"Good morning," I began, "Welcome to Arthropodology. I'm Gordon Hollister. I assume that you've all had a course or two in biology. For the next few weeks I'm going to talk about a few sorts of invertebrates called arthropods: animals with jointed limbs but no spines. More specifically, we'll consider the arachnids or chelicerates, the crustaceans or biramous arthropods, and the insects or uniramous arthropods.
There are over 100,000 named species of arachnids: spiders, scorpions, harvestmen, ticks, mites, and solifuges or wind spiders. There are no solifuges in Australia. All arachnids have eight legs.
There are over 50,000 species of crustaceans, including crabs, lobsters, crawfish, shrimp, krill, and barnacles.
There are well over a million described species of insects. In all, there may be as many as 10 million extant species, representing over half of all living animals, potentially 90% of all metazoans. By the way, the total number of described animal species is under 1.3 million. So there are around 150,000 species we won't consider here.
After nearly an hour, Gordy said: "I'm afraid I can't recommend a textbook. Most of the few that exist a priced astronomically – well over $100 US each. There is an excellent taxonomy: Webb, Wallwork and Elgood's Guide to Invertebrate Animals and there are some goods books on Dust Mites, Moths and Ants from the CSIRO. The best introductory volume on arachnids is a children's book: Levi and Levi's Spiders and their Kin and Hunt's Puffin Book of Australian Insects is first-rate. Finally, anything by E.O. Wilson, on ants, on social insects, is tops. Go off and read and think. I'll see you on Wednesday, when we'll consider evolution."
So far, Scotch College is far more interesting than my previous school. Some of the classes are interesting and none of my teachers minds it when I ask questions. And we get to choose things, not just "do" the assignment. Oh, we get assignments, too, but so far none seems to be outright stupid. For example, we had to memorize a sonnet, and I picked one by Shakespeare. We were asked to recite what we'd memorized. But not the whole poem. When I was my turn, I said: It ends
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.
I was asked why I had chosen it and I said it was my Dad's favourite and that he recited it to my Mum. Two of the boys laughed, but they were rebuked. I was asked if I knew which sonnet it was, and I said "Yes, sir, number 91." I was asked whether I knew the beginning of it and I replied: "Some glory in their birth, some in their skill," sir. And I was told we'd be doing more Shakespeare in 9 and 10.
I didn't mention Rachel. The boys always talked about girls in the changing room. But I could feel it was all talk. They looked at girls, but they knew no girls.
That night I had a very strange dream. At breakfast, I spoke to Dad.
"Can you take me to Garden Island?"
"Near Rockingham? I suppose so. When?"
"Soon. Saturday morning?"
"If your Mum and Sarah don't need us."
"They won't. But I need to go. Can we go early?"
"Can you tell me why?"
"I need a female python. One will wait for me Saturday morning near the Northwest tip of Garden Island."
"Oh. You are growing older. I understand."
"What's he mean?" asked Sarah.
"I'll explain on Sunday."
"Thank you, Dad," I said.
"Can you tell me?" asked Mum.
"I will tell you later," said Dad, "If Patrick doesn't say no."
"No. You can explain to Mum."
"You know they're dangerous."
"I'll take a waddy." [A waddy is heavy stick, especially an aboriginal war club.]
After the kids were in bed, Weena asked: "What was that about?"
"Pat's getting older."
"I know," she laughed, "I launder his pyjamas and underwear."
"Right. That age. Well, he's got to hunt his totem. Remember when he went off with the old nungungi and told us that he was a carpet python?"
"Well, when he was about to become a young man, the nungungi had to hunt a kangaroo and bring home its pelt. Pat went on his dream search last night and met a python awaiting him on Garden Island. I will take him to his meeting. I'm not certain what he means by his waddy. He'll make it known."
"Why a female?"
"They're larger, but that may not be the reason."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Pythons are constrictors. They're not venomous."
"Oh, well. I guess it's my fault."
The Southern Carpet Python, morella spilota imbricata is a large snake, abundant in the southwest of Australia. Females grow to up to 2.5m in length, and are generally 2m [78in.] in length, from snout to vent. The habitat is coastal areas, woodland, heathland, and semi arid. It is discrete and slow moving, spending most of its time hidden, though occasionally it is seen attempting to cross roads. Typically this python is sedentary, but females in a survey at Garden Island were noted to be active most of the year. they are largely nocturnal, climbing trees and shrubs as well as crossing open areas such as rock faces, forest floors and even roads. However, basking behaviour is commonly observed. The diet consists mainly of small mammals, bats, birds and lizards.
In the morning I was back at the University, talking about the beginnings of the insects in the Silurian – only a few scorpion-like arachnids are earlier among the land-dwellers.
I got up at six on Saturday and put on shorts and a tee-shirt. I looked in my closet and took my cricket bat. It has a Scotch College crest on it, so I suppose that's my school totem. I sat at my desk and drew a snake on the back of the blade with coloured markers, winding across the ridge. Both my totems. I did not want her to be offended when taken. I washed the ink from my hands, put on my shoes and went downstairs. Dad was in the kitchen making tea.
"Aha! So that's your waddy!"
"It bears both my totems," I said, showing him.
"So it does. Want some tucker?"
"Not till lunchtime."
"Right. Ready to go?"
I nodded. We drove south on highway 1 to Rockingham, out on Point Peron Road and across the causeway and bridge to Garden Island.
"Do you know where we should go?"
"Yes. Keep on the main road past the air station a few klicks. Then we cross a wide road. Then there's a fork and we bear left."
There was another fork.