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August B-mail 2016

Snuggling up for warmth

These buddies are hanging out with their friends and families this month

This issue of B-mail was written by Felicity Harvey.

Antechinus: datheistAntechinus Fluffballs

This little buddy often suffers from a case of mistaken identity, and this confusion can prove dangerous for them. The antechinus is very similar in appearance to the introduced House Mouse, which many people are not keen on.

Unlike the House Mouse, which can spread disease, eat through farmers' crops and out-compete for resources with native animals, the antechinus is a great neighbour to have.

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Antechinus distribution mapDistribution map of the antechinus.

There are ten species of antechinus in Australia however they all have very similar features. Here are some characteristics to help you tell them apart from mice:

  • Antechinus will grow to between 70-140 mm (slightly longer than House Mice). It has four pairs of small sharp front teeth and its head is long and pointed with bulging eyes.
  • The ears of the antechinus are large, thin and crinkly with a notch at the edge.
  • You’re more likely to see them hopping than mice and rats.
  • Its hair is short and they range in colour from grey to light brown to black, depending on the species.
  • Its whiskers are very prominent and together with its pointed head, they somewhat resemble a shrew.
  • Females have a large, open pouch full of babies clinging on in early spring whereas mice keep their litter in a nest.

Antechinus prefer to hang out in forests, taking shelter in round nests in logs and crevices. Most species of antechinus nest in communal groups. Here are some cuties living communally in Tasmania.

Sometimes, they can be found inside houses near bush areas and farms, but they are rarely seen in urban areas.

The antechinus is a good eater and will take care of beetles, spiders, amphipods and cockroaches for you. They will also occasionally snack on some small berries.

These little furry buddies do look a lot like introduced House Mice.
This Swamp Antechinus has lots of babies hanging onto her teats.
Antechinus will help eat up insects in your garden.
These little furry buddies do look a lot like introduced House Mice.Photo: datheist (Flickr).

Mating is triggered by the change in the length of days. The shorter days in winter are the signal to the antechinus to start mating. So during July and August these buddies will be much more active and you will have a great chance of spotting them.

Breeding season is no easy task for the antechinus, as it is a stressful, frenzied time of brutal competition. A female's litter often has multiple paternities, which means there are several different fathers of the offspring. This is a great way for the antechinus to keep its gene pool healthy.

All antechinus populations breed at the same time, with around 70% even giving birth on the same day. However, fertilization does not take place immediately, as the female is able to store sperm for up to two weeks in her oviducts. It is only the sperm from the strongest males that will go on to fertilization.

Breeding lasts for two weeks and males will usually die after their first season, as it is so stressful and exhausting. The females can live for up to three years, but this is quite unusual, as they usually die after weaning their first litter. The number in the litter depends on the number of teats on the female, which differs depending on the species. It is usually four but it can be up to 10 in some populations.

The baby antechinus are among the smallest Australian native animal babies, weighing only around 4 grams. Look how tiny these ones are.

Download your free Antechinus Factsheet to find out how to encourage antechinus in your area.

To encourage the helpful antechinus into your garden, create a nice habitat for them to live in. They like to eat insects so a layer of mulch will bring their food in. They also love hollow logs so don’t move any from your garden and if you see some being thrown away by neighbours or sold as firewood, they could make a great addition to your garden as habitat for local antechinus buddies. A pond is also great for providing water to the antechinus. Check out this cheeky antechinus at the pond.

The antechinus have a rather impressive way of guarding their mate during breeding season. They do this by protracting copulation, which means that it can last for up to 12 hours. To maximize energy, they strip their body of proteins and suppress their immune system. No wonder they’re so exhausted by the end!

Kookaburra Photo: geoffrey robertsMonkeying Around

“Koo-koo-hoo-hoo-hoo-haa-haa-haa-haa-haa-haa!” This sound has confused many visiting tourists and explorers. Does Australia secretly have monkeys in the trees? Or is someone laughing at me from the bushes? Click here to listen to their call.

Similar to real monkeys, the Laughing Kookaburra loves to hang out in the trees in big family groups and knows the important balance between work and pleasure.

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Orb Spider mapDistribution map of the Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae.

There are two species of Kookaburra, the famous Laughing Kookaburra and the northern Blue-winged Kookaburra which is smaller. The Laughing Kookaburra doesn’t have as much blue on its wing but it does have some which you can see in this video. Both species of kookaburra have the trademark laugh that we have come to know and love.

The Laughing Kookaburra mainly lives along the east and north coast of Australia. These bird buddies belong to the kingfisher family.

Despite the larrikin image given by the raucous laughter, this famous Australian bird takes family duty seriously. Kookaburras remain with their parents for many years helping to feed, raise and protect their younger brothers and sisters. Family groups of more than six birds are quite common.

When a Kookaburra eventually starts a family of its own it will usually keep its mate for life. This is a big commitment as Kookaburras can live for 20 years! Kookaburras are sedentary and live in the same territory year round so they are fascinating long term locals who you can get to know well.

Family is very important to the Laughing Kookaburra.
Kookaburras will use their sharp beaks to dig out tree hollows.
Kookaburras are amazing hunters who will eat just about anything that will fit in its beak.
Family is very important to the Laughing Kookaburra.Photo: Jerry Dohnal.

Our neighbourhoods can be friendly for Kookaburras. A Kookaburra family needs lots of space with big trees and perches where they can safely search for food.

The Kookaburra is a great hunter that will eat snakes, lizards, rodents, insects, invertebrates and occasionally small birds. They make a great living using their natural hunting skills, and don’t need us to feed them. Here’s one easily catching a worm.

One Kookaburra family’s home territory may include over one hundred house blocks and some parkland. The territory size relates to the family size and is as big as they can defend against other Kookaburras.

Download your free Kookaburra Factsheet and find out how to encourage Kookaburras in your area.

Keep mature gum trees in your backyard and plant some new ones. Use plenty of leaf mulch on your garden, as it brings life to your soil and Kookaburras love to feed on the worms, insects and small lizards that live in and under it.

The laughing sound that the Kookaburra makes is not because they find something really amusing or because they like singing with their family, it’s actually their way of defending their territory. It’s a warning to Kookaburras thinking of invading or causing trouble.

Marbled Gecko Photo: Michale SaleSpotlight on the Marbled Velvet Gecko

By Ranger Clare Pearce, Community Education Officer and Katherine Region Junior Ranger Coordinator, Parks and Wildlife Commission of the N.T. NT Parks and Wildlife is on Facebook. Click to have a look.

Velvet Geckos or Oedura species are a group of medium to large geckos found only in Australia. They are covered in tiny scales that produce the beautiful velvety skin texture, suggested by their common name. They are quite big, and adults can reach up to 18 cm in length.

The Marbled Velvet Gecko has a huge range that stretches from the West Australia-Northern Territory border down through Western Queensland and into New South Wales. They are also found in dryer inland areas of western and southern Australia making them the most widespread of the Velvet Geckos.

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Their wide range has somewhat protected them from the effects of habitat change. Their populations are in a fairly healthy state except in South Australia, where they are considered close to becoming a threatened species.

This photo was taken on a recent Junior Rangers expedition.
The Marbled Velvet Gecko has great colouring.
This photo was taken on a recent Junior Rangers expedition.
The Marbled Velvet Gecko has great colouring.
This photo was taken on a recent Junior Rangers expedition.Photo: Clare Pearce.

Like many geckos, the Marbled Velvet Gecko is well adapted to harsh conditions and can go for months without food or water.

They are nocturnal and have large eyes that can detect even the slightest movement from a long way off. This means they’re well-equipped to hunt for cockroaches and spiders that scuttle around in the dark. Interestingly these big and useful eyes are not protected by eyelids, instead like most geckos they have a clear scale covering their eyes and will lick their eyes to clean them.

When a Marbled Velvet Gecko spots its likely prey, it will rush to within a short distance of it and then slowly, one foot at a time, close in before lunging with lightning speed to grab its victim in its powerful jaws. Unlike many of its smaller relatives this rather robust critter is not just an insectivore. It seems that our pretty mate may also be a bit of a
cannibal, as these big guys will tuck into an unwary smaller gecko if given half a chance!

The Marbled Velvet Gecko doesn’t have things all its own way as it has to keep a wary eye out for hungry owls and snakes.

Marbled Velvet Geckos are strong, secretive climbers and like to conceal themselves in rock crevices or under bark. They are also regularly spotted stalking across open rock faces, rummaging through the spinifex or rustling around under fallen leaf litter as they hunt for dinner.

The gecko in the photograph was out hunting recently when it was spotted by an enthusiastic crowd of Junior Rangers. We gently scooped it up for a closer look before gently releasing it to continue on its way.

Photo: Jan ThomasWhat's in Your Backyard?

Western Australian Backyard - by Ian Gillett

My wife Bonnie and I live in Rockingham, south of Perth WA. We first moved here in 2009 and during our time here we have enjoyed transforming our suburban property into a native garden and sanctuary for local native species. Although I am a non-native animal, I have married into a family of nature lovers and I have come to love the many beautiful plants and flowers Australia has to offer.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading an article in our local paper (Sound Telegraph) about Backyard Buddies and wanted to share my story to encourage others to help native animals.

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What the property looked like when Ian first bought it.
Now the front garden is teaming with native platns.
Ian is hoping to attract Fairy Wrens to his garden one day.
What the property looked like when Ian first bought it.

When we bought our house, we ripped out the front garden which mainly consisted of Couch Grass, Annual Vincas and New Zealand Flax. We instead planted lots of natives and have had a native garden ever since.

You can see from some of the pictures the big changes we made to the front, side and back of our property. Some of the natives that we have planted include Pincushion Hakeas, several different eucalyptus trees, Mallee rosacea, Grevillea vestita, and Banksia ashbyii.

We are now letting our grevilleas grow to their full height, rather than trim them. This is giving the birds more hiding places, as they flit in and out looking for flowers.

We see a lot of New Holland Honeyeaters enjoying the garden and we’d like to attract
Fairy Wrens one day. We are hoping to encourage more birds as our garden continues to grow.

As well as birds visiting birds we have had a Bobtail Skink in the garage, lots of small lizards and the local Motorbike Frogs.

Sadly our neighbours have cats which are allowed out at all hours and no doubt have hunted some of the native animals in the area. We’ve even seen evidence of them trying to dig up the Motorbike Frogs.

It is a shame more people don't change their front gardens back into native gardens, and have grass out back for children. More people should remove the front lawns and go back to natives. Lawns mean people use fertiliser and water to keep them alive which is a waste of water resources and the fertiliser damages waterways and surrounding bushland.