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No. 53
Welcome and Happy Easter to you all – what a beautiful time of year here in WA. Bandicoots aplenty are hopping around our new premises in the Hills – a great alternative to the Easter bunny.

Certainly cooling off now – Animal Ark busy as ever - training humans and dogs and taking our critters on visits to schools, construction and mine sites around WA. As it cools down our animal rescues have slowed dramatically.

I did get a juvenile grey butcherbird free from a rat-trap, caught firmly by the neck, barely still flapping when we arrived at the Craigie address. I thought it had zero percent chance of survival, and assumed it would die overnight and be a feathery treat for a carpet python.

However, in the morning I opened up the box where I had kept it warm, dark and quiet and was very surprised to have an active seemingly healthy bird ready for release. Not a bad result.

As we enter winter, soon much to everyone's delight (apart from us herpetologists) most of our venomous snakes and other reptiles go home to a burrow, cave, root system or similar snug place to escape the coming cold.

Brumation is a better term for their overwintering period; they do not hibernate in the strict sense of the word as bears do. Most snakes in and around south western Australia will not be seen for months now, however during warmer periods some will reappear to bask and warm up a bit, especially tiger snakes, one of our most cold tolerant species.

Southern death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus). Photo: Ken Lawson Photography / Animal Ark
Simply put, most species of animal either lay eggs or give birth to live young. Recently for the first time ever recorded in a vertebrate an Australian lizard has been observed doing both with the same litter.

The female skink laid 2 eggs and then weeks later also gave birth to a live baby. Skinks are often strange lizards and the three toed skink (Saiphos equalis) is stranger still.

It is known that southern populations of the lizard near Sydney lay eggs, whilst populations from further north bear live young – I said they were strange. When researchers have switched them around i.e. taking the northern skinks south or the southern ones north, they retain their usual geographic reproductive behaviour.

Three toed skink laid eggs followed by a live baby three weeks later from the same pregnancy. Photo: Nadav Pezaro, AAP
Scientists are still not sure (eggzactly) why this has occurred. What has triggered the change in this individual? Amongst the theories are:

Being flexible reproductively may help the mother, for example if there are too many predators around or it is cold eggs may be vulnerable to predation or not incubating at all.

Keeping the babies safe internally would help them reach full stage, so benefit the odds of survival.

Also when conditions are warmer it's easier to lay eggs and loose the burden of carrying and nurturing the eggs within.

It is probable that other species will be found to be flexible in this way, hedging their reproductive options to benefit future generations of their species.

Link: 'Very, very unusual': Australian skink lays eggs, then gives birth to live baby | Environment | The Guardian

Wanting to remove invasive pythons from the Everglade swamps in Florida is one thing. Actually finding them is quite another. Over vast areas in dense vegetation these snakes remain elusive. Bounties are placed on them, and a variety of methods have been used to find them, to try to reverse the ecological damage they cause. The massive Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is native to South-eastern Asia and will eat most kinds of wildlife, preying on birds, mammals like racoons and even larger creatures like alligators - they are truly a pest to be reckoned with. Snake hunters capture Burmese python, Florida Everglades. Photo: Big Cypress National Preserve
A recent novel approach has resulted in the capture of the largest one ever caught in the Big Cypress National Reserve. She was 5.2m long, weighed in at 63.5kg and was pregnant with 73 developing eggs. So how did they find her? The cunning idea was to use a male fitted with a radio transmitter and keep track of him until he found his lady friend. Very clever, and hopefully another useful tool for the conservationists hunting invasive species.
E O Wilson 1929 -
American biologist, naturalist, author and most famously a myrmecologist, being probably the world's leading expert on ants and their social behaviour.

Edward Osborne Wilson is 89 years of age, younger than David Attenborough who I wrote about in newsletter 51 and just a tad older than Jane Goodall in Newsletter 50. Obviously, many of our planet's famous conservationists are older. You may not have heard of Edward Osborne Wilson, however his books inspired me (the bits I could understand) and, I am sure, many students and biologists are familiar with his numerous works. E O Wilson has throughout his lifetime had an unending curiosity and desire to look scientifically at our natural world and more importantly our place and meaning within that.

An eye injury as a child caused him to lose stereoscopic vision in one eye. However he could still see the hairs on the bodies of small insects. It became easier to observe small things than bigger birds and mammals. Once pulling away rotting bark from a tree he found some citronella ants. The worker ants were "short, fat, brilliant yellow and emitted strong odour". Wilson said this encounter left a vivid and lasting impression on him. Whilst keen to become an entomologist he began collecting flies but apparently due to World War II the shortage of the pins (used to display flies) made him switch to ants that were stored in vials.

Most of us understand now that our planet is in trouble, big trouble. Threatened in many ways, such as with huge human population growth and massive reduction of wild places for agriculture and our endless consumption of finite resources. In order to survive we need a vision for the future, a way forward that enables us as a species to not only survive but also thrive long term. E O Wilson has proposed a half earth proposal and has a charitable foundation that aims to help empower people to achieve the aim of preserving half the planet's land and half its oceans to ensure the survival of most of its biodiversity. Some larger organisations and many individuals are helping to map out a strategy of what to save and how to achieve this. More at

E O Wilson sitting October 16 2007. Photo: Ragesoss, Wikimedia Commons

Edward O WIlson On Human Nature

In 1962 E O Wilson and collaborator William Bossert discovered the chemical nature of ant communication via pheromones.

His 1978 book On Human Nature won a Pulitzer Prize. It dealt with the role of biology in the evolution of human culture.

Wilson's socio-biology argues that all animal behaviour, including that of humans, is the product of heredity, environmental stimuli, and past experiences, and that free will is an illusion. Of course, not everyone agrees with his theories!

He has since written almost a book a year – so should be easy to read one of his works if you are interested in learning more about E O Wilson and his works.

Here are a few of his quotes:

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.

We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity

The education of women is the best way to save the environment

Hats off to Mr Wilson who is still engaged in science, science writing and helping mankind find a realistic way forward so as to preserve the biodiversity of our only world.

Animal Ark Snakebite Gaiters – only $99 inc GST and postage.
Choice of tan or camo.
Online use the discount code GAITER.
Click pick up from store but we will ship for free within Australia.

Also 15% off Solo Kit. Now $471.75 inc GST and postage.
Online use the discount code SOLO.
Click pick up from store but we will ship for free within Australia.

Offers run until the end of May 2019.

Buy online at or telephone your order 08 9243 3044.

Animal Ark snakebite protection: Gaiters, Camo Animal Ark solo snake handling kit
Animal in Focus: Australian Ants (Family Formicidae)
In keeping with the E O Wilson theme I thought I would look a bit at Australian ants in general this edition.

According to the Guinness Book of Records we have the worlds most dangerous ant as a native, it is also one of the largest, being between 14mm and 26mm long.

The bull ant Myrmecia pyriformis has been responsible for several deaths in recent years – death has occurred within 15 minutes of a sting - in attack it uses its sting and jaws simultaneously. It is so named because of its ferocity and determination during such an attack and shows little fear of human beings. Bull ants can be found pretty much throughout Australia being absent only from NT and the North of WA.

Several deaths in recent years have been recorded from this and its close relative the Jack jumper ants Myrmecia pilosula. Both well worth avoiding.

Other than those two we have some 1,275 described species divided into 103 genera and 10 subfamilies. Probably only about 1 in 5 ant species have been described by science so around 6,500 species may be found around the Australian continent. Budding entomologists – there is work to do!

Ants are considered one of the most influential and abundant elements in Australian ecosystems. They are highly social creatures and communicate via complex pheromone chemical signalling. Ants are the most commonly encountered type of insect by humans. Ant nests contain eggs, larvae and different types (castes) of ants. Australian ant colonies may vary in size from a few individual to many tens of thousands.

Bull ant (Myrmecia pyriformis). Photo: Graham Wise, Brisbane Australia. Wikimedia Commons

Honeypot ant. Photo: Greg Hume CC BY 2 5, Wikimedia Commons

Fire ant queens. Photo: Pollinator, Wikimedia Commons

There are around 15,000 species worldwide. Most Australian ant species are endemic (found only in Australia). Ants are omnivores and may eat a huge range of animal and plant material dependent on the species. Ant species in turn are preyed upon, and may be consumed by a vast range of animals (and plants), including humans. Many plants have evolved a very close relationship with ants, some to the point that they may not survive without ants being present. Many acacias have such a symbiotic relationship with ants. The plant provides hollow thorns for shelter and nectar to feed the ants and in return the ants patrol, remove or attack animals from caterpillars to large mammals that try to harm the plant. In Australia we have the very unusual honey pot ants, these can store large amounts of nectar from the mulga shrub (Acacia aneura). These 'storage' ants will share a drop of the nutritious substance with worker ants when tickled – so helping the colony to survive when the tree is no longer flowering.

We have an invasive species originally from South America called the fire ant (Solenopsis invicta). Huge efforts are underway to eradicate them entirely from Australia; they even got a mention and extra funding in the recent budget. They still occur around Brisbane and other areas of southeast Queensland. It is estimated if the eradication programme fails and they spread further they will be more damaging to Australia's wildlife, agriculture and greater economy than feral cats, wild dogs, foxes, camels, rabbits and cane toads put together. Fire ants can be found in massive numbers; in a super colony there can be as many as 50million ants per hectare.

Upcoming Courses and Events
Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs
Wednesday 17 April – North Beach, Perth
Tuesday 30 April – North Beach, Perth
Friday 14 June – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 15 June – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 29 June - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Thursday 4 July – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 13 July - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Saturday 20 July – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 27 July - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Saturday 10 August - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Saturday 7 September - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Saturday 14 September – Harradine Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 15 September – Harradine Vets, Bunbury
Wednesday 18 September - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Saturday 21 September – Oakford
Sunday 29 September – Yanchep
Friday 4 October – North Beach, Perth
Saturday 12 October - Toodyay
Thursday 17 October - Oakford
Saturday 19 October - Harradine Vets, Bunbury
Sunday 20 October - Harradine Vets, Bunbury
Friday 25 October – Nannup
Saturday 26 October – Nannup
Friday 1 November – Margaret River
Saturday 2 November – Margaret River
Sunday 3 November – Augusta
Saturday 9 November – Rockingham
Saturday 16 November – Albany
Sunday 17 November - Albany

Venomous Snake Handling Course
Licensed by DBCA Parks and Wildlife Service
Tuesday 16 April – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Monday 29 April - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Tuesday 30 April – North Beach, Perth
Monday 10 June – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Friday 14 June – North Beach, Perth
Wednesday 19 June – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Friday 28 June - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Thursday 4 July – North Beach, Perth
Thursday 18 July - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 31 July - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Thursday 8 August - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Friday 23 August - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Tuesday 3 September - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 2 October – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Tuesday 15 October – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 30 October – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 13 November – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 27 November – Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Wednesday 11 December - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills

Fauna Handling Course
Thursday 13 June – North Beach, Perth
Thursday 22 August - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills
Tuesday 26 November - Mahogany Creek, Perth Hills

Public Events
Do come along and see us. Bring your family or friends as well. The Animal Ark Roadshow will be attending the following events:

Sunday 26 May
Animal Ark Interactive Wildlife Display
Wear Ya Wellies Day
10am – 3pm
Contact Shire of Chittering for more information

Saturday 17 August
Snake Awareness Workshop
Chittering Landcare Centre
10am – 12noon
To book or for more information contact Chittering Landcare Centre, 08 9571 0400

Saturday 14 September
Animal Ark Interactive Wildlife Display
Chittering Wildflower Expo Family Day
10am – 2pm
For more information contact Chittering Landcare Centre

See our diary for more dates or contact us to book.

Call (08) 9243 3044, SMS 0466 688 188 or email David, Jenny or Keely at to book.

Courses held monthly and as required plus on-site and remote site training available.