Bush Blitzers go eight-eyed spider stalking

Spinifex grass and red sand dune country - Cane River Conservation Park, Western Australia

Cane River Conservation Area, managed by the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Environment – a place of spectacular sunsets.

Spectacular sunsets are a feature of our evenings out here on the Pilbara’s spinifex plains — where the red dirt and horizon don’t seem to end.

I’m at Cane River Conservation Park in Western Australia with a bunch of scientists who are involved in the nationwide Bush Blitz program which is documenting the plants and animals in Australia’s National Reserve System.

After dinner last night I headed out with insect expert Catherine Young from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery who has been spending her days collecting and identifying butterflies and dragonflies. But last night we went moth collecting!

We set up a light trap which involves putting a white sheet between two trees, turning on a mercury light— and waiting. And while we waited Cathy taught me how to find wolf spiders by looking for the torch light reflected in the eyes of these burrowing animals which — can you believe? — have eight eyes, three rows of them! According to our resident spider expert, the wolf spiders were juveniles, and difficult to identify, so couldn’t be collected. These spiders can be quite long-lived and localised in their distribution, so taking juveniles could really impact their population for no scientific gain.

The light attracted a swarm of moths and other insects and once they settled on the sheet, Cathy sprang into action. She got quite a few finds and said it was her best night yet.

We also set up some bucket traps; this device is basically an illuminated bucket with a funnel in it, which catches the moths attracted by light. We found a lot of little pale moths which feed off the spinifex grass. They are rather non-descript, so difficult to identify, Cathy says.

At 11 pm we headed off to bed. It was a big day for the Bush Blitz team.

Bush Blitz is a three-year multi-million partnership between the Australian Government, BHP Billiton, Earthwatch Australia and TERN–AusPlots Australia.

Bethany Blowfield, Parks Australia

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