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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Beasts of Many Hues

As the year is winding down, I seem to be too, so forgive me if I don't go into any great depth in this, my antepenultimate posting for the year. I've had some fun in the past looking at colours in nature. (You can, if you like, find the most recent one here and go back, or just go to Colours in Nature in Labels alongside this.)

Some time ago someone suggested I might look at 'rainbow colours' in nature - outside of an actual rainbow that's a bit tricky if taken literally, but in the spirit of that I've decided to look at some multi-coloured animals today, which I've defined as having at least three evident colours without counting black, grey, white or brown. It's quite arbitrary of course, but I had to have some guidelines. I'm not going, on this occasion, to look deeply into the mechanics or even purpose of the colours involved, as that's been covered in my posts on the individual colours and this is a time for simple enjoyment, on both our parts. 

In the event this is overwhelmingly about birds - I was surprised to fail to find any butterflies in my photo collection which meet my criteria, and very few invertebrates at all, or indeed other vertebrates, though that's not to suggest I don't think they exist. I can't really start better than by looking at the three Australian birds which actually have 'rainbow' in their name. 
Rainbow Bee-eaters Merops ornatus, Karumba, tropical Queensland.
The bee-eaters overall are one of the most colourful bird groups - this is the only one found in Australia.
Rainbow Pitta Pitta iris, East Point, Darwin.
The name species name also means rainbow. This angle doesn't give you the best view of its assets,
but you get the idea.
Rainbow Lorikeet Trichoglossus moluccanus, Emerald Botanic Gardens, Queensland.
This widespread and familiar parrot is still expanding its range - it really is spectacular.
Which brings us to the parrots, by far the best-represented group that I found. Curiously, some of the best-known parrots however, such as the macaws, didn't qualify (though of course I don't have pictures of them all). I have had to select, and have limited myself to just four of the many I could have used; I'll find an excuse to introduce the rest in the not-too-distant future however. 
Superb Parrot Polytelis swainsonii, Mulligans Flat NR, Canberra.
A threatened species which has taken to coming into Canberra in recent years,
probably spurred by drought years. An unhelpful name, but hard to argue with.

Mulga Parrot Psephotus varius, outback Western Australia.
Widespread in the inland - not just in mulga (Acacia aneura) - it boasts four obvious colours.
Red-capped Parrot Purpureicephalus spurius, Albany, south-west Australia, where it is endemic.
Double-eyed Fig Parrot Cyclopsitta diophthalma, Cairns, tropical Queensland.
Australia's smallest parrot - only 14cm long - and packed with colour!
One of the few Australian birds which can match the parrots for diversity of colour is a rainforest pigeon, and sadly my pics don't really do it justice.
Wompoo Pigeon (or Fruit Dove) Ptilinopus magnificus, Cairns.
This is a glorious big pigeon, whose name comes from its call. Try saying it slowly and sonorously -
lots of gravitas!
Overseas there are of course many contenders too, though curiously not many hummingbirds seem to be among them - they are intensely coloured, often iridescent, but not really multi-hued. Fortunately I know of at least one to whom that does not apply!
Golden-tailed Sapphire Chrysuronia oenone, Waqanki Lodge, northern Peru.
Masked Trogon Chrysuronia oenone, Tandayapa Lodge, Ecuador.
All trogons are spectacular, but are not always easily photographed in the canopy;
here however they come down to the compost heap!
Many-banded Aracari Pteroglossus pluricinctus, Wild Sumaco Lodge, Ecuador.
Aracaris are small toucans, a notably colourful group.
Saffron-crowned Tanager Tangara xanthocephala, Inka Terra Hotel, Machu Picchu, Peru.
This bird was in shadow - in the sun the crown is more obviously saffron!
Collectively, tanagers are among the most brilliantly-coloured birds in the world.
Not all multi-coloured birds are from Australia and South America of course. Here are a couple from Asia.
Red-crowned Barbet Megalaima rafflesii, Bako NP, Sarawak.
The Asian barbets are now regarded as being in a separate family from both the African and South American ones -
all are spectacular.
Rubycheek (or Ruby-cheeked Sunbird) Chalcoparia singalensis, Batang Ai NP, Sarawak.
The sunbirds, of Africa and Asia, are another group in contention for
Colourful Birds of the World Award.
And among other vertebrates, I could only find a couple of frogs who qualified.
This superb beastie appeared in large numbers from the ground when it started raining at Cunnamulla
in south-central Queensland. It is a Crucifix Frog (or, wrongly, Toad) Notaden bennettii, which survives
dry spells in a cocoon down in the underground mud. Most frogs don't draw attention to themselves -
everybody, it seems, wants to eat them - but this one can afford to. "Don't eat me, I will make you very sorry."
The poison arrow frogs of South America have, if anything, even more firepower to back up their colourful warnings. 
Poison Arrow Frog Ameerega bilinguis, Sacha Lodge, Ecuador.
It exudes toxic alkaloids through its skin - do not try this at home (even assuming you have the frog).
This hand belongs to an indigenous Quichua man who has been handling them all his life and has
evidently developed some immunity.
As for invertebrates, surprisingly I have only been able to come up with four - three grasshoppers (again not what I'd have bet on in advance) and, also unexpectedly perhaps, a crab! None are Australian.
Unidentified grasshopper, Blanquillo Clay Lick, Peru.

And another, also unidentified, from the rainforests of Mt Kupé, Cameroon.

And at last, one I can put a name to - the Galápagos Painted Locust Schistocerca melanocera,on Sierra Negra, Isla Isabela.
Finally, also from the Galápagos, the wonderful Sally Lightfoot Crab Grapsus grapsus.
Sally Lightfoots are found all along the Pacific coast of the Americas,
and they are one of the real features of the Galápagos.
 I hope this lightweight post has brightened your day - I feel more cheerful for having put it together.

BACK ON WEDNESDAY FOR DOUBTLESS ANOTHER FAIRLY FLIMSY OFFERING - LIFE IS BUSY AT THE MOMENT!

6 comments:

Denis Wilson said...

No Gouldian Finches, Ian?

Flabmeister said...

Thanks for that. I am rarely short of challenges (remembering bird calls is my go-to area of difficulty). However having just glanced at ~100 blog posts with the label "invertebrate" and failed to find an Australian invertebrate image which satisfies your criteria for a "Beast of Many hues" I shall have to start peering closely at things with several+ legs. (I have also wondered about Water Dragons which my memory, but not my photos, suggest include red yellow and green in their palette.)

Martin

Susan said...

Have you seen the recent study which claims that tropical animals are not more colourful than those from temperate climes?

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks for these comments friends; I was hoping to encourage people to find examples I'd missed, and I hope others will continue to do so.

Denis, I did consider using my pics of both Gouldian Finches and Mandarin Ducks, but both were taken in captivity, so I deemed them ineligible for my purposes.

Martin, I too expected to be able to use a Water Dragon, but was surprised to find they didn't qualify, at least in my pics. (Unless you allow the aqua on the throat to be green...).

Susan, yes I have seen that one thanks. I was a bit dubious about about their basic premise, which was that everyone thinks that tropical animals are always more colourful than temperate ones - I certainly don't assume that. (See my pics of temperate parrots for instance.)

Susan said...

I think Joe Public does have the idea that everything is more colourful in the tropics, but the minute you or I start to think about it we go...hang on a minute... But apparently Alfred Russell Wallace fell into the trap.

Ian Fraser said...

Well, if ARW fell for it, I guess I can't blame anyone else!