Feed on
Posts
Comments

Jumping Ant with prey

It has been over a decade since I was introduced to ants. Over the years, I have seen several ants, not knowing the name of the species and its natural history. Among the multitude of ants, one – the Jumping Ant Harpegnathos saltator – has caught my fancy time and again.

I saw my first Jumping Ant on the outskirts of Bangalore. On that occasion, I observed how it moves about. The ant jumped and lived upto its name!

During one of the forays into the wild back in 2004 near Belgaum, I photographed a jumping ant. At that moment, it was just a Jumping Ant for me. Only later was I told that it was a rare colour morph of the same species – notice the colour of the head (it is black as against the red which is the normal colour)!

A different colour morph of the Jumping Ant Harpegnathos saltator

A different colour morph of the Jumping Ant Harpegnathos saltator


 

As I photographed, oblivious of the rarity of this colour morph, the ant did something very interesting. I was on all my fours and was peering through my view finder, constantly changing angle as I followed the slow deliberate movement of the ant as it moved on a low shrub, keeping it continuously in focus as I clicked. Suddenly, the ant leapt and went out of my frame. I moved the camera away and looked around for the ant. I could not believe what I saw. The ant had a small moth in its mandibles! It had actually jumped and caught the moth mid-air. I saw it jump, but missed the actual catch. I was so taken aback by this act, that I completely forgot about the camera hanging around my neck. It was too late by the time I regained my composure. So, I walked back to the camp with the whole episode very clear in my mind but without images. Ever since, I have been wanting to see and if possible, photograph a Jumping Ant catch its prey mid-air.

More recently in 2014, I was at Kabini and was trying to photograph a tiny gecko. I noticed a blurred movement in my frame behind the gecko. I stopped shooting the gecko and looked at the ‘movement’. It turned out to be a Jumping Ant – a Jumping ant carrying a spider in its mandibles! It would have been interesting to observe what the ant did with the spider. However, I could not follow the ant as it moved through a tangle of vegetation, and I eventually lost it.

Jumping Ant with a spider.

Jumping Ant with a spider.


 

The spider was limp in the mandibles of the ant. There was no way I could say if the spider was stung by the ant and paralysed or if it was just the vice-like grip of the mandibles.

Now again I missed the action. Wonder how the ant caught the spider. Well, I guess it has to wait until another time and another occasion. Till then I will continue to marvel at the many wonders of natural history. Do join me.

Read more about the Jumping Ant

Horse-fly

A visit to a forest invariably throws up interesting things. This time it was in the form of little flies! These flies seemed to be all over the place. They were a minor irritant during the day time, particularly when in the outdoors. I found people constantly, in an animated fashion, waving their hands trying to ward off these little insects.

I watched still others with me trying to swat and kill these flies, but in vain. Being adept fliers, they were way too quick for a human hand. In a bid to keep these persistent flies at bay, I waved my hands too! And, in a stroke of luck, I got one between my fingers! I held on to it and trained my camera on it. I was completely taken aback by what I saw. The eyes of the fly were a sight to behold!

The beautiful eyes of a horse-fly

The beautiful eyes of a horse-fly.

Now that I was smitten by the beautiful eyes of the fly, I wanted to photograph the entire insect. So I waited for one to settle on a friend. I did not have to wait long. The fly itself was predominantly black and white with a wash of yellow. Only the eyes stood out as I was looked through the lens.

Horse-fly trying to get a meal of blood not withstanding the protection!

Horse-fly trying to get a meal of blood not withstanding the protection!

Flies belong to an insect order called Diptera. Order Diptera is diverse and has over 100000 species! The one I have been talking about is the horsefly. Horseflies belong to one large family of flies called Tabanidae which itself consist of about 4000 species with a worldwide distribution, exceptions being remote islands and very cold areas.

But why were they bothering us?

I got an answer to this question upon reading about them. Female horseflies need a meal of blood before they can reproduce – the same reason that mosquitoes drink blood! Horseflies essentially feed on mammalian blood or for that matter blood of birds and reptiles too. Horseflies, unlike many other creatures, do not suck blood. They make a deep cut and anticoagulants in their saliva prevent blood from clotting and they lap up blood by way of a sponging action!

The mouth-parts of a horse-fly.

The mouth-parts of a horse-fly.

As one should expect, I never saw a male horsefly as the males feed on nectar and are considered to be important pollinators of flowers!

Horseflies, as adults live for a very short period. They perform their primary role of reproduction and die. When they are around, albeit brief, they are playing their part in the larger scheme of things.

Coastal crabs

A walk along the beach is something most people would enjoy. When we see crabs trying to run away from our path, often the child in us comes to the fore and we run about chasing them! It was during my first visit to Devbagh, Karwar that I was taken by surprise by the beauty of the few crabs that I saw. Even as I arrived at the jetty, I saw a large crab moving about on the rocks. It had stunning red legs. As I approached it, it disappeared under the rocks. On the same trip I also chanced upon my first fiddler crabs. Thus began my tryst with crabs.

Over the years, during the many visits to Devbagh, I have spent considerable amount of time looking for crabs both on the shore and also in the mangroves around Devbagh. I have thoroughly enjoyed waiting for them to come out of their burrows, watching them at work, and in the process I have also managed to photograph a good number of them. It was at this juncture that I happened to meet Ms. Pradnya Bandekar who readily agreed to help in the identification of the crabs from the photographs. I would like to thank her for all the help she extended in this process.

Here is an effort to show case some crabs of Devbagh, Karwar.

Family Grapsidae – Grapsus albolineatus
This crab is best seen on a rocky beach. The red legs of the crab, along with the patterned carapace and colourful pincers are quite attractive. When they sense disturbance, these crabs tend to go under the rocks and boulders. They are known to occur all the way from the east coast of Africa to Australia. In India, they can be seen along the east and west coast and on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

 

Family Grapsidae - Grapsus albolineatus

Family Grapsidae – Grapsus albolineatus

Family Grapsidae – Metapograpsus latifrons – Purple Crab
The Purple Crab is not a particularly large species. These crabs can be seen on rocky shores. However, the one that I sighted was near the roots of mangroves during low tide. They are known to be nocturnal, hiding in holes and crevices during the day. The carapace has yellowish markings; the purple colour of the pincers is very noticeable. Though their main food seems to be algae which they scrape off rocks with their pincers, they will scavenge on any edible matter that they chance upon.

 

Family Grapsidae – Metapograpsus latifrons – Purple Crab

Family Grapsidae – Metapograpsus messor

This is a small crab with a squarish appearance. The carapace is dark with golden coloured markings. It lives among mangroves and on rocky shores as well amidst under rotting wood. It is known to be quite capable of climbing trees.

 

Family Grapsidae – Sesarma quadratum
This little crab is very colourful. The orange on the front of the carapace and the pincers stand out on an otherwise dark purple coloured crab. It is known to be common among the prop roots of mangroves. I saw this individual among prop roots during low tide.

 

Family Grapsidae – Sesarma sp.

This black, gold and orange crab Sesarma sp. is small too. I happened to see this crab also amid the roots of mangroves during low tide.

 


Family Grapsidae – Sesarma sp.

Like the previous two species this Sesarmid is also small – about an inch across. However, its the colouration helped the crab blend beautifully with the background.

 


Family Matutidae – Matuta lunaris – Moon Crab

The Moon Crab is often seen in sandy areas. During the day, these crabs burrow just below the surface. They come out at night and forage for small creatures and organic matter. Their paddle-like legs are used for swimming and digging.Click here to read more.

 

Family Ocypodidae – Dotilla myctiroides – Soldier Crabs
Watching the Soldier Crabs can be a very interesting experience! During low tide they come out in large numbers and set about feeding. This is also the time when there is plenty of interaction. Frequent altercations between individuals can also be witnessed. All in all, the Soldier Crabs make good subjects to sit back and watch while on the beach. Click here to read more.

 

Family Ocypodidae – Ocypode ceratopthalmus
Ocypode ceratophthalmus is known by popular names like Ghost Crab and Horn-eyed Ghost Crab. A close look at the crab’s eyes will tell you how the second name might have come about. Another quick glance and you will notice how the pincers of these crabs are unequal. Walk on the beach during the night and you will see several of these crabs going about their normal activity. You will see them run at breakneck speeds when you shine a torch and walk close to them. These large crabs live in deep burrows to escape from predators. They have a very wide geographical distribution – East Africa to Australia.

 

Family Ocypodidae – Ocypode ceratopthalmus – Ghost Crab
These Ghost Crabs are known to change colour. They can be yellow (as in the picture above), they could be shades of brown or grey. Their young are translucent and their colours match the sandy substrate camouflaging them in their habitat.

 

Family Ocypodidae – Ocypode cordimanus

Like O. ceratopthalmus, this species also enjoys a wide distribution. Both these species can be seen occurring alongside each other on the beaches between sunset and sunrise. This species is told apart easily by the absence of the ‘horns’ on the eyes. They occur in the inter-tidal zone, where, when disturbed they run into their deep burrows. Sometimes, they run into the surf only to disappear temporarily in the incoming wave!

 

Family Ocypodidae – Ocypode cordimanus

Family Ocypodidae – Uca annulipes – Porcelain Fiddler

Fiddler Crabs are known for the pronounced inequality of their pincers, particularly in the male crabs. These are also often brightly coloured too. The manner in which the males wave these appendages is a sight to behold! The Porcelain Fiddler that is seen in our waters is no exception. These are relatively small sized crabs. They come out and feed in the vicinity of their burrows during low tide. They quickly duck into their burrows when disturbed.
Click here to read more.

 

Family Portunidae – Charybdis cruciata

Charybdis cruciata is also known as C. feriata. Like other crabs discussed above, this is also found from the east coast of Africa all the way up to Australia. In India itself, it is found on both the east and the west coasts and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These swimming crabs are prettily marked. They can be seen inhabiting rocky areas as well as sandy and muddy areas.

 

Family Portunidae – Scylla serrata – Mud Crab

These are often referred to as Mud Crabs. Naturally, they occur from South Africa to Australia. They have been introduced in Florida and Hawaii. These are large crabs and quite vicious. They would raise their arms and snap the pincers when I approached close to take pictures. These mud crabs spend time in the mangrove zone, venturing away from water at times. They live in burrows in muddy banks, creeks and puddles in the mangrove zone.

 

Family Portunidae – Thalamita crenata – Crenate Swimming Crab

The colour of these crabs is very variable. However, individuals with a greenish or brownish shell with some yellow are most frequently met with. Though most members of this group are active during the night, they do venture out during day time and this is particularly true of this species. This species also enjoys a wide distribution – from Madagasar to Hawaii where they inhabit mudflats, sandy beaches and mangroves. As in the Mud Crab of the same family, the Crenate Swimming Crab has the last pair of legs flattened into a paddle and is used for swimming. This, similar to the Mud Crab, is also aggressive and will not hesitate to use its claws in self-defence.

 

Family Xanthidae – Atergatis subdentatus – Red Reef Crab

The Red Reef Crab Atergatis subdentatus has a squat appearance. The uniform reddish brown colour and robust pincers can help in identifying these crabs. Around Karwar, these crabs can be seen on rocky beaches. As a species it is distributed from the Lakshadweep Islands and Gulf of Mannar to Singapore, Japan and Taiwan.

 

Crabs are a very important and easily noticeable component of the coastal and mangrove ecosystems. They have adapted to the tidal actions and also the varying salinity that is so typical of delta areas. They are considered to be the most predominant species particularly in the mangrove forests. This also could be because many crabs use the mangroves for their very survival. They feed on the leaf litter and other organic matter. Thus play an important role in recycling of nutrients. Their behaviour of digging into the sand helps better aeration of the soil.

As should be expected, crabs of the coasts and mangroves use an array of specific habitats. While some use the spaces between prop roots of mangrove trees, others use the rocky shores; some use mud banks and mud flats while others, the intertidal zone. Some also use the habitat created by streams and channels that make their way to the sea while others, the zone between the low and high tides.

Sea eagles, kites, waders, etc. among birds and small mammals like mongooses and shrews have crabs as part of their diet. All of these co-exist in the coastal habitat making for interesting observations and also for interesting action to look forward to while on the beach.

A variety of human activities threatens the survival of the coasts and associated habitats on which the crabs are dependent. So, while we let our curiosity and the child in us take over, let us also be cautious, responsible and sensitive about what we do when we spend time on the beach. Let us not forget that there are others creatures that play on the beach and also call it their home!

Click here to download pdf document.

Picture1a

Soldier Crabs

From a distance, you see a grey mass marching up the shore like an army on a mission. Get close and you see their body clothed in grey armour, propped upon pink legs.

A section of a large army of Soldier Crabs.

A section of a large army of Soldier Crabs.

Get closer and you realise that they are small round crabs, each about the size of a marble – complete with their greenish eyes on red stalks! It is this habit of marching in large groups that gives these crabs their common name – Soldier Crabs Dotilla myctiroides.

Soldier Crab Dotilla myctiroides.

Soldier Crab Dotilla myctiroides.

My visit to the Devbagh Beach Resort, Karwar had come to an end and I was waiting for the boat at the jetty to return to the mainland. It was low tide and a large expanse of sand was exposed when I witnessed the army of soldier crabs marching. I tried getting closer. I had taken but a few steps towards the nearest crab and suddenly the entire army disappeared! However, what I saw next was spectacular indeed – there were tiny balls of sand radiating from each tiny burrow!

Pattern on sand.

Pattern on sand.

I realised that my approach had to be a stealthy one if I had to get up close to photograph these crabs. So, I sat down without a movement near the first burrow that I saw. In less than a minute I saw all of the army slowly surface again. I could clearly see the body, legs and eyes. Also noticeable was the really long pincers. Even as they came out, they started shovelling sand into their mouth rapidly with their pincers, leaving behind little sand pellets. (In this process, they feed on tiny creatures or the organic matter that gets washed ashore due to the action of the waves and tides.)

After watching them for a while, I decided to start shooting the crabs. I had to move to get the camera into position and this little movement was adequate for them to bury themselves into the sand quickly – they literally disappeared before I could even bat an eyelid!

Dotilla myctiroides  _MG_0473aBurrowing…

Dotilla myctiroides  _MG_0478a…and burrowing…

Dotilla myctiroides  _MG_0479aDisappearing act! 

In more recent times, I visited Gokarna and spent some time near a village along the seashore looking for birds. As I scanned the shore, I espied these crabs from a distance. There were not too many of the Soldier Crabs on the patch of sand that was exposed due to low tide. However, there was plenty of activity. Between bouts of feeding the crabs indulged in frequent fights.

Beginning of a fight!

Beginning of a duel!

They used their long pincers to attack their neighbours. The individual that was at the receiving end also used its pincers to ward off the attack.

Using the long pincers to good effect.

Using the long pincers to good effect.

After a bit of jostling, one individual would give up and move away or burrow itself into the sand. At times, when two individuals were involved in a duel, a third would join the fray.

More the merrier!

More the merrier!

I am not sure as to why these crabs showed so much animosity towards others of their own kind. Were they trying to keep neighbours from intruding into their feeding territory?

I had seen crabs move about before. However, when observing all this action, I realised that the Soldier Crabs moved differently – it took me some time to realise what it was. These little crabs not only could move sideways, that is so typical of crabs, but forwards too – and they run quite fast at that!

The sandy habitats of these crabs are subject to regular tidal action. During the low tides, the crabs go about feeding, fighting, etc. But, as the high tide comes in, the crabs burrow in the sand and trap a bubble of air that helps them tide over the period of submergence! As the tide recedes, they come out and get busy with their routine once again.

An aggregation of trees in an urban environment has a great potential to support wildlife. This can be by way of gardens and parks, or for that matter trees lining city streets. A good diversity of trees will be very useful too.

These trees are crucial habitats for several forms of wildlife. The older the trees, the better they support wildlife. The composition of organisms would depend on the assemblage of plants in any given place. Large parks and gardens connected by tree-lined avenues help in creating a mosaic of habitats for a variety of species to thrive. Several species use this tree / vegetation cover to disperse to newer areas that could be conducive for their survival.

Tree-lined avenue

Tree-lined avenue

Birds are among the better known group of organisms that are supported by trees in the city. They use trees for roosting, foraging and nesting, besides other things. They also disperse using the cover of these trees.

Spotted Owlet roosting in a tree hollow.

Spotted Owlet roosting in a tree hollow.

Macaques and squirrels, among mammals, are better known inhabitants of trees in an urban setting.

Bonnet Macaques.

Bonnet Macaques.

One group that is very important and often ignored are bats. Some of the large trees in cities are used by the Indian Flying Fox for roosting.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox

They move away at dusk in search of fruiting trees. Short-nosed Fruit Bats can be seen roosting amid the foliage of these trees. Many insectivorous bats like the Pipistrelles roost in crevices of trees – particularly the older ones.

Trees provide home for a whole variety of other organisms ranging from geckos, praying mantids, ants, spiders and bugs. Some trees are also larval host plants for butterflies. Carefully choosing trees, and other plants, encourage and support a whole community of butterflies that can liven up our environment and our lives!

Ornate Tree-trunk Spider

Ornate Tree-trunk Spider

Retaining and augmenting trees in the city environment can be very useful to our everyday lives as well. Apart from offering shade, they also have a large role in temperature regulation. Not only do trees provide much needed relief to weary eyes, but they also make life in the city a lot more interesting – a welcome change from the mundane and a breath of fresh air for sure!

These are just a few examples to illustrate how trees are important for the survival of a multitude of organisms in an urban context. If one spends time looking for life on trees, you are bound to be surprised at the sheer variety that manages to hold on – even in cities that at the first glance seem to be very improbable places for wildlife to survive.

This article is an excerpt from the the book – Discover Avenue Trees.

cover page

Antlion

A long telephone conversation is often associated with doodling. Some people are very adept at it and even turn out masterpieces worth admiring. Larvae of some species of antlions too indulge in some doodling! Yes, they leave trails on the soil as they go about finding a suitable place to construct a trap for their prey. They are often referred to as doodlebugs, perhaps due to this behaviour.

Doodlebugs are essentially the larvae of a group of insects that are popularly called ‘Antlions’. Even this name has its roots in the predatory behaviour of the doodlebugs.

Doodlebug or Antlion larva outside its lair.

Doodlebug or Antlion larva outside its lair.

Antlions belong to a large group of very frail looking insects resembling damselflies. Like the Mantisfly, they belong to the order Neuroptera. However, they can be easily differentiated by the presence of clubbed antennae that are lacking in damselflies. Like damselflies, they have 2 pairs of wings; most species have clear wings while some have them patterned. The flight is weak and antlion fly very short distances. Most seem to spend the day sitting on vegetation where they are often well camouflaged. They take to air towards the evening.

An adult antlion resting on a stone.Bannerghatta.

An adult antlion resting on a stone. Bannerghatta.

A typical resting position of an antlion during the day.Jog Falls.

A typical resting position of an antlion during the day. Jog Falls.


 
Antlion with particularly large wings, Tripura.

Antlion with particularly large diaphawings, Tripura.

 

The larvae of some species of antlions do something very interesting. After doodling about a bit, the antlion larva usually finds a place that has loose sandy soil – usually under the eaves, overhanging rock or such similar spots that are often sheltered from very direct sun and rain. As the larva digs, it throws the loose soil out with its head and creates a funnel-shaped pit in the ground. Each of these pits could be about an inch or so across on the surface. You may see just a single conical pit or at times a few of them within a small area!

Conical or funnel shaped pits made by antlion larvae (doodlebugs).

Conical or funnel shaped pits made by antlion larvae (doodlebugs).

When the pit is complete, the antlion larva sits at the bottom of the pit with only the jaws visible. When an ant or any other insect falls into the pit, it is quickly caught and sucked dry!

The large mandibles of the antlion larva ready to capture erring prey.

The large mandibles of the antlion larva ready to capture erring prey.

If the prey tries to climb up the walls of the pit, the antlion shoots sand, accurately creating a landslide, bringing with it the escaping prey! The spent prey is now thrown out of the pit with the same head flick that is used to dig sand.

Once the larval stage is complete, it will pupate underground. Eventually adult antlions will emerge from the pupae and live for just as long as it takes to find mates and lay eggs before they die – all of this on an average lasting a month. There are 2000 or so species of antlions and as a group they enjoy a wide geographical distribution.

Time spent observing Nature can never be boring. Keeping a watch on the antlion pit can also end in a sense of awe – particularly if an ant or any other little critter falls into the pit and you manage to catch all the action and drama!

Indian Desert Jird

The word ‘rodent’ brings up images of rats that chew gaping holes in your favourite dress or bite the wiring in the house steeping your evening in darkness. And the first thought is to eliminate them… as soon as possible!

This attitude is based on our limited exposure or interaction with just two or three species of rodents. Rodents are a very large group indeed. In fact, they account for about 40% of all mammals on Planet Earth – that would be a whopping 2000 or so species! Believe me – they are not all as bad as you think.

A couple of years ago, I had narrated my observation about and interaction with the Long-tailed Tree Mouse. That was just one of the several interesting encounters that I have had with rodents.

More recently during a visit to Rajasthan, I had the opportunity not only to photograph but also observe the Indian Desert Jird Meriones hurrianae for short periods of time over a couple of days. Even without realizing, I had developed a liking for this absolutely adorable little creature and its mannerisms.

I was trying to photograph a very active lizard when I got my first glimpse of the Indian Desert Jird. I saw something pop out of the ground and disappear quickly. This was repeated a couple of times in quick succession. Suddenly, I saw sand flying – yes, the little fellow was busy burrowing! So a short wait at the same spot was in order. Sitting in the hot, harsh noon sun was hard. The jird itself was happily going about its duties in the shade of a bush. The wait was rewarded.

Peeping out of its burrow from under the bush.

Peeping out of its burrow from under the bush.

 

The Desert Jird, over the next half hour or so, continued digging, after which it stopped showing up. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something raise its head a few feet away. When I turned to get a better view, it disappeared. It came up again and started digging at the new burrow. This little rodent surprised me by surfacing from several burrows in the vicinity. And each time it came up, it assumed the characteristic posture that reminded me of the meerkats of Africa.

Checking out before continuing with the chores.

Checking out before continuing with the chores.

 

On a couple of occasions, the jird even ran in the open, out of one hole only to enter another one nearby!

Running between entrances.

Running between entrances.

 

When the digging was done, it picked up a little red fruit and made a meal of it in a jiffy.

Feeding time!

Feeding time!

 

Over the next few days I observed it feeding on plants too! Jirds are known to eat seeds, roots and also insects.

A different diet this time.

A different diet this time.

 

I also noticed another individual sharing the burrow. These diurnal rodents, in fact, can have a colony of up to 20 individuals.

More the merrier!

More the merrier!

 

A friend (Mr.Manish Vaidya) who was also observing and photographing these endearing jirds managed to freeze a couple of frames depicting some interaction between individuals sharing a burrow. So little is known about the behaviour of these little creatures that I can at best indulge in some conjecture.

Perhaps allogrooming!

Perhaps allogrooming!

 

Cuddling up?

Cuddling up?

 

The jirds are terrestrial creatures living in burrows – actually one complex underground burrow complete with interconnecting tunnels and multiple entrances on the surface! The picture below is that of the burrow which is located at the base or in the vicinity of a bush where the soil is a bit hard and not very sandy.

A typical Jird burrow.

A typical Jird burrow.

 

As the name suggests, the Desert Jird is found in the desert (arid) regions of Northwest India. Consequently, its distribution spans Rajasthan (mainly the Thar Desert) and the Kutch regions of Gujarat.

 

The very fact that they are so diverse a group means that they have an important role to play in their respective habitats. At the end of the day, it is important for us to realize that not all rodents are bad. A little time spent trying to understand them will only be enriching.

 

You can see more images of the Indian Desert Jird here.

Night brings with it a sense of enigma. Darkness, and everything associated, is one such thing. This is more pronounced because of the fear instilled in us during our formative years. The familiar path that we tread with ease during daytime, under the cover of darkness, is full of ‘hurdles’ that often don’t physically exist. This primarily is due to our dependence on our vision. It also prevents us from exploring our environment under the night sky. For most urbanites who are used bright light even after sunset, it is a world that does not exist.

Imagine yourself in the midst of a dense forest with no torch to guide you along the path. The only available light is the faint glow of the night sky to vaguely light your path. Close your eyes for a long second. And, when you open your eyes, you see streaks of faint green glow on the forest floor. Look hard and you will see that some tree limbs around you have the same eerie glow. So much so that it sends a shiver down your spine.

When your eyes are used to the dark  you see the forest floor scattered with the eerie glow!

When your eyes are used to the dark you see the forest floor scattered with the eerie glow!

 

For those who are not aware of the presence of bioluminescent fungi, it can be spooky. But for the informed, who has been aching to see this phenomenon– it is a treat. You shine the torch and you see a normal dry twig. Switch it off and get used to the darkness… you see the twig glow again!

Twigs on the forest floor - it looks like any other twig under normal light.

Twigs on the forest floor – it looks like any other twig under normal light.

 

The same twig in the dark!

The same twig in the dark once your eyes get accustomed to the darkness!

 

I have in the past written about glow worms where I have discussed some aspects of bioluminescence and also mentioned that the light produced by these creatures does not produce heat.

The bioluminescent fungus too produces the faint glow in a process which is akin to that used by the glow worm. The growing part of the body of the fungi (hyphae) which is present in decaying plant matter is responsible for the glow.

Only about 70 species of fungi are known to be bioluminescent. This is a very small number if you considered the diversity of fungi in the world – over 70,000 known species! Why they glow, what benefit they derive is not very clear. However, some preliminary observations suggest that the bioluminescence could attract insects which help in dispersing spores!

A recent attempt to better previous results at capturing this beautiful phenomenon.

A recent attempt to better previous results at capturing this beautiful phenomenon.

 

Like the bioluminescent fungi, there are a lot of organisms that are best seen and appreciated under the cover of darkness. Resist the urge to switch on that torch. Step outside your comfort zone – at least once in a while. And enjoy what Nature has to offer.

One morning last week, when I came out of my room, I was treated to a very interesting sight. A Coucal. The booming calls of the Coucals are often heard and the birds themselves are seen regularly in our garden. The bird came out of the bush and landed on a stone slab nearby. On close observation, I noticed something in its beak. It was a large juicy green caterpillar (probably of the Oleander Hawk Moth) in its mandibles! The caterpillar (or larva) was gulped down in no time. The whole drama happened so quickly that there no time to capture this event.

Tabernaemontana bush.

Tabernaemontana bush.

 

However, it reminded me of a similar event that had transpired many years ago – to be more precise February 2006! One afternoon I noticed some movement near the top of the same Tabernaemontana bush. I waited for a while and noticed movement again. This happened a few times. I could not contain my curiosity and ran into the house to get my binoculars. Gazing through them, I noticed a fat green caterpillar with an outward pointing stiff tail. Also, nearby was a Garden Lizard Calotes versicolor.

Garden Lizard and the larva of the Oleander Hawk Moth.

Garden Lizard and the larva of the Hawk Moth.

 

The lizard lunged at the caterpillar and barely managed to get a hold. But it had to let go since the caterpillar had a stronger grip of the twig! The lizard repeated this effort several times. Unable to get much purchase with its tiny teeth, with each effort it only managed to injure the caterpillar.

The Garden Lizard attacking the larva.

The Garden Lizard attacking the larva.

 

Until eventually the green gooey innards of the caterpillar was threatening to fall out.

Notice the green innards of the larva exposed.

Notice the green innards of the larva exposed.

 

 At this stage, the lizard decided to abort the effort and go away. This came as a surprise to me. The lizard had invested ample time and effort to maim the caterpillar. A little more and it would have been rewarded with a juicy morsel. I am not sure if it was the exposed innards of the caterpillar that forced the lizard to quit. Unfortunately, the caterpillar became neither meal nor moth!

This time around, since the drama went on for longer, I managed to get a couple of frames of another predator of the same caterpillar!

Pond Skater

All of us, during our childhood, must have made paper boats and let it float on water. Unknowingly, we had accessed the physical properties of water to indulge in those moments of joy.

The marvels of a paper boat or a leaf gently floating over water are both possible because of the surface tension of the water. The strength of this force is adequate to support light objects and prevent them from sinking. We learnt this and a lot more about water as we grew up, but often failed to relate it to the floating boat.

Dimples on the water surface !

Dimples on the water surface !

 

The Pond Skaters, also referred to as the water-striders, is a group of true bugs that have taken to an aquatic life-style. They, to stay afloat, use the surface tension of water too! They can be found in most ponds, lakes and rivers, preferably in more still waters.

A congregation of pond skaters.

A congregation of pond skaters.

 

Like all insects, the pond skater has 6 legs. They (body and legs) are also covered with water repelling hair which further helps the insect to stay afloat. Only 4 legs (2nd and 3rd pair) are prominently visible. These are long and help to distribute the weight of the insect and to propel it on the water surface. The other 2 legs (1st pair) are the shortest and help in detecting vibrations/ripples on the water surface. This ability helps the pond skater to detect other small insects that may fall on the water. Once detected, it will swiftly ‘skate’ to the source of the disturbance, use the claws on the first pair to puncture the prey and eventually suck it dry!

Pond skater feeding.

Pond skater feeding.

 

Look around, observe nature carefully, there is plenty to learn – for that matter even refresh and recollect what we have learnt during our school days and relate them to nature better. Whoever said Nature is only about Biology!?

Older Posts »