19 December 2015

Watch this space ...

My sincere apologies to the readers of my blog.  I feel as if I have left you down.  My lack of regular blog posts is truly abysmal.  The truth is, that although I moved to another country in December 2014 which is so very different in every way from the country I left behind, due to a conflict of emotions so far I have felt verbally paralysed and unable to write any blog posts from our new posting.

I thought to myself, surely if I continue to remain objective and steer clear from writing anything on politics then I will be alright and I can maintain the integrity of my blog and not be seen to be taking sides.  So, in this vein I hope to start writing blog posts again in the New Year.  If I lose some of my regular readers along the way then so be it.  I know that you can't please everyone.  Having said that, I hope I will take the bulk of my readers with me on a new journey and explore my current new posting with you.  For there is much to write about from architecture to food, from a new language to  
new customs and subtle cultural differences.  As an expatriate, I feel it is worth recording my experiences and my vision in an objective, non-biast and non-judgemental way.  I have a voice and noteworthy things to say about our new posting.  For one whole year I have felt in conflict within myself to write anything but I feel I have now emerged from this self-imposed verbal hibernation a stronger person and able to carry on.

19 October 2015


In the Northern Hemisphere, autumn is synonymous with pomegranates and we particularly look forward to this time of the year.  The ruby red colour of the fruit, the jewel like seeds and crown shaped sepals not to mention the delicious juice which has enormous health benefits all go to make up this visually spectacular fruit.

Pomegranate fruit next to a bowl of pomegranate seeds

Freshly made pomegranate juice next to pomegranates

For your information, here is a short list of recipes from the BBC Food website which contain pomegranates:

Spelt, smoked salmon and spinach tart

Leafy salad with feta and pomegranate

Lemon and pomegranate couscous
Anatra con melagrana (duck with pomegranate) and sauteed escarole

Orange cake with pomegranate ice cream, caramelised oranges and orange and pomegranate syrup 

18 October 2015

Feral Future by Tim Low

To follow on from my previous blog post concerning invasive species which have been inadvertently introduced into Australia, this excellent easily accessible book devoid of technical jargon manages to inform and explain in detail the subject matter to anyone who wishes to find out more.

Here is an extract from the back jacket of the book, "Exotic species are invading Australia at a spectacular rate.  Everyone knows about cane toads, rabbits and, more recently, fire ants, but few people have heard of the hundreds of other invaders now infiltrating the country, such as giant seaworms, brown widow spiders and green crabs.

In this groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book, biologist Tim Low charts the story of the biological invasion of Australia.  Tapping a rich vein of  scientific data, fascinating stories and personal experience, he argues convincingly that bio-invasion poses a threat more ominous than greenhouse gases, industrial pollution and ozone depletion.

Feral Future is a window on a tomorrow beyond imagination."

ISBN 0-14-029825-8

17 October 2015

Japanese Starfish (Asterias amurensis)

Japanese starfish (Asterias amurensis)

Whilst I was on holiday in Australia earlier this year, I was chatting to a fisherman who was fishing from the jetty in Port Philip Bay.  He reeled in one of his rods and discovered that he had hooked a bright yellow starfish.  Seeing that I was curious he told me it was a Japanese starfish otherwise known in Latin as Asterias amurensis. The fisherman said although it was a species originally native to Japan, China and Korea it had recently been introduced to Australian coastal waters along oceanic shipping routes.  Following my informative chat with the fisherman, I carried out further research on the internet and I learnt that the larvae of the Japanese starfish was apparently transported in the ballast water of ships.  It had invaded Australian waters and had bred prolifically due to the fact that it has no natural predators in Australia.  It has been classified as an invasive species in Australia and is on the Invasive Species Specialist Group list of the world's 100 worst invasive species

It struck me that whilst the scenery around Port Phillip Bay is certainly idyllic, there is so much going on under the water such as the reproduction of the invasive Japanese starfish.  I'm sure the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and marine biologists are fully cognisant of this problem however, by doing a blog post I wanted to raise awareness.  The fisherman I spoke to said, that if they happen to catch a starfish on their rods, they had been advised to destroy it and dispose of it in the bin and not throw it back into the water.  

I am including an extract below from the Wikipedia website on the "impacts on society" and a bid to try and effectively remove the Japanese starfish from Australian waters without causing too much environmental damage. 

Impacts on society

Invasions breed extinctions. It is vital to monitor ecological impacts from invasive species, because they can cause economic or even human health impacts. A surge in this species’ population will affect the populations of its prey and throw off normal balances in the current trophic web of Pacific coast areas. Experimental evidence has concluded that the predatory star has a major impact on juvenile bivalves. The asteroid will also attach itself to salmon traps, oyster lines and scallop long lines. In Australia, it was connected to the decline of the endangered hand-fish. American ecologists must pay close attention to the implications of this invasive species. As trophic webs change over time, the endangerment and loss of certain marketable sea organisms cause coastal communities to potentially lose billions of dollars. In Japan, the sea star’s population outbreaks have cost the marine culture industry millions of dollars in control measures and losses from predation.



The North Pacific sea star has already invaded Australian waters in the Derwent Estuary and Henderson Lagoon. Such a notable disturbance has not been documented in America.

Trials have been run to find effective removal processes including physical removal of A. amurensis, which was estimated by workshop participants to be the most effective, safe and politically attractive when compared with chemical or biological control processes.  Poisoning the sea-stars or introducing a new predator to cut back their population numbers would introduce new problems, so effectiveness is not guaranteed. Early detection and prevention of reproduction remains the best solution to reducing harmful effects of invasive species. The aim of the study by Mountfort et al. was to develop a probe to test ballast water and detect the presence of this specific maritime pest.  If policies on removal of ballast water are enforced, the star fish will not be introduced to foreign systems so frequently.

15 October 2015

Public service announcement in Australia - Desperately seeking deadly spiders ... in particular (Atrax robustus)

An incredibly interesting and most astonishing arachnid news story caught my eye on the BBC news website entitled, "Desperately seeking deadly spiders in Australia".  Apparently, the general public has been asked to help capture live specimens of the notorious and deadly funnel-web spiders and take their specimens in jars to designated drop-off points at the Australian Reptile Park  where people in the know will "milk" the venom from the spiders and use them in the production of much needed anti-venom!  I hope no-one who is bold enough to take up this deadly challenge will get bitten in the process.  Here is the link for your information:

Apart from that, whilst I was reading the article on the internet and looking at life size images of the funnel-web spider, I experienced a strong sense of déjà vu as if I had seen this particular spider before, the photograph reminded very much of the spiders which inhabited our basement and garden in Tunis, Tunisia, North Africa in 2007.

Whilst the funnel-web spiders are commonly known in Australia as the Sydney funnel-web spider as they are "usually found within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia", I wondered what the world wide geographical range was for this particular spider species known by its Latin name as Atrax robustus and whether sightings had also been made in Tunisia? An initial search on the internet led me to The Animal Diversity website ADW which stated in its first paragraph that it can only be found in Australia.

However, I am so convinced that these were indeed the spiders which had inhabited the basement and garden of our old house in Tunis that I have decided to contact the arachnologist friends that I had made back in 2007 and ask their views on the matter. I will up-date this line of inquiry in the form of a follow-up blog post if I get a response from any of them.

21 August 2015

Redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

A female redback spider Latrodectus hasselti guarding her egg sacks
This is a photograph of a female redback spider taken inside a galvanised steel shed in Australia.  Rather worryingly there were several redbacks inside this shed and interestingly many of them had woven large untidy webs at each of the four corners and were guarding silken egg sacks which resembled nibbles one might serve with an apéritif.  Initially, we were rather alarmed to see so many venomous spiders in one place and when we were telling a friend of ours about it later over a cup of tea he said wryly, "never mind the spiders, it's the people you have to worry about."  Perhaps there is an element of truth in that observation.  At least with redback spiders you know that they are venomous and if you don't disturb their habitats then they don't cause you any harm. 

The redback spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) is a species of venomous spider indigenous to Australia. It is a member of the genus Latrodectus, the widow spiders. The adult female is easily recognised by her spherical black body with a prominent red stripe on the upper side of her abdomen and an hourglass-shaped red/orange streak on the underside. Females have a body length of about 10 millimeters (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.
Mainly nocturnal, the female redback lives in an untidy web in a warm sheltered location, commonly near or inside human residences. It preys on insects, spiders and small vertebrates that become ensnared in its web. It kills its prey by injecting a complex venom through its two fangs when it bites, before wrapping them in silk and sucking out the liquefied insides. Male spiders and spiderlings often live on the periphery of the female spiders' web and steal leftovers. Other species of spider and parasitoid wasps prey on this species. The redback is one of few arachnids which usually display sexual cannibalism while mating. The sperm is then stored in the spermathecae, organs of the female reproductive tract, and can be used up to two years later to fertilise several clutches of eggs. Each clutch averages 250 eggs and is housed in a round white silken egg sac. The redback spider has a widespread distribution in Australia, and inadvertent introductions have led to established colonies in New Zealand, Japan, and in greenhouses in Belgium.

 The redback is one of the few spider species that can be seriously harmful to humans, and its preferred habitat has led it to being responsible for the large majority of serious spider bites in Australia. Predominantly neurotoxic to vertebrates, the venom gives rise to the syndrome of latrodectism in humans; this starts with pain around the bite site, which typically becomes severe and progresses up the bitten limb and persists for over 24 hours. Sweating in localised patches of skin occasionally occurs and is highly indicative of latrodectism. Generalised symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headache, and agitation may also occur and indicate severe poisoning. An antivenom has been available since 1956, and there have been no deaths directly due to redback bites since its introduction.

Café des Nattes

In December last year, our 12 year posting in Tunisia came to an end.  Although I am no longer living there as an expatriate I wanted to write a couple of more blog posts about places of interest in Tunis that I did not get a chance to write about before I left and I will then shift my focus on to our new posting. 

There are some fabulous cafés in Tunis. 
Café des Nattes is a fine example, it is located in the picturesque suburb of Sidi Bou Said.  Steep and well worn steps lead up to Café des Nattes and a beautiful welcoming arched doorway entices people inside.  It's authentic interior is particularly cosy and intimate.  Several large columns painted in dark green, red and white stripes are particularly eye-catching.  It's definitely worth a visit just to imbibe the ambiance.  I used to come here to have a glass of mint tea and either enjoy the company of friends or else to relax with a good book.  If you like observing people going about their daily lives then you will enjoy sitting on the balcony which overlooks a small village square.  If you appreciate architecture and interior design then you may prefer to sit inside on colourful hand-woven mats made of palm leaves.  As well as mint tea and depending on availability they sometimes serve freshly squeezed orange juice and at other times they have lemonade as well as soft drinks.  There is a glass display cabinet opposite the alcove of the open plan kitchen which houses a delectable array of Tunisian pastries.

Café des Nattes
Rue Sidi Bou Fares, Sidi Bou Said 2026, Tunisia
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