What do you get when you mix a lion, a fish and some venom?

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Common Lionfish, Pterois volitans

What do you get when you mix a lion, a fish and some venom? The Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans), of course.

This spectacular tropical species is found widely throughout the Indo-Pacific. It’s definitely a look don’t touch sort of fish – the 16 spines on its dorsal, pelvic and anal fins are venomous.

I snapped this particular fish on display at the Kula Wild Adventure Park in Fiji, along with the rest of their live coral display.

Leaf curling spiders in the Aussie scrub

Spider web in the Australian scrub

I spent last weekend in a special little corner of Australia where the bush meets the ocean. There were lots of leaf-curling spiders’ webs around, but this one caught my attention because of the haphazard looking extension ‘downstairs’.

The homeowner, which would be a member of the orb-weaving spider family, was carefully tucked away inside its leaf. Can you spot it? It’s the brown curl in the middle of the big round web at the top.

Looking for black opals in Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

Lightning Ridge, in north-western New South Wales, Australia, is famed for its opal mining, and in particular, for being the largest source of precious black opals in the world.

Sandstone opal mine cavern and timber support posts
10 metres underground in a Lightning Ridge opal mining cavern

During Lightning Ridge’s searing outback summers, the temperature underground is around 20C, making it a comfortable place to search for Australia’s national gemstone: the opal.

The protagonist in my current fantasy manuscript is from a fictional continent similar to outback Australia. His mother scratches out a living in the local mines, so I was particularly interested to learn about the history of opal mining. Opal Mine Adventure offer the fascinating experience of visiting an old opal mine, which gave me an insight into the motivation and practicalities of digging for these brilliant gemstones.

In years gone by, miners sank shafts using a pick and shovel, then chipped away at the sandstone deep underground armed with a pick and candle, looking for a valuable find.

Waste dirt was traditionally raised in buckets by hand windlass, often into a truck such as the one below. The dirt then underwent ‘puddling’ to remove the dirt from the sandstone and harder materials.  If colour is found in the stone, it is buffed to determine the quality of opal that lies within.