The Forest Spirit and the Neo-Naturalist
|The mosaic of the central Western Ghats, as viewed from Hassan, Karnataka
Tea plantations, shola rainforests, and montane grasslands.
That morning wasn’t any different. That gurgling stream, that timid click of the dancing frog, that flute-like song of the Indian Scimitar Babbler, that pressure-whistle of the invisible-under-the-canopy White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, and that low monotonous, shy greeting of the Malabar Trogon, underneath the dark canopy of the Ironwoods, Palaquiums, Syzygiums and Dipterocarps, the facies of the medium-altitude rainforest of the central Western Ghats, all of them together in a chorus refreshing mind-body-soul, would be punctuated by a long-drawn drone of the didgeridoo, making those of us raking the leaf-litter halt our time-specific chore for a moment.
It was Day Three of
the fourteen-day survey. That drone was another sound of the forest carrying
another tune, primeval and raw, created by the damp, cold air of the rainforest
understory reverberating to invisible stridulation. Two winged creatures
closely inspected my teammate as he stood tallying cockroaches and crickets as
I scraped the forest floor. Down in this rainforest, we were counting insects
that lived amidst leaflitter, testing whether their composition differed in differently-composed
forest floors. These winged creatures never paused, and were left out of the
|The morning exercise of counting insects in the rainforest understory.
At nights, by the
source of a LED light on a white canvas, cameras captured moths among
multitudes of hoppers, gnats, midges, and flies. Moths were always present, increasingly
in lower numbers as days progressed, but they were always noticed. Among the
rare ones and the common ones, almost all were documented somewhere by someone.
Of my online repertoire of 113-odd moths that I uploaded between 2006 and 2016,
I saw some 22 here again, all of them as new as they were when I first
Deep inside the dark rainforest, the drone continued to stalk us. Every morning till afternoon, whenever we stepped in, scraped the forest floor, it would buzz around. Then on Day Five, I caught a glimpse of something perched on a leaf, watching us. Before any of us could move, it buzzed away. Beneath the mulch a whole ecosystem flourished: in the layer-upon-layer of leaves, sheaths of rotting branches, moss and mycelium, cockroaches, crickets, wandering and huntsman spiders and the likes reigned. Deeper still – by a count of a few millimetres – in the softest layer of the forest floor, the other kind reigned: diplurans, collembolans, soil and predatory centipedes of all shapes and sizes, shield millipedes and pill millipedes, mites and predatory worms and creatures incomprehensible to the naked eye inside a dark forest.
As we got a hang of counting insects inside a rainforest canopy – it took a few days for my eyes to adapt to Keats’ ‘embalmed darkness’ – we began to realise that our most constant companions were flies. Not surprising, like flowers, we do attract a lot of flies. Fortunately, it was the non-biting ones in the understory, the biting having been the duty of another kingdom, Annelida – the Hirudinea, leech.
|The flies of the rainforest who took particular interest in us and in what we were doing.
Clockwise from top-left: Idiella sp., Chaetogonopteron sp., Asarkina sp., and Borbororhinia sp.
The flies would be kind to us, save a little annoyance. The Rhiniids – Idiella sp. and Borbororhinia cf. bivittata, were among the most common to greet us in the rainforest. All of them flower-visitors and known pollinators, would visit our arms, sleeves, and bags, even mate beside as we scraped the forest floor. Hover flies such as Asarkina sp. also visited for our sweat. Some did so for reasons we can only guess: as soon as the scraping of a square meter area was completed, the tiny Dolichopodid with a mouthful name, Chaetogonopteron sp. – wee-sized flies with a dash of lustrous blue streak across their abdomen barely visible if you were standing in the understory – more at home in rainforests than most long-legged flies, would swoop down and hunt in the rarely-opened – exposed – niche.
That the Rhiniids
visited us for our sweat was a surprise; these obligate nectar-feeding adult
flies would use another source of nourishment – sweat, of all – is perhaps a
trait of a few, but I’ve not seen this among Rhiniids of other areas – the
northern Western Ghats or Central India. But, as always it is with insects,
they were here for another reason: Species of Idiella, Borbororhinia,
and some Stomorhina are termitophilous, they would visit us because in
the process of counting insects we disturbed and often exposed termite colonies
in the leaf litter. Being termite-loving, but by nature termitophagous –
termite-eating – when they sense termites, they converge to oviposit their
eggs in presence of a colony – some species are larviparous, that is they lay larvae
directly; most species as larvae are either predatory of termite pupa and or scavengers of
dead termites. In our quest we were slowly beginning to understand the
intricate relationships between the invertebrates of the rainforest.
Back at the canvas, we
documented new moths each day. Only a handful-few visited as the monsoon came
to an end, but most of them were new: for every one moth I had once seen and
forgotten, there were seven new! Only very rarely did we meet them deep inside the
rainforest, even more rarely did we see moths of the rainforest at the light
canvas. It could be an issue of the reach of the light source, or preference
towards a strictly nocturnal – or diurnal – behaviour. For instance, we saw a
hawkmoth – one of the largest I have seen – on a pole farther away from the
light source, which flew off rather than come straight for the light. Hawkmoths
are known to prefer lights, but perhaps this LED did not suit its preference?
Or maybe the bats that swooped in deterred it from flying out to the light?
hobbyists, collectors, curators, and taxonomists, collectively under the
umbrella term of naturalists, have been documenting invertebrate diversity and
natural history for nearly as long as that of their vertebrate counterparts. In
my fourteen-day quest to count, categorise, and test their compositions in this
rainforest of the central Western Ghats, I’ve come to realise how far a
naturalist, particularly the invertebrate-kind (no, not spineless!) has come.
Introducing the moths of
India to the world for the first time in 1892, Hampson wrote, “Any attempt to
enumerate, describe, and classify the Moths of so large a region as British
India must, in the imperfect state of our present knowledge, be very
incomplete, and more and better workers in this interesting branch of Natural
History cannot be expected to come forward until some handbook is provided for
them.” Nearly three decades later, introducing Brunetti’s flies of India to the
world for the first time in 1920, Shipley wrote, “Owing to the war, the
difficulties of communication, and the loss of ships coming from the East,
there has been an unusual delay in the issue of the present volume … Another
difficulty which has arisen in the preparation of the volume is due to the fact
that the MS. ran to a far larger volume … this proceeding is, I gather, against
the wishes of the author, but no other solution of the difficult appeared
possible.” These two, among a few Indian naturalists, were the pioneer
naturalists that I call the Traditional Naturalists: they collected specimens,
catalogued, identified species using traditional taxonomy, and published them
as an account of the species, the natural history, and a descriptive fieldguide.
|A spider wasp, Tachypompilus sp., preening itself in a sunlit rainforest understory.
Down in the rainforest
undergrowth, we waded through ankle-deep leaf-bed along steep mountains looking
for insects. In one rare sunny patch my friend spotted something on a leaf. I
approached, ‘bent over its squelching rim’ the way Krishnan once did, to inspect
it closely. There sat one of the ferocious pollinators of the country, Tachypompilus
sp., a spider wasp, cleaning itself before embarking on the scent of another
spider, as it immediately set out to do. That count of spiders – the wandering
and the sparassids – also tarantulas? Somewhere I’d tally one-less as she went
after them. At the light canvas, among the many moths that captured our
attention were the microlepidopterans, the ‘numerous small moths which are of
interest only to the specialist collector’ according to Oxford, but of much
more significance to ecology of a place that Oxford editors should edit in,
works continued but the pace of species description only marginally increased.
The species description records (1915-2015) of insects by ZSI shows the count
of species described increase from 15.44 (±2.98) per year between 1915-1947 to
17.14 (±2.46) between 1948-1975. This then increased markedly to 43.36 (±5.96)
between 1976-2000. We can attribute this increase from independence up to the
end of the twentieth century to India picking itself up after independence,
increased allocation of funds in STEM which led to a spread, although uneven,
of biological sciences across the country. Most of these, however, were
restricted to urban centres when many of the works on the lines of Fauna of
British India continued. This period also saw a spurt in Indian literature –
popular and scientific – on species and nature, among the most noted being M
Krishnan (nature and birds), V Deshpande (spiders), K Ghorpade (flies), Madhav
Gadgil (nature and environment), and many others who continue to inspire many
like me to-this-day. The period of 1948-2000 I call the era of Modern Naturalists.
This era was marked by an increase in scientific understanding of species and
natural history, often in beautiful words – what brought it to the forefront
was the spurt in popular science writing, especially pertaining to nature,
including invertebrates. I call it modern also because this era saw an increase
in photography as a tool to observe and write about nature. Krishnan
wrote, “A feature of bird photography in the past few decades is the amount of
work done at the nest from a hide. While accurate statistics would be hard to
gather, it would be a fair assessment to say that 70 to 80 per cent of bird
photography is done at the nest and that this is true not only of our country
but of most other countries as well.” Even as Champion and later Forsyth
replaced guns with cameras, it was this era of Modern Naturalists that made
cameras a tool to document nature.
|Wasp-like but not a wasp two-winged creature of the woods.
Back in the
rainforest, the drone was particularly constant at every plot we sampled. While
I busied myself to get rid of leeches on my arms and neck – being fully covered
below-waist sends them charging up at any and all exposed areas above-waist,
exposed hands taking most of the brunt – my friend spotted another unassuming
creature on a leaf. In the deep dark forest, we clicked it. It didn’t look like
anything I had seen before: quite large, postured on the leaf like a spider
wasp, like a wasp but also unlike it. It moved before the flash-flap went up
with a loud zweet. On another occasion, we saw it perched, again, on a
leaf just behind us, its head slightly tilted at us. By this time, my
imagination had kicked-in. I proposed to my teammates: this is not a creature,
it’s a spirit. A spirit of – laughed the company – what, exactly? I proposed it
is a spirit, maybe a forest spirit, a deity of this forest. Or perhaps the
spirit of a long-lost researcher, they pitched in.
|Ant-like but not an ant, a skittish creature of the wood-edge.
Stepping out of the
dark canopy of a rainforest is exhilarating, especially if the expanse is wide,
the skies clear, with very few to no leeches trying to creep upon you. Along
the edge of this rainforest, soon after meeting this forest spirit – as I
repeatedly started to call it so that the name stuck – the Forest Spirit – we
saw several unassuming ants walking to-and-fro on leaf surface of edge vegetations
and tea leaves. On closer inspection, it was an ant and it wasn’t an ant. Two
of the common creatures of this part of the world, both something but not the
other thing, kept me up. The Donigal coffee, locally grown and brewed, helped.
Between 2001-2015, the
taxonomic work picked pace, at 32.4 (±8.07) species described per year, it also
was an era of high variation (SD = ±31.27) for reasons I cannot put my finger
on. For instance, 2011 saw 122 species described while 2012 saw only 15. It may
possibly be arbitrary. This was the period when vertebrate biologists discovered
– or found – many of the frogs that weren’t documented for many, many decades,
and presented to the world in full-colour photographs. This was the period when
the type of the naturalist changed, from modern, it became the New Naturalist.
The 2001-2010 decade saw, as I experienced, a naturalist armed with newly
released – and access to affordable – field guides, on birds, butterflies,
snakes, wild flowers; new and affordable and better digital cameras, with some
of us still clinging to their notebooks. Internet was picking pace, someone,
somewhere, started a blog. Google Groups became the main go-to for many budding
New Naturalists. Academic labs went online, offering glimpses of their works on
biodiversity, natural history, and taxonomy. Just as taxonomy became more
competitive, naturalists became more mainstream.
|The Forest Spirit showing its halteres.
In the rainforest, the
drone was one of the most ubiquitous sounds. I cannot, for the sake of my graying head, remember the calls of the Asian Fairy Blue Bird, or distinguish
that of the Greater Flameback with the White-bellied Woodpecker, or tell the
metallic ball-drop of the common-than-crow White-bellied Tree Pie from the
mocking laughter of the Malabar Hornbill; I blame it on this sound. I often
walked – floated – in the forests, past stands of tea, past gurgling streams,
past Malabar Pit Vipers, and the Forest Spirit would be there, on a leaf,
watching and waiting. On one occasion, she gave us enough time to get a
picture. She sat farther and higher up than usual, but this photograph proved
that it wasn’t a wasp after all, it was a fly, an unusually large dipteran. It
moved as I inched closer. Back on the edge, the ant wasn’t an ant, it was a
moth that looked like an ant and moved about the leaf like one.
From around the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the
period between 2011 to present saw a revolution seeded in the end of the
previous decade: the New Naturalist went worldwide, more and better connected
than ever. What took the Traditional Naturalists months communicate seven
rivers away or seven oceans away, was now done at the tapping of a keypad. Many
of the fieldguides also went digital. The lines that separated a taxonomist
from a naturalist post-independence, thanks to initial conservative nature of
Indian academia and lack of access to publications, became blurred again.
Science and publications became easy to access and communicate. Soon, the whole
platform was made available at fingertips, on our phones. My teammates updated
their online platforms – a live catalogue of organisms – as we were photographing
them in the middle of a rainforest, and a beep signalled at a new record of a
mantis for the country, only the second record of a certain moth for the
country, and a family of spiders we’re still trying to identify. For all we
know, it is a rather uncommon Segestriid spider or a new record of the
Amaroubiidae member from the Western Ghats. This new era naturalist is the Neo-Naturalist.
It also marks the era where naturalists are both, academic and non-academic, with
the word ‘naturalist’ increasingly becoming more mainstream outside of academia.
Several training programmes were initiated, especially spearheaded by the
wildlife tourism industry and now more commonly for the general public
irrespective of age.
|Knowing that there is a large fly sitting right behind you and watching intently is an intimidating feeling.
That droning became music to my ears. It quite grew upon me. I said to my teammates, in yet-another dark corner of the rainforest, that I was not sure of the intentions of this… fly. It was always here, it did not feed on our sweat, it did not try to bite us, all it did was sit and observe, at times even circling around us extremely closely, head-to-toe, and then going back to staring. What if, when we got back, I found it sitting on my curtainless window, watching? What if, when I opened my bag, one flew out, drowning the room in its didgeridoo buzz?
|The ant-mimic moth, Xestocasis sp., that crudely resembles an ant but moves around a leaf exactly like one.
Below is the Golden Wood Ant, Polyrhachis illaudata for comparison - not the model of this moth.
The ant-mimic moth, on the other side of the forest, wasn’t a straightforward species either. From its morphology, it was a part of the microlepidopterans, a place in the classification system not many dare to venture. It belonged to the uncategorized superfamily of moths called Gelechioidea, in common-tongue, moths which ‘keep to the ground’ as this one did, with over a whopping 16,250 species meta-categorized in about 21 hyper-state families. This moth was difficult to place into any one family. A quick morpho-search revealed it as a certain Xestocasis sp. This little ant-mimic moth is placed in several families at once (hence hyper-state) owing to little information about its anatomy and natural history: in Heliodinidae, Cosmopterigidae, Oecophoridae, and the now-elevated family Stathmopodidae, all of them represented in India, all of them microleidopterans. In late 1800s, most these families did not exist. In India, a large portion were categorised into Tinaegeriidae, then clarified to subfamily under Depressariidae, and now obsolete. Brunetti described it as “Small day-flying moths, mostly with brilliant colours, the antennae thickly fringed with long scales along the whole or part of their length … legs often clothed with long scales.” Today, we know that most of these Gelechoids feed on decaying plant matter on the forest floor, while several still feed on foliage as leaf-miners. The ant-mimic moth that we recorded is quite possibly a first for India, but we’re only seeing half of its life, the other half, the larval life, needs to be studied to get the full picture.
The Neo-Naturalist is
the best equipped for this age. Beyond this, its all Artificial Intelligence.
Right now, it’s smart-phones. The online platforms such as iNaturalist did not
come from nothingness, many of its precursors came and went, many still, unlike
some social-media platforms that went down and gave monopoly to one corporation,
still exist at regional levels. Earliest versions of platforms such as
iNaturalist existed on photo-sharing platforms like Flickr, and were more
interactive on online groups which promoted knowledge, observations, and
photos. In the era of the Neo-Naturalist, I feel some of the sharing got
filtered out, and photos took centre-stage. It isn’t so much about natural
history observation today as it is about photo-documentation – that is a
|The Forest Spirit, up-close.
On Day Eleven, three days before my survey ended, the Forest Spirit sat right next to me as I photographed a spider in a sampling plot. We were well-accustomed to her company. So far no harm came to us, but I secretly stuck with our theories. When I was made aware of where she sat, I carefully turned, slowly inching closer with the camera to my eye. At about less than a foot from her when I photographed the wing-venations, things started forming shape in my head, and my theories – call them what you may – started transforming. There’s a saying in the country, if you know the name of the spirit that haunts you, it can do you no harm, or, you become its master. In other words, what you can measure you can manage. As a naturalist, I had not come into its home to manage it, but I wanted to know who she was. I postulated three possibilities, it was either awl-fly belonging to Xylophagidae, the wood-soldier fly belonging to Xylomyidae, or a soldier-fly belonging to Stratiomyidae. While I did hope it was one of the Xylo-meaning-wood flies of either of the former two families, the wing-venations and the typical rhomboidal discal cell pointed towards a Stratiomyid soldier fly, Brunetti described the family to “frequent grass and low herbage in marshy situations and, generally, speaking, are sluggish in habits, though some have a very rapid flight in hot sunshine” and the larvae as living “in earth, dung, semi-liquid or decaying matter, and many are aquatic”.
|There's a lot to see in a rainforest, here is a profile of the mid-elevation rainforest along a road-edge, clearings such as besides roads allows for sunlight to penetrate the edges and promotes a denser undergrowth.
With online platforms such as iNaturalist revolutionising how we ‘see’ nature, we’re also unseeing many aspects of nature. A lot goes into identifying a species. For many of the invertebrates, natural history observations, as much as possible, are important to be recorded and reported on a platform you feel comfortable with. iNaturalist, while it populates the virtual dashboard of a real place with what is found where, often misses out on the other side of being a naturalist. Populating a region through documentation is considered the first step of any biodiversity research, however, I argue that natural history observations are entwined in biodiversity cataloging. If there is a fly some naturalist is promoting as a Forest Spirit, that’s not enough information.
iNaturalist statistics stands for my argument for the region of India. What we don’t know is often not recorded or uploaded, leaving a large gap in mapping biodiversity and documenting natural history. Between 2009 and 2021, over 267,277 (as on October 23, 2021) observations of butterflies and moths (Order Lepidoptera) have been deposited, with about 5,111 species and counting. For the same period, about 19,840 observations of flies (Order Diptera) have been deposited, with about 516 species. In other words, for every 10 species of Lepidopterans, one fly species is uploaded on iNaturalist. Between both the groups, there are three Lepidoptera observers to one Diptera observer, same ratio of 3:1 for species identifiers. While this shows that we need more representation from other group of insects as well, it also means that we need more people on platforms such as iNaturalist to help Neo-Naturalists catalogue other forms of invertebrates, with the example here being of flies compared with moths.
|A dorsal profile of the Forest Spirit, Ptecticus sp., Sarginae, Stratiomyidae, showing wing venation.
Back in my room alongside the rainforest, after a two-day spell of rain, I saw the
shola-grasslands catch a glint of the morning sun. The Forest Spirit, a
soldier-fly in the family Stratiomyidae, turns out to be a rather common genus
found across the country, Ptecticus in the subfamily Sarginae, a subfamily
notable for its large eyes, wasp-like shape, and erratic to-and-fro, strong
flight when disturbed. Brunetti noted that not much is known about Indian
Sarginae members, except that the larvae occur in dung and garden mould. He
described 67 species under this family, and eight species of Ptecticus. A
revision in 2013 listed 83 species in this family and twelve species of
Ptecticus, and a study in 2016 listed 84 species in this family and thirteen
species of Ptecticus. Some members of this genus have been noted as
developing in a variety of decomposing plant material, one known to grow on
decomposing Pandanus fruits in Ivory Coast in West Africa, but most are likely
to be generalist detritivores.
|A delicate Sphegina hover fly, a very small flower-visiting fly of the rainforest understory,
here visiting the flower of Psychotria sp.
We did not see it feed
on flowers, although we noted a rather uncommon Sphegina sp. hover fly
feed on those of a common rainforest understory shrub, Psychotria. Nor
did it feed on our sweat. On the basis of the information on other Ptecticus
members, it appears that the Forest Spirit was really only interested in the
ground that we scraped away, just like the other Rhiniid visitors. While we
worked there, she would sit patiently, waiting, unlike the pesky Rhiniids who’d
use us as a perch. When we moved on, she came and sat much closer to the
ground. As I said, the rainforest floor was rich in humus – soft, fertile,
nutritious mulch of rotting plant matter. It was likely the best way for her to
gain access to this layer to lay eggs. Curiously, I found no Strariomyid
maggots (they’re fairly easy to identify) when I scrapped 94 times in the
rainforests – perhaps the wrong season. As for its identification, it could be
any of the thirteen described species, a close-kin of Ptecticus aurifer,
but it is also most likely to be an undescribed species. As for how common it
is, it is a rather common species locally, especially in rainforests, is rather
shy, and, personally, is the apotheosis of this central Western Ghat rainforest
insect diversity for its timid but curious appearance and behaviour.
|The rainforest floor, before and after the careful raking.
must realise the strengths and weaknesses of a digital database. The latter is
seldom discussed. As I have stated before, it helps populate a region’s
biodiversity, but it remains limited to it. As a naturalist, the observations –
of behaviour, activity, even a naturalists’ own personal observation that do
not have to be methodical but are observations nonetheless – such as that of M
Krishnan’s Grey Necks – are crucial to grow as a naturalist. Although online
platforms make a provision through comments, we don’t do it – a phone, smart or
not, is too cumbersome to type long notes from, a reason why a notebook is
still relevant today but is being written off by the Neo-Naturalist. Somewhere,
we are losing the traditional naturalist, which should be embodied by any kind
of naturalist today.
Seeing a moth on the
light is an individual, it is bereft of its natural beauty, of its
place, its niche, its preferences, in the wild. The ant-mimic moth did not
grace us at the light curtain – a reason why it has gone under the radar from
most moth-diversity studies across the country – we saw them only along the
edge of tea plantations and rainforests, but my quest to know its other
half-life remains unfulfilled. So does my quest to understand the Forest
Spirit. Both these represent the unknowns of the biodiversity of India –
knowing them is a feat, and platforms such as iNaturalist are progressing
towards filling the gap, species-by-species. As for where I stand as a
naturalist, I am in the cusp of being a Modern and a New Naturalist,
hesitatingly looking at identifying myself as the Neo-Naturalist. The Forest
Spirit, or Ptecticus sp., could well be my first foray to the Neo-Naturalist
side, but I reserve my roots in the traditional, short- or longform version of
speaking about species, places, landscapes, and our world.
|A forest stream such as this, the abode of the dancing frogs, are a game-changer in terms of invertebrate diversity.
This ecosystem-within-an-ecosystem boosts local-to-landscape radiation.
In the Indian context,
iNaturalist and other platforms are a beginning for invertebrate documentation, and a great one at that. Since
its inception in 2008, it represents almost all relatively-visible-to-the-naked-eye
groups of invertebrates, giving access to budding naturalists to identify and
relate with the flora and fauna seen around. It is also represented by the
lesser-known insects, particularly families of the ant-mimic moth and the
Forest Spirit, but more documentation and natural history observations are needed. Of the four families the ant-mimic
moth could belong to, the likeliest being Stathmopodidae, there are seven
species listed under 247 observations – that’s 0.09% of all Lepidoptera
observations for India, and about 0.1% of species, in spite of being among the
most diverse groups of moths (> 16,250 species worldwide; Indian numbers
unknown). Similarly, soldier fly observations are 7.2% of all Dipteran
observations, a family that is also taxonomically poorly studied (84 species as
against 357 Syrphid diversity of India), with the genus Ptecticus having 118
observations represented by three species. As we advance as naturalists, so
will these platforms. Going back to Hampson as he introduced moths of India to
the world, his words, “… better workers in this interesting branch of Natural
History cannot be expected to come forward until some handbook is provided for
them,” rings true to many naturalists who are still, after 129 years,
publishing fieldguides to help everyone learn more about the invertebrate
denizens of our planet. This was also one of the reasons why I published the
tiny singular book on insects and spiders of Kanha – not only to try to map how
many and identify who all as much as I could, but to introduce this other
biodiversity to the world.
Platforms such as
iNaturalist are also a growing sphere of identifiers, experts who spend
their time and resources to identify photographs online, most of them curators,
taxonomists, and experienced naturalists. An excellent way forward could be
merging with academic or non-academic institutions, or at least supplementing the
daily dose of iNaturalist with other sources. For instance, while writing this
piece, I came upon an academic group of Gelechioid afficionados, housed at the
Mississippi State University, which runs a yearly newsletter to engage with! The website, The New Diptera Site has long being my go-to space to read up and
know more about flies, as is antbase.org, a treasure-trove of all-things-ants; there
are those on beetles and some other
popular insect groups. Moving forward, as India becomes more comfortable with
allowing the public to gather, share, and use citizen-science data in the form
of birdcount.in, ifoundbutterflies.org and other similar portals, it is perhaps time for institutions to open
their collections to independent researchers, and to populate these missing
records onto an online portal.
|Somewhere, I believe the Forest Spirit, in its physical shell, sits
as a specimen collected by a naturalist.
Original artwork: xkcd.com
Only then would we
really be able to fix the Jenga of Natural History. Connecting the past
with the present is as important for a naturalist as it is for a
historian. In this era, this is the way to connect the Neo-Naturalist with the