13 February 2018

Phasmatodea aka Stick Insect

Painting of Leaf Insects and Stick Insects by Marianne North, 1870s

Phasmids otherwise known as Stick Insects are a fascinating and often overlooked member of the class Insecta.  They are absolute masters of camouflage and can be extremely difficult to spot due to their ability to disguise themselves in order to blend in with their surroundings.  I wanted to do a blog post about them as we chanced upon one and when I carried out some research I discovered just how intriguing they were.

"Their natural camouflage makes them difficult for predators to detect, but many species have a secondary line of defence in the form of startle displays, spines or toxic secretions. The genus Phobaeticus includes the world's longest insects.

Members of the order are found in all continents except Antartica, but they are most abundant in the tropics and subtropics.  They are herbivorous with many species living unobtrusively in the tree canopy. They have a hemimetabolous life cycle with three stages: eggs, nymphs and adults. Many phasmids are parthenogenic, and do not require fertilised eggs for female offspring to be produced. In hotter climates, they may breed all year round; in more temperate regions, the females lay eggs in the autumn before dying, and the new generation hatches out in the spring. Some species have wings and can disperse by flying, while others are more restricted.

Phasmids are herbivorous, feeding mostly on the leaves of trees and shrubs, and a conspicuous component of many neotropical (South American) systems. Phasmatodea have been postulated as dominant light-gap herbivores there. Their role in the forest ecosystem is considered important by many scientists, who stress the significance of light gaps in maintaining succession and resilience in climax forests. The presence of phasmids lowers the net production of early successional plants by consuming them and then enriches the soil by defecation. This enables the late succession plants to become established and encourages the recycling of the tropical forest.

 Phasmatodea are recognized as injurious to forest and shade trees by defoliation. Didymuria violescens, Podacanthus wilkinsoni and Ctenomorphodes tessulatus in Australia, Diapheromera femorata in North America and Graeffea crouani in coconut plantations in the South Pacific all occur in outbreaks of economic importance. Indeed, in the American South, as well as in Michigan and Wisconsin, the walking stick is a significant problem in parks and recreation sites where it consumes the foliage of oaks and hardwoods. Severe outbreaks of the walking stick, Diapheromera femorata, have occurred in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma. The insects eat the entire leaf blade. In the event of heavy outbreaks, entire stands of trees can be completely ravaged. Continuous defoliation over several years often results in the death of the tree. Fortunately for control efforts, because the insects cannot fly, infestations are typically contained to a radius of a few hundred yards. Nevertheless, the damage incurred to parks in the region is often costly. Control efforts in the case of infestations have typically involved chemical pesticides; ground fires are effective at killing eggs but have obvious disadvantages. In New South Wales, research has been done into the feasibility of controlling stick insects using natural enemies such as parasitic wasps (Myrmecomimesis spp.).

It is interesting how some scientists view the Phasmatodea's "role in the forest ecosystem as important" whilst others point out that they can be "injurious to forest and shade trees by defoliation".  I suppose it is all about maintaining environmental equilibrium.  In small numbers they probably fulfill and important role however in large numbers they may well be viewed as a pest.

8 February 2018

Australia off road 4x4 trailer UEV 490

Australia is such a vast country/continent and I think the best way to explore it is by going camping.  A company called Conqueror Australia have fantastic off-road trailers but they are understandably very pricey.  I wanted to do a blog post about these trailers because they are Made in Australia and in the event that we win the lottery we will definitely buy a UEV490 model.  In the meantime, camping is still fun with a tent and sleeping bags.  The Conqueror website says, "All the canvas used in the Conqueror UEV490 is military stock, UV stabilised and mildew resistant and fully submerged in waterproofing solution rather than just having it sprayed on." 

Still on the subject of camping, I have taken two great books out on loan from the library to inspire my husband and I to cook up some great meals on our next camping trip. They are full of easy meals as well as tips on what to take with you.

Australian BUSH Cooking by Cathy Savage ISBN 978-1-921203-93-0


Hungry Campers Cookbook by Katy Holder ISBN 978-1741174243

26 January 2018

Australia Day

Australia Day is the official national day of Australia.  Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson. New South Wales and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.  In present-day Australia, celebrations reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation and are marked by community and family events, reflections on Australian history, official community awards and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new members of the Australian community.

 In contemporary Australia, the holiday is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Australia Day Honours list and addresses from the Governor-General and the Prime Minister. It is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, unless it falls on a weekend, in which case the following Monday becomes a public holiday instead. With community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies, the day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia.

25 January 2018

Australian of the Year Awards 2018

Every year on the eve of Australia Day, there is an award ceremony held at Parliament House in Canberra to choose people from around Australia under the heading of the following four categories:

Australian of the Year

Young Australian of the Year

Senior Australian of the Year

Australia's Local Hero

These prestigious awards inspire ordinary people to be proud of their nationality and also to do their best to help others in their respective fields whatever their profession might be.  The winners of the 2018 awards were as follows:

Australian of the Year - Professor Michelle Yvonne Simmons,  a British born Quantum Physicist who later took Australian citizenship.  Prof Simmons works at the University of New South Wales and has helped to develop leading technology on a global scale.

Young Australian of the Year - Samantha Kerr, a Sports Woman playing for the Matildas in Perth and also a vocal advocate for women's sports.

 Senior Australian of the Year -  Dr Graham Farquhar AO, a Biophysicist for his work protecting food security in a changing climate.

 Australia's Local Hero - Eddie Woo, a Mathematics teacher from New South Wales who was honoured for his teaching skills which inspired students to engage with the subject both in the classroom and through his tuition over the Internet in the form of YouTube videos.

24 January 2018

Pop up piano in Regional Victoria


My husband and I went by car to the country town of Sale in the state of Victoria yesterday.  Whilst we were walking around the city I spotted a brightly coloured upright piano placed near the clock tower ready to be used by the general public.  A little girl aged about four was having a go pressing the different keys and enjoying the sound they made and her mother was taking her photograph.  After they went it was my turn.  I learnt how to play the piano at the age of 11 whilst at boarding school in England.  At school we were encouraged to take part in piano examinations organised by the Royal Schools of Music.  I took part and passed piano examinations for grades 1, 2 and 3.  My upright piano is currently in storage and I have not had the opportunity to play the piano since July 2002.  So it was wonderful to be able to sit down and play some of the classical pieces I learnt by heart all those years ago.   I played the piano for about half and hour and some passersby were happy to stop and listen to me whilst others were kind enough to give me words of encouragement such as, "you are doing well" and "what a beautiful piece".  My husband kindly made a short video so that I could include it in my blog post.

Community pianos, pop up pianos which are located in the public sphere are a fantastic idea and a great initiative.  I wish they were more readily accessible by the general public in greater numbers across other towns and cities.  They enable people to actively engage with a musical instrument and get hands on experience (pardon the pun).  This may in turn lead to more people wanting to have piano lessons or learn how to play another musical instrument.  

Playing the Pop Up Piano in the country town of Sale inspired me to do some research on this subject.  On the Internet I came across a website set up by the Melbourne Piano School http://www.melbournepiano.com.au/pianos-in-melbourne.html I was pleased to learn that they are currently creating a map of pianos in public spaces in Melbourne and their website also gives details about the piano I played in Regional Victoria in the country town of Sale.  The Melbourne Piano School website also asks visitors to their website to inform them of any other community piano/pop up piano that they are aware of which has not yet been added to the list.  


1 January 2018

A philosophical question for the 1st of January ...

The year is yours.  What will you do with it?

I saw this philosophical question on a notice board today and it really made me think about all the things which I would like to achieve in 2018.  I always make New Year's Resolutions anyway however I found this question more confronting it is as if they are challenging you to use the year ahead wisely.  For my part I would like to do the following;

- do some voluntary work and give my time and skills to help others

- take driving lessons and get an Australian driver's license

- increase my chances of finding suitable paid employment by doing further training at a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) College.  There is a great website called Ethical Jobs http://www.ethicaljobs.com.au/ I am most interested in jobs which are advertised here and hopefully I can use my Honours degree in Social Sciences as well as my language skills and a booster course at TAFE will enable me to fulfill this resolution.

- After watching several episodes of The Great British Bake Off, I have been inspired to apply to the Antipodean version of this program, The Great Australian Bake Off.  I'm pretty confident with my baking skills and I reckon I have an interesting back story.  Besides as with anything in life, you need to participate in order to challenge yourself and improve your existing skills and abilities.  https://www.lifestyle.com.au/bakeoff/

Happy New Year to you all, I hope you too will be inspired to set yourself some realistic goals.

30 December 2017

2017 - 2018 Ashes Series between Australia versus England (sponsored by Magellan)

Cricket is a bat and ball game played between two teams of eleven players each on a cricket field, at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard-long pitch with a target called the wicket (a set of three wooden stumps upon which two bails sit) at each end. Each phase of play is called an innings during which one team bats, attempting to score as many runs as possible, whilst their opponents field. Depending on the type of match, the teams have one or two innings apiece and, when the first innings ends, the teams swap roles for the next innings. Except in matches which result in a draw, the winning team is the one that scores the most runs, including any extras gained.

The Ashes Series are only played between England and Australia.  My husband went to see day 3 of the Fourth Test in Melbourne.  He said for him the highlights of day 3 were:

- soaking up the atmosphere by being among spectators which were in excess of 61,000 at the MCG
- seeing English batsman Alastair Cook scoring an unbeaten double hundred with 244 not out
- listening to the large repertoire of songs by the Barmy Army https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barmy_Army

Ashes Test Series 2017

Test 1 of 5 at The Gabba in Brisbane, 23 November 2017
England ENG 302 &195/10
Australia AUS 328 & 173/0 
Australia won by 10 wickets 

Test 2 of 5 at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, 2 December 2017
AUS 442/8d & 138/10
ENG 227 & 233/10 
Australia won by 120 runs

Test 3 of 5 at the WACA, in Perth, 14 December 2017
ENG 403 & 218/10
AUS 662/9d 
Australia won by an innings an 41 runs

Test 4 of 5 at the MCG in Melbourne, 26 December 2017
AUS 327 & 263/4d
ENG 491
Match drawn

Upcoming - Test 5 of 5 at the SCG in Sydney, starting on 4 January 2018
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