A Real Photobomber


Australia surfers ‘photobombed’ by spinner shark

Eyewitnesses said the shark leapt out of the water twice

Surfers at a competition in New South Wales were in for a surprise when they found themselves in the company of a large spinner shark.

Spectators saw the shark leaping in and out of the water near Coffs Harbour, close to the surfers and swimmers.

The moment was caught on camera by local resident Steph Bellamy, who said the shark “photobombed” her picture..

Source: BBCNews Read more

Two new lizard species


Two new lizard species found in Queensland rainforest

Cape Melville rainbow skink and Cape Melville bar-lipped skink bring the tally of species unknown to science that have been found in small, remote area to eight

A Cape Melville rainbow skink. Photograph: Conrad Hoskin

Two species of lizard previously unknown to science have been uncovered in a remote part of far north Queensland.

Dr Conrad Hoskin, a researcher at James Cook university, found the two species after landing by helicopter in a largely inaccessible area of rainforest on top of the Melville range, about 170km north of Cooktown.

The species have been named as the Cape Melville rainbow skink and the Cape Melville bar-lipped skink. The scientific names of the species – Carlia wundalthini and Glaphyromorphus othelarrni – were chosen by local Aboriginal leaders in a nod to previous traditional owners of the land.

Hoskin said the discoveries were “very exciting” and added to three other species he uncovered during a series of trips to Cape Melville last year: a leaf-tailed gecko, a boulder frog and a golden lizard.

“In each of those cases, as soon as I saw them I knew they were new species,” he told Guardian Australia.

The Cape Melville bar-lipped skink. Photograph: Conrad Hoskin

“I was walking around on my first day there and saw a lizard and thought ‘wow, that’s something different’. And then that night I saw something moving in some mulch by a boulder, I pulled it out and it was another new kind of lizard.”

The rainbow skink is only about 10cm long, with shimmering scales. It is very fast and active during the day, eating small insects. Meanwhile, the bar-lipped skink is slightly larger, about 20cm long, and lives a more subdued life, emerging mostly at dusk.

Hoskin’s discovery of five new species in total adds to a further three species found at Cape Melville in the past few decades. The entire global populations of these eight endemic species live within the rainforest plateau and lowland area of Cape Melville.

Source: TheGuardian read and see more


When Islam came to Australia


Few Australians are aware that the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had regular contact with foreign Muslims long before the arrival of Christian colonisers. And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today, writes Janak Rogers.

The white lines are faint but unmistakable. Small sailing boats, picked out in white and yellow pigment on the red rocks of the Wellington Range in Arnhem Land, northern Australia, tell a different story from the one most Australians accept as the history of their nation.

They are traditional Indonesian boats known as praus and they brought Muslim fishermen from the flourishing trading city of Makassar in search of trepang, or sea cucumbers.

Exactly when the Makassans first arrived is uncertain.

Some historians say it was in the 1750s, but radiocarbon dating of beeswax figures superimposed on the cave paintings suggests that it was much earlier – one of the figures appears to have been made before 1664, perhaps as early as the 1500s.

A cave painting of an Indonesian prau, found in Arnhem Land

They apparently made annual trips to gather the sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price because of their important role in Chinese medicine and cuisine.

The Makasssans represent Australia’s first attempt at international relations, according to anthropologist John Bradley from Melbourne’s Monash University – and it was a success. “They traded together. It was fair – there was no racial judgement, no race policy,” he says.

Quite a contrast to the British. Britain designated the country terra nullius – land belonging to no-one – and therefore colonised the country without a treaty or any recognition of the rights of indigenous people to their land.

Some Makassan cucumber traders stayed, married Aboriginal women and left a lasting religious and cultural legacy in Australia. Alongside the cave paintings and other Aboriginal art, Islamic beliefs influenced Aboriginal mythology.

“If you go to north-east Arnhem Land there is [a trace of Islam] in song, it is there in painting, it is there in dance, it is there in funeral rituals,” says Bradley. “It is patently obvious that there are borrowed items. With linguistic analysis as well, you’re hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah.”

Map showing Arnhem Land, Elcho Island and Makassar

One example of this is a figure called Walitha’walitha, which is worshipped by a clan of the Yolngu people on Elcho Island, off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. The name derives from the Arabic phrase “Allah ta’ala“, meaning “God, the exalted”. Walitha’walitha is closely associated with funeral rituals, which can include other Islamic elements like facing west during prayers – roughly the direction of Mecca – and ritual prostration reminiscent of the Muslim sujood.

“I think it would be hugely oversimplifying to suggest that this figure is Allah as the ‘one true God’,” says Howard Morphy, an anthropologist at Australian National University. It’s more the case of the Yolngu people adopting an Allah-like figure into their cosmology, he suggests.

One elder has said that Aboriginal “morning star” poles were made to look like the masts of Indonesian praus, and that a pole would be presented to Makassan traders as a gift at the end of a farewell dance ritual each year

The Makassan sea cucumber trade with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ended in 1906, killed off by heavy taxation and a government policy that restricted non-white commerce. More than a century later, the shared history between Aboriginal peoples and Makassans is still celebrated by Aboriginal communities in northern Australia as period of mutual trust and respect – in spite of some historical evidence that this wasn’t always the case.

Source: BBCNews Read more of this fscination history


Balls Up!


28 days to go…

But, wait…

New Zealand, or Australia is playing?


Somebody has ballsed up!

‘Like a demon in a medieval book’

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Is this how the marsupial lion killed prey?

We knew this powerful carnivorous mammal ate kangaroos, but I now think we can speculate on how it caught them too

A marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex. Credit: Adrie &Amp Alfons Kennis/NG/Alamy

I’ve been thinking – as one does – about marsupial lions. Of all the species that became extinct after people first arrived in Australia, between 40 and 50,000 years ago, this is the one that intrigues me most.

Even more, that is, than the spiny anteater the size of a pig; a relative of the wombat the size of a rhinoceros; a marsupial tapir as big as a horse; a ten-foot kangaroo; a horned tortoise eight feet long and a monitor lizard bigger than the Nile crocodile. The lost Australian megafauna looks like a science fiction film directed by an acid casualty.

But it’s the marsupial lion (which was unrelated to the placental lions that remain alive today) that intrigues me most. It was big but, by Pleistocene standards, not huge: probably halfway between a leopard and an African lion.

Morphologically, in some respects it more closely resembles the bipedal carnivorous dinosaurs than any mammalian predator. It could walk and run on four legs, but it also seems to have possessed the ability to stand, with great stability, on two. We know this because, like the kangaroos and some of the heavier dinosaurs, it had chevron bones in its tail. These turned the tail into a stout prop, the third arm of a tripod when the animal stood up.

But unlike, say, tyrannosaurs and velociraptors, marsupial lion species (the biggest of which was Thylacoleo carnifex) also possessed enormous, highly muscled forelimbs. These were equipped with vast hooked claws. It seems to have been the only marsupial with the ability to retract its claws, which allows them to remain sharp. (Think of the difference between a cat’s claw and a dog’s, which is blunted as it scrapes on the ground). It had an extraordinary dentition – huge fused teeth like knife blades – and, the musculature suggests, the strongest bite for its size of any known mammal.

All this we know from the fossil bones. There’s also a suggestion that it was striped. That, at least, is what the one ghostly image of this beast in an ancient rock painting, discovered in 2008, suggests.

Adaptations like this don’t happened by accident. This was a specialised predator, which seems to have been equipped for a strategy unlike that of any carnivore alive today. But what was the strategy?

Skeleton of an extinct marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) casts a large shadow on the cave wall at an archaeological dig in Naracoorte Caves National Park, Australia. Photograph: Frans Lanting/Corbis

There are, I admit, more pressing matters. But once I started thinking about this, it was not easy to stop. So I spent a few hours in an academic library, reading all the available papers on Thylacoleo carnifex. The first thing I noticed was how few there are. While the dinosaurs have been studied from every imaginable angle, and their habits and strategies endlessly debated, the extinct giant mammals (which, being much more recent, tend to be better represented in the fossil record) have been, by comparison, neglected.

For example, a couple of years ago I spent three days in the library looking for papers which mention the ecological legacy of elephants in Europe. The legacy looks pretty obvious to me. Trees which can coppice and hedge, understorey trees (box, yew, holly) which – though they carry less weight and are subject to lower shear forces from the wind – are stronger and tougher than the big canopy trees. The black and white reticulations of birch bark look as if they might have evolved to confuse a bark-stripping beast with limited colour vision.

But though our forests were recently inhabited by a creature so monstrous that it made the African elephant look like a ballet dancer (the straight-tusked elephant, Elephas antiquus) all I could find was a throwaway sentence in one scientific paper. Look up trees and elephants in Africa, by contrast, and you’ll encounter a large and interesting literature on their co-evolution.

There was once a lively academic discussion about marsupial lions, but it stopped at the end of the 19th century, long before modern analytical methods were available. More recently, a couple of sources have proposed that this beast might have been arboreal (living and hunting in trees). But an analysis of its scapula suggests “walking and trotting, rather than climbing … the pelvis similarly agrees with that of ambulators and cursors [walkers and runners]”.

These bones indicate that Thylacoleo was a slow- to medium-paced runner, which is likely to mean it was an ambush predator. That fits with the stripes: camouflage of the kind you need for stalking and hiding in a largely forested habitat (like tigers) rather than chasing across open spaces (like lions).

But that still doesn’t get us very far. Sure, tigers have big forearms, but nothing (in comparison to their hindquarters) like those of Thylacoleo. Or such remarkable claws or – formidable as they are – such a terrifying bite. And they are top-heavy and unable to stand on their hindlegs for long. The marsupial lion did something that no living predator did, and nowhere in the papers I’ve read is a full explanation attempted.

I found one study, published in 1985, which takes us halfway there. It notes that the bones of the marsupial lion are most frequently associated with two genera of kangaroos, Macropus and Sthenurus, including giant kangaroos. The bones of extinct giant kangaroos bearing marsupial lion toothmarks, found in the Lancefield Swamp in Victoria, suggest that, like the sabretooth cats of the northern hemisphere, it fed largely on the internal organs of its prey.

But all this tells us is that kangaroos featured in its diet. I believe we might be able to go further, and speculate that Thylacoleo carnifex was a highly specialised kangaroo hunter.

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Australia: Snake eats crocodile after battle


Tiffany Corlis: “The snake certainly knew what it was doing”

A snake has won a lengthy battle with a crocodile in northern Queensland, wrestling it, constricting it and then finally eating it.

The incident at Lake Moondarra, near Mount Isa, was captured on camera by local residents on Sunday.

The 10-ft snake, thought to be a python, coiled itself around the crocodile and the two struggled in the water.

The snake later brought the dead crocodile onto land and ate it.

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Skateboarding – and still in nappies



Two-year-old Kahlei from Victoria, Australia, displays his skateboarding skills on the streets near his home. Kahlei, who has been skateboarding since he was six months old.

The Death Knell for The Holden


For more than three generations the Holden has been driven by New Zealanders and Australians.

For many, including me, a Holden was their first car. My last Holden was a 1971 Kingswood, although I drove an HZ as a taxi.


Holden Kingswood (1971-1974 HQ)

Today in the news:

GM’s Holden to stop making cars in Australia

Holden, a subsidiary of General Motors (GM), has said it will stop making cars in Australia by the end of 2017.

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‘Platypus-zilla’ fossil unearthed in Australia


The giant platypus would have measured more than 1m (3ft) in length

Part of a giant platypus fossil has been unearthed in Queensland, Australia.

Scientists have dubbed the beast “platypus-zilla” and believe it would have measured more than 1m-long (3ft).

Writing in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the researchers say the creature lived between five and 15 million years ago.

The discovery suggests the evolutionary back-story of today’s platypus is more complicated than was thought.

Prof Mike Archer, from the University of New South Wales, said: “Suddenly up pops ‘playtpus-zilla’ – this gigantic monstrosity that you would have been afraid to swim with.

“It indicates there are branches in the platypus family tree that we hadn’t suspected before.”

Bizarre looks

Today, all that survives of this platypus is a single fossilised tooth, which was unearthed in the Riversleigh fossil beds in northwest Queensland.

Based on its size, the researchers have estimated that the new species (Obdurodon tharalkooschild) would have been at least twice as large as today’s platypus.

Bumps on its teeth and other fossil finds nearby suggest that the creature feasted on crustaceans, turtles, frogs and fish.

Although the area where the molar was found is a desert, millions of years ago it would have been covered in forest. The researchers think the beast would have spent its time in and around freshwater ponds.

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Gold does Grow on Trees


Gold in trees leads to hidden deposits

The scientists found traces of gold in the leaves of Eucalyptus trees

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists have confirmed that gold is found in the leaves of some plants.

Researchers from Australia say that the presence of the particles in a eucalyptus tree’s foliage indicates that deposits are buried many metres below.

They believe that the discovery offers a new way to locate the sought-after metal in difficult-to-reach locations.

Buried treasure

Gold particles have been found around the soils of eucalyptus trees, but the researchers confirmed that the plants were taking in the element.

Using the Australian synchrotron – a vast machine that uses X-rays to probe matter in remarkable detail – they found traces of gold in the leaves, twigs and bark of some trees.

The amounts of the precious metal were tiny.

The trees were taking in the gold particles as they drew in water from deep within the soil

“We’ve done a calculation, and found that we need 500 trees growing over a gold deposit to have enough gold in the trees themselves to make a gold ring,” said Dr Lintern.

However, the presence of the particles pointed to greater riches buried more than 30m (100ft) below.

Dr Lintern said: “We believe that the trees are acting like a hydraulic pump. They are bringing life-giving water from their roots, and in so doing, they are taking smaller dissolved gold particles up through the vascular system into the foliage.”

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