April 9 - Larry's Devastation

This morning we got up early and drove first south to Hypipamee Crater with some success in terms of leech collecting. But the rain forest was a mess. This area was more exposed to Larry's force than Atherton. It shows. The debris was extensive, but still, the canopy was mostly intact and the bulk of the vegetation was intact. There was, as we walked through to the crater and falls, a new danger on our minds. Cassuaries. Big colorful ostrich-like birds with a hard ridge on their heads, a nasty disposition and raptor-sharp talons on their feet made specifically for tearing large holes in anything that threatens them.

From Hypipamee, we ventured East.

We're speechless.

There's so little left.

Like a bomb went off.

As thought a massive shock wave tore through here.

Trees, regardless of size, lie twisted and snappped like matchsticks. The lush green foliage that one expects upon entering a forest lies on the ground stripped clean from what few branches remain on the trees still standing.

Worse, the canopy is gone. The protective cover over a jungle. The dense, light blocking, rain catching canopy. Gone. Like a lawnmower came by and simply hacked off the upper layer of the rainforest.

It's wet for now, but it isn't dark. There's no cover for the tree kangaroos that used to inhabit this forest. More alarmingly, the tops of the trees, the branches, the leaves and twigs, severed from life and drying out, all is lying on the jungle floor like knotted twine. Perfect fuel for a raging forest fire. Northeast Queensland is entering the dry season.

As we travelled from one site to another among the patchwork of National Park land, the trails leading into the obliterated rainforest were all blocked. Impassable. By late afternoon, only a few leeches more had been found and we, hot, sweaty and humbled by the destruction, headed back to Atherton.

On the positive side, we're sure we have a new species. All leeches, like all annelid worms, have bodies made up of repeating segments. Unique to leeches, though, the body segments or somites are subdivided, usually into 3 or 5 rings called annuli. Much as most of the rest of the leeches we've been finding, Amicobdella niger has 5 annuli per body segment. We have a few from this morning clearly with 4 annuli in each segment (marked with yellow lines at right). At first glance, this places the mystery leech in the genus Philaemon, and nothing like this is known from the North of Australia.

We've only one more day of collecting. The new species is a nice bonus to wrap up the 2 weeks of work. We're not clear yet where we'll get to tomorrow on the way to Cairns. Yungaburra maybe.