Field Trip Report - Invertebrate collection on K'gari

Written by Dr Andrew Walker

The King Group travelled to K’gari between Tuesday 18 – Saturday 22 April 2023.

The field trip objectives were to:
1. Film the process of collecting funnelwebs (Hadronyche infensa) from burrows for a television production (60 Minutes, Channel Nine),
2. Collect funnelwebs (H. infensa) for ongoing venom research at The University of Queensland and University of the Sunshine Coast,
3. Collect assassin bugs (Reduviidae) for venom research, and
4. Collect bag shelter moth caterpillars (Ochrogaster lunifer) for venom research.

Invertebrates were collected under permit P-PTUKI-100128508-1. Prior to the collecting trip, we contacted Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) who co-manage K’gari. BAC advised they would endorse the trip if we complied with standard requirements for fieldwork on K’gari/Great Sandy National Park which included the engagement of a Butchulla cultural consultant for the trip. BAC arranged for consultant Mark Page (aka Narvo), a Butchulla man and really nice guy who knows a lot about K’gari, bush medicine, and nature.

We met Narvo on the ferry from the mainland to K’gari. After the most important conversation, to establish what kind of music were going to play on the car stereo while driving across the island, everyone seemed to be on the same page (despite our wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds) and a good group vibe was obtained that continued throughout the trip.

We visited Boorangoora (aka Lake Mackenzie) where Narvo welcomed us with a smoking ceremony. 

We collected some distinctive juvenile assassin bugs that we noticed on a previous trip, on the bark of satinay trees (Syncarpia hillii). These bugs may be Austrovelinus varius. We subsequently performed transcriptomic analysis of the venom glands of one of these bugs, which also yielded a DNA barcode. We found an adult of the same species at Wangoolba Central Station. Narvo was very helpful educating us on the history and lore of K’gari, identifying plants, and navigating. We reached our accommodation in Orchid Beach on the evening of the 19th.

We went to Ocean Lake where we dug up one funnelweb. We also found some bag shelter moth caterpillars (Ochrogaster lunifer) with a nest at the base of an Acacia sp. These were collected to compare the toxins in their defensive setae to those of other O. lunifer populations—since this species is suspected of being a species complex, we are currently performing experiments to determine how these toxins differ between populations. We also marked numerous funnelweb burrows at a site immediately southeast of the Orchid Beach township (Orchid Beach 1), filmed some footage of us collecting, and Glenn did an interview. We dug some burrows at Orchid Beach 2, just past Marloo Ave outside the dingo fence. After a busy day collecting in the heat we relaxed with cold drinks, cooked dinner, played darts, and watched the football.

We dug a few more burrows at Orchid Beach 1 before it was time to leave. We love K’gari and we were sad to leave but look forward to our next visit! Immediately on our return to the mainland the only bad part of the trip occurred when the 4WD wouldn’t start and we had to push it off the ferry (those things are heavy, especially when you need to execute a 5-point turn!) Anyway, just goes to show we should have stayed forever.

Funnelwebs obtained in this trip were split between researchers at UQ and University of the Sunshine Coast to keep alive in the laboratory to produce venom for further experiments.