February 11, 2015

February: Love Is In The Wallum And All Around Us On Fraser Island

The heart-shaped Lake Mckenzie. Pic: Caters News Agency
Fraser Island is a haven for nature lovers and, with February 14 just around the corner, it seems our amorous Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) are taking full advantage of Cupid’s bow with lovelorn males seeking out female company in the wallum scrub.  On the Great Sandy Strait, an algae bloom hotspot has become a fish feeding magnet which the Hervey Bay fishing industry - and lovers of fresh seafood - is enjoying.

Volunteers are helping our Loggerheads survive on Fraser
And, on the northern most tip of Fraser, our endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) nests are being purged and the eggs/hatchlings are being lovingly cared for by the volunteers - under the direction of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers.  All in all, Valentine’s month is a lover-ly time to be on Fraser.

DID YOU KNOW that the Loggerhead Turtle eggs need to be transported in their original north-south alignment if they are shifted more than one hour after they have been laid?  If this doesn’t happen, the egg contents detach from the shell and become infertile.  Volunteers mark the eggs with the depth they were found, the number of eggs in the nest and the alignment (this magnetic field allows the turtle to return to its birthplace to mate and lay its own eggs).

Halfband Snake Eel. Pic: Australian Museum
In our front yard, Kingfisher Bay Resort guests and staff often glimpse tiny eel-like creatures (about 30cm long with a cream body and brownish and yellow blotches) swimming along the surface of the water at the end of the jetty and come and ask us what they are.

The best answers we’ve heard are baby sea snakes or miniature Moray Eels (Muraenidae are a family of Cosmopolitan eels), but we’re busting those myths right here today and can in fact confirm that these elusive creatures are actually known as Halfband Snake Eels (Malvoliophis pinguis - pictured left) and are one of several species of eels in the family Ophichthidae.

We’ve been able to identify them by the tiny brown spots around the head and their sharp little teeth – which sounds nasty, but they're harmless to humans. The Halfband Snake Eel is endemic to Australia, populating shallow waters from central QLD to southern NSW.  They can be found hunting along the sea floor and can actually slither right under the sand during their search for food.

A splash of pink from this skink. Pic: Normf, Redbubble
On our more formal Ranger-guided walks over the past month, we were delighted to spot two Pink-tongued Skinks (Cyclodomorphus gerrardii) slithering through the grass near the Sunset Beach.  These skinks are similar in appearance to their more widely known cousins, the Blue-tongued Lizards (Tiliqua scincoides) – though the length of the tail is a dead giveaway.

Pink-tongued skinks have a very long tail - in fact, in the dark, we mistook the skinks for snakes at first - and they can grow up to around 30-40cm in length. As their name suggests, their mouth is pink (see pic above) and, when threatened, they open their mouth, inflate their bodies and make hissing noises to warn off their attacker. The majority of their diet consists of slugs and snails and, unlike some large skinks; they can climb to retrieve their food.

The skinks share the island with one of the strangest animals we have on Fraser Island -  our Short-beaked Echidnas (Tachyglossus aculeatus) - which belong to a group of mammals known as monotremes (a group including the Echidna and Platypus). As we alluded to in our intro, Echidnas are out in force this time of year and can sometimes be seen on the Ranger-guided night walks shuffling around in the undergrowth looking for insects (mainly ants and termites).

Spotted! A Short-beaked Echidna on one of our guided walks
RANGER FACT: Monotremes are quite different from other mammals because they have the ability to lay eggs.  Echidnas lay a single leathery egg and carry this around in their pouch for about 10 days until the baby Echidna (known as a Puggle) emerges. 

The Puggle breaks out of the egg using an egg tooth and then continues to grow in the mother’s pouch for around three months.  

During this time, the Puggle is fed milk from the mother, but it is secreted by pores in the skin rather than a nipple.  Young Puggles develop a soft layer of hair and spines and, once they leave the pouch, remain protected in a burrow - sometimes up to a year - until ready to fend for themselves. 

At Kingfisher Bay, our team are committed to spreading our environmental message - for example, on our jetty,  we use Tangler bins for fisherfolk to dispose of their old lines instead of them blowing into the ocean.  This month we urge everyone to watch what you throw out and where - biodegradable bags may break down in soil, but they cause havoc in our oceans for animals like our Loggerhead Turtles. There’s an awesome campaign called Take 3, which is encouraging Aussies to take three pieces of rubbish with them when they leave a beach or waterway, and we’re certainly encouraging that here on island.

Every little bit counts! Catch you next time, Tree Huggers.

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