Live Exhibit staff ventured along the high ridges of the Blue Mountains National Park in order to collect some interesting live specimens for visitors to have the chance to photograph in My Photo Studio, part of the next Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

The Quad Pad site
The Quad Pad site is located high above a creek, Blue Mountains Image: Paul Taçon
© Australian Museum

Early in the planning stage, it was decided that the live displays in My Photo Studio should be different to those displayed in 2009. One species that the Live Exhibits team had had in mind to display from the beginning, was a diurnal (active by day) species of native cockroach known as Polyzosteria limbata, known commonly as the Botany Bay Cockroach, which got its name from the location were the first specimen was collected.

Polyzosteria limbata was chosen, because the species is active, rarely hides (important for someone trying to photograph it), has striped pattern and because the species challenges our perceptions of cockroaches as dirty, disease carrying, scavengers that hide in dark places. Unlike the introduced species that most Sydney residents are accustomed to, most native cockroaches actually like to bask in the sunlight and in captivity will sit for hours under a spotlight.

Although they make good display animals, they live under two years and captive populations do not always successfully breed so there were no excess captive animals available from other Zoos, Wildlife Parks and Museums. It was therefore decided that we would conduct a field trip into the wild to collect founding stock for a captive breeding population.

The first thing we had to decide was where we could go and with reasonable certainty find them. This is different to other collecting trips conducted by Museum scientist, we rarely go into the field with target species in mind, usually scientist go to a particular location to sample the variety of a particular group e.g. Molluscs, Insects or Spiders so whatever is collected is the forms the sample of a particular sites biodiversity. Therefore there is a high risk associated with having a particular species in mind, for example; what if we searched some perfect bush land were our species should be? We could waste a whole day looking.

The Blue Mountains variety of Polyzosteria limbata differ slightly from the same animals found on the coast (which includes the type specimen) by having slightly broader stripes along the edges of the body. We were able to find a site within Blue Mountains National Park using information from the Museum’s entomology collection as well as from Andrew Titmuss, a teacher from Richmond College of TAFE, who has collected the species from a site in the Blue Mountains. Permits and final approval were sought from the National Parks Office before undertaking the fieldwork.

The collecting trip itself went well with good weather conditions and 13 kilometers of track were searched. Unfortunately however, only a single pair of cockroaches was collected. Other wildlife highlights included over 20 sightings of Mountain Dragon, Tympanocryptis diemensis, (including a few females gravid with eggs), Jacky Dragon, Amphibolurus muricatus, White’s Skink, Egernia whitii, Red-crowned Toadlet, Pseudophryne australis, numerous flying insects and wildflowers.

The animals are now adjusting to their exhibit in the Museum and are being feed on a diet of Orthopteran mix, fruit and leaf litter. The Cockroaches live displays can be seen in My Photo Studio - part of the 2010 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition. which opens on the 4th of December.