Institutes of Health Summary of the FY 2007 President's Budget

20 February 2008


The Sunshine Project - not RIP, but mayday

The Sunshine Project dead? Or are the RIP and Sun Sets headlines premature?
The end of their operations would create a vacuum. We'll go back to silence.
- Richard H. Ebright, professor of microbiology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J
"Citizens Education Project would like to thank Ed Hammond and the Sunshine Project for their amazing contribution in monitoring chemical and biological issues. They will be sorely missed."
...in the past few years the bulk of the Sunshine Project's work focused on biodefense research in the United States, which rapidly expanded after the Sep 11 terrorist attacks. Much of the increase in biodefense research has been funded by Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion program passed in 2004 to speed the development of drugs and vaccines to combat the effects of biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiologic agents. The Sunshine Project had said it supported closer federal oversight of US biodefense labs, including legal reforms, mandatory accident reporting, and increased transparency
CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy, University of Minnesota)
A dirge too soon
This is the original headline in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Ed Hammond is obsessed with Sunshine, not fundraising or a cushy life, but is that any reason to let the Project die when it would be so bloody easy (and cheap) to revive and keep going something so beneficial to us all?

19 February 2008

Is that an exoskeleton between your teeth?

Hearty congrats to Spencer Pate for winning an hon mensh in the VanderMeer New Weird Contest where the wonderfully weirdphilic winners are 'semi-anonymous' but their entries are boldly exposed.

And Spencer's entrée?

Read his Night of the Living Crickets with a glass of milk before bed.

18 February 2008

Deliciously coloured, but dropped as inedible

One of two beak-mangled Podacanthus typhon wings found together on the ground (they are so light that one flew off on a gust) in a coastal forest weird with scribbly gum, tea tree and bottlebrush.

17 February 2008

Alistair Rennie's eye

Picking on Alistair Rennie again, now to his sleighty eye.

His Shed at the end of the world teases unmercifully. Of all human structures, sheds must be the most mysterious. What does this one hold? Are there tool (or other) rituals associated with it? Are the contents held fast, and how? How does it react to the Elements?

And where is the end of the world?

I used to think that Alistair Rennie, man of mountains and -scapes, has the eye of an ungulate.

But that tease! He's got the eye of yet another species I can't identify, and he either stooped (or stumbled?) to write "The Gutter that Sees the Light that Never Shines", his brilliant story in this just-released anthology, The New Weird edited by
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

Lichen population(s?)

The study of lichen population biology has been lagging behind that of other groups of organisms, mostly due to technical problems rather than a lack of interest. Basic questions about lichen dispersal, biogeography, speciation and evolution are still largely unanswered because of this lack of population studies.
"Local population subdivision in the lichen Cladonia subcervicornis as revealed by mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 intron sequences",
by Christian Printzen and Stefan Ekman (Universitetet i Bergen, Botanisk Institutt, Allégaten 41, N-5007 Bergen, Norway), Mycologia, 95(3), 2003, pp. 399-406, published by The Mycological Society of America

15 February 2008

Buttermoths anonymous

Alistair Rennie's punningly titled beautiful winged creatures had me smiling healthily but oh-so-quickly thinking correcting thoughts. Look at those club antennae, that bright colour, the way their wings are held open, and . . .

But Hah!

I can't cry that I wrote Lolita
So thank you, Alistair, for liberating my ignorant admiration, my lack of knowledge for proper identification. Now I can post a portrait of a beauty I cannot put a name to.

For lack of an expert, my name is '?'

"How can they say they know me?"

13 February 2008

"Whatever happened to the Enlightenment?"

I've railed before about the growth of theocracy in Australia, but what Chris Lawson reports is brimstonic. The pictures he posts are almost unbelievable.
The sad fact remains that the RE (Religious Education) that I experienced in a private high-Anglican grammar school thirty years ago was more open-minded and educational than what is being taught in supposedly secular government schools today.
– Chris Lawson, Religious education in Australia today, Talking Squid

Religious education for all
When it comes to our schools, I am fervently in favour of religious education – a national curriculum, in fact. The curriculum would be, for every student in Australia, a complete education in:
  • History of religions
  • History of philosophies
  • Sacred texts
  • History of religions' involvement and imposition in public life, and of the secular movements to liberate people from them.
If students know the history of religions, they will be able to compare gods, goddesses, myths and so-called miracles. They will know, for instance, what happened to Mrs God.

They will know about Galileo's problems, the Scopes trial, and the reforms of Ataturk.

And since they'll also know the history of religions in public life, they will be able to assess what they want their taxes to support when they grow up–but well before that, they'll be able to use their brains for what brains are for–thinking instead of just soaking up dogma.

Rail is a funny word. If one person rails, that's a whinge. But two rails make a road.

11 February 2008

Spinerette envy

This lovely female looks the picture of what Ron Atkinson of the University of Queensland, in his excellent online Find-a-Spider Guide, calls a 'melanic female' (what makes them melanic?) of the species Austracantha minax, commonly known as the 'spiny', 'Christmas', or

'jewel' spider.

Although it is written that these spiders live in communal groups, as far as I could see, the populace lives not like that in some paradisiacal Leninville, but like people in modern inner-cities. Each spider is busy on her own web, and just as people don't react the same to evangelists at their doors, there is individualism in each spider's attitude to botherers.

The typical female did nothing when we humans visited till her web was touched, when she ran from the centre of her web to a guy-wire, and waited. But one melanic female surprised us by staying in the centre of her web and vibrating it at the sound of our voices, however quiet. She shook her web till it looked like a waterbed under, say, a dogfight.

Over the past month, this group has been very visible, both the bright and the dark. There were, in early December, about 8 females in a square metre, and then one day in late December there were none. A few days later on an overcast morning there were 8 again (whether they were the same ones as before, I never got to know them well enough to say) just about two metres from their original site, each at the same distance from her neighbour, and each building her new web.

The Austracantha minax does not build a web a day, but every female is keen on doing repairs and has a strong opinion on what thickness each line should be.

This particular group lives just above (human) knee-high heath about 100 metres inland from a sandy ocean beach.

The males are pathetically small, and not only did I not see one moving — the only one I saw looked more an uninviting morsel than a male.

08 February 2008

Steve Aylett's LINT for World Book Day - Every vote counts

LINT by Steve Aylett is in the top ten shortlist of World Book Day's "Spread the Word" competition, thanks to those who voted —no back rooms or judges with taste better than yours in this competition!

So now, no matter where you live and no matter what species you are, if you can stomp on keys, even YOU can vote and make that final difference.

And you know you can believe me when I tell you that only for LINT (a book I've raved about before) and only in honour of Jeff Lint's immortal tackiness would I ever put an animated anything on my oh-so tasteful site.

07 February 2008

Magnificent insignificant

Budak has commented, Are these a grass or sedge? I see them here too, and some have loads of aphids on them.

So I have added this picture to show that it is a grass, though I must again parade my ignorance. What type of grass? I can only say expertly that it is a common type (and free of aphids).

I'm sure that anyone who posts pictures like these should have at hand Van Klaphake's Guide to the Grasses of Sydney (Fourth edition). I don't.

But Budak's comment gave me the opportunity to say that the annotated budak is my far-and-away favourite site on the web. It is not only intelligent about the natural world and our species in it, but witty in a way that is never cruel but is so often hilariously true. The thing about Budak is that it doesn't matter which posting one looks at. They are all so delicious. This, from Crab goes *crunch*, is just the latest:
The second specimen he worked on was gravid. Each hack stirred up a juicy splash of yellow roe from the book gills that spilled out onto the rock. The elderly pakcik who purchased the crabs remarked that the portions are prepared with assam pedas to make a meal that rivals the flavour of true crabs. I wanted to tell him that I didn't like the taste of crabs anyway, be they true or false, but my daunted duck thought better of arguing with a guy with a sharp object who probably prefers to mince more than just words.

06 February 2008

Democracy as spectator sport

It's blow-by-blow coverage here — America's Super Tuesday, complete with countdowns to poll-close — on Australian TV and in our newswires.

Will today clinch the title for each Party's contestant, though many Americans have had as much chance to make that choice as Australians do? Or will the race continue to other states, and then on to the conventions' back rooms?

Whatever happens, the way the choice is made is utterly idiosyncratic, which is pretty weird, considering how the process is commentated as top-level democracy-in-action.

See for instance, Washington State.

Political parties in every state have their own peculiar way of nominating presidential candidates. But over the past two decades, Washington's role in the nomination game has evolved beyond peculiar and now borders on bizarre.
- Caucus? Primary? Voters here can do both, Ralph Thomas, Seattle Times

Pelz calls the primary a “beauty pageant” because it will have no effect on the number of Democratic delegates.
- Niki Sullivan, quoting Dan Pelz, chairman of the Washington state Democratic Party,
We'll Pick Candidates Our Way, Thank you!, The News Tribune, Tacoma

This post is not to say that our democracy is better, especially in our state of New South Wales where the ruling party's headquarters is "the home of Tammany Hall in Australia."

04 February 2008

03 February 2008

How do you say 'thunderation' in Turkish?

Nurduran Duman* has translated two stories of mine
(The tiger and the mice and
Sweat, Joy, and Thunderation)
and also interviewed me and translated that for the current issue of this Turkish magazine.

I usually frown on interviews of creative types - all kinds of artists and interpreters such as actors - because interviews make the person the interest, and worse. Interviews implant the interviewee with the urge to explain the 'work', thereby killing the 'work' while the interviewee, that clear-eyed parasite-ridden zombie, lives on to explain again.

However, and of course, my interview is delightful, especially as it's so exclusive (only a hundred million people might be able to read it). Nurduran Duman's questions were so thoughtful and unexpected that she got me saying things I never thought I would - and my creations didn't even utter a squeak. But I might kill one of those stories now by explaining it to you in confidence. Please don't tell Nurduran. I don't want to spoil the interview.

The tiger and the mice, posted earlier on this blog, was written to respond to a certain privileged person from another country. He complained to me about the repressions his country puts himself and his family through (those who haven't escaped to a land-of-the-free) but he also bombarded me with his government's "right of reserving any military means to smash" those they want to keep from the freedom that he complains he doesn't have. I am particularly pleased that Nurduran chose this tiny fable to translate. The wish for freedom is as universal as the determination to kill its very thought.

The real of course about all this is the amount that Nurduran Duman taught me about what I not only don't know but never thought about, such as Turks and haiku; and the spelling, Turkey, being "a 'bad joke' by some English people in the past. Especially it bothers us in December."

So -
TÜRKÝYE or TURKIYE, please - but which one where?

As for the language,
Turkish ... is a member of the Turkic family of languages, spoken by well over a hundred million people ... Anyone interested in languages should enjoy seeing how Turkish speakers clothe the ordinary human thoughts and feelings in a completely new garb.
- Geoffrey Lewis, Teach Yourself Turkish, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1989

Finally, I hope someone comments on the title of the magazine, which is much more intriguing than anything about or by me. It's time that many more works in Turkish were translated into other languages. And although some tales have been translated, Turkish folklore is long past-due to be part of well-known worldlore, for it's so rich.

* Nurduran Duman is a pretty fascinating character. A prize-winning poet, fiction and non-fiction writer, editor, radio personality, and naval architect and ocean engineer.

01 February 2008


First, there were those surface tensions.

Then things hotted up.