Tagged: Skevington family

The search for flower flies – an exploration of Australia and its wildlife

by Danielle Chiasson

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

Jeff Skevington is a research scientist with the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He is also an adjunct research professor at Carleton University and an active member with the OFNC.

Jeff, along with his wife and son, Angela and Alexander, embarked on a five-month research trip across Australia last year to study insects. Jeff, who completed his PhD in Australia, returned to Australia with his family to collect, study and identify flower flies as well as give talks across the country.

Alexander, a boy of 11, began the night with his own presentation of photos and anecdotes from their Australian adventures. It was a heart-warming and informative account from a young boy with a growing passion for wildlife and photography. He recounted the numerous species they came across, some common and tame and others that were out of the ordinary.

A few animals he featured included:

The short-nosed echidna – an anteater native to Australia and New Guinea. The Skevingtons had an interesting encounter with this creature. When threatened the echidna will curl up into a ball similar to a hedgehog and begin to dig downwards into the earth.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The plains-wanderer – a bird species endemic to Australia and of particular interest to the Skevington family. Their plumage gives them great camouflage and when threatened they puff out their cheeks. Similar to sand pipers, the plains-wanderer will run away instead of flying when disturbed.

The Lumholz’s tree kangaroo – There are many different species of kangaroo. This one (below) was spotted by the Skevington family in the northeast rainforest of Australia. Unfortunately many species of tree kangaroo are threatened because of habitat loss.

A Lumholz's tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

A Lumholz’s tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a "selfie" with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a “selfie” with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The quokka – A cute little macropod with little fear of humans and a face that seems to smile. Alexander recalls this as his favourite part of the Australian trip. They took many photos with the quokkas and had the chance to give them water.

After Alexander’s presentation Jeff discussed the more technical side to organizing a 5-month cross-country research trip. He said that the trip had been very difficult to arrange and was surprised to find Australia had gotten more expensive since he and his wife were there last. They decided to camp during their stay and were faced with many challenges, the main one being the dangerous road conditions in the Australian outback.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Jeff then continued to present the main reason for the trip, insect research! Many insect species in Australia are undescribed. Jeff’s research brought his family across Australia, finding insects in the desert outback, across the wet East coast of Australia and the heights of hilltops.

Flower flies (also called hover flies) make up the insect family Syrphidae. Jeff talked about three subfamilies: Eristalinae, Microdontinae, and Pipizinae.

Collection methods for these flies include the use of traps, many of which are ongoing, maintained and emptied by others. More tedious collection methods include hand collecting and flower collection. These insects are great pollinators!

They also set off to collect more rare species and to hopefully find undescribed ones at higher elevations. Many insects are found on hilltops because it is an ideal place for them to find food and mate.

Austalis pulchella (Eristalinae). Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The presentation ended with a further exploration of many bird and mammal species they came across during their trip. Australia is home to many endemic birds. Here are a few examples (click on images for a full-size slide show).

Jeff and his family brought a beautiful array of photographs from their trip and many stories to accompany them. They presented many unfamiliar species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians and gave a wonderful introduction to the natural history of Australia.

For more information on Jeff Skevington and his research please visit his web page at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes.