Friday, November 24, 2006

"Calodema" Comes of Age

Well, "Lucky Seven" indeed. The seventh issue of "Calodema" - "devoted to promoting knowledge about the flora and fauna of Australia and the Pacific" - is the best yet. As usual, the cover is adorned with a fine photograph of Calodema regale, a stunning Australian jewel beetle (family Buprestidae). This issue also includes a paper by the Editor, Dr Trevor Hawkeswood (email: drtjhawkeswood@calodema.com), reviewing the biology and host plants of this species. (On a personal note, I am fairly sure that this beetle was the model for a colourful beetle-shaped chocolate that used to be sold when I was a child.)

Here in Canberra, the local authorities put out posters warning us against eating Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. This is not an Australian native, but an introduced species. Another introduced member of this notorious genus is Amanita muscaria. Trevor reports on finding this fungus in association with a "mini-plantation" of Pinus radiata (Monterey or radiata pine) trees at Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains, New South Wales. The fungus is not merely associated with this introduced tree, but is starting to invade native habitats such as wet and dry sclerophyll forests. Trevor gives the details in his paper.

Last night I found two spiders on the roof of our car. When disturbed, one remained still, presumably relying on camouflage. The other bounced around as my finger teased it, bounding about while keeping an eye on my finger. Ah, I thought, that's a salticid, a "jumping spider". The salticids are the largest family of spiders, chiefly famed for their beautiful eyes and excellent vision. This issue of "Calodema" includes further contributions from Dr Dewanand Makhan on new species of jumping spiders from Suriname. This brings me to one of the best new features in this issue of Calodema, the sepia-toned photographs, which illustrate several of the articles, including Dr Makhan's new spiders and beetles.

Surely unique must be the account in Calodema No. 7 of a possible envenomation from an "antlion" (of the insect order Neuroptera). The reported bite on a finger seems to have had a more than local effect, with pain extending up the arm. Very little seems to be known on what kind of venom or digestive fluid antlions can deliver. Some people doubt whether they have a true venom. This case report provides evidence that they indeed might.

Also in this issue is a stringent critical review of a paper on the pollination of Australian orchids. This review refers to the interesting suggestion that capture by spiders might help identify the insects that pollinate orchids. If so, perhaps the spider could be offered co-authorship.

There is plenty of other material, but a paper I found of particular interest was on the fairly obscure beetle family Ceratocanthidae, the "pill scarab beetles", which can roll themselves into little balls. This makes them cryptic. This ability to roll up might also provide some physical protection, and it made me consider how many other animals are capable of curling right up. These include pillbugs on land and Nannosquilla in the ocean (Crustacea), pangolins, armadillos and hedgehogs (Mammalia), some salamanders (Amphibia), and the caterpillar of the moth Pleuroptya (Lepidoptera). The caterpillar not only rolls up but rolls away to escape.

Obviously I found plenty of inspiration from Calodema No. 7, and I recommend this issue as another milestone in the development of this journal.



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