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Predicting the presence of peculiar bugs and carnivorous plants


Kerry Mazzotti

Where would you look for true bugs? Where is the Wild West Kimberley would you find a parasitic wasp or a carnivorous plant? This was the challenge for the bug team when they were planning the sites for this trip. Charnley River Station covers 300 000 hectares, it would be impossible to search everywhere. So where do we start?

Dr Nik Tatarnic from the Western Australian Museum explained that the site we visited today was chosen because there is water there (or at least they think there will be water there), and there is interesting topography like south facing cliffs where the peculiar bugs and wasps like to reside. It was a prediction, based on maps and on previous field research. The scientists had made their prediction and I got to help them test it. On this trip was Dr Nik Tatarnic, Dr Erin Fagan-Jefferies from Adelaide University, Zoe Bloesch from the University of New South Wales and Kane a Wunggurr Ranger.

Our destination was Lake Doherty, an oasis in the middle of a dry savannah perched on the edge of a plateau. We had to take the helicopter there! We were in a AS350 Squirrel and Sam was our trusty pilot. I got prime position in the front seat as we took off from base camp. The Wild West Kimberley lay out before us, a dry savannah with sandstone ranges in the distance and the dark green depressions of the spectacular gorges the region is renowned for. A helicopter ride is such a thrill, we were so nimble and with all the windows, it felt like I was levitating above the landscape. Soon we were soaring over Lake Doherty. The bug team were pleased to see that there was water in the lake but were less pleased to see cattle in the area. We weren’t sure what these things would mean for our prediction that we would find peculiar bugs and carnivorous plants at the site.

We hopped off the helicopter with our gear and waved goodbye to Pilot Sam. He would be back in four hours to collect us. We were on the banks of a muddy swamp peppered with tiny flowers of yellow, pink, and purple. Armed with nets and vials, we went to work discovering the secrets of this secluded site. Within minutes I had my first Microgastrinae – the parasitoid wasp that Dr Erinn was hoping to catch. I was excited because Dr Erinn told me that they didn’t catch any at all yesterday! Zoe also found four different species of carnivorous plants and Dr Nik found lots of lace bugs and damsel flies. After a little bit of stalking, I also captured a previously undescribed Assassin Bug. It turned out the predictions of the scientists were correct, and it was the perfect place to discover peculiar bugs and carnivorous plants!

We ate our packed lunch in the shade of a tiny gum tree, sharing stories of near-misses and favourite captures. Pilot Sam came and collected us, and we whizzed over the vast wild landscape back to the safe and familiar campsite.