Thursday, November 13, 2014

Facing the Music

The article below, an old post of mine, was originally posted on a collaborative Curtin University website with the overarching theme of "Facing the Music".  I recently discovered the site has been closed, so I have reposted my article here:

The Pitch:
Facing the Music: Surviving Extinction

Photo: Rod Morris/

In 1918, Lord Howe Island Phasmid (Dryococelus australis), a giant “tree lobster” faced the music and lost. When black rats were introduced to Lord Howe Island in 1918, following a shipwreck, the entire local population was wiped out. By 1960 it was presumed extinct. Thanks to some curious scientists this ugly six legged insect was rediscovered in 2001 on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the Tasman Sea. A breeding program resulted. Today however, the insect is facing the music yet again with the inhabitants of the now populated Lord Howe Island needing to be convinced to assist with the survival program and reintroduce the creature back to its original habitat, their own backyards.

Humans are having a major impact reducing survival rates of many species: through the destruction of habitat; introduction of invasive species; pollution; and in the case of some of our most misunderstood and feared creepy-crawlies, purposefully trying to eradicate them.

  1. Britton, Dave, (2009), Phantom Phasmids, Australian Museum,
  2. Krulwich, Robert, (2012) Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years, Krulwich Wonders,

Teaser - Everything is connected

Biodiversity is the variety of ALL things living, from the largest animals and plants to the smallest micro-organisms. It includes all the cute, cuddly, highly publicised animals AND the ugly, frightening creatures.

Mole-cricket-side-view by Kaz Creatures
Mole-cricket-side-view, a photo by Kaz Creatures on Flickr.

There are three major categories of biodiversity:

  • Genetic Biodiversity – the variations within a species, and between each individual within a species. We are all unique.
  • Species Biodiversity – there are a variety of species inhabiting each area. Maintaining the relationship between each and every species is important to ensure the survival of each species.
  • Ecosystem Biodiversity – the variety of species interacting to create unique environments or ecological systems: freshwater, marine, forest, grassland, tundra and desert.
Australia is listed as one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world with south Western Australia one of 34 internationally recognised hotspots. Biodiversity hotspots are areas with the largest variety of species in one area. Of concern, nevertheless, is that scientists have only formally described approximately 25% of Australian species - mostly those that are “large and charismatic, or of quantifiable economic importance, public interest or taxonomic interest” (DEWHA (Department of the Environment, 2009). Simultaneously, a number of species have been declared extinct or at risk of extinction. The concern is that species are becoming extinct without us ever knowing they existed or the vital roles they play. 

"Biodiversity is so vast and so complicated, that biologists still haven't documented most species on our planet"

  • Be aware of the species living around you.
  • Learn their names.
  • Are they native to your area? Are you sure?
  • Discover how each species interacts with another? 
I encourage you to pay attention to the huge assortment
of organisms that surround you. Be fascinated.

Biodiversity is essential both in its own right and for the survival of the human species. It contributes to healthy soil, waterways and clean air, all which directly and indirectly benefit us. Due to interactions between species, one small change may have a major impact on other species.

The world's economy relies on biodiversity to produce food, water and to break down pollutants. A range of species, ants for example, help maintain soil fertility, recycling nutrients, pollinating plants, and aiding water filtration, which in turn, aids crop production. Other major pollinators of plants include bees and flies, of which Australia has 1500-2000 native bee species and 30,000 species of flies. That’s a lot of insects that are working behind the scenes assisting with our food production!

"There is no factory or technology producing
so much of value at so little cost".

Strong biodiversity aids the economy: Australian National Parks with their many endemic species attract 40% of all international visitors. These nature seeking travellers visit Australia for twice as long as other tourists and contribute to 80% of international tourist dollars. Australia’s recreational fishing industry is estimated to be worth over $2.9 billion per year. Of concern, however is that damage to our biodiversity also damages our economy. Tourists stop visiting, salinity and erosion issues increase, as do costs associated with pollution and climate control.
SOURCE: ("National Biodiversity Strategy Review Task Group," 2009)

Examples of economic uses of invertebrates by Kaz Creatures
Strong biodiversity keeps us healthy: Not only does biodiversity assist with the health of our crops, water and air, it provides other resources that sustain humans, like medicines, timber, fuels and genetic materials. Although many people would love to see spiders, snakes and other creatures become extinct; they may play a significant role in our future survival. Scientists are constantly researching to find further benefits from the wildlife around us. Australian researchers are currently investigating cone snail’s venom as a treatment for chronic pain; bees’ brains to expand knowledge into brain disorders like schizophrenia and autism; and using snake venom to prepare blood samples in patients taking anti-clotting medications.

Use of Insects by Australian Aborigines by Kaz Creatures
I love this dress designed by Luly Yang, inspired by the Monarch butterfly

The variety of species has long been a source of inspiration for artists, musicians and technicians. Insects and birds inspire flight and wind resistant technologies. Homes are decorated with nature inspired artworks and constructed from a variety of natural materials. With the diverse range of species on Earth, we are only limited by our imaginations.

  • How many species can you name, that directly or indirectly, contribute to the production of food you eat?
  • Do you make use of National Parks, local parks or your own backyard as part of your recreational space?
  • Will you be reliant in the future on scientists finding a cure to the illnesses you may suffer?
  • Are you inspired by nature? Have you considered drawing, photography or creating a piece of music based on nature?                  

Remember that the greater the biodiversity, the more amazing things we will be able to achieve now and in the future.

Humans are the biggest threat to biodiversity, mostly due to ignorance. The landscape is constantly being changed and destroyed with logging, clearing, mining, poor fire management, urbanisation, introduction of foreign species, landscape fragmentation, and the list goes on. Ecosystems are dynamic in both space and time with changes in one environment potentially having an impact on the other side of the planet.

“The ecological rule of thumb is that when
90 per cent of a habitat is cleared, 50 per cent of its species will be driven to extinction”

Learn about the species native to the areas you occupy. Observe them in their natural environments and attempt to identify the species. Assistance can be sourced from any number of books, databases or conservation organisations. The more information we know about where and how different species live, the more we can appreciate their uniqueness (like the sound of the motorbike frog, litoria_moorei) and desire to protect them.
To protect biodiversity use products that are environmentally friendly, create nature areas that encourage the survival of local species and contribute to databases recording species your an area. By recording information, we can gauge how threatened a species is, prove its worthiness for protective intervention and make positive changes before it becomes extinct.
  • Pay attention to the diverse range of species around you.
  • Share and record your knowledge about species in your area.
  • Are you doing everything you can to protect biodiversity and prevent species from becoming extinct?

Small changes, made by many people will have a big impact, both negative and positive.
Face the music: Make your impact a positive one.


I am passionate about the amazing and diverse creatures on this wonderful planet, from beautiful butterflies to slimy slugs. I aim to make a positive contribution to biodiversity by sharing my passion, encouraging others to take the time to notice these remarkable creatures and appreciate how they contribute to our world.
Teaser - Everything is connected
[TAGS: biodiversity, environment, extinct, survival, Australia]

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sharing butterflies

Do you notice all the insects around you? If it wasn’t for my family bringing the creatures they notice to my attention I’d miss out on some wonderful experiences.

This week my husband pointed out a tiny butterfly of the Hesperiidae family, resting for the evening on our garage door. With brown/black wings folded back the butterfly was fairly non- descript. It wasn’t until I disturbed it that it opened out its wings to show the beautiful, black and orange banding, delicate feathering on the front area of its wings and body, and tiger stripes on its antennae. Being late in the afternoon the butterfly didn’t make any attempt to fly away and I returned it to the garage door soon after photographing it.

I think I’ve correctly identified the butterfly as a Western Grass-dart (Taractrocera papyria agraulia), one of the few Grass-darts listed as relatively common in the Perth area. They have a wing span of only 2cm and slight colour variations between the male and female butterflies which are often seen on the ground as the caterpillar feeds on various native and introduced grasses.

I am glad my family shares their finds with me. We live in an amazing world, with some beautiful creatures. Have you seen a similar species of butterfly living near you? Do you share the experience with friends and family?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Activity for children

Insects are such fascinating creatures to draw and a great exercise to improve observation skills. Encourage your children to draw one of the creatures in your garden, or perhaps try it yourself.

I thought I'd attempt drawing the mole cricket I photographed and wrote about earlier in the week.  Not the most expert drawing, but I didn't think it was too bad for a first attempt.  What do you think?

Younger children might like to have a go at colouring it in.

Mole-cricket print and colour in

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Digging up Mole Crickets

Today my son found a mole cricket while digging over the compost heap. Wanting to show me, he carried it in his hand, only to discover they have very strong burrowing forelegs, and are not very good at distinguishing ‘hand’ from ‘sand’.  Needless to say, he dropped it a few times before bringing it to me on a blue spade. Surprisingly these insect can fly despite looking so bulky, and spending much of their time burrowing underground.

As usual, we then followed up with some online research, leading to discovering newspaper articles from 1913 and 1927 and a lovely old book by entomologist Walter Wilson Froggatt (1858-1937).

Western Mail (Perth, WA) Thursday31 March 1927 p 7

"Scotty," Bridgetown, writes:-I am sending you an insect enclosed in a small bottle with methylated spirits hoping you will find space in your columns to tell me what it is. It digs into the ground making a small burrow wherein it emits a, very loud shrill whistling sort of noise.  This one was dug up about a foot below the surface in a clear paddock by the house, but there are several in different places all over the paddock.
The insect proved to be a mole cricket regarding which two correspondents wrote on March 3 complaining of the damage done by these insects on tennis lawns by their raising little mounds of soil round their burrows. As it lives underground and usually comes out at night, it is not familiar to many people although fairly common. Regarding this insect Mr W Froggatt in his book on Australian insects says:-"The mole cricket (Gryllotalpa coarctata) is found all over the interior, forming under- ground tunnels in the sand along the edges of watercourses; it was collected in the Horn Expedition in Central Australia, and is also found about Sydney, It is of the usual dull brown tint with hooded thorax and spade-shaped forelegs.'' These little creatures are vegetable feeders and live on the roots of grass and other plants, It gets its name from the fact that it burrows like a mole and is provided with strong front claws for the purpose.

Australian insects. By Walter W. Froggatt., Sydney,W. Brooks[1907]

 Further reading:  Western Australian Museum fact sheet

Addendum: 15 September 2011:

I've had some wonderful feedback from Dr Terry Houston, Senior Curator (Entomology), Dept. of Terrestrial Zoology, Western Australian Museum, who was kind enough to read my article and he tells me "the Sunday Times article could confuse readers because Cylindracheta kochii is a sandgroper, not a mole cricket, and wouldn't push up mounds of soil. However, at the time the article was written, sandgropers and mole crickets were classified into one family. The mounds of soil referred to might have been produced by a mole cricket but could also have been the work of a native bee."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adventure at Perenjori - Wildflowers & Lizards

It's amazing what can be achieved in just one weekend. My husband and I had been told this was one of the best wildflower seasons ever. So we decided to travel over 720km just to take in the breathtaking sight of wildflowers (and hopefully a fascinating creature or two) in the Perenjori region. We were not disappointed on either account. We walked for kilometres surrounded by carpets of pink, white and yellow everlastings. Granite outcrops sheltered a variety of orchids, lizards and other creatures including cockroaches that sprayed a foul smelling deterrent designed to protect them from predators. Waterholes were filled with the fattest tadpoles and fat, lazy frogs sheltering under rocks from the perfect blue-sky days. I was so busy enjoying my weekend I managed to capture only a small portion on camera. Enjoy!

Video Music: Strobelites (Escapism) by The Womb can be found at