Backyard Buddies

Photo: JJ Harrison

B-mail May 2017

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Welcome to your May B-mail, the monthly newsletter of  Backyard Buddies.

This month's B-mail features a native hen, a lot of fungi, Tassie Devils, and the winning entry for our Penguin Toy competition.

Check out our Buddy of the month: Tasmanian Native Hen

You won’t find these in your chookhouse. Tasmanian Native Hens are just that – native. They look nothing like backyard chickens and you can’t eat their eggs. You won’t be able to catch one either – they can hit 50kph as they run in a straight line with their heads stretched forward.

Tasmanian Native Hen

These hens are very distant relatives of the domestic chicken but they are actually waterbirds and live only in Tasmania, where they have earned their nickname: turbo chooks. They used to live on the south eastern Australian mainland, but disappeared after foxes and dingoes arrived. They tend to hang around water but they are commonly seen in suburban areas, scratching around for something to eat. Breeding season finished in December but you might still see some fluffy teenagers about.

They can’t fly but they can outrun many predators and are excellent swimmers. They love eating legumes, so farmers are not too fond of them. Native hen eggs are food for Tasmanian Devils, quolls and many birds of prey but their population remains stable as they lay up to 10 eggs , sometimes twice in a year.

If you haven’t seen any around, head for Maria Island, where there is a large population and they are not shy. They are used to people and will meet you at the ferry.

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Fungal infection

Fungi. Where to start. There is an enormous variety all over Australia, in different climates and habitats and in every colour imaginable. There are just over 11,000 named species but scientists estimate there are at least 50,000 in Australia.

Both professional and amateur mycologists – fungi biologists – have an endless task on their hands, with new species being identified all the time. A winter or autumn walk through the bush or forest will almost certainly provide some opportunities for fungi spotting but you may have some in your own backyard.

Fungi are not plants and not animals but they are living organisms. There are macrofungi which are easy to spot, and microfungi, so tiny you will need a microscope to see them. They don’t all need damp weather to thrive. Many types of fungi grow in dry arid areas, even in the desert.

Fungi don’t just look like mushrooms. There are many, many different forms. There are jelly fungi, earth stars, puff balls and the aptly named stinkhorns, which have a revolting nauseating smell.

They are an important part of Australia’s biodiversity, but are still largely a mystery. However, they are known to perform vital ecological functions like decomposing vegetation, capturing carbon, creating nesting hollows in dead wood and providing food for insects and some mammals like Potoroos and Woylies.

Mycorrhizal fungi are necessary for the germination of many native plants. Native orchid seeds cannot germinate without the aid of a specialised fungal partner.

So fungi are not just weird, slimy stinky growths. They are a fascinating and largely unexplored branch of biology and many of them are uniquely beautiful.

If you fancy yourself a bit of a citizen scientist, you can help gather fungi information by contributing to the National Australian Fungimap Database.

Fungi don’t just look like mushrooms. There are many, many different forms.

Backyard Buddies toy competition

Congratulations to Lillie, our Backyard Buddy toy competition winner! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Here is Lillie’s story about her favourite Backyard Buddy:

My name is Lillie and I am 8 years old. I live in Townsville but I visit my Grandma’s house at Mystic Sands. Here at Mystic Sands we see many groups of kangaroos.

They like to come into the green grass and eat the new shoots. They also like to drink water out of my Grandma’s pond and nibble at the plants. I have seen lots of joeys and they are very interesting to watch learning to jump outside their mums pouch for the first time. Sometimes they stay inside the pouch and just poke out their head to look around.

Backyard Buddies Penguin

In our Big Backyard: Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devils are the largest carnivorous marsupial alive in Australia. They live all across Tasmania although hundreds of years ago, they also lived on mainland Australia.

Being nocturnal, and shy, you are more likely to see one in a wildlife park or, unfortunately, dead on a road. They are often hit by cars while feeding themselves on roadkill.

Healthy devils have fat tails – because they store fat there for when food is hard to come by.

Female Devils often raise two joeys at once and they can stay in the pouch for four months. Devils live in a den and once the joeys emerge from the pouch, they will stay near the den for another few months, learning from their parents before going out on their own.

Devils have very strong jaws. They eat every part of their prey, easily crunching through bones. Although they look ferocious when tearing apart their food, they will not attack humans and are far more likely to run away if they see one.

They play a vital role in controlling feral animals like cats and the red fox. By eating these introduced predators, they are preventing many bird and small mammal deaths. Brush tailed bettongs, eastern quolls, spotted tail quolls and eastern barred bandicoots are all vulnerable to feral predators.

They are a well-known iconic Australian animal and easily recognised, with white marks on their rumps and chests which are unique to each devil and can help researchers identify them.

Unfortunately, Tasmanian Devil populations have been decimated over recent years by the highly contagious Devil Facial Tumour Disease. Whilst scientists are searching for a cure, healthy devils are being contained in mainland conservation areas where they are safe from the disease and can breed healthy young.

Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife has partnered with Devil Ark to help endangered Tasmanian Devils return from the brink of extinction through captive breeding efforts on the Australian mainland, where there is no risk of infection from diseased wild devils.

Tassie Devil

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Thank you to everyone who donated to our Save Our Turtles Campaign!