Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rhacophorus lateralis - Small Gliding Frog

Just completed sketching this beautiful endemic frog of the Western Ghats! It is an endangered species which is found in habitats such as subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, intermittent freshwater marshes and plantations. It is often found in association with R. malabaricus, a relative species of Gliding Frog called the Malabar Gliding Frog.

This frog has two morphs, one green and one brown.

Thank you, have a great day! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Devarayanadurga State Forest - Mudpuddling!

Samhita Kashyap and I reached the destined site at 10:30am. In the butterfly count that we did, the numbers were dominated by Lime butterfly (Papilio demoleus), Double Branded Crow (Euploea sylvester), Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis), Brown Awl (Badamia exclamationis) and White Orange Tip (Ixias marianne).

We found a Forget-me-not (Catochrysops strabo), and it was one of the very few blues that we saw apart from Tiny Grass Blue (Zizula hylax).

There was also an abundance of Danaid Eggfly (Hypolimnas misippus) males. But we found only one female throughout the trip.

The place we visited, "Namada chilume" is a small hill. At the bottom of this hill, we found one set of mudpuddling swallowtails and pierids, consisting of Lime, Yellow Orange Tip (Ixias pyrene), White Orange Tip, Double Branded Crow and Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) female form cyrus and two males.

As we ascended the gentle slope, we found another group of mudpuddling butterflies which consisted only of Dark Blue Tigers and Double Branded Crows. It was a beautiful sight watching them puddle in a sort of aligned manner, and as the wind blew strongly, they would all flip to one side.

At a gap of about 70m, another mudpuddling assembly was taking place. This consisted mostly of Common Emigrants (Catopsilia pomona). They were joined by a Common Mormon, and Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe) and a White Orange Tip.
Right next to this group, there was also a group of Common Limes.
White Orange Tip:

We counted over 50+ Brown Awls. They were all over the place.

The overall individual count was approximated to 500 (more or less) as we might have double counted/ missed counting a few. We noticed that there were a lot of dwarf (midget sized) Lime butterflies. It was a worthwhile experience! Special thanks to Mrs Sharvani for helping Samhita and I make this trip possible.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Slender Loris diaries!

This day began as a fine cloudless morning with little or no expectations of rains. It was one of those exceptionally hot days when the average Bangalorean feels out of place. But the clouds began encroaching later in the afternoon, which is why I began fidgeting, because I thought I might not see Lorises at IISc.
It was only the second time that I would be seeing a Slender Loris, if at all i saw one. I was looking forward to it. It was drizzling all along the way, but magically and fortunately, it stopped by the time I reached IISc.

Shreenidhi, my companion in this little adventure, is one of those people who is so familiar with the Lorises at IISc to such an extent that they can be referred to as his "chaddi dosts". They are like his friends. He knows which one goes where, which one hides, which one comes closest to humans - he is so used to the habits of this little elegant animal. "I have literally grown up here! This is my second home! This bamboo clump has never disappointed me... come lets look here!" He animatedly explained as he led me to a dense but dry clump of bamboo near the old Centre for Ecological Sciences building. It was approximately 7:20pm, I started straining my ears for the screechy call of the Slender Loris. Little did I know that one need not strain their ears to listen to it's screaming...

A firefly caught my attention. I walked towards it and discovered a whole squadron of them sailing around, twinkling away in their glory. I watched them for a few minutes, meanwhile Shreenidhi kept shining his torch around the place. "I wonder why there is no Loris here today. Lets go ahead." Just as we walked across the path, aiming for a different spot with high probability of a sighting.....

Screeeeech! Finally! The call that I have been wanting to hear. It was loud! We turned around and returned to the clump, and there it was! As we caught our first glimpse at it, we saw that it was staring right at us. The torchlight made the animal's large eyes gleam with a yellowish-orange glow. It was beautiful! But this individual was rather timid. It moved deeper into the clump just a few seconds after the torchlight found it's presence.

We moved ahead, and yet again, we heard the call. The time was 7:30. The pitch of this call seemed to be a note lower than that of the one we had just seen. We searched, but did not find the animal. As we kept walking, at 7:40, we halted at another call. Shreenidhi quickly scanned the nearby trees and found the mammal moving upwards at a height of about 30ft from the ground. "Here it is!" He pointed at it with the beam of light from his torch, and this one did not seem to mind the attention unlike the previous individual. It was as though the Loris was minding its own business irrespective of the extra light. Moments later, "Is it carrying a young one? I dont see the super white underbelly! Look closely through the binocs!" He exclaimed. I peered through them and observed that there was indeed a young one holding on to the belly of this Loris. "Cheeni! You're right man! This kaadu paapa has a paapa!" I laughed. It was moving around quickly. But it was at the same height more or less. I pointed the torch at the Loris so that he could get a look through the binoculars. "Just look at the eye shine of the young one near the butt of the mother! Wow!" And he was of course right. We watched the Loris for almost half an hour. The mother would look right at us with her gleaming orange eyes, and as she moved, we could see Loris junior's little beady eyes glow. We just didn't want to leave. We watched her tilll she completely disappeared behind a thick cover of leaves as the rain began to pour. Throughout this sighting, there was a slight drizzle and lightning was very frequent. There was no sign of the moon amidst the thickness of the clouds.

Both of us were very happy. It was a grand sighting of a mother and her young one, we heard her call, and we spent approximately half an hour with her! I don't think it could have gotten any better, unless she came low enough for us to get a photograph. We congratulated ourselves and headed to the IISc cafeteria to celebrate a cup of hot coffee in the rain. When that was done, we headed in our different directions with complete satisfaction! Now this was definitely an evening well spent!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The mist-ifying western ghats!

It has been a long time since I wrote, and I owe this blogpost to one particular person who made me feel jealous of his wonderful writing, which prompted me to get back to the blog and give it much needed attention! Thank you, friend! :D

In Bangalore, summer is hotter every year. As I sat wondering why this phenomenon has been happening, I thought I heard a Malabar Whistling Thrush calling. "What the hell?!" I was startled. Before I could look start meaninglessly looking around, I was convinced that my mind was going crazy. That was probably because of my desperation to be in the Western Ghats. It had been a few months, and it was about time that I needed my drug! I sat down, and images of the whispy, layery Sahyadris swarmed through my head. The streams that curve and meander through the undulating green mountains, the brooks that disappear into dead ends, the small seasonal waterfalls, the Malabar Giant Squirrels, the gorgeous woodpeckers, the damselflies that I can't identify, and the butterflies that make me feel like saying "Wow, this is what I was born to do! Lets chase!" I wanted that feeling back. The Western Ghats feeling.

Very fortunately this time, I quickly found many reasons to be there. The route was Bangalore-Mysore-Nagarhole-Kutta-Ponnampet-Gonikoppal-Madikeri-Brahmagiri-Kushalnagar-and back.
On 27th April, the four of us started off. The route was obviously boring till Nagarhole. But once we reached the Nagarhole post, I began to count the number of Spot Swordtails (Graphium nomius) that flew past. The movement of the Graphiums seemed to be in a North to South direction. The entire 30-or so kilometres worth of driving resulted in a count of about 200+ individuals. The place was also flooded with Common Emigrants (Catopsilia pomona). I thought that these must be local migrants. They might also have dispersed from another place which is not so far off, due to the lack of host plants.

A sketch of the Spot Swordtail (Graphium nomius):

As we drove past Nagarhole and into Madikeri via Kutta and Ponnampet, we stopped at several places to see the Malabar Giant Squirrels. They are such adorable creatures! One of them was sleeping on a branch very close to us, and we did not dare disturb it. Slowly, we drove, making our presence as undetectable as possible. 

Madikeri was a grand feast. The plantations, the tall trees which reach out to the clouds, the turns and the blind corners on the road!

It rained very heavily the night we reached there. The sky thundered and roared as I sat and watched in awe. It was the first rainfall of the season. Due to this, there weren't many butterflies around. Nevertheless, I did find a Common Silverline (Spindasis vulcanus) and clicked it against the mountains in the background!

The graceful, elegant and high-flying Sahyadri Red Helen surprisingly came down to eye level to drink nectar from the Periwinkles.

I saw a beautiful Indian Krait disappear into the thickets for a good ten seconds while I was walking my way across a path inside a plantation. The scary thing about the plantations in Coorg - the watchdogs! I was freaked out to my bones when one of them showed me the most snarly face ever. It was as if to say "Get the hell out of this plantation or I will chew your face off!" Luckily, someone who worked at the plantation was there to hold him down and allow me to walk about without being eaten up. It was in one of these plantations that I saw a bird that I had always dreamt of. At first, I thought it was an Indian Horned Owl. But then, there were no "horns". They were small ear tufts instead. It took me a while to realize that the bird I was staring at through my fog-covered binoculars was none other than a Brown Fish Owl. It sat there motionlessly, as if it were divine. I stared on till my hunger outweighed my desire to keep staring (That took a lot of time!). It was hard to bid goodbye to the beautiful creature. 

The next day, we drove upwards to Brahmagiri peak. Delightful landscapes enthralled me to no ends!

It was absolutely foggy. The visibility on the top was reduced to about 50-60 feet due to the previous night's rains.

Here, at a height of about 6000ft above sea level, I came across a courting pair of  Painted Lady butterflies. (Vanessa cardui) They would hardly sit down, but I managed to click one shot before my luck ran out.

The next day, we set off to the nearby Abbey falls. It was here that I saw a very interesting bird which seemed to fly in a particular orbit. I could not identify this without getting back to base and checking the field guides. It was a Crested Goshhawk (Accipiter trivirgatus). 

The way down Brahmagiri was spent driving down in the rain. I spotted a few Malabar Pied Hornbills, and heard the call of Junglefowls.

On the way back to Bangalore, we made a stop at this Tibetean settlement at Kushalnagar. The Golden Buddhist Temple is a very beautiful place with a massive Buddha statue!

After all this, it was difficult to accept that it was time to return to Bangalore. But yet, we drove back. The hailstones and the heavy rain made the journey very pleasant! The rain faded away as we reached Bangalore, and then, we braced ourselves to get entangled in the boring routine ahead. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Life Cycle of Common Jay (Graphium doson)

A butterfly seen quite often in Bangalore. The larval host plant for this species is Michelia champaka or the Sampige tree.

The egg was found on 27th December 2012.

It hatched on 30th December 2012. This is how it appeared a few hours before hatching:

After hatching the caterpillar measured 2mm. It scratched the surface of the leaves and moved around very slowly.

After the first moult on 3rd January 2013 (day 5), the hairy structures disappeared. The caterpillar's jaws became stronger, as it does with each moult, and the caterpillar began consuming the leaves at a faster rate. Length measurement: 4mm.

The second moult took place on 5th Jan 2013 (day 7). Head cap size increased considerably, and the ventral side became pure white in colour. The caterpillar moved about with greater speed when compared to the earlier instar. One peculiarity is that the caterpillar also walks backwards quite often. The projections on the head part in the last instar, were completely absent in this one. There were absolutely no hairy structures on the caterpillar. The surface was soft and rubbery-textured. On 6th Jan (day 8), it measured 11mm.

The caterpillar moulted again on 10th Jan, 2013 (day 12). This is the final instar of the caterpillar. Measured 30mm just after moulting. This moult changed it's appearance completely. A very prominent "eye" spot on the neck region of the caterpillar. The head size increased, and so did the eating speed. In this instar, the caterpillar ate about 15-20 square centimetres of leaf surface per day. In all the instars, the caterpillar ate only tender leaves and not matured ones. This was few hours after the third moult:

Appearance of the caterpillar on Jan 11th (day 13). Measurement 42mm.

It formed a cremaster and the silken thread (attained pre-pupa stage) on Jan 14th (day 16). It pupated on Jan 15th, sometime during the night. Photograph of the pupa taken on 16th Jan (day 18).

On Jan 28th night, the pupa turned transparent and the wings could be seen. Appearance of the pupa on Jan 29th (day 32) few minutes before the butterfly emerged:

The adult butterfly emerged at 11:05am.

This is a female, as the bursa copulatrix can be seen here:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Life Cycle of Commander (Moduza procris)

This is quite an uncommon butterfly in Bangalore. Nevertheless, it can most definitely be seen in certain places during the post monsoon and winter seasons. Lalbagh and JP Nagar reserve forest are known to be Commander habitat. The larval host plants for this butterfly are: Neolamarckia cadamba, Cadaba fructiosa, Hedyotis orixense, Mitragyna parvifolia, Mussaenda frondosa, Ochreinauclea missionis, Wendlandia exserta, and W. thyrsoidea.
The caterpillar, in its last instar, found on 10th January 2013. It was feeding on Mussaenda frondosa. This plant has soft hairy leaves, and blooms pinkish red flowers. Grown as ornamental in most gardens.

A beautifully camouflaged caterpillar this is, chestnut coloured with brown and black blotches.

It wandered about the container endlessly for a day after it stopped consuming any leaves on 11th January. Instead of the usual dry and spherical excretions, it was semi solid and moist. It created webs everywhere it wandered.

It formed a cremaster on 12th January and pupated sometime during the night. This is the pre-pupa stage, after cremaster formation. Length of caterpillar in this stage: 31mm

The pupa measuring 23mm, on 13th January, 3:30pm:

Ventral side

Dorsal side
The pupa turned dark and transparent on 22nd January, and the adult emerged at 10:20am on 23rd January.  The pupa stage therefore lasted 11 days.
Emergence of the butterfly:

The adult emerges by pushing the pupal case with its proboscis.

The wings are intricately folded inside the pupa. They are wet and dripping with excess fluid. It is this fluid that imparts colours to the butterfly's wing scales.

After emerging, it is essential that the butterfly gets to hang down from something, so that gravity does its job of straightening out the veins before the wings dry. Sometimes, the wings might not dry in the right position, causing the butterfly to be unable to fly. The wings are partially stretched out and the butterfly is still wet here:

Wings have completely dried and the butterfly is taking its time before deciding to display its flashy red upper side..

 Few minutes after emerging, the layers of the proboscis are not yet aligned:

Behold, Moduza procris, the upper side. Wingspan of this individual, was 65mm.

A close up of the genitalia of this beautiful male:

The empty pupal case:

The beautiful underside of the adult male:

He was released in a good place which is known to have populations of his own kind, and it was an absolute joy watching his jerky flight as he disappeared into the thickets!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life Cycle of Common Jezebel (Delias eucharis)

The larva of the Common Jezebel feeds on Loranthus. This caterpillar was found in its last instar on 27th December 2012, thanks to GS Girish Kumar! There were five caterpillars in all, and they constructed a lot of webs and silken threads, for no apparent reason, inside the container in which they were raised. It was unlike most other caterpillars I have raised, because they web around only during the time of pupation.

It pupated on 3rd January 2013. Freshly formed pupa and the caterpillar's last moult:

Pupa, night before eclosion:

Adult male, after emergence:

Adult male, upper side:

Adult female, upper side: