Nature So Bizarre – 3

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our on-going series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the third post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)

The Able Dancers

Whirligig beetles

The Whirligig Beetles spend most of their time on the surface of water, feeding on floating detritus. If alarmed, however, they begin to dance in circles rapidly swaying their bodies sideways, rather like a jig, hence the name ‘whirligig’. Sometimes, to escape predation, they dive underwater, carrying an air bubble under their hid wings which helps them to breathe. Their compound eyes are divided; the upper half is adapted to see above water and the lower half to see under water.

The Shy Feather dusters

Feather Dusters are marine worms that encase themselves in tubes made of mud. They have a head of very fine feathery crimson tentacles which are used to draw food from the water towards their mouth and also serve as gills for breathing. They look beautiful when they fan out their tentacles hence they are also called fan worms. But they are very shy and of a nervous temperament. With the slightest splash or even if a shadow is cast on them suddenly, they simply withdraw into their tubes. The fans come out again very slowly after quite some time as if they are unsure of their safety.

Fish that go fishing

Deep near the ocean bed may be found the Angler Fish. One of the fin spines is modified into a long rod that dangles above their head ending in a tassel that produces light. This serves the purpose of a fishing rod with bait at its end. The light attracts other smaller fish that are immediately gulped down by the Angler. Another strange feature of this fish is that prefer to walk on the ocean bed using their fins rather than swim.

A Grotesque Disguise

Many insects are known for their camouflage and disguise to avoid being detected, but the Tortoise Beetle takes the cake. Its larvae cover themselves with a medusa of their own faecal strands to make themselves nondescript and thus avoid predation. If, by chance, some of the faecal strands break off and a part of its body is seen, the repair work begins without delay and the patch is well concealed once again. To anchor these strands in position the larvae has a two-pronged fork-like protrusion rising from its abdomen.

A Pentopus or a Hexopus?

If you were to examine all the Octopuses in the sea you would be surprised to find that some of them have fewer than eight tentacles – perhaps five or six, in which case they should be called ‘Pentopus’ or ‘Hexopus’. This is because, when under stress, they have a tendency to chew up some of their arms! Over a period of time they regrow the tentacles.

Nature So Bizarre – 2

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our new series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the second post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)

A Butcher by Nature

The Shrike bird is identified by the black band that runs over its eyes across its face, giving it a bandit-like appearance.

The favourite trees of shrikes are those that bear spines such as the Asan tree. Being a carnivorous bird, it swoops to the ground from its perch to carry off locusts, dragonflies, lizards, mice, etc. It hunts for even more than required to satisfy its immediate hunger and impales the rest on the spines of the tree as a reserve for its future needs. Thus it is popularly known as a ‘butcher bird’.

Even Earthworms can see and hear

Believe it or not, the humble earthworm, though it does not have any recognisable ears and eyes, it does have some simple light sensitive organs in its first two body segments and it can detect sound vibrations too. It needs to leave its burrow and come to the earth’s surface to mate and it ‘sees’ the light above. It needs to ‘hear’ the pattering of rain as that is the time the soil gets wet and easier to dig through.

However, you may come across a gull in a field performing a river-dance jig. If you do, you can rest assured that the clever bird is tapping away to imitate the pattering of rainfall to trick the earthworm in its burrow underground so that it surfaces and provides an easy meal for the bird!

Not such hard nuts to crack after all

Crows are known to be intelligent birds but the crows in Japan have shown themselves to be super-intelligent. They collect nuts from the walnut trees that line the streets and then placed them along the road where the traffic halts at the signals. Eventually the Hondas and Mitsubishis run over the nuts cracking them. At the following signal, when the cars stop once again, they descend onto the road to make a meal of the fragments of nuts.

Mum knows best

A female butterfly who needs to lay eggs can identify the very plant which will serve as food for the caterpillars that hatch from her eggs. Thus butterflies are expert botanists. How do they identify the correct food plant? By tasting the plant with their legs which have special receptor cells. Each species of butterfly has a different food plant. Probably this was one of nature’s scheme of things to avoid competition amongst the caterpillars.

Theirs is the shortest lifespan

Adult mayflies live for only a few hours. As young nymphs, they spend months underwater feeding on algae. But once they emerge in their hundreds out of the water as adults, their sole role seems to be that of mating in the air. They do not have any mouth parts to feed. Thus they seek out their partner of the opposite sex. After they have fulfilled their role, the males die while the females first lay their eggs after which they succumb to their fate. During this mass emergence of the adults which takes place in summer, many of the mayflies end up as food for predators like frogs, birds and other insects.

Nature So Bizarre – 1

In ‘Nature So Bizarre’, our new series on Biodiversity, Katie Bagli introduces us to the wonderful world of flora and fauna – believing that the more we know them the more we’d want to protect them. Here is the first post in this series.

(Katie has many hats that she dons at various times. When she is not leading nature trails as a BNHS Volunteer (since 9 years), she is reading books (authored and illustrated by her) to children at major book stores. She is also one of the founders of the NGO ‘Save Rani Baugh’ where she has gathered many supporters to save many precious trees from being axed in the name of re-development. She loves children and is always ready to visit Shishuvan as a resource person, author and nature lover.)

CHILD LABOUR 

The Weaver Ants make their nests by attaching two or more leaves together with silk.  But these ants do not have silk glands.  How, then do they manage it?  They take the help of their own young ones who have silk glands.  While several worker ants hold the edges of two leaves together, one of the other workers holds a young larva in her mouth and moves it to and fro along the leaf edges, which get zipped together with silk threads produced by the larva.  Even ants make use of child labour!

STRANGLERS 

Birds relish figs and after eating them they often fly a short distance and perch themselves on other trees.  Here they pass out the seeds through their droppings.  The seeds readily germinate on the tree itself as the birds’ digestive juices have softened up the seed coats.  Soon the roots of the new fig tree embrace the trunk and branches of its host tree preventing sunlight from reaching it.  Moreover, once the fig tree’s branches reach the ground they draw nutrients from the soil. Thus the host tree, deprived of the much needed sunlight and nutrients, soon dies and its trunk rots away.

The Strangler fig, having taken the life of its host tree, continues to stand without its victim, appearing like a cylindrical lattice work of branches hollowed out inside.

ROBBER CRABS 

The Coconut Crabs or Robber Crabs are enormous, having a length of 30 cm, a width of 20 cm and weigh about 5 kg.  They are so called because they are known to climb up Coconut trees to ‘rob’ coconut s.  They manage to break open the shell by thrusting their large front claws into one of the three ‘eye holes’ and then extracting the tender kernel using their hind claws.  Besides coconuts, they also relish other fruits like chikoo, sago palm, jackfruit, etc.

These crabs are nocturnal and during the day they take shelter under the buttress roots of trees and inside the hollows of logs.

BONE BREAKER

The Lammergier Vulture, whose habitat is the high altitudes of the Himalayas, has a very long wing span.  But what makes it stand out from other vultures is its black ‘beard’ just below its beak, for which reason it is commonly called Bearded Vulture.

While other vultures are feeding on carrion, the Lammergier waits by the side for them to finish.  He then carries off the bones to a great height and drops them on a rock so that they break open, and feasts on the marrow.  Thus, the Lammergier is also called ‘Bone Breaker’. 

SHOOTOUT IN THE SEA

Visitors to the seashore are often puzzled to hear a loud ‘pop’ rather like a pistol shot, accompanied by a jet of water.  This sound is actually produced by the Pistol Shrimp.  One of its claws is distinctly larger than the other.  This claw has a knob on the finger and a corresponding socket on the thumb.  Two smooth patches of skin on this claw which act as suckers hold the finger and thumb wide apart.  But sometimes when the shrimp exerts a great deal of force and thrusts the knob into the socket a gunshot -like sound is produced and a jet of water is ejected at great speed.  The shrimps use this sound to communicate with each other and frighten away enemies.