It was World Environment Day a few days ago, and to celebrate my love of outsides I’m sharing some of the incredible odd organisms I’ve spotted in my own local environments over the years. I’m lucky enough to live in a pretty special place, biologically. The south west of Western Australia is a biodiversity hotspot – meaning it’s rich in different plants and animals, many of which are unique to the area and sadly, many of which are under threat.
Hopefully this’ll inspire you to get out into, and protect, all the oddities that live in your own backyards too. You’ll be surprised what you can find just by walking around, clambering over rocks and wiggling ya feet in the sand.
Who: Buchanan’s Snake-eyed Skink (Cryptoblepharus buchananii)
Commonly known as a fence skink, this lil’ fella grows on average, just over 5cm! Often found in amongst leaf litter and on walls and fences across SW WA, I spotted this skink literally in my own backyard – on my garden wall just outside my bedroom window.
Did you know, skinks actually make up the largest group of lizards in Australia? They’re so plentiful that we have hundreds more species of harmless skinks than we do venomous snakes. More proof that not everything is Australia can kill you. We have tiny, cute stuff too.
Who: Western long-neck turtle (Chelodina colliei)
Bulging eyes. Small, pig-like nose. Whiskery chin spikes. Sure, they’re not classically beautiful but western long-necks do have some endearing quirks.
Belonging to a group of side-necked turtles, western long-necks don’t pull their head inside their shell, but fold them up sideways wedging them beneath (like this). It looks really uncomfortable.
And those whiskery chin spikes? They’re known as barbels and in some Australian freshwater turtles, these barbels are sensitively rubbed during courtship (nothing like a chin scratch to increase your receptiveness to baby making).
I met this long-neck outside the Albany Discovery Centre, where staff also help to rehabilitate injured turtles. If you’re visiting (or in) Albany, make sure to stop by around lunch time to see the staff letting the turtles out on the grass for some sun!
Who: The giant sea hare (Aplysia gigantea)
These gelatinous blobs are basically sea snails without their shells and there’s heaps of weird stuff surrounding their biology, much of which I’ve previously covered here.
However, to quickly recap: they mate in conga lines where individuals often act as both a male and female at the same time, they lay eggs through a groove in their neck and can even swim through the water with their two flappy lobes. Told you they were weird.
In WA you can find the giant sea hare washed up on beaches anywhere between Augusta and Geraldton – this one I spotted in Augusta, the very bottom of WA.
Who: The violet snail (Janthina spp.)
Get this: this shell belongs to a sea snail who lives not on the sea floor, but on the sea surface.
To live here violet snails build a raft of mucus bubbles, secreted from their large muscular foot (really nice photo of that in action here). It hangs upside down from these bubbles, floating at the mercy of the currents and winds hoping to happen across its prey – surface dwelling jellyfish!
Around SW WA, they eat Blue Bottles (Physalia utriculus)! These are strikingly beautiful, blue tangles with a large blue bladder or ‘float’ that rests up on top of the ocean – just as our violet snail does.
Who: A sundew (Drosera spp.)
This unassuming, sticky spectacle is actually a carnivorous plant! You know, like the venus fly trap? It’s able to catch and eat insects using tentacles tipped with glue-like globules.
Oddly enough, Perth is home to a huge concentration of carnivorous plants. We have 49 different species, making us the urban environment with more carnivorous plants than any other.
Look out for sundews in open, sandy areas when trekking through bushland in and around the Perth region.
Who: A wolf spider (Dingosa, spp?)
How beautiful is the soft, earthy palette of this wolf spider? My Mum actually pointed it out to me whilst walking through bushland within Perth (on ya Mum).
Wolf spiders make for great Mums too. They’ll carry their young spiderlings (baby spiders) on their back – allowing them to live there for days (even weeks!) before they finally disperse on silken strands in the wind.
Also cool: they have a reflective layer in their eyes, so can be easily spotted at night by looking for their eye shine. So, if seeking out spiders in the Australian bush at night appeals to you, wolf spiders are a good one to look out for.
And don’t worry, bites aren’t serious.
There you go, six odd organisms to spot around SW WA! Have you spotted any of these before? Or seen any other oddities around SW WA? I’d love to know! Or maybe you live further afield – what’s odd in your ‘hood? I’d love to know that too!
Now go. Explore!
Cogger, H. (2014). Reptiles and amphibians of Australia. CSIRO Publishing.
Conran, J. G., & Lowrie, A. Carnivorous plants in the Perth region–biology and challenges for conservation.
Crnčević, M., & Bratoš Cetinić, A. (2016). The violet snail Janthina janthina (Linnaeus, 1578)(Mollusca: Gastropoda) is around the Croatian Adriatic island of Lokrum again. Natura Croatica, 25(2), 327-330.
Gershwin, L. (2016). Jellyfish: A Natural History. East Sussex, UK: Ivy Press.
Murphy, J. B., & Lamoreaux, W. E. (1978). Mating behavior in three Australian chelid turtles (Testudines: Pleurodira: Chelidae). Herpetologica, 398-405.
Pianka, E. R., & Harp, C. A. (2011). Notes on the natural history of Buchanan’s Snake-eyed Skink Cryptoblepharus buchananii in arid Western Australia. WA Nat, 28, 43-49.
Whyte, R., & Anderson, G. (2017). A Field Guide to Spiders of Australia. CSIRO Publishing.