Author Archives: francescincotta

Lace Monitor in Newstead

by Frances Cincotta

This terrific article reports on the recent local sighting of a Lace Monitor by Newstead local Darryl O’Bryan.

When I came along the road a 2m long Lace Monitor (Tree Goanna) Varanus varius darted across in front of my car and ran up a Grey Box where it is was well-camouflaged. In my 40+ years in Newstead it’s only the second sighting of this species. Good info on them is available in “Frogs and Reptiles of the Bendigo District” available from Newstead Natives Nursery.

According to Darryl … the previous time was possibly in the late seventies I think. This time I noticed quite a lot of bird disturbance and have since observed what may be a magpie nest destroyed in the vicinity.

Varanus varius, Newstead, 3rd December 2020

Footnote from Geoff Park – This species has always eluded me in the Newstead district. I’ve had a few reports over the years of both this species and also the Sand Goanna Varanus gouldii but have never been fortunate enough to encounter one in the flesh.

Postscript: Many thanks to respondents for their comments on this post. As suspected both V.varius and V.gouldii are ‘about’ locally … you just have to be in the right place at the right time!

‘In Memorium’ (to a moth)

by Frances Cincotta

Alfred Lord Tennyson was right about nature being red in tooth and claw!

This morning I watched five minutes worth of a grim battle between a Bull Ant and an adult Cup Moth on a paver under my verandah at Newstead.

Bull Ant (Myrmecia sp.) tearing into the body of a female Painted Cup Moth at Newstead Natives Nursery, 25th March 2020

Despite the size difference between the combatants and me thinking the Bull Ant’s eyes were bigger than its stomach I could see after a while that the ant was going to be the victor. I couldn’t watch ’til the bitter end.

Wrestling match continues

Our local eucalypts are defoliated every few years by the colourful caterpillars of this local moth species. Next time you are bitten by a Bull Ant and are cursing the existence of a species that can deliver such a painful sting, keep in mind that the ants might be helping keep Painted Cup Moth numbers in check. Or perhaps the female moth had done all its egg-laying and was old and tired near the end of its life, and that’s why it got caught?

Painted Cup Moth in its larval or caterpillar stage (photographed by Frances Cincotta November 2017)

The Disappearing Egg Trick

I was collecting Blue Devil seed in my garden today when nearby, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white egg approximately 10 mm diameter disappearing quickly down into a hole in the ground, like a white billiard ball into a pocket.

Now you see it…

Now you don’t!

Putting the seed aside I grabbed my camera and waited patiently until I saw the white ball reappear…. being carried by a spider!

rear end of Wolf Spider with egg sac 15 Feb 2020

The spider hung around the entrance to its burrow, holding the egg sac between its hind legs facing it towards the sun. Every time I tried to photograph this the spider retreated into its burrow. I would go away for a while and come back to find it sunning its egg sac once again. This went on from midday until 6pm!

Front of Wolf Spider at burrow entrance carrying white egg sac behind, 15 Feb 2020

From Museum Victoria website about Wolf Spiders: “Males court female through a series of leg drums and vibrations while ‘dancing’ with his forelegs. If the female is receptive she will allow him to approach. The male will then present the female with a sperm package on one of his palpal bulbs, (as spiders do not have penises) which she will store and use to fertilise her eggs. Sometime after fertilisation the female produces an egg sac by weaving a circular mat of fine silk onto which she deposits a hundred or more eggs. She then weaves silk around the eggs, draws up the sides of the mat and sews it into a silken ball. The size of this silken ball is often about the same as the spider itself. Using strong silken threads, she then attaches the egg case to the under surface of her abdomen using her spinnerets (the organs that make silk) and carries it with her, even when hunting. She incubates the eggs during the day by facing the egg case towards the sun and slowly turning it. Thirty to forty days later the eggs hatch producing up to 200 spiderlings. The spiderlings do not immediately disperse. Instead they climb up their mother’s legs and ride on her back for a few weeks, often covering her several layers deep. The spiderlings do not share any of the prey that the mother catches, and if they fall off they are not rescued. When they are ready to fend for themselves they disperse via silk strands. This maternal care of the spiderlings is unusual in the spider world”.

Unpaid Army of Seed Collectors still employed at Newstead Natives Nursery

Nine summers ago I wrote a post here about the tiny ants that collected Eutaxia seed at my place.

Once again today I find a collection of seeds on my step – this time of Acacia ausfeldii, a threatened species from Bendigo planted in my garden. It is a larger seed than that of Eutaxia microphylla, roughly the same size as the entrance hole to the ants nest. So it is amusing to watch a patient and persistent tiny ant manoeuvring the seed much more massive than itself little by little until until the seed finally fits down the hole. As with the pea seed the ants remove the tasty white aril and eject the ‘naked’ black seed back up out of the hole.

Seed and a few ants around nest entrance hole, Newstead. Photograph: Frances Cincotta, 21 December 2019

In the photo you can see on the yellow card the whole seeds as they are straight from the Acacia ausfeldii shrub in my garden, with the white aril attached on the right hand side of each seed. Compare them to the ‘naked’ seed around the ant hill entrance (close to bottom of photo, on bottom end of largest quartz pebble in step).

No mucking around with shelling seeds from pods for me in this case – all I have to do is sweep my step! How clever is the shrub to put a tasty treat for ants (and perhaps birds) on the seed to help it get dispersed? The aril  is not needed for germination at all, but is an important source of protein for the ant colony.

The Secret Life of Mistletoe

The Secret Life of Mistletoe – a presentation on Thursday 21 November at Newstead Community Centre, 8pm … All welcome (A gold coin donation would be appreciated)

David M. Watson is Professor of Ecology at Charles Sturt University and an international expert of mistletoes. In addition to the ecology of parasitic plants, his research focuses on large-scale connectivity conservation and developing innovative approaches to biodiversity monitoring and measuring ecosystem health.

Newstead Landcare Group is delighted that Prof. Watson is coming to Newstead to present a talk on this enigmatic group of plants. Lacking roots, depending on other plants for their survival and relying on animals for dispersal, mistletoes have inspired a range of beliefs throughout the world. Some people regard them as magical, endowed with special powers; others as destructive weeds that devalue native habitats. In his talk David will review two decades of his research on these plants and share his emerging view of these plants as beautiful native wildflowers that support wildlife and boost productivity.

Prof. Watson will have copies of his book for sale at the event, “Mistletoes of Southern Australia” published by CSIRO. It is the definitive illustrated guide to all 47 species of mistletoe found in southern Australia. This new edition consolidates current knowledge about the natural history, distribution, biology, ecology and management of mistletoes in one convenient source. Illustrated with beautiful paintings as well as photographs of mistletoes and the animals that depend on them.

Eastern Spinebill on Box Mistletoe, photographed by Prof. David Watson

Amyema linophylla (Buloke Mistletoe) photographed by Prof David Watson.

The remarkable world of wild orchids

Newstead Landcare are delighted to present a talk by Emily Noble on ‘The remarkable world of wild orchids’ at 8.00pm on Thursday 21st March at Newstead Community Centre.

As the Secretary of the Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat, Business Manager of the Ballarat Environment Network, Coordinator of the 540ha Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary in Linton for Birdlife Australia, and proud owner of a bush block south-west of Ballarat that is home to at least fifty different wild orchids, Emily has ample opportunity to pursue her interest in orchids and their interactions with the co-habitants of their environment. Trying to catch these interactions on camera provides her with many unexpected insights into their ecology, helping inform her conservation activities, and providing a source of ongoing wonder.

Come along to learn more about these remarkable plants and their fascinating relationships with their world.

All are welcome to Emily’s presentation and supper afterwards. There will be no business meeting to sit through. A gold coin donation would help us cover costs.

Some images (all by Emily) below to whet your appetite!

Mantis Greencomb Spider-orchid Caladenia tentaculata

Veined Helmet-orchid Corybas diemenicus

Golden moth orchids Diuris chryseopsis

Parsons bands orchid Eriochilus cucullatus and a pollen thief ant

Pollinating bee on Golden moth orchid Diuris chryseopsis

Large Duck-orchid Caleana major

Common hoverfly pollinating a White-fingers Orchid Caladenia catenata

Parsons bands Orchid Eriochilus cucullatus with Common Hoverfly

What time is it? Ask the flowers!

In the novel “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert the main character teaches herself to tell the time of day by noticing which flowers are open and which closed on her property in Pennsylvania. This idea got me wondering, “Could I tell the time of day by our local wildflowers?”

In lots of our local flowers such as Pelargonium and Correa once the flower is open it stays open for weeks until the petals die and drop off, but there are some species that do open and close daily. Here are my first observations towards telling the time by flowering events on a mid-summer’s day in Newstead. I have no idea how consistent each individual plant is over time, or how much variation there is between many individuals of each species, but this is what I have noticed at my place in the last few days.

Clock Time Local flowering event
8 a.m. Arthropodium fimbriatum flowers open
1 p.m. Tricoryne elatior flowers open
3 p.m. Dianella tarda flowers open
5 p.m. Tricoryne elatior & Arthropodium fimbriatum flowers close


Arthropodium fimbriatum (Nodding Chocolate Lily) only one or two flowers are open on a flowering stem on any one day, and they are open from 8am to 5pm.

Tricoryne elatior (Yellow Rush-lily) – flowers open at 1pm and close at 5pm. (The flowers that have been pollinated are twisted up. The oblong-shaped ones here are buds, not mature enough to open yet).

Dianella tarda (Late-flowered Flax-lily) photographed at sunset

I am never sure if the species name of Dianella tarda is because the plants flower late (tardy) in the day (starting at 3pm), or because they flower later in the season (i.e. Nov-Feb) than the more common Dianella revoluta (Sept-Oct). I haven’t kept vigil to see what time the Dianella tarda flowers close – it must happen sometime between 10pm and 6am.  They seem to be pollinated by Blue-banded Bees in the day time.  Perhaps they have a nocturnal pollinator as well because they stay open well after sunset.

A Native Cherry Specialist

This moth rested on my verandah for a day.  It turns out to be a female Crexa Moth, Genduara punctigera (thanks to Dave Wolfe for the identification).

genduara_punctigera crexa moth female on frankies kitchen window screen 18 january 2019 bronwyn's photo

18mm long female Crexa Moth on fly screen, photographed by Bronwyn Silver 18th January 2019

genduara punctigera crexa moth on kitchen window screen landscape showing detail of forelegs and antenna by fc 18 january 2019

Detail showing her feathery antenna

Crexa Moth larvae feed exclusively on the semi-parasitic tree Native Cherry, Exocarpos cupressiformis (also known as Cherry Ballart). Native Cherries are common in bushland around Newstead, and the nearest natural stand to my place would be about 1km further up Palmerston Street.

My many attempts to propagate Native Cherry over the decades have only resulted in ONE specimen, which I planted next to the Yellow Gum at my gate so that it can tap into the root system of that big tree for nutrients and water. I will be so delighted if this or any other female Crexa Moth decides to lay eggs on my Native Cherry and I get to watch the whole life cycle!

exocarpos cupressiformis native cherry 50 cm tall, planted nov 2010 photographed 16 january 2019

Native Cherry (in foreground, 50cm tall) planted at base of mature Yellow Gum on the nature strip at Newstead Natives Nursery


A Marvelous Monotreme

Newstead Landcare are delighted to have Dr Kath Handasyde from The University of Melbourne up to speak at our AGM this Thursday 18th October at Newstead Community Centre. The presentation on the ecology and behaviour of  ECHIDNAS will begin at 8pm and all are welcome. A gold coin donation will help cover costs.

Echidnas are one of two Australian monotreme species – the egg-laying mammals. Echidnas are our most widely distributed mammals, occurring in all regions of Australia. They are classified as myrmecophages, feeding extensively on social insects, such as ants and termites. These are a rich and abundant food resource for which echidnas have clear adaptations, such as a long narrow snout, sticky tongue and powerful digging abilities. Echidnas are one of the relatively small number of Australian mammals that undergo hibernation. Come along and find out much more about these extraordinary animals.

Echidna by Patrick KavanaghEchidna photographed by Patrick Kavanagh of Strangways

A Reptilian Newstead Native

I was planting a local native climber in my garden today, and my digging uncovered a pair of skinks with blood-red tails. They moved like a snake or a meandering river (rather than going in a straight line like Garden Skinks do), and with the dark stripe along the sides I think they must be Boungainville’s Skinks. The 25mm wide plant label was the only thing to hand to pop next to the little reptile for scale. I was lucky to get a photo at all as they were very keen to get back into the soil!

Bougainville’s Skink? at Newstead Natives Nursery, 20th September 2018skink with bright red tail with plant label, Newstead 20 Sept 2018