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Me: The US now has 1.2 billion pounds of excess cheese and nowhere to put it.
Hardlight’s Player: I believe the appropriate answer to that is UNDERSCONSIN

Now that our GM is over his laryngitis, we can continue dealing with the undead infesting the city of Wati. The minor priestling we saved sends us back to the main Mausoleum (thankfully not in the Necropolis) so she can get more help.

Zenobia: Would have thought that leaving the four of us to guard the gate why she goes and gets more help herself would be more sensible.
Asrian: But then she’d be abandoning her post.

Zenobia: You’ve got mobs of zombies trying to get out of the Necropolis.
Asrian: Well, not anymore.
Zenobia: They *tried* to get out of the Necropolis.

There is a shopkeeper preaching about the End of Days from on top of a stool.

Onka: We’re fully deputised, right? And he’s disturbing the peace, isn’t he?

Asrian finds a higher perch and assures the crowd that the situation IS under control. The lunatic isn’t happy, but at least we don’t have to bonk him over the head with a peacekeeping club or anything. In fact, Wati is now under sufficient control that the shopkeepers and artisans feel confident enough to re-open their doors - at least during daylight.

Nemat: What do you know, nailing the head of a Rakshasa over the city gate does discourage more from coming in.
Zenobia: We were so lucky in that fight.
Nemat: Sometimes lucky is better than good.

Random encounter time! At least there isn’t a modifier to the roll anymore, so another Rakshasa is unlikely. A horde is barreling down the street - they’re small. They have bills. They’re ducks.

Zenobia: At least they’re not geese.

Zenobia grabs one and checks its flight feathers - they’re clipped domestic ducks, and not some bizarre plague of ducks descending on Wati. They’re also pursued by horrendous amalgams of bear and crocodile. According to Nemat, they’re Esoboks, and psychopomps. So what the hells are doing in the Prime Material Plane, and why are they terrorising ducks?

Zenobia: I’ll allow that ducks are unrepentant hellbeasts, but still.

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Trying to get more information regarding that demon-powered armour from last session.

GM: Ancient Peruvian demons
Allana the Bat-Moreau OoC: Who were actually Scandinavian demons on holiday.

There IS somebody in Edge City we can ask about this sort of thing - as it happens it’s the girlfriend of that woman we rescued from PSI.

Flux: This is a magic store, don’t touch anything.
Elsa: Actually, there’s nothing out here that’s dangerous. Children come in here. I mean, I’ll be annoyed if they touch stuff, but it’s not dangerous.
Flux: Oh, this is the show floor, the real stuff is out back. Well done, most magic shops don’t get that right.

Flux: Anyway, Allana here-
Hardlight: Ah ah ah, Nocturne
Flux: OK, Nocturne, or whatever she chooses to call herself. If she has a secret identity I’m impressed. Teach me your ways, oh master
Allana: Just comb your hair in the other direction and wear glasses.

GM: Uh. Hmm. Well that wasn’t a good thing to roll.
Allana: She didn’t read the book out loud, did she?
GM: She failed her Sense check, but passed her Accidental Change check. What you see is this sweet young mystic touch the demon armour and suddenly sprout batwings and a spade-ended tail.
Hardlight: BUBBLED!
Fireflash: Don’t attack the expert!

Elsa’s real appearance is even more attractive than her human form.

GM: Even Hardlight finds her attractive.
Hero Shrew OoC: And my tongue is hanging out.
Hardlight: *turning to Allana* You don’t get wingboners do you?
Allana: Thankfully no - I’d take out most of the store.
Fireflash: *swears and stomps off out of the shop*
Elsa: Is she OK?
Hero Shrew: Who?

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#1329-1337 - More From Alison Baird

#1329 - Drosera tubaestylis

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Carnivorous plants are most common in nutrient-poor soil, so it’s not entirely surprising that the Alison Baird Reserve (35 hectares), which has the Worst Soil In The World, also has more species of carnivorous plant than all of Europe. This is one of them. D. tubaestylis was first described in 1992, and is only found growing on sand near swamps, in the area around Perth.

It’s not exactly surprising that the reserve has so many carnivorous plants - the soil is completely lacking in nitrate and calcium, as well as the nutrients I’ve mentioned earlier. In fact, it’s so lacking in calcium that the researchers from the University of WA have never found a snail there.

#1330 - Actinostrobus pyramidalis - Swan River Cypress
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AKA Swamp Cypress, or King George’s cypress pine - another of the more common plants in the Alison Baird Reserve, at least up at the northern end where the ground was just a little higher.

The tree can grow up to eight meters high, but here nearly all were no higher than your shoulder, probably because the sand layer over the claypan was so shallow. The cones tend to remain closed on the trees for many years, opening only if the branch or the whole tree dies. Bushfire kills swamp cypress, but it also causes a great many seeds to be released all at once. In one case, an isolated tree was killed by fire, and by the following winter there were 800 seedlings per square metre near the original, and about 150 per square metre ten metres away.

#1331 - Phycomyces sp.

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Despite the fence around the reserve, there’s a regular problem with people cutting holes in the fence so they can let their dogs in. Going by the scats around the property, foxes found their own way in.

Still, the scats did provide useful data on what the foxes have been eating, and combined with the wet weather this winter, also proved a perfect substrate for this fungi. Phycomyces sporangia are born on the end of sporangiophores that can be up to 15cm long, above whatever they’re growing on. Perhaps I should have grown it two feet high and named it Albert.

Harvestman and spiders under the cutCollapse )

#1321-1328 - Alison Baird Reserve

#1321 - Big-eyed Bug - Fam. Geocoridae

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Probably a Geocoris sp.

Found in the Alison Baird Reserve, a very important area of remnant bushland in the Swan Plain here in Perth. The number of plant species, especially carnivorous species, is ridiculously high, and is probably driven by the fact that the nutrient levels in the soil - 2 million year old sand dunes over clay - is almost totally devoid of nutrients.

Anyway, Geocorids - formerly part of the Lygaeidae, until they got a promotion in 1997. Some eat seeds, but Geocoris includes important predators of crop mites

#1322 - Fam. Staphylinidae - Rove Beetle

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Another from Alison Baird - the weather conditions when the botanist Hans Lambers invited us in to assess the insect diversity were atrocious, which didn’t help, but we did find this tiny beetle sheltering from the rain under a fox scat. Foxes have, unfortunately, found their way in and out of the reserve, hunting lizards and bringing in invasive plants seeds from outside.

Of course, the fox scats DO attract and feed the small insects that the rove beetle could eat, so that’s something.

You can really tell how depleted that sand is, too, can’t you?

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Longman’s Earthworm - also a longboi. Found by Lucy Berwick at Hervey Bay in SE Queensland.

Although our Gippsland Earthworm is relatively well-known, and gigantic, Australia also has a good variety of other giant earthworms, usually restricted in geographic range. This Digaster is the one found in SE Queensland, in wet forested areas. They live in permanent underground burrows, only coming to the surface if driven out by heavy rain, excavations, or landslips.

#1312-1319 - True Bugs

#1312 - Calliphara imperialis



Photo by Joel Fostin, at Agnes Water in northern Queensland.

Calliphara imperialis is one of the Metallic Shield Bugs (Scutelleridae) and as well as being one spectacular bug, has another claim to fame - it was first scientifically described in 1775, making it one of the first insect species noted from Australia.

Doing some digging revealed that that part of Queensland was also one of the places James Cook and his shipload of enthusiastic biologists came ashore to collect samples, such as the plant Pandanus tectorius. And these bugs were on a Pandanus tectorius.

#1313 - Cantao parentum - Mallotus Shield Bug



Photo by Clinton Howard, Qunaba, Queensland.

Another spectacular Scutellerid bug, from a genus found across the Indomalaya, Wallacea, New Guinea and Australia biogeographical regions. As the common name suggests, this species is often found congregating on Mallotus, a tree in the spurge family.

#1315 - Achilus flammeus - Red Fungus Bug



Photo by Sam Yeeha.

A very colourful Achilid planthopper, native to Australia but accidentally introduced to New Zealand. I have very little information on them - they’re the least understood family of Fulgoroid planthoppers. The nymphs of some Achilids are known to feed on fungus, under bark, which is probably why they’re called fungus bugs, but I have no idea why this one is so colourful when most are quite drab.

#1316 - Neovulturnus sp.



Possibly Neovulturnus vanduzeei. A minute Cicadellid planthopper that I spotted on a Fijian Fire Plant - Acalypha sp.

Perth.

#1317 - Lycus trabeatus - Tailed Net-winged Beetle



Australian insects are my field of expertise, obviously, but sometimes people get lucky when they ask me about species from elsewhere. Kevin Barry, for example, was sent this photo from his brother in South Africa.

As it happened, one of the members of the WA Naturalists Club had returned from Botswana a few months previously, and while his main interest was the birds, he had a few photos of the local inverts as well. Naturally, my laser focus locked onto the latter, and I started digging. One of them, identical to the one above, turned out to be one of these spectacular Lycid beetles, which is native to a fair swathe of southern and eastern Afrotropics.

Adults feed on nectar, and larvae probably eat fungus.

#1318 - Zoraida sp - Derbid Planthopper



Photo by John-Michael Koens, at Mt. Tamborine, QLD.

Charming little weirdos with bulging eyes and long narrow wings, usually found hanging upside-down from leaves and branches. Like the Achilidae, it’s believed that the nymphs feed on fungus.

#1319 - Aulacosternum nigrorubrum - False Stainer



Well, that’s… sophisticated.

Photo by Maya Harrison, at Mt Blackwood, near Mackay, North Queensland.

Aulacosternum nigrorubrum is a Coreid bug, and judging by most of the photos online, very fond of Hibiscus.

#1311 - Pseudonaja nuchalis - Gwardar



AKA Western Brown Snake. Found on a path at the Wellard Wetlands, where I nearly stepped on her. ‘Gwardar’ apparently means “Go the long way around”, which is good advice when you encounter a gwardar. Staggeringly venomous, like many of her relatives, but shy and mostly inclined to try and scare you off by rearing up with neck flattened, a lunge or two, then taking off in the other direction at speed.

Getting bitten, then refusing antivenene treatment, is a good way to die, so it’s lucky I didn’t tread on her - and that the small kid running up and down the path a minute before hadn’t either.

Found across most of the continent, where ‘Western’ apparently means ‘everywhere that isn’t the eastern coastline or the southeast corner’. Comes in over a dozen seasonal and regional colour forms, often with dark bands that show very faintly on this juvenile.

Alcoa Wellard Wetlands, Perth

#1305-1310 - Some Marine Inverts

#1305 - Pseudorhiza haeckeli - Red-netted Jellyfish



A fairly hefty jellyfish, more common in the open waters off Australia’s coastlines, but often enough brought in-shore by prevailing winds.

Often found with amphipods and parasitic anemones attached, and very often accompanied by a school of small fish, as here.

#1306 - Catostylus mosaicus - Jelly Blubber



A large, very common coastal jellyfish from the Indo-Pacific, frequently swarming in estuaries. Also known as the Blue Blubber, but can be a range of colours such as brown above, depending on which symbiotic algae is living in its tissues. Grows to up to 45cm across, and mostly harmless. Ice packs suffice if you do somehow manage to be stung badly enough to get a reaction.

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#1304 - Ikeda sp. - Giant Spoon Worm





Enough of the nudibranches for the time being - time to cover some other marine groups, before I get back to the terrestrial invertebrates. Marine groups like this one, that was posted to the Amateur Entomology Australia facebook group, of all places.

Jim Reside found this in an estuary in Gippsland, Victoria, and I was initially baffled - it was two meters long, for one thing, which ruled out flatworms, and while the Ribbon Worms (Nemertea) can be *much* long than that, I couldn’t find any with dots and dashes for ornamentation.

That’s because it’s not a flatworm, or a ribbon worm. It’s the tongue of a freaking spoon worm.

The Echiura used to be in their own phylum, but molecular work proved that they’re actually extremely weird Annelids. They’ve been hanging around in the ocean since at least the Carboniferous (c.300mya), but there’s possible spoon worms burrows from the Cambrian.

Spoon Worms get their common name from the proboscis, which some species extend to collect food particles that are moved back to the mouth by ciliary action, or to spin a mucus web inside their burrow. In the later species, there are often a range of other animals, including fish, that live in the burrow and eat particles too large for the spoon worm to swallow. That’s earned the Urechis genus the common name of Innkeeper Worms. In the case of the species above - well, I’ll get to IT soon enough.

There’s about 230 known species, and in some areas they can be quite common - Thalassema mellita, for example, lives inside dead sand dollar tests off the Southeast coast of the US, even after they’ve grown too big to get out again. Off California, Listriolobus pelodes thrived near sewage outfalls, and did good work at keeping the polluted sediments well aerated.

Echiurans have separate sexes, but that doesn’t stop them getting weird in the getting jiggy department - the Green Spoon Worm, Bonellia viridis, has large dark green females. The green pigment, bonellin, is quite poisonous to most animals, but it does something much more interesting to any Bonellia larva that encounter it. Any larvae that settle on seafloor lacking adult spoon worms grow into females. Any larvae that come along later and get sucked up by a female instead become tiny, barely visible males, that spend their lives inside her genital sac. And it’s only the bonellin that makes the difference.

But back to the giant stripey bastard in the photos above. There’s a very similar species that lives around Japan, Ikeda taenioides, with a proboscis about 150cm long, and a body only 40cm. The animal lives a meter or so under the surface (a useful trick when tsunamis scour the sea bottom) and the tongue creeps around quietly collecting food particles from the sandy seafloor and passing them back to the mouth. The Australian species, however, is undescribed. Despite being 2 meters long, incapable of going anywhere, and living in water so shallow you could go and poke it with a stick, if you were so inclined. They’re common enough that you can count them from the ferry wharves around Melbourne. And nobody has had the time, expertise, or money to sit down and properly study them.
Flux: Why are you staring at Allana’s breasts, Scooter, you work at a strip club?
Hero Shrew: Same difference between free-range and factory farmed.

Allana the Bat-Moreau downplays the extent of her formidable bust. I mean superpowers.

Allana: I might have a lot of power, but Scooter actually knows what he’s doing.
GM: I agree, and I can’t believe I’m saying that about Scooter.

Hero Shrew: Hardlight is a CEO who thought he’d be more use to society as a superhero.
Flux: Well, he wasn’t necessarily wrong.
Hero Shrew: But the only thing he’s really good at is sticking his foot in his mouth. If you want to know about Fireflash, go on YouTube and look up ‘Top Ten Superhero Wardrobe Malfunctions’

GM: At least Fireflash has a biological reason for the stripperiffic outfit.

Fireflash: So who’s going to introduce us?
Hero Shrew: Hi Fireflash, these are Allana

Hero Shrew: She wants to join Quadrant!
Fireflash: … Something about that sentence makes me want to ask ‘Why?’
GM: ‘I’m not seeing any obvious head trauma’

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