Often, the weird and wonderful things are the things we see least often. And often the reasons we see them so rarely, are what makes them so weird and wonderful. Take the crazy freshwater crustacean called the shield shrimp in Australia (scientific name Triops australiensis). I’ve been wandering around floodplain wetlands and creeks for a few years now, peering into the water and sweeping nets around looking for tadpoles, and until the last month, I’d only see one of these things.
They are weird because they have three eyes – yes really (the middle one tells light from dark). And because they haven’t changed since the early dinosaurs walked the earth. And because it looks like they attached a flattened snow-plough over their head and body, then discovered they couldn’t see, so stuck the eyes on the outside.
And they are wonderful because the eggs can survive the harshest cold and the driest heat and being blown around in the wind for YEARS, before hatching out and finding themselves in temporary pools near the top of Uluru and rocky outcrops at Arapiles, or sandy desert swales and clay-pans, or floodplain creeks in the Murray Darling Basin. Which is where I saw them in September. At a couple of places, I got more shield shrimp in the tadpole nets than tadpoles. Such ungainly looking things, not particularly hydrodynamic-ly designed for an aquatic animal. And at night, I watched them scoot and tumble about, yes definitely not very hydrodynamic.
Being more accustomed to frogs in warmer, more northern climes, which disdain the colder weather — I’ve been enjoying the winter frog action to be had in this southern chilly location of Albury. After about a week of heavy rain in April and May, the frogs have been calling near constantly from the wetlands around the back of the CSU campus, in sodden paddocks, dam ponds and roadside ditches, audible even through my headphones during my bike ride home. As well the ever-present Crinia signifera and C. parinsignifera (common and eastern sign-bearing froglet respectively), the CSU campus is home to Crinia sloanei, an endangered frog similar in appearance to C. signifera but with different more cheep-y call. After honing in on the call and doing a bit of hunting through the grassy vegetation, I managed to tracked ‘em down and got a good look. A nice frog to tick off the list. Also seen that night — Litoria peroni (Peron’s tree frog), Limnodynastes tasmaniensis (spotted marsh frog), and we heard Litoria ewingii (southern brown tree frog).
About a week later and after more rain, I noticed a different call in one corner of a paddock as I biked past. Coming back the next night, with fellow intrepid frogger (Carmen Amos), it didn’t take us long to find Neobatrachus sudelli (Sudells burrowing frog)! A cutey burrowing frog that seems quite happy with the sub 10deg temperatures. There’s a lot of tenacity in these winter-calling species, something to admire.
My former PhD supervisor asked me to write a blog post for the Australian Museum on research from my PhD that we’d just had published in the journal Austral Ecology. It was using the radio-tracking work I’d done in the Macquarie Marshes, on Limnodynastes fletcheri (barking marsh frog) and Litoria caerulea (green tree frog). You can find the blog on the AM website and the link to the paper.