If there’s one interesting as well as slightly mysterious feature of Mossvale Park, it’s the local crayfish that inhabit at least one part of the park. For many years I wondered what the muddy mounds with a large hole in the middle were, as they resembled something between an anthill and a underground dwelling spider hole. It wasn’t until I came across something similar in our front yard, that the penny dropped and I realised that these were the entrances to the homes of small crustaceans. The crayfish in our yard were very hard to spot as they only came out at night and the slightest vibration would send them quickly back into their holes. I only ever saw two such holes and one night was able to observe what the inhabitants looked like. They were all black, incredibly spiny and quite the small monsters; something that could be easily used as the basis for a creature in a science fiction horror movie.
Unfortunately, I was never able to take a photograph of these crayfish, as I couldn’t get anywhere near close enough to get a usable shot. Those crayfish are now long gone, as far as I know, as I haven’t seen their holes for some time. Now Mossvale Park has dozens of these holes, but I’m not really that keen on venturing there in the middle of the night, propping myself up somewhere near a hole in the hope of getting a shot of one of the park’s inhabitants. In fact, wandering around the park at night could well draw unwanted attention and result in a visit by the local constabulary, to investigate what nefarious action is happening in the wee hours of the night at such a place. Not that it would be a big issue when what I was doing became obvious and there are enough people that pull up and camp at the park on a regular basis, even though it’s not permitted. That said, I have no interest in hanging around the park at night anyway, so that activity is out of the question.
But as I visit the park on a regular basis, I get to see the changing aspect that the seasons bring, including the most recent flooding that engulfed a large portion of the park this Winter/Spring, which was not dissimilar to that of other years. The thing I notice are the holes in the ground and how they are constantly kept open and clean like an ants nest. When the flooding happened a few weeks ago, many of the holes were covered over as the soft mud filled the holes. I don’t think that bothered the crayfish one bit, as I’m sure that they are used to this happening all the time and the flooding does keep the ground soft. Mind you, the covered holes look more like cow pats or odd lumps of mud, presumably left over after the floods, than anything else as their appearance gives nothing away to the casual observer.
I do wonder what happens to the crayfish come summer when the ground goes hard and begins to crack, but I have read that they can simply go into hibernation and weather out the dry spell until Winter resumes and the rains once again soften the ground allowing them to emerge. That said, I suspect that the ground underneath, even when the surface dries, will be quite moist given the river than goes around the area. In any case, as soon as the flood waters subside, the holes are uncovered and once again the crayfish go about their business. I have no idea exactly what sort of food they find during the night but journals indicate that it’s mainly plant based. I tried to find out some more about these burrowing crayfish, but the only real information was about ones that seem somewhat different and listing those as endangered. Thought it seems that there are several types spread throughout Victoria.
But one day while back at the park giving the hounds a run, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and, on closer inspection, came across a crayfish wandering through the grass. I don’t know why this particular one was out and about during the early morning and moving inland rather than the safer shoreline of the river, especially as there were no holes to be seen anywhere near where it was wandering. Anyway, this was the first crayfish that I’d seen in the park first hand and it wasn’t the black and spiny creature that inhabited our yard, but was a much more normal looking crayfish. Now I am presuming that it is one of the burrowing inhabitants and not an inhabitant from the river. It wasn’t making a great deal of progress in the long grass, but it seemed to be on a mission, so after a few photographs I left it to its own devices. Hopefully it made it’s way safely to wherever it was headed, or else it became a meal for one or other of the local birds in the area.
But there’s also another hole digging creature that inhabits Mossvale Park. This creature is a tool user, but not very intelligent. The creature is part of a species called ‘Fisher’ that hunts for fish as the name implies. In order to do this these Fishers dig holes, presumably for worms, which they use as bait for the fish that must inhabit the river that meanders around Mossvale Park. What is unusual about these Fishers and their hole digging activities is that they don’t dig their holes near the banks of the river, but instead all over the park’s open areas. These holes are then left crudely back-filled and ready to catch out the unwary visitor with ankle twisting traps. Some of these Fishers also use burly, which when they have finished their hunting, pour the burly onto the park ground rather than into the river. This of course is left for dogs and the like to discover and roll around in, or perhaps eat.
As I’ve mentioned before, Mossvale Park is always an interesting place throughout the year, notable for its trees and wildlife. I just wish that visitors to the park took more care about how they used the park and respected what they have available. It’s not just the Fishers who don’t seem to care, but also the casual visitor who can’t walk a few metres to a rubbish bin, but have to leave whatever their food or drink came in on the ground or on one of the fence posts, sometimes right next to one of the bins. This is perhaps why we can’t have more nice things.
Update 1. We were in Morwell today and while waiting at the Chemist Warehouse, I let the hounds out for a leg stretch and came across a number of crayfish mounds and holes. These were substantially larger than the ones at Mossvale Park and the holes were also much bigger. So I wonder what sort of crayfish inhabit these holes, as they are far removed from any watercourse.