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Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Here I am, driving along a remote road, fenced on both sides. In the distance, I see two emus at the roadside, grazing on the scrub. I leave the car and approach slowly, my camera at the ready. What is going on, I wonder.

I am still fifty metres away when the birds catch site of me. Like two naughty schoolboys caught raiding the tuckshop, they dive through the fence and run away at high speed. I inspect the fence where they broke back in. It is intact. What on earth does the farmer imagine goes on in his emu fields and what are his fences for? I never find out…

The World's most intelligent insects

Parts of Victoria are affected by the phylloxera beetle. This pest devastated French vine roots during the nineteenth century and the solution - to graft on to Californian (resistant) rootstocks - carries its own disadvantages. Apart from the added effort, it is said that the wines produced by the hybrid vines are never quite as good as the pre-phylloxera vintages. From my limited experience, I am inclined to agree, having tasted pre- and post-phylloxera vintages from the same vineyard.

Fruit fly is also endemic to Victoria. It affects yields but I have not looked closely into the matter. However, the neighbouring South Australian authorities are doing their best to keep both types of pest out of their State. A few days ago, on my way towards South Australia, I saw many signs warning travellers not to attempt to take fruit or vines across the border. The fines are severe and there are stopping places with dump bins to get rid of such contraband.

Later, I come to a border post. It is manned by a South Australian customs official. There is a large notice, saying something like 'Fruit fly and phylloxera - keep out of South Australia'. My car is searched thoroughly and at length. I have time to muse upon the cleverness of the notice. Of course, in Victoria, fruit fly and phylloxera can read so they do not voluntarily cross the border.

Several months ago, I blogged about some intelligent (Caledonian?) crows. These crows can fashion tools from wire to help them get to food sources. But the Victorian insects really take the biscuit in the intelligence stakes. Fancy being able to understand that they are not welcome in the neighbouring state.

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