Ok, so to those of you that hate bats, hopefully I can change your mind with these two very cute photos. In inner Sydney an hour before sunset the sky is full of winged creatures called flying foxes (also known as a fruit bat), which is one of Australia’s mega-bats. This particular type is native to Australia and is called a Grey-headed flying fox (typically a grey head with a neck collar of orange-brown fur). These little guys might be bigger than you think, with adults having an average wingspan of 1 meter (3.3 ft). They settle on the giant fig trees when in fruit, and if you are anywhere near, you will hear them squabbling loudly at each other. Unlike micro-bats they don’t use sonar to get around, they use their eyes an ears like we do and can see in the dark as good as a cat can. If you watch them closely enough you will see how cute they are, hanging upside-down and watching you while munching on a fig, which also means they poke their tongue out a lot. To me the photo below is just like an adorable teddy bear. They love nectar, pollen and fruits and are vital to maintaining the ecosystem by dispersing the seeds. I hope you also see how adorable a bat can really be once you get past the whole night creature with leathery wings.
This sizable insect is commonly known as a bark-mimicking grasshopper (Coryphistes ruricola) and even its eyes look like they are actually made of wood. They are common in Australia and depending on location and surrounding environment, appear in various colors from grays to browns. Collectively they are an interesting view of natural selection at work. This grasshopper which was photographed in Western Australia was in an area where there weren’t many trees at all, but blended in very well with the sand it was sitting on. If I was a bird I would certainly think twice about whether I was about to eat a grasshopper or a piece of fallen tree branch.
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This is an Australian flying fox hanging on my parents garden fence. Australia has a few different species of flying fox, some of which are among the largest bats in the world. Some people may be horrified by this devilish-looking vampire-like creature, but actually they have a very cute face. They are fruit, flower and nectar eaters by night and by day they are busy sleeping (when they are not screeching at neighbors for space on overpopulated tree houses). They live in huge family groups which can have thousands of bats. Unlike most bats they do not use echolocation as they have great vision and are known to use geographical landmarks to find their way home. How did this bat end up in my parents yard in broad daylight? Well, my dad had realized that his figs were getting eaten (usually it’s the birds that get to them). So he covered the fig trees with netting to stop the birds from accessing the fruit. My mum awoke the next morning to find an angry bat tangled in the netting which had been trying to get to the fruit, and a very curious cat on the fence keeping a close eye on this mysterious find. She called my brother to get some scissors to cut the bat out of the netting, which he did, all the while trying not to get bitten by this agitated critter. After being freed from the net the exhausted bat hung on the fence a while to find the energy to fly away home. (Photo is courtesy of my mum.)
This intense-looking bird is a black currowong native to Australasia that I photographed while hiking in Tasmania. These birds look quite similar to Australian magpies except that their eye color is yellow instead of red. They have a very special relationship with the richea honey bush and were featured in a David Attenborough narrated documentary called Life in the episode on plants. The honey bush encases its flowers in individual little pods which protect the flowers from cold weather and icy winds that are common in Tasmania. Unfortunately it also prevents successful pollination of the flowers by insects which cannot access them nor remove the protective outer casing. When warmer weather comes along the flowers produce a nectar which attracts the currawongs. They go about their day pulling off each of the little flower pods to access the nectar which also exposes the flowers to pollinating insects and thus the plant can reproduce.
This gorgeous and very large clam was photographed while swimming off a beach on Fitzroy Island, Australia. This beautiful island is situated just off the coast of Queensland about a 45 minute boat ride from Cairns. It is surrounded by coral reef that is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, where you can see many different corals, clams, fish and even turtles. Clams are incredibly fascinating creatures especially in regards to their life cycle and reproductive habits. They are born male and remain so for the first few years of life and produce sperm to reproduce. Once mature they also develop ovaries and produce eggs making them hermaphrodites. To maintain genetic diversity, clams living in the same area will spawn at the same time. Clam spawning, along with many corals takes place when sea temperatures rise and the moon is at the correct phase. Once spawning has begun they simultaneously release reproductive pheromones telling other nearby clams to spawn. First they release sperm which gets moved away by the current (hopefully to meet another clams eggs), and then they release eggs (to hopefully meet another clams sperm). After fertilization takes place the baby clam passes through a mobile larval stage (which sadly many do not survive), before finally settling on a permanent home and growing into the beautiful, colorful clams that we see amongst the corals.
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Can you spot the emu? This photo was taken on a Western Australian highway on a road trip from Exmouth to Monkey Mia, with a stop at Coral Bay. Coral Bay is a beautiful area where the Ningaloo Reef stretches along the coast just a short swim off the beach – a must see location for snorkelers. Monkey Mia is a famous location in WA where dolphins swim into incredibly shallow waters to get fed and interact with humans. On this remote stretch of road you will witness a very dry landscape with expanses of red dirt to either side. You may see small leafless shrubs with adorable tiny goats huddled underneath trying to seek refuge from the hot sun. Closer to the coast the shrubs get larger and slightly greener, and you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some emus running across the land, darting in amongst the shrubs after being spooked by your car. They remind me of the Looney Tunes character the Roadrunner (with Wile E. Coyote), except that real roadrunners run at a speed of 20 mph (32 km/h), whilst emus can run at 31 mph (50 km/h). Below is a close up photo just in case he ran so fast you missed him!
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This relaxed goanna was photographed in Western Australia, warming up on the sand in the morning sun at the entrance to a gorgeous beach. In Australia we have 25 of the 30 known goanna species. This one would have been about a meter and a half long (about 5 feet). Considering that some goanna species such as Varanus giganteus can grow over 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) long, this one is only medium sized. Even still, goannas can be one of Australia’s more intimidating lizards. I remember once walking along a narrow bush track and in front of me was a large goanna, slowly lumbering in the same direction that I wanted to go. I was not bold enough to overtake him on such a narrow path, nor spook him into hurrying up, so I had to patiently follow until he decided to eventually get off the track and let me pass. These huge lizards can give a very nasty bite which often bleeds profusely. The bleeding was thought to be caused by bacterial infection transferred from their teeth upon biting, but recent research suggests that they may in fact have oral venom-producing glands. If true, this would add another venomous animal to Australia’s huge list of venomous creatures… as if we needed any more!