Tracing Monsoon: Part III: Order in Chaos
It rained for the entire day on August 28, and a little more on the next, and has been for the past three days. Mumbai region received most of its share of rainfall on August 19, a day when I went to one of the most treacherous pass in the Ghats to trek on one of the most treacherous forts I’ve been on this year.
And with that call the snake stirred in an instance, its slow, lazy movement transformed into a burst of energy driven from the muscles in its neck, and lunged towards the sound.
The frog quickly went silent and jumped to another plant, leaving the Vine Snake behind in the silence that extended for a long time. In this bush a snake lost its chance to secure a meal early in the night.
|Bagadwadi bathed in monsoon|
I find the term explosion of life apt for life in monsoon, but the trajectory of particles flowing out of an explosion is rampant and uncoordinated. It is chaotic. The explosion of life, however, is the most systematic process that ever took place after the Big Bang. What’s worth admiring about this explosion in monsoon is that it has a lot of room for uncertainty – at which we will take a look in Part V of Tracing the Monsoon.
The trajectory of life-forms is just as numerous, just as complex, but excellently coordinated and well timed. Monsoon happens to be the most ideal season to observe this explosion in detail. And it is only when you see the details that you’ll find the order in chaos.
Every organism has a role to play on this planet; whether it is a mosquito, most of which are pollinators of various plants, or the wolves that take down only as much as they need to survive. But it is not as easy as it looks. Life has had the time to form complex, divergent pathways for every organism to survive. Some of these pathways, unfortunately, may end abruptly for those who only took birth but became food for the survival of the other.
During the July of 2011, I was out exploring Yeoor Hills where I stumbled upon a Robberfly that had just metamorphosed. It was brilliantly white with striking red eyes. This teneral Robberfly staggered upon little boulders as its cuticle slowly hardened, darkened, and the hoemolymph pumped into its body and wings, growing in size and strength.
|The hunt: Phlegra stalking a teneral Robberfly|
|The hunt continues|
|The hunt ends.|
All of this took place within five minutes. The spider, unaware of my presence, retreated under a small plant as its venom dissolved the Robberfly from the inside.
It was Darwin’s survival of the fittest in action, at its rawest. Two great hunters of their respective niche: the Jumper of the undergrowth, and the Robberfly of the lower canopy, clashed in a common but an unlikely battle to survive. And being a human, I reconsidered the helplessness of the teneral Robberfly, not yet fully grown to really defend such an attack, and the Jumper’s obvious upper hand over the situation. Had it been that the Robberfly escaped, it would have fed on others, and the Jumper might have gone hungry. But in this situation, it was clear to me that life and its trajectory is complex. There exists no straight path to attain peace, or death. Nothing is fair, and life, as an entity – whether it is the Robberfly or the Jumper, will go on.
|Robberfly preying on a Weevil|
|Robberfly taking care of intraspecific competition (the predator is female and the prey male)|
It is mostly observed in gregariously carnivorous animals, and especially where resources are scarce. Intraspecific competition is commonly seen as stealing of prey item, but is less often violent.
During monsoon, it is commonly observed amongst insects because of the fact that monsoon results in an increase in prey item and therefore that of the predators – which may happen to be the same species. I observed it for the first time amongst Robberflies, but it is completely normal given the circumstances.
One of the most curious things about Western Ghats, which is observed in very few places around the world, is the presence of a colony of hunters we always considered solitary: the Social Spiders.
Amongst the higher animals – the vertebrates, the explosion of life of monsoon has also increased the competition for survival. There are birds chasing birds, mammals stalking mammals, and, in the undergrowth, a whole world waiting to be studied.
On a fine night at Matheran, when it had just stopped raining and we were in search of snakes, we found a youngling of a Vine Snake (Ahetulla nasuta) curiously looking upwards with its neck curved in the figure of ‘S’. Slowly it dolled, advanced, and stopped and listened.
|A young Vine Snake stalking a Bombay Bush Frog|
But not all is as competitive and as ruthless, mirthless, or straightforward as it seems. To secure food is key to survival, but so is to procreate.
Monsoon, as much as I portray it to be a fine season to hunt and kill, is rather renowned by the fact that it is the season of love.
And love is in the air.
The snails we saw were courting, and it would have taken all of the night to observe them. We decided to leave them under the cover of the darkness and proceeded to track other projectiles of the monsoon outburst.
A few weeks since then, we found another male belonging to another species in another order coaxing a female in its own peculiar style.
We were treading the Sindola Fort, a small, but precarious, mountain along Harishchanragad, a large fort up from Malsej Ghat. We started from a village Bagadwadi, and treaded steep cliffs and slippery rocks on the wettest day of this year.
Life here was: exploding in every nook and corner. A small flock of Baya Weaver, a passerine bird, nestled on a Bombax ceiba.
The males of this bird weave elaborate, inverted funnel shaped (or round-bottom flask, if you will) nests of grasses of just the right age, length, and strength.
The females come down from their excursion to check on the nests. They sit at the entrance of the nest, and dance, and check key weavings. All this while the male is chirping and flapping its wings, watching her from behind the nest. The other males are chirping vehemently, inviting the females to their nests.
|A Baya Weaver female (sitting at the entrance of the nest), checking out the|
construction as the male flaps and sings.
|The same female goes to inspect another under-construction nest|
And while we observed the animals, invertebrate and vertebrates alike, engaged in procreation, plants seemed to have taken a step further that simply startled me.
|Its a trap! Ceropegia vincaefolia|
Intraspecific competition now seems less scary than a flower imprisoning an animal.
|Sonerila scapigera on the rocks|
And all of this is happening at the same time at this moment as the rain is brandishing its presence along the steep slopes of Sahyadri. The multitude of life in monsoon may seem chaotic from far but is really well organized and orderly from up close. Its ways towards survival, love, and towards procreation are long, arduous, and deviant. They often incline towards being discordant, vindictive and power-wielding, but that is up to the beholder to perceive.
We’ve entered into the last month of this season. By the end of it all, monsoon would have brought naught but life, and given a meaning to all that exists in this side of the world we call the Western Ghats.