24-5-12: Things are starting to wrap up here. The weather has cooled significantly in the last month, with our first frost appearing on the 6th May. The cold nights mean the womas aren’t moving far: it’s too risky – they may be caught outside a warm cosy burrow overnight. This cool weather also means that the radio tracking program is coming to an end.
With some warmer days last week 5 womas were caught and travelled to Australia Zoo, where expert reptile veterinarians Mel, Peter and Amber will remove their transmitters over the coming days. This group of womas includes the two girls that incubated this year (Winnie & Lola). Both of these gorgeous females are in good health but they have lost about 500g whilst incubating eggs over the summer so they are unlikely to try to breed again this year.
|Woma Katie in a log shelter|
Beautiful big woma Katie is also at Australia Zoo awaiting transmitter removal. This impressive girl has not laid eggs over the last 2 seasons, despite being very large and hanging out with several radiotracked males. Will she breed this summer? She’s certainly in good condition!
|Handsome woma Romeo|
The boys Romeo and Humphrey make up the last two womas in this first group to have their transmitters removed. Romeo is an exceptionally pretty woma who is famous for eating a bearded dragon 10m high in a tree (see earlier blogs). Humphrey is a most interesting woma – he was the first one to show us that woma pythons climb trees to attack and eat sleeping bearded dragons. He was also the first woma found digging a burrow, and the only woma to move to a completely new area during the radiotracking program.
The young girls Ella and Gaillee have been very elusive over the last fortnight, coming out to bask infrequently; as has the male woma DC. However we have been lucky enough to find 2 new female womas shacked up with DC for the winter. Hopefully the remaining tracked womas will be caught over the coming month so they too can have their transmitters removed.
Unfortunately woma Maxi has disappeared. During hot weather at the end of April his signal was lost and he could not be located again despite an extensive search. There is a small chance his transmitter battery may have failed but it is also possible that he moved a long way out of his home range before going deep into a burrow where he couldn’t be detected during the search.Maxi has moved the furthest during the radiotracking program – 2.7km in 60hrs – so it is possible he has given us the slip.
|Woma James with a sand goanna |
bulge in his belly
Finally, woma James was found deceased outside his burrow earlier this month. This was a shock because he was a very large and healthy woma and he had been assessed only 7 weeks earlier and was in very good health. A field autopsy couldn’t identify an obvious cause of death and it remains a mystery.
So with the final stages of the radiotracking program coming to a close I have to say that it has been an amazing journey, with the womas showing us some fascinating behaviours and habits. Who would have thought womas climbed trees to hunt prey?! And we were surprised to find that they have such a close association with another rarely seen reptile – the yakka skink: both eating them and living in their warm and cosy burrows. We have also been very pleased to find plenty of hatchling, juvenile, subadult, and large adult woma pythons at the field site, confirming that there is a stable population here that is protected and secure for the foreseeable future.