Every Gardener A Scientist

Species 399 at 'Bellis': Crane fly, Nephrotoma australasiae

Species 399 at ‘Bellis’: Crane fly, Nephrotoma australasiae

Like plants and animals? Want to leave your mark on the map? In a country as biodiverse and as poorly understood as Australia, you could find yourself discovering new species and at the cutting edge of science.

How? Sign up to iNaturalist, as I have done, and join Australia’s on line biodiversity network. Use iNaturalist to explore and share your observations from the natural world.

Created by Australia’s foremost scientists, this easy to use site is one of the most exciting, crowd-sourced, database/ networks on Earth.

Any Australian can load their photos of native plants and animals on iNaturalist and ask for sightings to be identified by experts. Please make sure your pictures are in focus. It helps to take shots from different angles, sometimes the most peculiar aspects  are important, like looking down on to insect wing cases.

Sap sucking bugs can be difficult to identify. Assassin bug larvae get bigger each time they moult, plus their colours and patterns may also change.  Different instars may look like different species, not differences between moults.

Record where you found your specimen, because your find might be a new record.

That’s exactly what happened to me. My find, and my photo, have contributed to Australia’s national biodiversity database: The Atlas of Living Australia.

I loaded a photo of a crane fly that lives in my Brisbane garden. I wanted to know its scientific name, and this was the reply from Dr Ken Walker:

“I’m loving watching your entries and seeing other people interacting with them.

I was not quite sure if you realised, but your information is contributing to our knowledge of the Australian biota. Take your recent “Unknown cranefly” sighting.

Once it was identified as Nephrotoma australasiae (an uncommon species) it got uploaded into Australia’s National data aggregator – the Atlas of Living Australia.

Your record is one of only five records for this species.

And one of only three images for this species.

Importantly, YOUR image has been chosen as the representative image for this species on ALA and you have been duly credited with the photograph”.

Dr Ken Walker, Senior Curator, Entomology, Museum Victoria

Back in 2003, I converted a barren plot into my sustainable food garden. Starting as a house in the middle of a weedy lawn surrounded by fencing, I decided to keep a checklist – a written and a photographic record – of every animals that either visits or calls my organic garden home.

Ten years on, and I’ve recorded almost 420 species of animal, both vertebrates and invertebrates, and fungi.

As the garden matured, so too has its biodiversity. By the fifth year, pest problems started easing. My continued success at food growing, through drought and floods, has also improved partly because of beneficial animals and the ecological services they provide.

For example, low numbers of honeybees could mean poor crop pollination. However, my organic food garden and its non-hybrid crops have encouraged twenty two species of native bee to forage pollen and nectar from flowers. In return, these bees help fill my ‘pollination gap’. My crops are great.

This year I discovered what seems to be an unknown species of parasitoid Leucospis wasp. This busy little insect parasitises the parasitoid wasps that parasitise my caterpillar pests. It’s an interesting concept, and it’s an indicator that my food garden is developing a mature ecology.

A recent discovery is that Species 419, Poecilometis armatus, a predatory bug that kills caterpillars, is a new location record.

Ken Walker says “Jerry, your Brisbane record now extends the known distribution of this species several hundred kilometres south of the previously known southern limits”.

If you have a garden, if you work in a community garden, or you help care for a school garden, or you enjoy bushwalking, then you could contribute to iNaturalist.

You never know, you may find yourself discovering a new species – or a new record – for our Atlas of Living Australia. Thanks to iNaturalist, it’s never been easier to leave your mark on the biodiversity map of Australia!

Pictured: the rare crane fly, Nephrotoma australasiae.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
3rd October 2013
updated 21st October 2019