In which I discuss the particulars of some bugs being completely awesome, and others being annoying little buggers that need to die

Last night I was out in the garden checking for beetles (more on that later) when I saw a tiny spider traversing between a cauliflower plant and a stick I’m using to tether a growing pepper plant. Anyway, this spider, it was traversing on a line of webbing, and it was carrying what I thought at first was a fly. On closer inspection it turned out to be a shiny droplet of water, like those that collect on the edges of some leaves at night as the air cools. It was carrying a droplet of water! When it got to the stick, it perched near the tip and sat still with the droplet, and as I watched, the droplet slowly grew smaller. Did you know that spiders did this??! I did not know that spiders did this! Carry water droplets?

Watch, observe, question, and get your mind blown every day!

In a bit of quick research, I haven’t been able to find out if this is common or not (I assume it is, and I’ve just never seen it) as a spider behavior. I know some spiders carry bubbles of air underwater, and lots of bugs use surface tension to their advantage… but it never occurred to me that spiders might do this, even though I know that some spiders need water beyond what they get through their prey. Some drink from puddles, others drink when they consume their webs in the morning with dewdrops on, and some drink from dewdrops. It makes perfect sense that a spider might take its drink to a safer location, but I didn’t know, and wow, neat.

It might be like that time I was walking through a graveyard at night and saw hundreds of worms sneaking out of their holes, stretching, reaching for each other. I thought, whoa! I didn’t know about this! How cool is this! What if I’ve discovered a new behavior?!?

And then I thought, oh. Earthworms. Nightcrawlers. Right.

But it was still a cool experience!

So, that was neat. But then I had to get back to my now nightly routine of beetle-hunting.

I planted our garden 3-4 weeks ago. Cucumber bushes, capsicums of different types, cauliflower, zucchini, an heirloom tomato, and some strawberries. These will all go very nicely with the forest of basil I’m cultivating in containers. I also have a small patch of oregano and thyme in there, but the basil gets to rule the place because, c’mon, duh. There’s feral rosemary growing by the back shed.

Our strawberries were doing well! We got two delicious berries from the largest plant. And then the flowers died. And some leaves fell off. The hell? It looked like the stems were being broken by something. No hail… no violent raccoons… And then some leaves developed holes. Aha! Bug attack!

I’ve patrolled for slugs and snails and seem to have conquered that problem, so this must be something new.

Ben went out that night to take a look and reported a couple of beetles. I took a vial out and came back inside with 20 or so tiny shiny obnoxious beetles that I was really quite unhappy about. They weren’t easy to see because they liked to perch just underneath leaves and quickly fell down into the mulch when disturbed. There seemed to be two similar but different types of beetles.

A bit of research and lots of looking through my watch glass led me to tentatively identify the less common type as Strawberry Root Weevils.


The other, more, shall we say abundant (teeming? seething?) type I think is the Strawberry Rootworm. They’re shiny, whereas the others are dull. They have shorter snouts. They are both really freaking annoying.

Images from

So now this is my routine: Go outside with a headlamp once it gets dark, examine every inch of the strawberry plants, get bit by mosquitoes, collect beetles, rant upon returning indoors. Repeat 3-4 more times before bed.

This is the majority of my haul over the last three nights. I left one vial outside and they baked in the sun. Not sorry.

The first night I came back with over fifty. Subsequent nights have had massively reduced yields, thankfully. They will attack other plants, but I have found them primarily on the strawberries. Sadly, they have been reduced from something about half as large as this:

Healthy older plant across the yard

To (there are [were] THREE strawberry plants here):


I’m certain two out of the three will live, but I’m not expecting any more berries this year.

Conclusion? In the future, plant strawberries in containers using potting soil. In lieu of going back in time, however… well, none of the websites I’ve found suggest any treatments other than “give up, replant next year at least 300 feet away.”

Je refuse! We will carry on, little berry plants, and see what we might accomplish!

Let’s all toast to the stubborn drive to spend at least one hour with the skeeters each night hunting bugs. They are going DOWN. At least I get to find things like water-toting spiders!

The benefits of going green

In Australia it’s uncommon to use a dryer to dry your clothes. This makes perfect sense when sun is your biggest export and you’re sometimes located under a hole in the ozone layer (I don’t know if that could in any way contribute to drying more quickly, but I like the mental imagery that UV irradiating my clothing brings to mind, the tiny water molecules comically agitating into gas going noo nooooo don’t do it!).

I kind of like the practice. Although it leaves lint everywhere, takes more time, and my ribbed tank tops don’t get tossed and ruffled back down to quite as form fitting a size, taking loads of wet laundry, quietly hanging them, piece by piece, suspending socks and underwear on an amusing clothes-pin octopus creature, is a rather meditative, peaceful activity.

yes I helped hang clothes before taking all these pictures. Yes that is a strange red octopus creature with socks hanging from it. This is our backyard, which we share with our landlords (the best ever). The shed in the background is where the laundry machine and an old outhouse toilet are located (indoor plumbing outdoors?). Our flat is the brick you see to the right of the trash/recycling/yard waste bins.

It gets you outside if you are otherwise engaged in some boring interior activity. You experience your clothing, exactly how big they are, how many pieces there are, and how long they take to dry. You get to watch them blow in the wind, and think about where to strategically place them so that there are no bird- and thus bird-pooping-trees overhead.

bloooooowing in the wind… To Ben’s left is a lovely little lemon tree that looks to have about 50 tiny lemons developing. To his right is our flat, the patio, and our landlords’ house. Our flat is composed of the first brick bit (bathroom) and then the beige painted siding area (kitchen). At the base of the brick (bathroom) is a bit of scrub that has since turned into my garden.

And of course it saves energy.

But the best part, and you will probably only appreciate this if you are both a girl and forgetful, but the best part is that you can run your lip-balm sunscreen through the wash with no resultant giant grease stains! Huzzah!

recently laundered

Gull Gull Gull Gull DUCK

Today Ben and I went to an IMAX showing of The Last Reef. The film isn’t an important component of this post other than to say that if any of you ever have the chance to see amazing sea life up close and huge and in 3D you should absolutely do so. Wow! Also, I suppose I should add re: the film itself that it was a nice version of the whole “humans are destroying the world and should stop and it’s awful and depressing” in that it actually made a case for individuals changing their behavior and gave examples of how they could do so. Much more impactful, I feel.

Anyway, we were going downtown to this showing and we stopped at a Woolies (Woolworths, a grocery store. Ozzies shorten EVERYTHING) and picked up some french fries because, well, hot crispy delicious potato, duh. And also it was lunch. Shut up, mom, we ran out of time! The movie was an hour earlier than I thought! And I had a salad for breakfast! We walked the couple of blocks from the train station/grocery store to the waterfront where the theater was located and found a nice shaded stone bench to have lunch on.

Shortly after we sat down a seagull arrived and loitered, pacing in front of us while we ate. Conversation wandered but kept coming back to the seagull. We wondered how brave it would get, and how close it would come. Ben was going on about how terrible it is that humans teach wild animals to beg and did it just keep watch for anyone who came by to sit down and eat? So of course I had to throw a bit of potato to it. How could I resist? The seagull leaped into the air and gracefully caught the potato, and halfway through Ben turning to glare at me three more seagulls arrived. And the original seagull growled at them! Have you ever heard a seagull growl?? It was snaking its head up and down, bringing its head back into its body and fluffing its feathers and growling at the other birds.

I fell over laughing. It was so vicious! So commanding!

Eventually the other birds retreated enough that the seagull calmed down and stayed silent. So I threw it another potato.

I had to!

Ben took the fries away.

I really wish I’d taken video of the gull doing its thing. I figured it was hilarious and common enough that it would be easy to find on a birding website or on youtube, but I’ve just spent the last two hours trying to ID the gull and find an example of the sounds we heard.

I believe it was probably a Silver Gull, a very common species around Australia. Or a Red-Billed Gull which is more common to New Zealand. It’s main identifying feature was its dark red feet.

I can’t find any recordings of a territorial or aggressive or any call that matches what we saw. Oh well.

Avoca Slugs

Periodically, these past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I’m back home in Ann Arbor walking down State St. on a football Saturday. Because Ozzies are CRAZY for footie (rugby, didjaknow). We got off the train downtown at Central Station one night to look at a scrap metal dragon…

(aside: it was there to advertise for an art festival of agricultural art, or art by people in agriculture, or something. We fully intended on going but when we told Viive and Ian about it and told them where it was (just past Wagga Wagga!) they told us that it was 8 hours away. So, no, not going. But we still got to see the dragon!)

… and were greeted (terrorized?) by a roar of chanting and clapping, shouting and singing. Nearly everyone was dressed in either red or blue, and most wore scarfs broadcasting their allegiance. Grown men stood by ticket turnstiles handing out tiny pennant flags. It’s footie finals! GET READY FOR THE FEVER! The bulldogs were playing the swans that night, and that, folks, is what I thought about when I wrote this title. The Avoca Slugs? The Avoca Sea Slugs? The newest rising star in the world of footie! I’m having fun imagining it, anyway.

So, we had a neat wildlife sighting when we went to Avoca Beach. A lovely little sea slug in a tide pool! I wish I could change shape like that. It could curl up into a tiny racquet ball, or stretch out to the size of a small fruit bat.

I know slightly more than nothing about sea slugs or how to ID them, but it is mostly black/dark brown, with some speckles. It was unwilling to unfold its skin flaps to fully reveal its gills, but they were there. Perhaps Dendrodoris nigra?

I think it has quite a nice grin.

Avoca Beach, North Avoca Beach, and Terrigal

I know I said the Blue Mountains were my new favorite place in Australia, but I think Avoca Beach is my new new favorite place in Australia. Sorry, Blue Mountains (probably only until I visit you again though).

Though we’ve moved into our own place, Viive and Ian were making a trip to their favorite beach last weekend, and they invited us along. Heck yes. And I’m so grateful to them for taking us. We’ve had a very busy couple of weeks full of adventure, yes, but also full of errands, errands, errands, and so much schlepping of furniture, lamps, heaters, fans, furniture, groceries, kitchen supplies, bathroom supplies, trashcans, side tables, and all of the little things that make a place home, all by hand, all on public transit and on foot.

Fortunately we were able to get the biggest things delivered, and our couch arrived the night before this beach trip! The door to our flat is a sliding door, like a barn door, so we were able to take the door off completely to try and get the couch in, but still. We got half the couch in two different times before figuring out the winning spatial solution involving a twist just so and a lift here and all of this with me having only one functional thumb to grip with. It was fun! But then we sat on it and watched a movie on the laptop and everything was lovely.

Anyway. The beach. The glorious wondrous peaceful relaxing idyllic silly beach.

I’m going to do a series of photos at some point called “me trying to lick things.”

Australia has a lot of sedimentary rock. If you remember, the Blue Mountains are old sandstone “mountains” which are actually high plateaus carved out by water.  Although the base of much of the continent is igneous and metamorphic, much of the continent is covered in a “thin veneer of mainly Phanerozoic sedimentary basins cover much of the Australian landmass (these are up to 7 km thick).” THIN VENEER?? Everything’s relative I guess. In any case, I’m definitely not a geological expert (though I may have aspired to such for a time in high school), so I’m not going to go into details, but the ancient sandstone (mainly set down in the permian and triassic ages) has been faulted, shifted, and lifted over time. Apparently, and I definitely didn’t know this, most of the harbors we have today are actually drowned river valleys, because the sea levels rose thousands of years ago.

The end result of all of these sedimentary deposits + shifting + erosion has been this:

and this:

Avoca Beach (and surrounding areas) are less highly trafficked than a lot of beaches closer to Sydney. But not just because it’s further away – because there’s less sand, and more rock! Beautiful interesting rock! I’m mostly going to let the images speak for themselves.

Check out the surge of the waves as the tide comes in. I guess there’s nothing for scale here, but that main boulder is probably about 10 feet tall:

Aside from us and the few other people wandering the rocks, most of the people off of the sandy area were fishing. I encountered one man who was busily scraping up little seaweeds attached in rocky pools. Upon asking, he said that as the water washed over the pools and retracted back out to sea, the little bits of plant matter would attract the kind of fish he was after, so he was priming the water for his fishing expedition.

What a way to spend a day, picnicking on rocks with family, maybe a couple of beers, waiting for your rod to bend, listening to the waves…

Much of the rocky areas were flat as above, but interspersed were also many beautiful deep pools carved out of the rock, almost supernaturally sunken into the flat surroundings.

Late in the day, at North Avoca Beach, before a tasty dinner of Thai, the early evening light drew out all of the soft deep colors of the sandstones with lovely reflections on the water. 

Ben took this shot. It’s perfect:

The little black blips are snails, holding on as water from high waves washes over them.

There was a trio of little girls playing on the rocks as we explored. They were shrieking and jumping and playing with the water, looking for critters in the shallow pools. Maybe examining these snails. So lovely. Must go back to Avoca.

Highly recommended: The Australian Museum

Several days ago Ben and I set out to have a random adventure. We set off to catch a ferry that picks up near where we live. We arrived just in time to run down the dock and clamber on… and then it started raining.

We were planning on getting off at the Cockatoo Island stop, because… Cockatoo Island! Why the hell not? It’s not like you need to go to an island named after the bird to see them here – you get woken up by their raucous squawking early in the morning as it is – but as far as criteria to decide where to explore for a bit, good enough.

However, it looked like an industrial park and it was raining, so we decided to stay in the sheltered boat and ride all the way to the Circular Quay. What to do there on a rainy day? Museum!

We took the train to the “Museum” station and walked to the Australian Museum, which turned out to be a super awesome small museum with creative and in depth exhibits. I haven’t been to a museum with more of a sense of fun and with such interesting details.

I’m going to send you to Ben’s blog for the skeletal humor bits. They’re awesome  – go check them out.

Ben’s humorous skeleton and dinosaur pictures (and bird commentary) are great. I recommend enlarging those pictures. I love that the museum includes these exhibits.

The museum also had a nice way of assembling skeleton parts to make sense of the whole animals, like this armadillo. They did similar with an alligator and its bony plates and with turtles.

Ben told me he took this picture just for me. He had no idea what he was delving into, but…. Look at that ol’ elephant go!!!

After the skeletons, I spent most of my time there looking at the stuffed birds and the insects and spiders long after ben went off and looked at dinosaurs. whatever. Bugs, man! But then, I didn’t even get to the dinosaurs.

For a rather small natural history museum, this place had some serious depth and, as I’ve mentioned, a pretty great sense of humor. The little details included in the displays were pretty incredible.

Stages of bone regrowth:

Did you know that birds can make two sounds at once? I know it has always sounded like they can, but I had no idea that they actually are able to, and it’s because of this:

This is a fantastic bird! The walk to the train station from our places takes us under some large evergreens next to an expanse of grass. I’ve seen a pair of these guys several times now, and they are really pretty. I love that there are pigeons here with mohawks. They have bands on their wings that reflect a gorgeous green/blue/purple/black depending on the lighting.

I took pictures of many of the stuffed birds to use as my temporary identification book. I’ve since bought a pretty fantastic field book that I cart around with me, but it’s still nice to have these pictures to refer to. I need to get some sort of app so I can start learning the calls. Birds here make some WEIRD noises. Believe me, I’ll focus on that in a later post.

I think snakes are way more impressive than millipedes. Don’t get me wrong, I love millipedes. But sheesh!

The skeletons and the taxidermy were both quite nicely done, but what I’d really like, I think, is the skeleton exhibit and the taxidermy exhibits put together, side by side, so you can see how the flesh and muscles and feathers sit on the bones and take up space.

A cassowary’s crest is made of bone!

PS: even in skeleton form, emus are way more dopey looking than cassowaries. Though I think the curators may have been a bit biased when positioning the skulls.

However, what would actually be the coolest thing ever is if a zoo that took on that idea. I would LOVE it if zoos had reconstructed skeletons (they could be plastic!) at every enclosure, so you could make that connection to the animals in real life, not only getting a sense for its actual size up close, but seeing which parts of an animal are bone, which are flesh and cartilage and fur… how the feathers puff and fluff on the birds making them huge or small… how the head moves as the animal walks and how the skull is attached to the body… why different creatures have their legs underneath them and others  hold them to the side… I think I’d get a lot more out of observing an animal at the zoo, apart from its cuteness and interesting behaviors. The same the thing with aquariums. It’s fascinating to look at a fish skeleton and see which features are created by bony structures, and which are scales.

Plus, TEETH!

If I get rich and have the money to build my own zoo, I’m totally going to do that.

But onwards. The insect displays were also supremely well done.  Beautiful panels of families with well preserved specimens.

The display cases each have a button which you can press to get 2 or 3 minutes of light. I bet this helps preserve them, and cuts down on disrupting people looking at other exhibits nearby.

For the spider exhibits, display creators built small black boxes in which they got specimens to weave their webs, so that alongside the family information and spider specimens, you had an example of the types of webs they build at the same time. Brilliant!

I only managed to get through about 60% of the insect/spider exhibit before the museum closed. I’ll have to go back and start where I left off – dragonflies. I haven’t enjoyed a natural history museum so much in a long time. And admission is only $12!

Bonus Grouper: RAAAR. Or rather: BLORPBLORP


The Friendly Hippo

And so, dear readers, they became friends for life.

Though they could never make their love known to the world, as he could never scrape together a large enough dowry to satisfy her father, they would always carry that unextinguishable passion in their hearts.

(note the sign. please do not sit on hippo.)