Bali Botanical Gardens

bali botanical garden
Formal gardens in the European style

The Bali Botanical Garden is up in the mountains, near Mount Batur, an hour or so from Ubud by car. Its altitude makes its climate significantly cooler than the lowlands and the day we visited was overcast with intermittent rain but we had a wonderful time anyway. The orchids and ferns were particularly good, and we would have spent far more time in the Taman Usada or Continue reading “Bali Botanical Gardens”

Leafcutter Bees

Ants, wasps and bees (Hymenoptera) create a stunning range of nests, many of them so specific to the species that they can be used to identify their makers, as Mike Downes said in his article about black weaver ants.

That’s certainly true of Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp., Megachilidae, Apoidea) and we might even go one step further and identify them by the marks they leave behind when harvesting their nest-building material.

Leafcutter Bee
Signs of a Leafcutter

Leafcutters are solitary, not social like Continue reading “Leafcutter Bees”

Rain!

A couple of days ago I said, “We’ve been promised rain every day for a week and seen very little – ‘scattered showers and storms’ is a fairly generous description,” Then it started raining, quite steadily.

A week ago I said, “If there’s a fixed open drain, [grey water on a rural property] might run into a banana patch, since bananas are always thirsty.” Now our bananas are standing in ankle-deep water, run-off from  the higher side of our own block and from our neighbours.

People around the city are reporting falls of 30 – 120mm over the last few days as the patchy showers turned into widespread rain. Townsville’s official records only tell us what fell at the airport and are taken at 9.00 a.m. every day; the total to 9.00 this morning was 34 mm and I expect tomorrow’s reading to be much higher.

Friday, 3 pm

More arboreal black weaver ants – Polyrhachis dives and others

A guest post by Dr Mike Downes; his first, about a different species of black weaver ants, is here.

The subject of ant nests came up recently after an object of interest was handed in at the Museum of Tropical Queensland:

ant nest
Exhibit A
Continue reading “More arboreal black weaver ants – Polyrhachis dives and others”

New old posts on Green Path

I have just added three ‘new’ posts to the blog:

They all pre-date Green Path but are still relevant to it so I have moved them here from my older site.

A new local gecko

young morning gecko
Mourning gecko

I spotted this little lizard on the trunk of our poplar gum a fortnight ago and took photos because I had never seen one quite like it before. Its size (3.5 – 4 cm) and proportions told me it was only a baby, and its feet and smooth skin told me it was a gecko, but its markings are not at all like the two geckos we usually see here, the Dtella and its nearly identical Asian rival.

A little research allowed me to identify it as a Mourning Gecko, Lepidodactylus lugubris. Like our other geckos, the species is nocturnal, not very big (10 – 11 cm), and feeds on small insects. It also feeds on flower nectar; I’m not sure whether our others do that but it’s not unlikely.

Beyond that, the Mourning Gecko is an interesting little beast: it’s a hybrid, and it’s parthenogenic.

In other words, the ultimate ancestor of my little lizard was a female produced by the mating of two geckos of different species, and the family consists of an endless mother-daughter sequence. Adults are known to engage in female-female pseudo-copulation which apparently stimulates egg production, but even that is not necessary: one female on her own can and will lay viable eggs, usually two every few weeks.

As if that wasn’t strange enough, “The species consists of a number of clonal genetic lineages thought to arise from different hybridization events,” i.e. the ancestral species successfully hybridised on several different occasions, so there are variant ‘families’ of Mourning Geckos, each as closely related to the others as members of normal species are, but each producing a succession of genetically identical daughters.

But there’s more! “Surprisingly, parthenogenetic females of this species occasionally produce male offspring, which are thought to be the result of non-genetic hormonal inversions. While these males are anatomically normal, they produce abnormal sperm and are sterile.”

Those snippets are from wikipedia’s article on parthenogenesis in reptiles. The Reptile Database provides more information on the ancestral species if you’re curious.

mourning gecko
Another view of the same baby gecko

As Steve Wilson notes in A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland, the fact that it doesn’t need to mate to produce viable offspring has no doubt contributed to the Mourning Gecko’s success as an island coloniser, since a single stowaway can produce a whole new population. Wherever and whenever the species arose, it is now widespread across the islands and coastal areas of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

It seems to be a very recent arrival in Australia. The distribution map at The Australian Reptile Online Database shows a coastal distribution in Queensland but Fitzsimons, in ‘Southward range expansion of the Mourning Gecko Lepidodactylus lugubris on mainland Australia and nearshore islands’ (2011, available here), goes into more detail. He analyses Australian records of the species to come to the conclusion that its range is extending southwards quite rapidly, from Port Douglas and Mission Beach to Townsville in the late 1990s and now Bowen, Gladstone and Heron Island. As he notes, this, “may be important for conservation, as the Mourning Gecko has the potential to compete with native Australian geckos.”

Athens

dry hills
The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

The coast near Piraeus
The coast near Piraeus

A tourist-bus ride around the city and down to the port of Piraeus showed us that the city is indeed different but that its setting is rather similar. The hills beyond Piraeus could almost be the hills beyond Ross Dam, were it not for the encroaching suburbs.

Looking down from the Acropolis
Looking down from the Acropolis with the Roman theatre in the foreground

Athens even has its own Castle Hill, rising from the centre of the old city and providing wonderful views; it’s not as big as our Castle Hill but is a little better known. The locals call it “The Acropolis”.

The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki
The Acropolis Hill rising above Monastiraki

One of the things we only really learn by visiting a place is how big it is: walking around a building or a city gives us a far better sense of it than looking at photos.

The Acropolis Hill is big enough to dominate the skyline anywhere in the central city but small enough that an energetic tourist can walk right around its base, stopping to look at all sorts of ruins and museums, in a day – and we did just that, simply by rambling at will until it became clear from our map that it was easier to keep going than to back-track.

Part of our walk, up to a lookout on the top of Areopagus Hill, turned out to be a route popular with locals. We continued down and around the Southern side of the Acropolis Hill, past the Roman theatre to the new Acropolis Museum a short distance away from the hill, back towards the hill to see the (classical Greek) Theatre of Dionysus (see Wikipedia), and finally around the Eastern end of the hill and back into Monastiraki for dinner. This map shows the territory and this page in my “Gallery Crawl” section presents more about the Acropolis itself.

Athens
Locals and tourists enjoying the view from the crest of Areopagus Hill
amphitheatre
Theatre of Dionysus, fourth century BC