Monsoon: July 2011 Part II

This month was so far the wettest. Since the 13th, it has only been raining. It was a great relief from the hot and humid clime but I can’t say the same for the animals and plants. Also, there are five Sunday’s in this month, so I have an extra day of getting out and away from the urban brawl! On the other hand, I have to stall the How to Point-and-Shoot articles until Winter since I’m occupied with work, and writing for Monsoon Trails takes up a lot of time.
Dioscorea near a farm
On 17th July, I accompanied a few friends to Yeoor Hills (again). I visit Yeoor so often because it is easily accessible and hence takes up a lot less time than travelling elsewhere. I woke up to the rain, and it didn’t stop raining until I reached home – so the walk was short and the activity low, but we did see something.
Physiphora sp. (?) doing the dance
One of my cherished finds was, well, a fly. It is a fly in the family Ulidiidae, probably Physiphora sp. I have only seen them once at the lights in my home. So seeing one in the countryside was a good find, but it was still pretty close to a village, where the forests were destroyed to make way for large farms. The larvae of these flies feed on organic matter, and they probably came to my home from a nearby garbage dump (sounds disgusting!), so I’d assume that this fellow might have come from a dumping site from the village, which, unfortunately, is their very backyard – the forests. I accidentally came across this fly while looking at some Tetragnathid spiders. S/he was sitting face down on a dry stick, doing the typical antics of waving the front legs. I couldn’t manage any better photographs since it was raining and everything was wet, including this tiny fly.

As we walked a little further, a friend of mine spotted a beautiful caterpillar of a beautiful, not-so-common butterfly – Tawny Rajah, Charaxes bernardus:
Tawny Rajah, Charaxes bernardus caterpillar
I talked about this butterfly and its cousins in The Charaxiinae in 2009. This is the first time I observed this caterpillar true to its name – a Rajah. The plant was most probably Aglaia lawii, its known food plant. This caterpillar was in its final instar, and it would soon pupate.
The Crowned King!
These butterflies, along with several others in Charaxinae like Charaxes solon, are commonly referred as Rajahs probably because of the crowned head-capsule of the caterpillars. And according to me, this is the most rightful title than many other general butterfly names in the subcontinent – not only because they carry a crown, but because they are also one of the most fastest, large and robust butterflies in the family Nymphalidae. I was so glad for not calling this walk off, since this was indeed an uncommon sighting, if not rare.

We also saw several Common Ceruleans, about which I discussed in Part I, as well as an empty pupa of a Common Leopard, Phalanta phalanta, a Rice Swift, Borbo cinnara basking in the drizzle and several other flies and beetles. That’s all folks, from this two hour walk. Sometimes only a few sightings are enough to keep you going until next weekend.

--

BNHS’s CEC had organized a nature walk for those interested in getting to know the flora and fauna of SGNP a little better. The trail was lead by a friend of mine, and I got some really good information on plants. But we didn’t stop at that, and spent some time looking for bugs and other creatures. This was an excellent walk with the weather on a brighter side and only a few dark monsoon clouds passing over without pouring out their contents. It was, however, windy and not so ideal to photograph, but the sightings were excellent with some creatures new on my list.
Yeoor Hills, July 24, 2011
In the last article I said the guards were back to bar any visitors to Yeoor. Since BNHS had the official permission to enter, we did not have to sit and explain what we were going to do. Not that there is always a hustle to enter and exit the park, since these guards are only doing their duty, and I realized they’re doing it for a really good reason. We were told that he had to deny entry to some picnickers and drunkards. People still do find a way into the forests and I don’t blame them. This place is truly irresistible, all they should do is be very careful and respectful of the environment they’re in, but I guess that is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I have no idea why.

The walk began with an introduction to SGNP. There are several species of birds and mammals in this National Park, but we don’t know how many insects call it home. Although it doesn’t make much difference for a layman to know just how many thousand species reside here, on a larger context, they are primarily the ones responsible for keeping this NP, jailed by urbanization, from collapsing. Fortunately there are many naturalists today who appreciate bugs and arachnids and generate interest in others, which, down the line, will be crucial for protection of this ecosystem.

As soon as we entered the park, we were greeted by a lone Southern Oak Leaf was seen sipping on a tree. Several Danainaes on a flowering Leea. Glassy Tigers were the most common, followed by Common Indian Crows and Plain Tigers. There were also Common Ceruleans on the shrub and several moths, wasps and bees which we’ll discuss later.

I happened to spot an ant, or so it seemed, on a large Teak leaf, walking to and fro from one end to the other. At closer inspection, I was excited to find that this was a fly that mimicked an ant, particularly the Weaver Ant, extraordinarily. It matched the walking so perfectly that I didn’t realize it until I was only a foot from it. In fact, when I saw the real Weaver Ant further down the trail, I had to look carefully to make sure if it was the fly again!
Stilt-legged Fly, Micropezidae
This fly belongs to family Micropezidae, commonly called Stilt-legged flies because of their obvious stilt like legs. They are well known wasp and ant mimics. This is only the second type of Micropezid recorded in and around Mumbai by me. There were several other flies around as well, some of which are yet unidentified. One of the most beautiful fly to exist in SGNP is this:
Crane fly, Ctenophora sp. (?)
It is a Crane fly, probably in the genus Ctenophora. I saw this Crane fly just as we were retiring for the day. At a short break near a stream, I noticed this Crane fly in flight, which resembled a Thread-waisted wasp. She dropped down low on the bank of the stream and touched it gently with the tip of her abdomen. After doing this several times, she disappeared. She appeared again within a few minutes and settled on the bank laden with small pebbles soaking with water, but not submerged under the stream. That’s when I took the above picture. Afterwards, she did something really interesting:
Crane fly
She bent her abdomen and looked as if she laid eggs. I’m not sure of this, but her abdomen was so full, that it is likely that she carried hundreds of eggs. And that she carefully first assessed the site to lay eggs may indicate that she indeed was laying eggs. However, I always thought that Crane flies with such a needle sharp abdomen were males. It could very well be the ovipositor used to lay eggs deep inside wet soil.

The other insect I primarily chased after were wasps. I saw several Ichneumon wasps scavenging the forest floor, as well as an unidentified wasp, probably a Digger Wasp in the family Sphecidae carrying a Cricket in her mandibles. She was kind enough to pose for me, but unfortunately I couldn’t get a single photograph where she didn’t move. I had accidentally slowed my shutter speed and by the time I increased it, she was gone. Among other wasps, there was a Scoliid wasp on a Leea inflorescence, as well as a Sand Wasp (Crabrionidae) and several Stingless Bees. I also saw something which is really exciting:
It may not look much, but they're awesome - Male Velvet Ant, Mutillidae
This is (most likely) a male Velvet Ant in the family Mutillidae. Velvet Ants are indeed seen in SGNP, but they are so inconspicuous in their preferred habitat, which is mostly the forest floor, that it becomes difficult to come across one. The females, for which this common name is suitable, are parasitic, some lay eggs on Tiger Beetle grubs and some in other wasp nests. They are also really small. This male was barely a centimeter in length, and the female must be hardly half a centimeter across! I happened upon this fellow as he was resting on a leaf. It was windy and dark enough to ruin any possibility of a good picture, but I’m glad to have come across it.
O smargdina!
There were several ants around as well, but this time I mostly focused on what was easier on the eyes: the Weaver Ants. I saw several hundred tending to Mealy Bugs under the Teak tree leaves. You can compare the above photograph with the image of the Stilt-legged Fly posted above. The fly did a good job of mimicking the ant, especially by using its forelimbs as the antennae of the model.

The Odonates are slowing starting to emerge. As the season progresses, many more species will rise from the water. I saw Orthetrum luzonicum, Orthetrum pruinosum, Diplacodes trivialis and a Copera marginipes along the trail.
Katydid/ Cricket nymph
A cute little Katydid nymph tried its best to hide itself from me. Too bad that after only two pictures, someone unknowingly walked by that plant to observe a Leucauge spider near a moth cocoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to observe it in detail, but this photograph is good enough to tell a few things about it. I’m still not 100% that this is a Katydid nymph and not a Cricket nymph. But there is a subfamily of Katydids, Trigonidiinae, that are commonly called Sword-tailed Katydids. They also sport thick hind limbs like Crickets, and are common in Mumbai region.
A large, beautiful Stink Bug, Pentatomidae
The bugs (order Hemiptera) were also almost everywhere. Most common were the Spittle-bug adults. I also saw a Jewel Bug (family Scutelleridae) feeding on the Cup-n-Saucer fruit, as well as a huge, beautiful Stink Bug. And trust me, they look beautiful only when they’re out in the forests.

Several beetles were around as well but I found a tiny Flea Beetle, in the family Chrysomelidae, rather interesting. They are also one of the Leaf Beetles which are very common in Yeoor, but their specialty is the strong, stout hind legs, which they use much like a Flea, and hence the name.

The world of Lepidoptera is getting more diverse. There are caterpillars literally everywhere you see. One such abundant caterpillar is this:
Wooly Bear Caterpillar
Whether it is a dried plant, a rock in the path, an emergent boulder, or a bark of a tree – this is the caterpillar that can be found in the least expected places. It is probably more common elsewhere than its own food plant! It is commonly called a Wooly Bear caterpillar, because of its plump size and furry setae. It belongs to a moth in the family Eupterotidae. I have never seen the adult yet.
Limacodidae
Another caterpillar that is very common is the Stinging Nettle caterpillar. It belongs to a moth in the family Limacodiidae. Some of these caterpillars are stunning in colours, displaying electric blue to fluorescent green shades and are armed with several sharp spines. This fellow, and several others, were seen feeding on an unidentified tree.

There are several Teak trees that have been badly damaged by a serious pest – Hyblaea sp. the Teak Defoliator. While I only saw the signs a few weeks ago, I happened upon the moth this time:
Hyblaea sp.
But I didn’t see any damage to the nearby Teak trees. They are a serious concern in India and elsewhere, where Teak is planted in huge farms and the wood is harvested for commercial uses (Javaregowda & Krishnanaik). A species, H. puera has caused a tremendous loss, and they are a concerned pest on Mumbai’s mangroves as well (Source).
Clear-wing Moth, Sesiidae
A rather surprise sighting was that of (another) Clearwing moth in the family Sesiidae. I recorded an unknown species belonging to Synanthedon genus this month, and the above moth was probably a different species. It was extremely small compared to the previous one, almost half its size. This guy, who unfurled and waved his abdominal end, was busy feeding on Leea flowers. He was pretty fast and would hardly spend a few seconds on each flower. He was kind enough to share the Leea bar with other bees, but there were wasps that would scare him away. This moth, as much as it resembles a wasp, also mimics their flying habits, often leading to confusion. This is the first time I’ve recorded Sesiidae family in Yeoor, and hopefully there are many more species out there.

I saw several species of Jumping Spiders again. Out of the three, I could identify only one – the small and super adorable Phintella vittata. I’m still in the process of identifying these spiders and hopefully will be able to talk more about their diversity in a few months.
Unidentified Barbs
The streams were alive with fishes of several types. I’m extremely bad at identifying fishes and my camera worst at photographing such subjects, but I tried and captured these two types of fishes in a stream where I sighted the Crane fly. I think they are Barbs, but any idea what species?

While photographing the Spittle bugs, someone spotted a small snake just beside the path. It was not moving. It was a dead baby Russell’s viper, Daboia russelii.
The unfortunate baby Rusel's Viper
There were several Tapinoma sp. of ants on it. We’re unclear of the cause of its death. It had a gaping wound on the abdomen, and some injury on the neck, perhaps by a blow from a stick. It may have been killed by a person, probably villagers, since it is a dreaded snake; in fact it is responsible for more deaths than Common Indian Cobra in rural India. Or maybe, by an overtly ignorant person from the city. While I’m not blaming anyone, if it was killed by a person, the guards have a very good cause to bar visitors inside Yeoor Hills.

Along the trail
This season saw a dramatic change in the environment, as Yeoor drastically changed from the monochrome browns to vivid shades of green. We have also seen the struggle for survival of the fittest at its peak, and inevitably the struggle for survival between man and animal. We’re half way through the Monsoon, and the following two months will be really interesting to explore.

Tomorrow I might go somewhere pretty far. I’ll blog on it next month. See you then!

9 comments:

  1. I enjoyed traveling with you in your post today.With each picture, I thought it was my favorite until I got to the next one. It was a good adventure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I always enjoy reading your posts with their accompanying photo's.
    Should we worry more about the damage an insect can do, or that of man? I think perhaps an insect only does what it was born to do, whereas mankind...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice work....especially with the Crane Fly (Never seen that before)! Guess Yeoor will always be full of surprises :)..

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks, all. John, insects do indeed cause food and economic loss, and have to be controlled, whereas us, we're an entirely different scenario when it comes to destruction.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great stuff Ani! Awesome micropezid, I think in the Taeniapterinae, but there is practically no work done on the Indian fauna. I'd definitely love to see some specimens from your area!

    ReplyDelete
  6. My call on the fishes would be Devario malabaricus and Rasbora daniconius.
    Brilliant pics BTW.
    Use a photo tank to take fish pics :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFdOAKV8FoA

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks once again Big B! They do resemble the species you mentioned - unfortunately I wasn't carrying anything to catch them, hence such poor photographs.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Fabulous work and pictures are good.Loved the blog.thanks for sharing.
    From : chennaiflowers.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Left one is giant Fabio
    And right one is black line rasbora
    Fish

    ReplyDelete