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Net-casting Spider

I am so used to staring into the large eyes of the jumping spiders. I thoroughly enjoy photographing them because of their eyes. They truly have the largest of spider eyes… or so I thought until recently.

Here, I was at Agumbe staring into the eyes of a spider which at first instance reminded me of a fish-eye lens!

The large eyes if the Net-casting Spider

The large eyes of the Net-casting Spider.

 

It all began about two years ago when a friend who had returned from Agumbe showed me a picture of a nondescript spider on his computer screen. I almost jumped out of my skin when I saw the image. I made a purposeful trip to Agumbe in search of this spider without any luck. So, I had requested another friend who stays at Agumbe to tell me the moment he sees this spider again.

I had almost forgotten about the spider in question. Out of the blue, there came a phone call from Prashanth, saying that he had spotted the very same spider! No sooner did he call me than I booked myself on the only bus to Agumbe. I traveled all through the night, on a warm and humid April night, in the hope of catching a glimpse of this spider.

The following morning, on reaching Agumbe, Prashanth took me for a walk and pointed to the spider en route. It took me a little while to figure out where the spider was. The coloration, the shape and the long legs all helped the spider camouflage brilliantly.

Well camouflaged female Net-casting Spider.

Well camouflaged female Net-casting Spider.

 

And, very involuntarily, the first thing I did was to position myself suitably so that I could see the legendary eyes of this spider! It apparently has the largest simple eyes of any terrestrial invertebrate! Indeed, I was astonished as I stared at the eyes of the Net-casting Spider, Deinopis sp. This indeed is one of the many bizarre spiders that I have come across.

Once you understand a little more about the Net-casting Spider, particularly the method it uses to catch its prey, you will appreciate the need for such large eyes! This spider has a unique technique to ensnare its prey. It builds an elastic net and holds it between its forelegs while the spider itself hangs down with a few silken strands. Any unsuspecting little creature that moves beneath is enough to set the spider into motion. It quickly drops down and casts the net over the prey thereby trapping the prey – something akin to a fisherman casting his net!

Having an acute vision is very important to be able to do this. More so, if everything around is absolutely dark. The larger the eyes, better the light gathering capability!

Spider in a different position towards the evening.Spider in a different position towards the evening.

Spider in a different position towards the evening.

 

The spider, during the day, is well camouflaged in its surroundings. As darkness falls, it emerges and constructs a web and readies itself for the hunt! This is one thing I really missed witnessing – the spider with the net ready for action and of course the act itself. I will, some day, hopefully.

On the trip, I was lucky to see a male net-casting spider too. The male was smaller in body length, had much longer legs, and smaller eyes than that of the female. Take your eyes off from the spider for a second and you will probably struggle to locate it again!

Male Net-casting Spider.

Male Net-casting Spider.

Smaller eyes of the male Net-casting Spider. Smaller eyes of the male Net-casting Spider.

The Net-casting Spider or more accurately the genus Deinopis has a distribution across the world – in the tropical and subtropical areas from the Americas to Africa to Australia! Currently two species of Deinopis are known from India. With the kind of camouflage that these spiders exhibit, there could, however, be more species of these creatures hiding in the wilderness of the country.

So, when you walk the woods the next time around, don’t forget that you are probably being watched too with those ultra large eyes!

Lantern flies

This was during early 1990s. I had recently acquired a new gadget – an SLR! It was still those days when one used slide film in the cameras and most amateurs shot with some amount of thrift.

As part of my work, I was scheduled to travel to and stay at the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary for a longish period of time. And needless to say, I carried my camera loaded with a roll of slides! During one of the days at the campsite, I was walking past a Terminalia tree. I noticed, from the corner of my eye, a movement on its trunk. I stepped back to just make sure that I was not seeing things that did not exist.

After some careful searching, I recognised a form that was not part of the tree. It was a very curious looking and at the same time, a beautifully camouflaged little creature. The Pinocchio-like ‘nose’ caught my attention. Just a couple of frames were exposed and the camera was packed away.

Camouflaged lantern fly Zanna sp. from Bhadra

Camouflaged lantern fly Zanna sp. from Bhadra


 

Much later, the roll came back processed from the lab, slides were scrutinized with a loupe for quality, put away in an archival slide holder and forgotten…well almost.

Recently, while looking through my slide collection, my attention was drawn to this slide. I pulled it out, and scanned it. While all this was happening, I was reminded of a similar creature – with a Pinocchio nose – that I had shot in more recent times, only bigger and more colourful!

Colourful lantern fly Pyrops delessertii  from Kerala

Colourful lantern fly Pyrops delessertii from Kerala


 

These insects with the long snouts belong to a group called the lantern flies. Yes. A misnomer indeed as they neither glow nor produce light nor are they flies! How they got their name is uncertain. Some have a snout that is as long as the body or longer, while some have the tip of the snout swollen!

Lantern fly with a swollen tip to its snout - Laternaria sp. from Eagle Nest, Arunachal Pradesh

Lantern fly with a swollen tip to its snout – Pyrops cf. clavatus from Eaglenest, Arunachal Pradesh


 

The snout of these bugs are just extensions of their head and do not seem to serve any particular purpose.

Lantern flies are basically large bugs (Family Fulgoridae) with many species being brightly coloured. They feed mainly on plant sap. As a group, their diversity is highest in the tropics.

Sometimes several lantern flies can be seen on tree trunks

At times, several lantern flies can be seen together


 

Often, one can see several of these bugs sitting on tree trunks. If you are trying to photograph them, make sure you do so from a distance lest they jump and go out of your camera’s line of sight!

Spiders as Predators

I write this piece with a heavy heart as I just learnt that Mr. Lavkumar Khachar is no more. I have had the pleasure of interacting with him on multiple occasions and talking to him on the phone many a time. I have gained much during my interactions with him. He was also a constant source of encouragement. He would always say “…keep writing, son.” All I will say here is …Thank you Sir for lighting up my path! I hope that all those who you inspired will carry the baton forward. This piece is a dedication to one of the stalwarts and visionaries of our times.

 

It was many years ago. This was around the time I had just begun looking at the natural world with curiosity. We were living on the outskirts of the city (the area is now engulfed by the growing city!). Our residence was surrounded by a large open area that was laid waste and it had some wild growth.

A large spider found our home suitable and decided to stay on. I eventually learnt that this spider is called the Banana Spider or the Giant Crab Spider Heteropoda sp. Very soon, I realised that these spiders were catching cockroaches at night. This was reason enough to see the spider favourably. As a family, we just let the spider be whenever it was seen. We were rewarded indeed – our home had almost no roaches!

A Giant Crab Spider Heteropoda sp. (also called the Banana Spider) feeding on a moth, bigger than itself.

A Giant Crab Spider Heteropoda sp. (also called the Banana Spider) feeding on a moth, bigger than itself.

 

My initial interest in spiders was short lived. However, in more recent times, I got an opportunity to renew my interest in spiders. During this phase, I recollected my old observations and saw them in different light. So, I set out to get a better understanding of spiders as predators.

Primarily predatory in nature, spiders have been around for 400 or so million years. The strategies they use to capture their prey are as varied as their prey themselves. There are web building spiders that trap their prey. I am sure that all of us at some time or the other have seen a mosquito stuck in a spider’s web – often inside our homes trapped in the web of a Dancing Spider!

If you have a garden, you may have seen webs built among the foliage. Keep an eye on the webs around and you are likely to see some action. You could see an insect flying into the web, the spider rushing in to secure the trapped prey, feeding on it and then disposing off the remains, repairing the web and waiting for another unsuspecting insect to fly in. It is not necessary that all trapped insects get eaten. At times, you may see insects caught in an abandoned web as well.

 

mayfly entangled in the web of Opadometa fastigata, an orb weaver.

Mayfly entangled in the web of Opadometa fastigata, an orb weaver.

 

Leucauge decorata feasting on a mosquito

Leucauge decorata feasting on a mosquito.

 

A damselfly in the web of Leucauge decorata

A damselfly in the web of Leucauge decorata

 

There are spiders that prefer to sit and wait like some crab spiders do and there are others like the jumping spiders that are active hunters. Both do not build a web to catch their prey. Crab spiders lurch inside a flower to catch an unwary prey coming in for nectar.

An unsuspecting bee becoming a meal of the hiding crab spider Thomisus lobosus that waits inside flowers.

An unsuspecting bee becoming a meal of the hiding crab spider Thomisus lobosus that waits inside flowers.

 

An active Crab spider Oxytate elongate feeding on an ant Camponotus sp.

An active Crab spider Oxytate elongate feeding on an ant Camponotus sp.

 

Jumping spiders actively look for their prey.

Rhene sp. feeding on a mosquito like insect.

Rhene sp. feeding on a mosquito like insect.

 

Another Rhene sp. feeding on a caterpillar many times its size and weight.

Another Rhene sp.feeding on a caterpillar many times its size and weight.

 

Plexippus sp. – a jumping spider feeding on an ant alate.

Plexippus sp. – a jumping spider feeding on an ant alate.

 

Phaeacius sp. making a meal of a mayfly.

Phaeacius sp. making a meal of a mayfly.

 

An ant-mimicking jumping spider Myrmarachne sp. with a moth in its jaws.

An ant-mimicking jumping spider Myrmarachne sp. with a moth in its jaws.

 

Another jumping spider Epeus sp. feeding on a planthopper.

Another jumping spider Epeus sp. feeding on a planthopper.

 

Often, habitat preference, size of the spider itself, strategy used, time of the day they are active have a bearing on the size, kind and number of prey they feed on. Over the millennia, spiders have perfected the art of predation. By virtue of being predators, spiders as a group can have a big influence on populations of several species of smaller organisms – particularly insects.

A Nursery Web spider (Fam. Philodromidae) with a termite alate.

Tibellus sp. (Fam. Philodromidae) with a termite alate.

 

Research has shown that spiders could have a significant contribution in keeping pest populations low not just in our vicinity and gardens, but in a variety of agricultural situations (agricultural fields, orchards, etc) too.

The role of spiders as pest-controllers or bio-control agents is being understood and increasingly appreciated. So, think twice before spraying those toxic chemicals on your garden plants. We may actually be eliminating the spider that is not only keeping the pest under control but also providing moments of excitement if only we cared to observe!

 

Read related stories :
Preying Spiders
Spider and the damselfly
Mayfly
Crab Spiders

I have said time and again – a stroll on the wild side often throws up surprises. Here I was, sitting in front of a very interesting spider web with admiration for the little genius. The web was very delicate and exquisitely crafted.

Web of a Debris Orb Weaver Cyclosa sp.

Web of a Debris Orb Weaver Cyclosa sp.


 

This was not the first time I had seen this kind of a web. But this reminded me of the first time I saw something similar. On that occasion, still very unfamiliar with the ways of the spiders, I carefully examined the delicate web built about 2 feet from the ground. It was a typical orb web that all of us are so very familiar with. It was different from other orb webs in having prominent white silk used by the spider to weave an interesting pattern near the centre of the web.

The spider had also accumulated debris in a linear fashion. The debris contained, what seemed like insect remains and other unidentifiable material. But I saw no spider?!?!

Cyclosa insulana blending in with the debris.

Cyclosa insulana blending in with the debris.


 

Only much later, when I learnt about the devious ways of these tiny spiders did I start discerning the form of the spider in the midst of the debris! The form and colour of the spider, the way it sits on the web amidst the debris all render the spider ‘invisible’ to an untrained eye! In an earlier article on Camouflage, I had showcased examples of various organisms blending in with their background. Here, the spider creates a situation to render its form inconspicuous. One wonders how the spider knows to do this!

The white silk that the spider weaves into its web is called the stabilimentum. As to why the Debris Orb Weaver and a few other spiders incorporate a stabilimentum in their webs is still debated. There are no conclusive answers yet.

Cyclosa cf simoni in its web.

Cyclosa cf simoni in its web.


 
Cyclosa sp. sitting in the centre of the web with debris on either side.

Cyclosa sp. sitting in the centre of the web with debris on either side.


 

Let us come back to the current web and its inhabitant. The position of the web and the manner in which the spider was resting on the web were just ideal for photography. I sat down and got some satisfactory pictures. The spider itself with all its legs drawn close to the body looked just like a mass of debris that was next to it.

Spider resembling the debris.

Spider resembling the debris.


 

On coming home, I transferred the images and was processing the images when what I saw sent me into a tizzy. I was shocked and surprised. I was also wondering as to how I missed it when photographing the spider. There were several eggs on the spider!

Eggs on the spider !

Parasite eggs on the spider !


 

These eggs perhaps belonged to a parasite. My curiosity was so intense that I had to share this with someone. So, I quickly made a call to a friend who studies spiders – Dr. Manju Siliwal – and described the whole thing to her and also sent the picture to her. She in turn sent it to a friend and told me that these could be eggs of a wasp!

The basic question in my mind was answered. But a whole new set of questions raised their heads. How did the wasp lay its eggs on the spider that was suspended in mid air? In spite of the spider being so well camouflaged, how did the wasp locate the spider? Would not the spider move away or avoid the wasp? Or, would the wasp do something to temporarily immobilize the spider?

I may not find answers until I get lucky and witness the whole episode unfurl in front of me. So, as usual, the wait begins!

I distinctly remember what I had encountered several years ago when I had visited a college in Goa. I was talking to one of the faculty members, standing outside the building. My attention was drawn to a pretty Red Pierrot butterfly flitting about and settling on a Kalanchoe plant in a pot. Even as I watched, it laid an egg! Slowly, I went close to the plant and looked about. What I saw, came as a surprise. I saw a larva that had burrowed inside the leaf, a fully grown larva that had come out of the leaf and I also saw a pupa on the soil. I witnessed all this while rooted to one place! Unfortunately, I did not have a camera handy on that occasion.

Almost two decades later, I got a chance to witness and photograph all the stages of a butterfly’s life cycle almost over a couple of days! This time it was a Swallowtail butterfly – the Common Mime.

Recently I was visiting the River Tern Lodge near Bhadra Tiger Reserve. I was aware of the fact that the Common Mime occurs in the area based on my prior sighting of a female laying eggs. She was laying eggs on a tender leaf several feet from the ground. I had managed to capture the act of egg-laying but could not shoot the egg itself.

I was told that there were a couple of larvae of the Common Mime in case I was interested in shooting them. I was thrilled! Quickly, I set about searching for the larvae and got pictures of what looked like a fully grown larva. As I looked around, I also found more larvae of earlier instars. Pictures were promptly taken. As the search progressed, I even stumbled upon and photographed a couple of eggs. When I came back to check on the eggs, I noticed that one of them had hatched and was seen not far from where the egg was. Of course, the story would not be complete if the pupa was not found. So, with peeled eyes, I checked each dry twig just to make sure that it was not a pupa – you will see why as we go along!

Though pictures were taken as and when the opportunity provided, I have, here, arranged them in an order that depicts the complete life cycle of a butterfly.

A Common Mime laying eggs on a tender shoot high up in the tree.

A Common Mime laying eggs on a tender shoot high up in the tree.


 

Egg of the Common Mime – barely bigger than a pin head!

Egg of the Common Mime – barely bigger than a pin head!


 

butterfly larvae feed on the egg shell soon after emerging. However, this individual had gnawed the egg in the process of emerging leaving behind an interesting shape.

Butterfly larvae feed on the egg shell soon after emerging. However, this individual had gnawed the egg in the process of emerging leaving behind an interesting shape.


 

The newly emerged larva.

The newly emerged larva.


 

A later instar looking very different from the newly hatched larva.

A later instar looking very different from the newly hatched larva.


 

As I approached this larva close for photography, it suddenly put out the osmetrium, very characteristic of swallowtail larvae, perhaps  in a bid to scare me!

As I approached this larva close for photography, it suddenly put out the osmetrium, very characteristic of swallowtail larvae, perhaps in a bid to scare me!


 

The next instar.  As a larva grows, it sheds its skin a few times before pupating. In the process, it could look very different during each stage between any two moults.  Often they even eat the shed skin!

The next instar. As a larva grows, it sheds its skin a few times before pupating. In the process, it could look very different during each stage between any two moults. Often it even eats the shed skin!


 

 A fully grown larva ready to pupate.

A fully grown larva ready to pupate.


 

An amazing camouflage. The pupa of the Common Mime resembles very much like a broken twig. Spotting one of these can be quite a challenge.

An amazing camouflage. The pupa of the Common Mime resembles very much like a broken twig. Spotting one of these can be quite a challenge.


 

The adult Common Mime has two different forms – one that resembles a Blue Tiger butterfly ...

The adult Common Mime has two different forms – one that resembles a Blue Tiger butterfly …


 

 ...and the other resembling a Crow butterfly. Both the Blue Tiger and Crow are unpalatable butterflies. Mimicry in butterflies is another story altogether!

…and the other resembling a Crow butterfly. Both the Blue Tiger and Crow are unpalatable butterflies. Mimicry in butterflies is another story altogether!


 

If you have a few plants in your garden, it should be possible to witness all this and more right in your garden. In an era, when land is at premium, the gardens have been reduced to a few potted plants in the balcony of high-rise buildings. Notwithstanding this, if you choose plants carefully with some prior knowledge of butterflies that frequent your area, there is every chance that you will be visited by one that will give you an opportunity to see the amazing process of a tiny egg eventually transforming into a butterfly!

About the same time three years ago, I wrote two blog posts. They were titled The Banana Plants and the Shortnosed Fruit Bats and The Mast Tree and the Tailed Jay. These essentially tried to introduce you to some of the denizens of my garden (read your immediate surroundings!).

If you recollect, I had written about the banana plants that were brought into our garden and how, over the years, they have managed to influence the various organisms that manage to eke out a living in a tiny island in the vast urban landscape that surrounds us today. The banana plant was to a large extent responsible for bringing in the bats that in turn brought in a variety of new plants into the garden; the new plants brought in other creatures!

In more recent times, the banana plants themselves were solely responsible for a new entrant to our garden! Over the last few months, butterfly enthusiasts of Bangalore have been discussing the invasion of a butterfly called the Banana Skipper also referred to as the Palm Redeye Erionota torus.

This butterfly had not been recorded from Bangalore in the past. However, it seems to have come in with a bang and quite suddenly – not just in Bangalore but also in other parts of Karnataka. The banana plants getting ravaged by the larvae has become the topic of many a discussion.

Banana leaves damaged by the larvae of the Banana Skipper.

Banana leaves extensively damaged by the larvae of the Banana Skipper.


 

Since there were banana plants in my garden, I was hoping against hope that the Banana Skipper would eventually show up one day. Little did I expect the red-eyed skipper to make an appearance so soon. And the manner in which it did, took me by surprise.

It was mid October. I noticed a few tears on the banana leaf. These tears were different. Those of you familiar with banana plants would know how easily leaves get damaged due to wind. So, I did not pay much attention to it though the tears were unusual. However, a nagging feeling about the tears remained in my head until I realised that these ‘unusual’ tears were across the veins of the leaf as compared to the ‘normal’ tears along the veins!

Leaves torn across the veins.

Leaves torn across the veins.


 

About a week later, I noticed more ‘unusual’ tears on more leaves. This got me curious. I had to find out what was causing this. So, I set about reaching a leaf which had been torn and beautifully rolled. I had never seen anything like this on my banana plants over the last two and half decades that they have been around.

I was pleasantly surprised when I uncovered a white larva. Was this the larva of the Banana Skipper? I was clueless.

Larva of the Banana Skipper.

Larva of the Banana Skipper.


 
One of the rolls had a pupa covered with a generous coating of white powdery substance.
Pupa of the Banana Skipper.

Pupa of the Banana Skipper.


 

I set about examining and searching amid the leaves carefully. Finally, I happened to notice a large brown skipper with red eyes sitting near a curled banana leaf. The mystery was finally solved. The Banana Skipper had indeed invaded my garden.

The Banana Skipper or the Palm Redeye.

The Banana Skipper or the Palm Redeye.


 

As I looked around, I noticed that most leaves had at least one ‘unusual’ tear. Some had several, perhaps made by freshly hatched larvae. I’m left wondering about the amount of effort that must have gone in to cut the leaf, roll it and stitch it as well.

Multiple tears , perhaps made by several larvae.

Multiple tears, perhaps made by several larvae.


 

As I write this, I see several of the banana leaves that have been meticulously cut, rolled and stitched. Most of these have larvae that would eventually go on to pupate in similar leaf rolls and emerge out to be a lovely brown, red-eyed butterfly. This joins the other large red-eyed skipper – Giant Redeye – in my garden that has been around ever since the ornamental palms were planted. And I continue to wonder how many beautiful Banana Skippers my garden is going to set forth into the city.

Seed Dispersal

Many of you, who are reading this article, perhaps spend considerable time in the outdoors. How often have you at the end of the trip sat down and patiently removed various plant matter stuck to your clothes? Or even been irritated by inconspicuous things embedded in your outfit that poked every now and then? – poked when you were out trekking or birding, or at the opportune moment when photographing that little butterfly on a low shrub and the stabbing pain made you jerk suddenly, the butterfly took to air and it was a missed opportunity! If you have experienced any of these, then please know that you have been used!

Plants are organisms that are rooted to one place. This life style has some inherent concerns; among them, seed dispersal being an important one. It is very necessary for the plant, for its long-term survival, to be able to transport its seeds across a large area – far away from the parent and also from other seedlings of its own kind. This will help the next generation in avoiding competition for nutrients, sunlight and all else that a growing plant requires, increasing the chances of survival.

Over the 450 million years that plants have been around, they have evolved many strategies to ensure that the seeds they produce, survive and propagate. They have successfully used wind, water, animals and in more recent times, humans.

Here, we will look at how plants have managed to use animals (including humans) to transport their seeds. Animals might move seeds of plants by ingesting the fruit and dispersing seeds much later along with their excreta. Or, by simply carrying them inadvertently – just like all of us walking through grassy patches and shrubbery do!

It was during one of my travels that I walked off the road towards a tree in bloom to get some pictures. Along the path, my attention was drawn to a large structure with two pointed hooks attached to a plant. I looked around and found many more. The plant’s intentions became clear to me. I carefully avoided these pointed hooks and got some pictures of the tree in question. And, before leaving the scene also photographed these hooked structures.

The menacingly hooked seed case.

The menacingly hooked seed case.

As I resumed my travel, I got thinking as to how smart plants are. I also went about photographing seeds that managed to travel with me. Below are some examples of grasses/shrubs that either used me or those that accompanied me when perambulating through the wilds. If you take a close look at some of the seeds dispersed using the latter method, you will see how they are equipped with barbs, spines, hooks and the like which are just perfect to attach themselves to the fur of animals that come in contact. In the context of humans, the seeds attach themselves to our clothing!

Seed of Bidens sp.

Seed of Bidens sp.

Grass seeds with bristles at the base.

Grass seeds with bristles at the base.

Seed case covered with several stiff spines that are hooked.

Seed case covered with several stiff spines that are hooked.

Seed of a shrub with two hooks and several bristles enabling it to latch on to clothing.

Seed of a shrub with two hooks and several bristles enabling it to latch on to clothing.

An elongated spiny seed case.

An elongated spiny seed case.

Seed case of Martynia annua, also popularly (also aptly) called Devil's Claw or Cat's Claw, native to Mexico.

Seed case of Martynia annua, also popularly called Devil’s Claw or Cat’s Claw, native to Mexico.

So the next time you come back from the field and find seeds stuck to your clothes, remember that the plants have outsmarted you yet again!

Weaver Ants

A casual stroll in the wilderness always leaves me wondering about the remarkable capabilities of many of the little creatures that share the space with us. Often these are proficiencies that we fail to recognise, let alone appreciate. One such happens to be the ability of the Weaver Ants Oecophylla smaragdina.

Weaver Ants are tree dwelling and they live in large colonies. They are predatory in nature. They make a meal of a variety of small animals that they find.

Weaver Ants carrying a meal back to their nest!

Weaver Ants carrying a meal back to their nest!

These aspects may be true of many other ants too. But the ability of these ants to build leaf nests on trees is what makes the Weaver Ants truly special!

Humble beginnings of the leaf nest.

Humble beginnings of the leaf nest.

Often building a nest of this kind takes a huge amount of effort. This, you will realise only if you get into the shoes of these ants! From an ant’s perspective the distances could be huge and the task of building a nest, massive. It calls for an extensive and efficient co-ordination among individuals that are involved.

The story begins when a mature queen with wings finds a mate.

Mature queen with wings.

Mature queen with wings.

Once she has mated, she loses her wings. She then finds a suitable leaf to lay her first clutch of eggs.

A mated queen in search of a suitable nest site.

A mated queen in search of a suitable nest site.

She tends these eggs until they become worker ants and slowly take over the functions of the colony.

A queen guarding her first clutch of eggs!

A queen guarding her first clutch of eggs!

To accommodate the growing colony, the workers then start building their typical leaf nests. Just how they manage to bring the leaves together is amazing to watch. They form chains of ants and slowly get the leaves together.

Ants forming chains.

Ants forming chains to draw leaves close enough to form a nest.

Once the leaves are close enough, the ant larvae are pressed into service. The larvae are used like tiny gum tubes as they secrete silk. The adult workers, while holding the larvae, go about touching the surfaces that are to be glued together. Once a few leaves are bent and stitched, you have a leaf nest ready!

A nest under construction.

A nest under construction.

As the colony grows, they go about building satellite nests. This is thought to have advantages as food found can be moved to the nearest nest, saving on time and energy for these industrious ants. A mature colony is thought to have as many as half a million individuals.

Though these ants are largely arboreal, you will see that the Weaver Ants are at home as they march on the forest floor. These ants are quite aggressive. Move your finger near a train of ants and you will see them pause and react. They will look in the direction of your finger with their strong curved mandibles open and in all readiness to bite the intruder!

A Weaver Ant on alert!

A Weaver Ant on alert!

But stay at a distance and observe the Weaver Ants at work and you will be fascinated by the various facets of ant-behaviour, particularly their team work.

Weaver Ants and team work.

Weaver Ants and team work – duo moving food to their nest.

These ants are capable of some amazing feats – be it building their leaf nests or transporting large food items back to their nests or simply communicating with their nest mates. Wait, watch and be rewarded.

Andaman Day Gecko

The moment it was decided that I was going to the Andamans, I set out to do my homework. In the process, one species that caught my attention was the Andaman Day Gecko. So much so that, from the moment I landed in Port Blair and was in the midst of some vegetation, I started looking out for this gecko more so because I was told that they were reasonably common. However, I failed to locate it on my own.

Finally, there it was – an Andaman Day Gecko on a coconut leaf. A lovely green coloured gecko indeed. I would not have noticed it on my own. I was glad that I had some help as this beauty of a gecko was pointed out to me by one of the locals. I was ecstatic.

Of course, I did take pictures of this truly beautiful gecko…this most certainly was one of the most attractive lizards that I had seen to date! The lovely green of the body overlaid with red spots, a bluish wash to the tail and yellowish undersides make this lizard truly attractive.

The Andaman Day Gecko on a coconut tree

The Andaman Day Gecko on a coconut tree.

 

As the name Andaman Day Gecko Phelsuma andamanense suggests this lizard is known only from the Andaman Islands and is active during the day. These geckos are arboreal and spend considerable amount of time on trees. In the Andamans, they are also seen on coconut trees and banana plants apart from other vegetation. They can be seen near human habitations too. They thrive mainly on a diet of insects.

The genus Phelsuma consists of geckos that are active in the day. They are all essentially brightly coloured with green being the predominant colour. Most of them inhabit islands in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar has the highest representation of this genus and hence considered to be the centre of origin of this genus.

However, what is interesting is that the Andaman Day Gecko is over 5000 km from Madagascar – the home of its nearest relative! Though there are some general theories, just how this stunning gecko got to Andamans remains an enigma.

Someone walking with head bent down is not necessarily doing so out of boredom, frustration or dejection. The person could simply be searching for spiders on the ground!

A casual stroll on the wild side looking down is likely to be productive. I do this very often and have been amply rewarded; I have seen spiders running away from my path; particularly wolf spiders with egg cases attached to their spinnerets.

One can see Wolf spiders with egg case frequently in many situations.

Wolf spider with an egg case, frequently seen in different habitats.


 

However, one sighting was very interesting. This I realized only when I looked at the spider through my camera. The spider had an egg case attached to the spinneret. But what made things interesting were the spiderlings. They had just emerged and had scampered on to the back of the female – the entire back of the spider was covered with little spiders!

Little spiders have clambered on to the back of the adult from the egg case still attached to the spinneret.

Little spiders have clambered on to the back of the adult from the egg case while it is still attached to the spinneret.


 

This set me thinking and exploring in a bid to understand how various spiders take care of their young.

Female spiders after mating, produce eggs. Many invest substantial amount of energy and effort in ensuring that the eggs are safe. Some primitive spiders just use a few strands of silk to keep the eggs together and hold them in their jaws – eg. the dancing spiders.

When observed closely, one can see the Dancing Spiders that share our residences with a mass of eggs.

On close observation, one can see the Dancing Spiders Crossopriza lyoni that share our residences with a mass of eggs.


 

There are others which wrap the eggs in a silken sac. The silken sacs may be carried around, attached to the spinnerets (like the wolf spider) or one or more sacs could be strung to the web.

Spiders sometimes build egg cases much larger than themselves like for eg. this Rhomphaea sp. (Family Theriididae)

Spiders sometimes build egg cases much larger than themselves like eg. the spindle shaped egg case of Rhomphaea sp. (Family Theridiidae)


 
This Scorpion Spider Arachnura sp. chooses to string multiple egg cases to its web.

This Scorpion Spider Arachnura sp. chooses to string multiple egg cases to its web.


 

While some attach their egg cases to a leaf others incorporate it in the silken retreat that they build for themselves.

A Lynx spider Oxyopes cf naliniae sitting next to its egg case.

A Lynx spider Oxyopes cf naliniae sitting next to its egg case.


 
An egg case tethered to a leaf by means of silk.

An egg case tethered to a leaf by means of silk.


 

The females also guard the egg cases until the young hatch from the eggs.

The adult, spiderlings and the egg case of Chikunia nigra (Fam : Theridiidae)

Adult, spiderlings and egg case of Chikunia nigra (Fam:Theridiidae).


 
A Spitting Spider Scytodes pallida with egg case and young ones all enclosed within a leafy retreat.

A Spitting Spider Scytodes pallida with egg case and young ones all enclosed within a leafy retreat.


 

With some effort I have managed to see and photograph an array of situations where adult spiders were ensuring the safety of their next generation. It has been fascinating.

But there was one thing that kept nagging me for a long time. How do the eggs of spiders look? This question was answered during a visit to Kabini. On my usual rambles on the property, looking for the many interesting things Nature always has in store, I espied a few tiny white spots on the underside of a leaf above my head. On closer observation I noticed some silken strands and several little spiders. The white spots were spider eggs (shrivelled) from which the spiderlings had emerged.

Spiderlings that have emerged from the eggs.

Spiderlings that have emerged from the eggs.


 

My excitement was on a high as I went about photographing what I saw. When I finished, the excitement very quickly gave way to disappointment as I had missed opportunity to see the eggs. How do I tell a complete story without the picture of the eggs prior to hatching?

Could there be another leaf in the vicinity that could be hiding the eggs? “Why not?” It could very well be possible – I said to myself. Just out of sheer curiosity and renewed energy I looked about carefully on the same plant under the leaves. My efforts were suitably rewarded. In a very similar situation, I saw a bunch of greenish spheres stuck to a leaf – I was staring at spider eggs indeed!

Spider eggs.

Spider eggs.


 

What I have showcased is just a very small sample of what goes on in a spider’s life and represents only a handful of species. However, spiders are a very large group with over 50,000 species world over. Consequently, one should expect a plethora of different strategies used to ensure continuity of the species. The variety in the size, colour and number of eggs, the kind of places they choose to lay them, the manner in which they are taken care of, and where egg cases are made – their size and shape, how the young are taken care of after they hatch from the eggs and more is truly amazing! All this make good topics that can keep a naturalist on his toes for many many years.

With a little curious exploration, you can be treated to this and more. So, go out there and investigate your neighbourhood with care.

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