Saturday, December 28, 2019

Some critters

Yesterday I took my son along for one of his favorite activity -  "amber resin collection". By now he figured out that Silver oak trees secrete lot of resin, so we went to "Saul kere". He surprised me by taking out the nail cutter as his swiss knife for his resin collection from bark. We went with our regular snail like pace as we spotted one thing after another.

The surprise of the day was spotting this moth caterpillar.

I initially thought it's a puss caterpillar. However on further search and with the help of Insect India FB group, it turned out to be caterpillar of Carea angulata. Another blogger mentioned that the big head like thing is actually it's thorax! I need to find more information. The clue of Jamun tree where it's spotted helped in identifying it further.

The next surprise was my first spotting of a Mantid fly or Mantis lacewing. I expected the insect to be much bigger, however it turned out to be around 1-2 inches long. Despite of two quick sightings, it's quick to fly and evaded my camera. Reading further about it revealed how some species of mantidflies as larvae feeds on spider egg sacs! The insect world is definitely fascinating. I hope to click a picture of it some time soon.

Meanwhile, I noticed curled up leaves of the Jamun tree and I promptly picked one (my son isn't amused). I broke open one amazed by how nicely it's rolled. Here is what we found inside a dry one!

This made me very curious. The next day I was reading about weevils and read how leaf-rolling weevils make such nests for their young one. I spotted a weevil on the same tree and now I speculate if it's the work of an weevil. This mystery has to wait for another day. Will blog more about this once I find more details.

By then, my son was in a rush to get his resin and I managed to spot some more critters that includes the scorpion mimic jumping spider. Notice how the pedipalps are bloated suggesting a male, reminds me of a boxers glove! Spotted its resting place too and perhaps with a female inside.

What looks like an ichuneumon wasp also showed up in orange. It's amazing that one tree is good enough to spot so many things and spend hours together, if only we have an inclination to watch, question and ponder!

Green lynx spider, nymph of a lady bug family and a cool looking fly added to our sighting and before we knew we spent an hour

We collected some resin and spotted few more insects and returned home full (of wonder and excitement) and hungry for more!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Guava moth!

Two weeks back I went to buy vegetables and picked up some guavas along. While I was about to eat one of the guavas, as I tried to clean the base of the guava, there popped up a small caterpillar. Since there are no guava trees near my home, I thought why not take care of it in a small plastic container. I am usually not a fan of rearing butterflies or moths at home. Given an opportunity I prefer to leave them on the tree since my wasp friends would need them :) . In this case, I took an exception since there is no guava tree closeby.

The next day, I see that the caterpillar appears to be missing from the jar only to find it on top of the jar. The day after, I went past a lake close to home where I picked up some guava leaves and promptly kept them inside the container hoping that it helps the caterpillar. Few days went past and I was thrilled to see the caterpillar frass at the bottom of the plastic container. I noticed it ate away one leaf and folded a leaf together and started living in it.

I became busy and couldn't take photos of it for a while. Finally couple of days back I noticed a cocoon and was looking forward to discover who emerges out of it. Today I was thrilled to see this strange looking moth that emerged and stayed inside. I transported the container outside in the balcony hoping that it flies off tomorrow. Not sure if it can find the nearest guava tree.

Here is a pic of it resting on a curry leaf just to give you an idea of it's size. I dropped curry leaf after finding an egg on another curry leaf (probably common mormom egg), however before i could shift, the egg was cleaned off by a pigeon.

I would stick to my decision of not to rear them at home.  Just once, this time curiosity got the better of me, so instead of letting it die, I let it grow as a moth. Going forward I would like to keep only such things that can't be relocated. This was a good experience and I hope the moth finds its way to its mate.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tirupati Bird Festival and bioblitz

When Raja told me about Tirupati bird festival and bioblitz, I was excited about the prospect of participating in my first bioblitz. I heard about bioblitz during my US trip, but never got an opportunity to participate in one. I took a bus to Tirupati on 6th December evening along with Rajaneesh. The organisers were happy to host us as resource persons for the bioblitz.

On the bioblitz day (7th December, 2019), we woke up early, reached the venue- Regional Science Centre, Tirupati. We met Robin in the bus that picked us. Post registrations and briefing, the registered kids and adults were split into separate groups and resource persons (students of IISER, Tirupati) were assigned to each group. The idea of bioblitz is to record and identify all trees, insects, birds except potted plants or captive animals and record them in iNaturalist app. While one doesn't need to know the id, there are other experts who can identify it on the app besides the suggestions the app can generate.

Our group went into the north-west corner of the science center and started recording. We could spot red sanders tree, copper pod, some creepers. The place was wild and the path was made recently. We spotted a stick insect, some moths, a moth caterpillar. One of our team member, sandeep doing his masters in veterinary science from Pondy university was helpful in identifying the plants. The surprise of the day was Sirkeer Malkoha that came, sat on the wall , gave a glimpse and flew away. Two black-hooded orioles kept singing along with a Tickell's blue fly catcher.

At 8:00 AM, with rain intensifying we had to wrap up biolblitz and gathered. We gathered the kids who participated and asked them about the day and their favourite sightings. We are glad they could guess how a woodpecker can smell and grab insects besides drumming on the tree. It's heartening to witness their enthusiasm. Post breakfast everyone split to attend different workshops.

I relaxed for a while enjoying the views of the ghats. Later a group of school children from the nearby government schools turned up. I took them on nature walk with help from Ashwin. We started observing the Silk cotton trees and wondered why it has thorn like structures on the bark. Ashwin, the spider expert at IISER, Tirupati, helped us spot the spiders on the bark. We discussed why the spider is camouflaged and wondered how we could spot it only when it moved.

Moving over, we saw the ant-mimicking spider. I gently took into into my hand and we noticed how it spread it's legs to balance itself when jumping off. It looked different from the regular ant-mimicking spiders I see in bangalore

Pics courtesy: Ashwin, IISER
I found from my friend mittal this is a ant-mimicking crab spider(Amyciaea forticeps). Didn't know crab spiders can also mimic weaver ants.

Kids watched it with awe as I did the magic of pulling it up , out of thin air ;). We discussed about how many legs it has and how it uses its legs as antenna to fool predators. The kids listened to it with enthusiasm. We later found a bark mantis and discussed how two spiders have two different webs. One has a long one to catch insects and another one has a small one. We speculated on their diets going by size of the web. We wind up the walk for kids after an hour where we walked less but discussed more.

 Talking about spiders, the science center entrance had a big Signature spider nest, the biggest I had seen and fooled me to think it's a Giant wood spider. Ashwin corrected me and I could see the signs on the web.

The afternoon was filled up with talks and speeches from dignitaries including  Subbu from Bangalore explaining how he retraced Salim Ali's Mysore survey. His grit and determination was phenomenal and inspiring for youngsters. The day ended high as I spotted this moth that picked up the lone white post on the wall that perfectly matched its colors.

Here are the observations on iNaturalist from the bioblitz. A day spent productively with some enthusiastic crowd, media and meeting great people.

Bannerghatta zoo club walk

When my friend prashanth asked me if I can do a nature walk for the kids of the Bannerghatta zoo club, I gleefully accepted the offer.  I messaged my friends around and finally Deepti and Nikhilesh joined the walk. It's an overcast day (1/12/2019) and rain was on cards. I managed to reach the zoo, a little later Deepti and Nikhilesh joined us driving a long way from other end of the city. The kids rickled in and by 8:30 we divided the kids into groups and started off a walk through herbivore safari to the Jungle lodges.

Our group agreed to discover the birds together than each of us going through pocket guides. So i tucked all pocket guides in my pocket. We noticed a milkweed plant and we noticed how one tree is growing from another (didn't tell them yet about loranthus). We spotted a coppersmith barbet and a crow. We joked about how we all saw a "rain"deer!!. With gaurs around, the zoo employees were ensuring we stayed safe by ushering us and asking us to move on.

We spotted some deer droppings. We used the opportunity to take note of different deer droppings and we discussed why elephant poop has lot of grass while the deer dropping doesn't have. One child pointed out how some droppings changed. Some bulbuls flew over but thanks to the rain, the bird activity was low.

We spotted a red wattled lapwing which together we identified in the pocket guide. We reached a lake where we spotted a lone Grey heron. We had a discussion on whether it is Grey heron or Striated heron and understood the differences. By then the rain intensified, so we quickly walked to the Jungle lodges entrance.

While we waited there for other groups to join, one child noticed a leaf, picked it up, smelled and announced that it smelled nice. Using that as an opportunity we tried to find out where that leaf came from. We initially suspected a tree. On closely comparing the leaves the kids discovered, it can't be that. Finally after a few minutes of investigation they zeroed in on a Eucalyptus tree. This tree leaf has a lemon like fragrance, unlike the regular Eucalyptus. We touched the bark, tried smelling it, noticed the resin around and briefly talked about Jurassic park and amber.

After all of us regrouped, we were driven back to have breakfast and attended an event where Dr.A.J.T. John singh was supposed to address the kids. Since we had time, I used the opportunity to talk to children about birds using the bird count india's Introduction to Birds. It's a interactive experience as I tried to make some analogies for them to explain bird feeding behavior.

The talk by Dr.John singh was fun with some jokes thrown in here and there. He shared some of his experiences and observations on wild animal behaviors. He mentioned how free ranging dogs are becoming a mess for wildlife. He shared his experiences with wild dogs, imitated it's call. His encounter with tiger on foot, notes about nilgiri tahrs and his recommendations on wildlife re-introductions were interesting. We wound up the day asking kids to look for the seeds of Terminalia arjuna (without giving them the id). I hope some of them discovered it...! Overall a great day despite of rains, made new friends - Deepti and Nikhilesh and headed home with a sore throat that worsened.