New Guinea

#Volcanofriday part 2

Earlier today we covered the initiation of an eruption in Iceland. On the other side of the world, an eruption that is much more serious also is unfolding as I type this. This ash cloud is pouring out of the volcano known as Tavurvur on the island of New Britain, in the nation of Papua New Guinea.

Tavurvur is part of a much larger volcanic complex known as the Rabaul Caldera that sits at the far northeastern tip of New Britain. This caldera is the remnants of several large volcanic explosions, the most recent of which took place 1400 years ago. A caldera is a giant hole in the ground; when a large magma chamber beneath the Earth’s surface empties during an eruption, it leaves empty space and the rocks above the magma chamber collapse downward, forming a huge crater in the ground.

The Rabaul caldera is about 8 x 14 kilometers in size. On its southeastern slope, the rim of this caldera has been breached by the Pacific Ocean, flooding the caldera center and creating a natural harbor, protected from the open ocean by the eastern and northern walls of the caldera.

This setup, a protected harbor, is a solid place for economic activity. By the early 1990’s, about 50,000 people lived on the coastline of this harbor, but the volcano had something to say about that.

Calderas don’t die when they erupt. It can take thousands of years for their magma chambers to rebuild, but the magma supply doesn’t shut off after large eruptions. Typically, small volcanoes will begin growing on the edges of the caldera what is known as the resurgent phase of caldera activity. Tavurvur is one of these volcanoes. In 1994 it erupted simultaneously with another cone known as Vulcan on the volcano’s rim, decimating the area. Thankfully, the population was mostly evacuated the night before the eruption as earthquakes gave an early warning, leading to only 5 deaths, but today the population of the area today is a small fraction of what it was before these eruptions.

Tavurvur rumbled to life again today, sending ash clouds high into the air and producing fountains of lava. There is video of the eruption up at our blog, 

This volcano is a direct hazard to many more people on the ground than the current eruption in remote Iceland, and has also caused aviation alerts and forced the redirection of some flights due to ash in the air.


Image credit: Oliver Bluett/AFP

Read more:


Fuzzy Nautilus Rediscovered and Filmed

by Peter Ward

At most sites around the Earth, nautiluses can be found at depths between 300 and a thousand feet. They live singly (never in schools), they grow slowly (taking up to 15 years to reach full size and reproductive age), and they are never overly abundant as they slowly swim over the deep sea beds searching for carrion on the bottom.

In all but one place on Earth, only a single nautilus species can be found at any one site.

Northeast of the main island of Papua New Guinea however, along the coast of Manus Island, made famous by the American anthropologist Margaret Mead in the earlier part of the twentieth century, not only can you find the well-known chambered nautilus (Nautilus pompilius)…

but south of Manus there is a second species as well.

It was first seen alive in 1984, and was found to be so astoundingly different in shell and soft part anatomy that it was, in 1997, give a wholly new genus name: Allonautilus scrobiculatus. And then, for the next 30 years, it wasn’t seen again…

(read more: National Geographic)

photographs by Peter Ward


Organic Architecture

A masterpiece “log-cabin” case of a New Guinea species of case moth (bagworm moth), Cryptothelea fuscescens (Psychidae). The execution and style of this “house” represents the most precisely built larval cocoon, bag (as in bagworm) or in this case, “case”.

Photo credit: ©Scott Frazier

Greater Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa)

…is a species of barn owl (Tytonidae) that is native to south-eastern Australia, New Guinea and Flinder’s Island in the Bass Strait. Like other barn owls T. tenebricosa are nocturnal and inhabit moist forests where smooth-barked gum trees are present, along with ferns and a wet under-story. Greater Sooty Owls feed mainly on large arboreal marsupials like greater gliders, but will take birds, bats, and large insects as well. 


Animalia-Chordata-Aves-Strigiformes-Tytonidae-Tyto-T. tenebricosa

Image: Quollism


Red-eyed Crocodile Skink - Tribolonotus gracilis

The Red-Eyed Crocodile Skink, Tribolonotus gracilis (Scincidae), is a terrestrial, semi-aquatic skink, with up to 25 cm in length, native to New Guinea and the surrounding islands of Indonesia and Solomon Islands.

Adults develop the trademark bright orange or red ring around the eye and a creamy appearance to their underbelly. Crocodile skinks have large, triangular heads and are distinguished by four rows of pointy, ridged, bony scales (vertebral spines) along their back and tail, and textured, leathery skin, all of which are reminiscent of a crocodilian and lead to the skink’s name.

Other common names are Orange-Eyed Crocodile Skink, Red-Eyed Bush Crocodile Skink, Armored Skink or Helmeted Skink.

Reference: [1

Photo credit: ©Geoffrey Einon | Locality: captive (UK), 2008 | [Top] - [Bottom]

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Cherax (Astaconephrops) pulcher • A New Species of Freshwater Crayfish (Decapoda, Parastacidae) from the Kepala Burung (Vogelkop) Peninsula, Irian Jaya (WestPapua), Indonesia  [2015]


A new species, Cherax (Astaconephrops) pulcher sp. n., from Hoa Creek, close to the village Teminabuan in the southern-central part of the Kepala Burung (Vogelkop) Peninsula, West Papua, Indonesia, is described, figured and compared with the morphologically closest species, Cherax boesemani Lukhaup & Pekny, 2008.

(read more: NovaTaxa - Species New to Science)


Christian Lukhaup. 2015.  ZooKeys. 502: 1-10 DOI:

One of the more iconic images of the war in the Pacific Theater; an American crewman of a U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat rescue mission is photographed after he has disrobed from his bulky gear and jumped into the water of Rabaul Harbor to rescue a badly burned Marine pilot who was shot down while bombing the Japanese-held fortress of Rabaul during the Battle of New Britain (codename Operation Cartwheel). With the Japanese coastal defense guns still firing at the plane, the crewman quickly returns to manning his position as a machine gunner while still wet and nude. Rabaul, New Britain Island, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. March 1944. Image taken by Horace Bristol.