Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sandgropers and Climate Change

It's been a strange summer. After last year's mild weather we're back to 40 degree C plus days as well as steamy humidity unusual here on the west coast. Whatever the cause it's had effects on more than just the human population.
Some of you may know the nickname for Western Australians is Sandgropers but it's not just because of our large scale mining operations as you might think. There are some sixteen species of sandgropers of which six are unique to Western Australia, two specific to the Perth region. The sandgroper is a burrowing insect with the local ones around 6-7 cms - 2 1/2 inches - long. It has a streamlined segmented cylindrical abdomen and a hard cased head and thorax with no wings and its front legs modified into short digging tools with which it burrows through the sand. Its middle and rear legs fit neatly into its sides unless it is walking. Out of the ground it waddles surprisingly fast.
The reason I can give this description is that after living in Perth all my life this summer I have seen actual sandgropers for the first time. The cat found the first one in the family room obviously having come in when a door had opened. Two nights later the dog found another - on the veranda outside the family room. A few evenings later two appeared on the veranda and the same again a couple of nights later. Three days later one of the last pair fell from ... a hanging basket? A rafter? I don't know but it landed on my head leaving the dog bemused as to why I yelled when it was perfectly clear this was an interesting toy. As I rescued it another scuttled across in front of me and was also returned to the safety of the garden bed.
Since then we have been sandgroper free but I know they are at work industriously digging their tunnels and making their homes in the garden - and I rather like that idea.

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