This wet season we are seeing far more butterflies than ever before in our garden. The Chequered Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) is found almost all over Australia but populations move and fluctuate according to local climatic conditions. During favourable seasons the species expands its range from the inland to the coast. We hadn’t noticed it before at our place on the Darwin foreshore…but we’re very glad it’s paying us a visit.


Tuareg guide standing beside the so-called Fighting Cats

Wadi Mathendous, Messak Settafet, Libya

Messak Settafet, situated in the Sahara, is a large plateau running southwest to northeast through the Libyan province of Fezzan, near the borders of Algeria and Niger. Both plateaus are crossed by numerous wadis (dry riverbeds) that run to the east, flanked by cliffs filled with tens of thousands of rock art depictions, including some of the oldest engravings in the Sahara. Rich with depictions of the savannah, the rock art shows buffaloes, crocodiles, ostriches or hippopotami, all of which tells us of a wetter Sahara thousands of years ago.

It is difficult to determine the motives of the people that created these images. There are many theories about why these people created rock art, what exactly is depicted and what the images meant to that group.

Deep in the Messak Settafet is a site that has intrigued researchers for decades: the image known as ‘Fighting Cats’. This iconic engraving shows two confronted, long-tailed figures standing on their hindquarters, with legs and arms partially outstretched against each other, as if fighting.

The technical quality of the engravings is exceptional, with deeply outlined and carefully polished bodies and carved cupules within their heads to depict eyes. Claws were also marked, maybe to reinforce the idea of fighting. The specific type of animal depicted is subject to debate among scholars. Some have described them as monkeys or mythological blends of monkeys and men. Their pointed ears could also identify them as cat-like figures, although most probably they were the representation of mythical beings, considering their prominence above all other figures in this area. A polished line comes out from the waist of both figures to join four small ostriches, depicted between them, which often accompany rock art in this region. (x)

Fungi are fabulous and are amongst the most numerous organisms on earth. Because of the ephemeral nature of their fruiting bodies they are not as well known as other organisms. When these small (12mm diameter) balls appeared in the sand at Kabulwarnamyo Ranger Station I was so impressed and intrigued that next time I was at a good bookstore I bought Bruce Fuhrer’s Field Guide to Australian Fungi in the hope I might be able to identify them. I’m fairly certain the genus is Calostoma, because three of the four Calostomas pictured and described are the only fungi in the book that look anything like these. The closest in appearance, and possibly, the correct species is Calostoma fuhreri which shares the black body with red coloured orifice which to my eye resembles Chinese characters. The name Calostoma means beautiful mouth.

This simple but elegant and graceful depiction of the female figure is one of tens of thousands of rock art images from the Western Arnhem Plateau. Only a small percentage have been recorded. The reddish orange pigment used here has soaked into the porous sandstone surface and has become very stable and permanent. This also makes it hard to tell the age of the painting, it might be as recent as a few hundred years old or it might be from earlier times in a tradition of art and occupation going back more than 40,000 years. 

The stingless native bee called Bobbidj inwestern Arnhem Land  indigenous taxonomy and Austroplebeia symeii in Linnean taxonomy shuts the entrance to its nest as evening falls. Worker bees pull the toffee like cerumen inward until they have blocked the entrance.  Bininj people call the entrance  the “nose” (kebno) of the nest. In the morning the bees will open up the entrance at the start of their working day. Bobbidj is the only one of six  bee types named in  the Kundedjnyenghmi dialect of Bininj Kunwok which close their nest entrance at night. The tiny bees, only a few millimetres in length, produce a beautiful tasting honey. Bininj use the wax from native bees for a variety of purposes in traditional tool making but the wax from Bobbidj is inferior and almost useless. It crumbles rather than being easy to mould and hold a shape.