Day 3 - Bugs, Spiders and Sweeping

Today I worked with Mark (an arachnologist) and Nik (an entomologist). Once again we jumped on the helicopter and headed to our first site. The helicopter landed on a small rock space and Mark headed off to a patch of Melaleucas to search leaf litter for spiders and I stayed to help Nik search for true bugs (these have sucking mouth-parts) in the surrounding river area.

We used a couple of techniques – sweeping and beating vegetation. When you beat vegetation, you use a beating stick and a shorter net, which you hold under the vegetation while you beat it with a stick. Any organism in the vegetation falls in to the net. The small insects are collected in a pooter (a device used to collect insects), larger insects are collected in tubes or containers of various sizes and there is even a small ‘pop-up tent’ that is used for the larger insects such as dragonflies, praying mantis’, etc. My job was the sweeping. This is where you use a net and you sweep it back and forth across grasses and other vegetation to collect insects. I had starter on my Learners with Matt yesterday, and today with the sweeping I did, Nik has handed my green “P’s”.

Time seemed to fly by and the helicopter was back to collect us and take us to the new site at Oomaloo Falls. This place was amazing; a deep pool that contained a large number of freshwater crocodiles, surrounded by incredible sandstone cliffs and stunning Boab trees. Surrounding the pool at the bottom were Pandanus palms and long grasses.

Waterhole email

There were other groups there and they had found a spider down the cliffs where there was some water trickling down like a small waterfall. We scrambled down the cliff face and looked around under rocks and near the water. Mark turned over a rock and found a number of specimens of a beautiful Wolf Spider – although we don’t know what type of wolf spider it is as it hasn’t been seen by Mark before. I helped Nik catch dragonflies in a large net and did some more sweeping, beating and pootering, while the media (The Australian) interviewed various scientists and teachers.

Nic and Mark in gorge

Near the end of the day a burrow entrance of a Whistling spider (Australia's Tarantula) was found. Mark started to dig around the burrow to see if we could collect the spider. After over an hour of digging and carefully trying to coax the spider out of the burrow, Mark was unable to collect the spider as she went under a large rock that was part of her burrow. Disappointing however all part of scientific field work. Caught the helicopter home, then after dinner I helped Nik to sort and pin the insect catches of the day…then time for bed and a well-earned rest.