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When geckos attack

Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)
Published 01 Jun 2017 by Leanne Hales (Volunteer Coordinator North)

Who knew fauna surveys could be such dangerous work? We take utmost care to ensure that animal trapping and handling techniques cause minimal stress to the creatures that are caught and recorded, but what about the welfare of the surveyors?

Volunteer Monalisa de Duarte Oliveira was wondering just that when she found herself in the jaws of a Box-patterned Gecko. What they lack in size (about 5cm long), they make up for in raw reptilian attitude.

When threatened or captured these little guys will also make barking or hissing sounds, open their mouths and jump towards the threat in the hope of scaring it off.

Of course Monalisa had no intention of eating the gecko so she took a quick photo (with her free hand) and returned him to the location he was found.

The survey team were also drawing straws to see who had to be the one to retrieve a Whistling Spider – Australia’s largest tarantula – from a pitfall trap during the May surveys at Yourka Reserve.

Pitfall traps are just a series of buckets or tubes, dug into the ground so their top is flush with ground level. A drift fence, usually a length of flyscreen or mesh, is erected linking the buckets so that any small, ground-dwelling mammals, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are directed towards the 'pits'.

Strict animal ethics guidelines determine how long these pits can remain open as well as how often and at what times they need to be checked. A handful of leaves or similar material is placed in the pit to provide warmth and shelter for animals during their brief stay.

Funnel traps are another method often used during surveys and are usually set up at the end of the drift fence. The funnel traps are made of shadecloth with a full length zip for easy access although there's still a definite knack to checking and emptying them safely as they commonly capture reptiles, some of which are large and poisonous.

Over four trapping nights a wide variety of species were noted including 13 new records for the reserve. The team were especially pleased to catch a Native Swamp Rat in one of the Elliot traps on night two. This species is not as common as other native rats as it requires more specific habitat.

As the name suggests, it likes swamps and thick vegetation along creek lines, of which Yourka has plenty.

The same animal showed up on night three and four – he'd obviously developed a fondness for peanut butter and oats and had worked out where to get an easy meal.

Have a look at the below gallery for more species recorded during the survey and the techniques used to catch them.

A tiny Box-pattern Gecko (also known as Steindachner's Gecko) latches on to a volunteer's finger. A tiny Box-pattern Gecko (also known as Steindachner's Gecko) latches on to a volunteer's finger.
Photo Monalisa.
A Burton's Legless Lizard was spotted under torchlight. Photo Paul Hales. A Burton's Legless Lizard was spotted under torchlight. Photo Paul Hales.
Planigale maculata  or Common Planigales love the kangaroo grass understorey of the Yourka woodlands. Photo Paul Hales. Planigale maculata or Common Planigales love the kangaroo grass understorey of the Yourka woodlands. Photo Paul Hales.
Ctenotus spaldingi (Straight-browed ctenotus), one of the new skink records. Photo Paul Hales. Ctenotus spaldingi (Straight-browed ctenotus), one of the new skink records. Photo Paul Hales.
Elliot traps need to be placed in a well-sheltered location and are usually baited with a small ball of peanut butter and oats or sardines. Photo Paul Hales. Elliot traps need to be placed in a well-sheltered location and are usually baited with a small ball of peanut butter and oats or sardines. Photo Paul Hales.
A hair trap on the ground. Photo Paul Hales. A hair trap on the ground. Photo Paul Hales.
Looking down the "mouth" of a hair trap. These traps are lined with a disposable wafer covered in sticky gum which collects a hair sample from small to mid-sized mammals that nose in to the bait in the end. Photo Paul Hales. Looking down the "mouth" of a hair trap. These traps are lined with a disposable wafer covered in sticky gum which collects a hair sample from small to mid-sized mammals that nose in to the bait in the end. Photo Paul Hales.
Diporiphora nobbi (Nobbi Dragon) was a new record for Yourka. Diporiphora nobbi (Nobbi Dragon) was a new record for Yourka.
This well-fed Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus) was a new record for the reserve. Photo Paul Hales. This well-fed Swamp Rat (Rattus lutreolus) was a new record for the reserve. Photo Paul Hales.
Monalisa (student volunteer) and Terry Reis (contract Ecologist) checking a funnel trap. This style of trap is most effective at capturing reptiles. Photo Paul Hales. Monalisa (student volunteer) and Terry Reis (contract Ecologist) checking a funnel trap. This style of trap is most effective at capturing reptiles. Photo Paul Hales.
Diporiphora australis (Tommy Roundhead) was not a new record but sure is photogenic. Photo Paul Hales. Diporiphora australis (Tommy Roundhead) was not a new record but sure is photogenic. Photo Paul Hales.
Uperoleia altissma (Tableland Gungan) was a suprising result. These tiny toadlets only grow to 25mm. Uperoleia altissma (Tableland Gungan) was a suprising result. These tiny toadlets only grow to 25mm.
This Whistling spider was a handful for the survey team. Photo Paul Hales. This Whistling spider was a handful for the survey team. Photo Paul Hales.

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