April 2 - Mount (in)Glorious
Up with the sparrows or not, the leaf litter in the forest, and there's plenty of it up on Mount Glorious, was dry. No leeches. No frogs calling. After several kilometers and the better part of 4 hours of bushwalking in the morning we realized we were just wasting our time.
Walking through a forest with your gaze fixed to the ground is not the typical posture for most hikers. We recommend it though. There is as much to see under foot as there is overhead. Here, at this time the forest floor is littered with tiny white flowers and brilliant red berries. Many plants in the IndoPacific region engage in what's called "Mast Fruiting". Just like plants in temperate regions that drop fruit only once a year, on a seasonal basis, here the 5 to 7 El Niño cycle is the real "seasonal" force. We're not really on-time for a mast fruiting episode, but it's pretty clear that the epiphitic species producing these red berries are all dropping them at the same time.
We even stumbled across a brilliant blue and white crayfish (one that would have easily eluded the average bird-wacher looking up into the canopy). Here, like Madagascar, there are crayfish that have set up shop in the forest floor where they dig burrows near streams running down through the rainforest. This one was about 10 inches long and equipped with powerful claws on both forelimbs. Though it might seem odd to find a crustacean roaming around in the forest, in fact most of us have seen these all our lives. The rolly-poly pillbugs so common in gardens and under sod all over the world (a 2 inch variety at right from our morning walk) are isopods - also crustaceans like crabs and lobsters and shrimp. In fact, it's pretty clear that these terrestrial isopods must have made their way from the sea eons ago. The largest isopod Bathygnomus gigantea (or something like that) crawls along the sea floor in the middle of the Pacific more than a mile down. Growing to about a foot and a half long, there's a specimen mounted on the Tree of Life wall in the Hall of Ocean Life in the American Museum of Natural History.
A couple of us are having a bit of an immune response to the bites of the terrestrial leeches. Not on a massive scale, but still, itchy and weepy and lasting days (unlike a few hours for the mosquito bites we've been accumulating). The vast majority of the medicinal leeches of the world and even the terrestrial leeches of the world, have 3 jaws for making an incision in the skin prior to sucking up the blood released from capillary beds just under the skin. The result is a tripartite incision looking a little like a Mercedes Benz or peace symbol. The Australian terrestrial leeches, however, have only two jaws. One of the leeches we were preparing last night, relaxed with its jaws fully protruded (right). Each of those is armed with a fine edge of tiny scleretized teeth - not unlike the curved edge of one of those plastic knives you get from a deli. As you can see, with the ability to thrust the jaws forward, they can get quite deep, through your skin and into the capillary-rich tissues below.
We arrived in Brisbane about mid-afternoon. We'll be here for the next couple of days, the main task being full photo-documentation of the leech type-collections in the Queensland Museum across the river. Back in civilization is when we miss our families most. It's hard to believe we've only been here a week.