Glyphosate – the formulation is the poison

The old saying that “the dose is the poison” (i.e. the amount taken is what causes the poison”) may soon be joined by another, when talking weedkillers and humans, that “the formulation is the poison”.

The news that has ruled Monsanto is liable for a terminally ill man’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer and has awarded him $289 million in damages is generating a lot of attention worldwide.  This could be the first significant crack in the company’s carefully crafted armour against claims that its glyphosate-containing products are carcinogenic.

It must also be giving considerable encouragement to what the complainant’s lawyers say are more than 4,000 similar cases across the US.

It will be interesting to see whether the ruling is based strictly on the active chemical glyphosate as the causative agent, or whether the formulation containing the glyphosate is cited as the carcinogenic factor.

An article in the Guardian back in May pointed out that “while regulators have previously required extensive testing of glyphosate in isolation, government scientists have not fully examined the toxicity of the more complex products sold to consumers, farmers and others.”

A summary of the results of tests done under the US National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) first-ever examination of herbicide formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate stated that glyphosate formulations decreased human cell “viability”, disrupting cell membranes.  Cell viability was “significantly altered” by the formulations, it stated.  This is not the same as saying that the formulation is cancer-causing, but that it harms human cells.

The Guardian’s May article goes on to say:

“… internal company emails dating back 16 years, which emerged in a court case last year, offer a glimpse into the company’s view. In one 2003 internal company email, a Monsanto scientist stated: “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen … we have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement. The testing on the formulations are not anywhere near the level of the active ingredient.” Another internal email, written in 2010, said: “With regards to the carcinogenicity of our formulations we don’t have such testing on them directly.” And an internal Monsanto email from 2002 stated: “Glyphosate is OK but the formulated product … does the damage.”

It will be interesting to see whether these emails played any role in the jury’s decision.


Links to help identify butterflies


Orange Ringlet (Hypocysta adiante)

These Orange Ringlets are often around our place, either on something that is flowering, or “resting” in grass or leaf litter.

This one is on the flowers of a Soap Tree (Alphitonia excelsa).

While checking my ID of this species I realised that I have a range of links that could be useful to other people who want to identify a butterfly.

Actually I usually start with a field guide: The Butterflies of Australia, by Albert Orr and Roger Kitching.  It’s a fantastic book, and in addition to the thousands of paintings of different species and different life cycle stages it has a lot of informative text.  “Field guide” is a bit of a misnomer though.  While it is softcover it is also large and heavy, more something that you might carry in your day-pack, if weight wasn’t a consideration.

Links to useful websites

My usual first stop on the internet is the butterfly index page on Brisbane Insects. Peter Chew has created a fantastic public resource with this website.  It has a huge range of insect and spider photos with explanatory text.  Over the years he has improved the site by adding index pages for the different groups and his butterfly pages are a good example of this.

On the butterfly page you will find thumbnails of typical examples of each group with links to the detailed photo pages.

Of course Peter’s species are limited to those you will find the greater Brisbane area, but though we are 100km west of Brisbane it is still a good source for anything on our place.

[this list is under construction – please check back later for more links]

Australian Butterflies has a great thumbnail index page with good (and bigger than thumbnail) images to help you sort out what your butterfly might be.  Generally lots of photos of each species, and often with caterpillar and chrysalis.

Australian Butterfly Photos on Deane Lewis’ Australian Nature Photography site has a reasonable range of images but suffers from not allowing you to see all his photos of one species on the same page.

Butterflies of Australia  by Tobias Westmeier should perhaps be called Butterflies of the Sydney Region, but it does have a wide range of butterfly species and has excellent notes on appearance, wingspan, season, range and habitat.  The website design is excellent and the Families and Sub-Families are all on the one page, with very good thumbnail shots.  Frequently has multiple photos of a species.  Includes butterflies of Germany, but all pages which are relevant to Australia are in perfect English.

Butterflies of Australia (Australian Butterfly House) This site has possibly the most complete set of photographs of Australian butterfly species, and particularly photos of eggs, caterpillars and cocoons.  However, too many of the photos of butterflies are of museum specimens, even where the species is relatively common.  It is not typical to see butterflies in the pinned specimen position, or with the faded colours of museum specimens.  Unless you are trying to ID a caterpillar or cocoon, this would be a site to come back to if other sites haven’t yielded an ID.



We won! There will be no motocross facility at Adare!

In the Planning and Environment Court on the morning of 23 January, the Judge dismissed Drywound Pty Ltd’s Appeal against the Council’s decision to refuse the application for a material change of use to allow the establishment of a motocross facility on the land in Adare Road.

It’s over.

The Council’s decision to refuse the Development Application stands.

The voices of the 232 objecting submitters to the Development Application have prevailed.

Colby Steer, the Director of Drywound Pty Ltd, was self-represented at this last hearing after his lawyer had withdrawn as a result of unpaid bills and a lack of response to his emails and phone calls since mid-December 2016.

See more about this development here and here. agent for good or profit?

Some time in early 2015 some members of our local community group, Lockyer Community Action Inc. organised a petition on for a campaign we were running.

At the time those who set it up, and some of those who signed on to our petition, expressed some concern about the apparently money-oriented nature of the interaction.

At the time I recognised the feeling of unease about the way, some time after I’d signed a petition I’d frequently get an email with a message like:

You signed this petition. Help it reach 25,000 signatures.
Share this petition
or promote it by contributing $5 or more

Over the intervening couple of years that feeling has increased, but it’s only today that I finally decided to do something about it.  I googled “what is” and got a range of views on the organisation, with probably the majority pointing out that it is a “for-profit” organisation, rather than the “not-for-profit” that many people assume (a misunderstanding which the Change organisation doesn’t seem to do much to counteract).

Ben Rattray founded in 2007 and in 2010 it adopted its current petition mode.  Since then it has become one of the biggest sites on the Web for anyone seeking to pressure politicians, corporations or others with a public shame campaign.

How does it make its money?  According to in 2012, “ charges groups for the privilege of sponsoring petitions that are matched to users who have similar interests. For example, when a person signs a petition about education and clicks “submit,” a box pops up and shows five sponsored petitions on education to also sign. If a user leaves a box checked that says “Keep me updated on this campaign and others,” the sponsor can then send e-mails directly to that person. It’s not clear from the check box that your e-mail address is being sold to a not-for-profit.”

And, or course, then there are the $5 donations that users are asked to provide to help promote the cause they signed up for.  I’ve always thought that was a bit strange.  You are in the business of helping people to create effective petitions and to spread them to a wide audience, so why do you need a $5 donation from me to make it more effective – and how will you do it?  That’s never explained.

The article in 2012 said that at that time had 300 paying clients, including Sierra Club, Credo Wireless and Amnesty International.

On their website explain that the business “is a social enterprise and a certified B Corporation. B Corporations are held to high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency set by B Lab, an independent certifying group.”

They also publish a list of ways in which they make their money.  But I bet you never saw a link to that information on one of their web pages asking you to donate to promote a petition.

The Widipedia entry on B Corporations and their certification points out that “The B-Lab certification is a third party standard requiring companies to meet social sustainability and environmental performance standards, meet accountability standards, and to be transparent to the public according to the score they receive on the assessment. B-Lab certification applies to the whole company across all product lines and issue areas. For-profits of all legal business structures are eligible for certification.”

Read that last sentence again.

Soooo … have I changed my feeling of unease about’s business model?  No, but I now have a clearer understanding of what it is.

Will I continue to sign petitions?  Yes, when it is something that I feel is important and after I have carefully examined the petition and the body behind it and am comfortable that it is not “green-washing” of something unacceptable.

Will I “donate” (=pay) to promote a petition I have signed.  No.  Never have and never will.  But I won’t judge you if you do, because I think that there are trade-offs involved in so many of the social and commercial transactions we all have to make every day, and we each have the right to make our own judgements.


Dragon Fruit – poles or beams?

I hope Glenda doesn’t mind my moving her comment into a new blog post to make sure her ideas are visible to more people.  I know that many people don’t scan comments to blogs unless they are really interested in the topic under discussion.  Glenda says:

Hi thanks for your update on the dragons, I am at Minden and have also had a lot of activity with my plants I have so far counted 60 buds over 3 dragon poles and have so far had approx 15 flowers that opened,I also I have 5 fruit that are developing at a very rapid rate. I did very little pruning this year because of the long cool season I missed the opportunity as I did not want any further damage from frosts, my dragons have really been powering on and all of my buds are on old growth so far, I have given my plants a good soaking with “seasol” liquid fertiliser and today I am going to throw a handful of blood and bone around the base just to give them a bit of an edge. I have 6 new poles with the red flesh variety but I doubt that I will see any flowers this year, actually I am a bit disappointed with these plants as they seem to be a bit retarded with their growth so far, maybe next year for them. I am really looking forward to the plants peak in budding however my worst fear is that fruit fly will get the taste for the fruit, have you had any trouble in this area, I have read that fruit fly can be a problem. Like you I seem to have lots of ants that seem to be all over the buds so I am hoping that they deter the fruit fly ( your thought would be appreciated).

Here’s my reply:

That’s interesting about your already having 60 buds over three poles – I assume that is three plants?  I made the mistake of following advice that the red variety grow better on a horizontal beam whereas the white ones grow better on poles with “spreader” frames at the top.  The decision was also influenced by wanting to try growing them in a shadehouse and on a heugelklultur base.

If you are not sure what heugelkultur/hugelkultur is have a look at this site.  There are plenty of other sites on the net, but this one explains it well and is not too far from what we have done here.  I’ve been meaning to write something about the design of our beds, but every time I start I run up against the fact that while I was  I was too busy and too dirty and sweaty to stop digging and get the camera.


A general schematic of a heugelkultur mound incorporating a trench

Anyway, back to poles vs beams.  Our three plants are growing up the posts supporting two horizontal beams, each about 1.5-2m long. – see photo below  This doesn’t provide anything like the support for growing lots of branches that three posts with frames would have done.  I’m pretty sure this is why Glenda has 60 buds to our 29 (Glenda I’d love to have a photo of your poles to use here).


Beam trellis – in two sections (you can just make out the second section on the left).  This started out as one long beam, but that restricted access to the back of the garden too much so I cut out a section.  The area under the straw is the newly created heugelkultur bed – the area to the left under sweet potato was done about 12 months earlier.  The heaps of soil on the left have been dug and sieved from the 2nd Huegelkultur Shadehouse. Date of this photo is July 2013.

Other factors?

There is only about 20km between our properties, though Glenda might have an edge over our poor and stony sandstone soil.

The climate is pretty much the same, with the biggest difference being that because we are on a high ridge we never get frosts – the cool air slides off the ridge into the valley before the temperature gets down to frost level.

Another difference is that we are growing one of the deep red varieties, whereas I assume from what Glenda says she has a white variety.  The two varieties may have different numbers of fruit in our climate.

And of course, our garden has been pretty much neglected while we have been fighting the motocross facility proposal for the last two years.  I haven’t made a single batch of compost in that time.

Regarding fruit fly, we have never had a fruit fly problem with out Dragon Fruit.  I suspect that the thick skin offers some protection.  It’s also interesting that the parrots have not yet attacked our Dragon Fruit.  The shadehouse is not closed in, but only has 30% shadecloth draped over the frame and down to the blue batten you can see in the photo above.  Normally the parrots would find any interesting fruit in this sort of structure.


The Cuckoo Wasps – some of nature’s artworks

More Lockyer Valley wildlife

Large Cuckoo Wasp – Stilbum cyanurum (Vinegar Hill)

Some of the most spectacular wildlife in the Lockyer Valley isn’t necessarily the big stuff like kanagroos, koalas or kookaburras.  The small stuff can be absolutely entrancing.

The Large Cuckoo Wasp above is one example.  It was found dead on the floor in our house (hence the bits of detritus caught up in its exoskeleton).  Before you start thinking that we are a bit casual with our housekeeping, the critter itself is less than 20mm long, so the “fluff” is actually fairly minute particles.  Having said that this species is so small, it is known as the Large Cuckoo Wasp, which suggests that in general Cuckoo Wasps are pretty small insects.

Just how small they are can be seen in the image below.

20160103_Cuckoo Wasp_GFC_P1000969_small

The individual in the photo at the top of this page is on the right here. The one on the left is a different species (one of the two shown below). This Australian 20 cent coin has a diameter of 28mm.

The females of these wasps parasitise the nests of mud wasps, laying their egg in the mud nest next to that of the host species.  If they are discovered in the nest they roll into a ball like an armadillo, to protect themselves from the sting of their much larger host with the armour plates of their outer skeleton.  It seems to be a common feature of Cuckoo Wasps that the surface of the exoskeleton is pitted; perhaps to increase its strength, or to foil the probing sting of an angry mud wasp?  The defensive posture is often also used if they are threatened in some other way – such as a human trying to capture them.

The “appendage” at the rear is the ovipositor, used for laying eggs.  I’m curious about the structure of this ovipositor – you’d think that an insect that just lays its egg in the open nest of another wasp wouldn’t need something as robust as this to do the job.  Some other species of parasitic wasp have large teeth on the ovipositor in order to ‘drill’ through wood to reach their host(1).  For example, in the sawflies the ovipositor is saw-like and is used to insert the eggs into plant leaves, stems or wood(2).  Is this a relic from a previous evolutionary stage?

Large Cuckoo Wasps feed on the nectar of flowers in the woodlands, heaths and urban areas which are their habitat.

For a beautiful image of this species, have a look at this shot from Stanley and Kaisa Breeden.

After we found the second, smaller Cuckoo Wasp (dead on a window ledge in the house), and than another small one, I contacted Ken Walker at Museum Victoria and offered to send him the specimens to be identified.  Ken was happy to do this and to send me photos of the specimens.

Not only did Ken take fantastic photos, he also spent a lot of time cleaning up all the dust and debris off the specimens and then “relaxing” them so that they could be properly displayed.  Compare the photo on the left immediately below to the one at the top of this post – they are the same specimen.

Here are some of his photos.  These are photos of the most “diagnostic” parts of the bodies.  The scale bars for the whole body photos are 5mm for the top photo and 2mm for each of the others.

Stilbum cyanurum

Stilbum cyanurum (Photo Ken Walker)

Praestochrysis lusca

Praestochrysis lusca (Photo Ken Walker)


Chrysis lincea

Chrysis lincea (Photo Ken Walker)

You can find more about this species at the following links:



Thanks to Ken Walker from Museum Victoria for his willing assistance with identifying these species, and for the many other times when he has provided helpful advice on invertebrate wildlife.  Ken is the driving force behind Bowerbird, a huge job which he undertakes in addition to his many other duties, and he manages to produce the monthly issue of the Bowerbird Bugle newsletter.

Dragon Fruit flowering

One morning last week I went out into the garden early to see how the Dragon Fruit buds were going.  The day before I’d had to go to Brisbane for the whole day and didn’t get into the garden at all.  I’ve been expecting any day to see some flowers from about 10 advanced buds.

There were four flowers that had opened during the night – and another five that must have flowered the night before and were now limp and closed.  That’s on top of the two fruit which are developing from a flowering a few weeks ago.

20160106_Dragon Fruit_P1010026_small

Early morning flower, with some of the previous night’s flowers in the background.

It had been raining quite a bit the night before and for a couple of days before that, but I was still a bit surprised not to see any of our native bees around the flowers.  Normally they would each have had a cloud of bees busily pollinating.  No problem to hand pollinate them, making sure to cross pollinate between plants because it’s said to increase the fruit size.

There were still a few buds which looked to be close to flowering, and when I checked the next morning one more had opened.

A third night's flowering.

A third night’s flowering.

This time there was the expected swarm of native bees busy pollinating.

So that’s ten flowers in three nights, and there are still probably another six buds developing.

Some of the buds that are still developing

Some of the buds that are still developing

Not bad for just three plants on a less than ideal trellis set up.  It looks like being a good year for Dragon Fruit, considering that this is only early January and we had fruit up until April last year.