The Beetle bug…

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one, and that’s Little Anne
For she has crept under the warming pan.

I remember this nursery rhyme from my childhood…. but it was not till recently that I actually took notice of them. The ‘Ladybird’ is usually referred to as ‘Beetle‘ by us.. which also brings to mind, either the 60’s car Beetle Volkswagen.. or as children the famous series of ‘Ladybird’ books.. and as a teen the famous “Beatles‘, on whose music we all were humming along… It was only after I shifted into the mountains that I started noticing this little ‘bug’… and then, I suddenly realised that there were more varieties than I had thought till now…

The usual image being that of the red ladybird painted with a few black dots…. seven to be precise.. three on each wing and one central spot… called ‘Coccinella septempuctata’, or the ‘seven spotted’ beetle

Coccinella septempunctata

While ‘Coccinella septempunctata’ may have the distinction of being most common and portrayed Ladybird…. but much to my astonishment another species actually took the distinction of being the most common one…. but it comes in so many colours and designs that one would not associate it as being the same species….  As explained by Dr. Janakiraman Poorani, Harmonia eucharis (Mulsant) – is a highly polymorphic species and it is sometimes difficult to believe such different patterns belong to one species”. And this can indeed be witnessed with the record of Kalatope Sanctuary …..

Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis
Harmonia eucharis

One other species which is very widely found at the altitude of 2000 mts is Epilachna sp…. Apart from one positive id made by Dr. Pooani, I am quite confused about the others… and maybe they too are merely colour and spot variations of the same… unfortunately cannot be confirmed without dissection and is something beyond my capabilities….

Epilachna sp
Epilachna sp
Epilachna ocellata

This year, due to some change in weather conditions (or some other natural phenomenon) I chanced to find a few unusual new varieties which I had not noticed in the Kalatope Wildlife Sanctuary, like

Cheilomenes sexmaculata
Adalia tetraspilota
Illeis c.f. confusa
Halyzia sanscrita
Harmonia dimidiata

I am amazed continually by the varied species and the beauty of nature that I have had a chance to observe in the Kalatope Wildlife Sanctuary. And I do hope that those who have visited these pages of the records of this sanctuary and have visited there or have the chance to live there get to notice these beauties and appreciate them as I have been able to…..

SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT to Dr. Janakiraman Poorani from Project Directorate of Biological Control, Banguluru for her guidance and help in identifying all these Beetles. Her website ‘Coccinellidae of the Indian subcontinent’ is perhaps the only useful Ladybird identification site I have found till now for Indian species of Ladybirds.
 
Ladybird links
http://www.ladybuglady.com/
http://www.scribd.com/doc/37478206/Coccinellidae
http://www.nbaii.res.in/Featured%20insects/Harmonia_eucharis.htm
http://www.dpughphoto.com/beetles.htm
http://www.ento.csiro.au/biology/ladybirds/links.htm
 

Kalatope Sanctuary’s bio-diversity

This blog has primarily been created for showcasing the bio-diversity of the Kalatope Wildlife sanctuary. For those who are not aware of the whereabouts of this nondescript little forested belt.. it is near the touristic town of Dalhousie, Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh in India Continue reading

A wild tale (tail)….

Wishes do come true sometimes….!! Don’t they..??

Recently, I was gifted a new camera… like a dream come true… Good zoom capabilities.. nothing very fancy but at the same time just about right for my amateurish capabilities…

Early next morning, I woke up with a hope of getting some good wildlife photographs. Creeping out of the house silently, I went out to try my luck… suddenly I heard the clicking sound of a ‘Grey Goral‘ a wild goat-antelope (Naemorhedus goral)…..

Usually the Goral (which has very sharp hearing) would be wary and bound off at the slightest sound. Even the sound of a camera 200 metres away is enough to warn it. And as luck would have it .. I saw it as soon as I stepped out of my house… but true to it’s capabilities, it heard my camera’s sound and with a snort it bounded off down the steep slope below our house… with a curse I went around trying to locate it.. but, it was of no use…

I came back dejected and was about to go in the house when I spotted another one bounding down the slope.. quick as a flash I whipped up the camera and took a photo.. my hands were still not very steady with the camera (it is rather heavy for a point-and-shoot) but with the good zooming capabilities I could get a clear shot even at that distance…. I was PLEASED… !! Till now I had never managed to get a good photo of a Goral…

By this time it had bounded down the slope… I sneaked ahead hoping to catch another sight of it when I heard a rustle below me in the bushes… and I saw it there hiding behind the barberry bushes… it was a baby Goral…

Seeing me it ran off towards the other end of the field and I thought that I had lost it… for Gorals are very fast and can jump off a steep slope without a thought and disappear really fast… but then it stopped and turned back as if in answer to my prayers…. for the next ten minutes I stood there mesmerised watching it’s antics where it stomped it’s feet as if to warn me to stay away and tried to appear menacing with its clicking sound (which actually sound like hiccups)… finally we parted ways.. it going to it’s wild domain and me back to my lair…

Thankfully I did manage to remember to take a few photographs.. and as I returned back home.. I did remember that sometimes wishes are answered….

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Out for a walk….

I am not an adventurer or a traveller going to places, where exotic species can be observed.. but every weekend we have made it a habit to go out for a walk into the forest… It does not matter what path we take, for around us is the not so well known ‘Kalatope-Khajjiar Wildlife sanctuary’ and its importance can be gauged by the very fact that the total area of this sanctuary is going to be decreased from 69.7 sq kms to just 11.9 sq kms… The Kalatope sanctuary is primarily a coniferous forest and has a typical vegetation, which is unlike the mixed forests of the same altitude. And this too is fast depleting with the developmental fallouts of road-making, tourism and construction…

But even in this fast diminishing forest there is no lack of variety…. one just needs to be  appreciative, to realise the beauty of nature…. A good example was our routine weekly foray….

A ladybirds conference happening on a twig.. the difference in the number of spots on a ladybird usually signifies a different species (but not the only identification criterion), and it seems, interesting.. As we walked further, we suddenly spied a good sized ‘Morel‘ mushroom, looking carefully I saw that it was infested with tiny worms.. so wisely we left it to spread it’s spores into the soil for the next harvest (which can take up to five years)… As we move ahead, a white flower stood erect in our path, it  seemed unknown (well new for me at least)… quickly whipping out the ol’ camera I snap off a few shots of this little herb.. about 3 inches in height.. looks very similar to some of the other wild flowers to be found this time of the year… I’ll leave the identification for later.. A fungi growing on a piece of dead wood… looks like a jelly fungi, hmmmm… (will identify it back at home).. and the then on another dead tree nearby there is a slime mold.. growing like  fuzzy candy on a piece of stick.. (of course in a miniature form).. this is called ‘Stemonitis sp.’ difficult to identify properly without a microscope (I satisfy myself with the genus)… AHA.. I sight the white flowers of the ‘wild strawberries’, mmmm I could almost taste the season on my lips as I spy the ‘Wild raspberry’ flowers also growing on a shrub nearby…. And then as we move on… something under the dark underside of a fallen tree catches my eye… (by now I am quite good as spotting something unusual on the wood).. which is usually a bug or a fungi.. This one seems to be a ‘Slime mold‘ again.. could be belonging to the same species as I found earlier.. the ‘Stemonitis’ or there was another one ‘Arcyria’.. I feel quite happy at even having remembered this much.. (going by the fact that I almost failed in my high school science exams)…. Walking along the forest tracks, on a mild sunny day, after a few days of rain seems blissful. It is the time when one finds everything from birds, bees to flowers and mushrooms happily blooming and buzzing… And talking of mushrooms, we find one next to the path… a medium sized, brown colour, I take note of it’s surrounding and keep it in my sample box. Later at home I’d keep the cap on a piece of paper, where it would leave it’s spore prints which help in determining it’s species, next to it we find another mushroom growing on a rotten piece of wood… This has to be a ‘Polypore’, since it has pores on it’s underside. Great…!!! As we go further, I felt like chirping with the birds, but before I could let my euphoric yodelling echo in the mountains….. we find another mushroom…. and this one looks simply too good…. shaped like a cup, it is aptly called as the ‘Devil’s urn’…. It has been a fruitful day.. and not finished as yet… The paths are lined with the ‘Gerbera Daisy’ a flower from the ‘Aster’ family, and they look so beautiful…!! Around in the forest, I also sighted the ‘May Apple’ flowering, which I think is called so, be cause around the month of May it will bear large red fruits, and thus the name… The forests are full of wondrous things.. and once my eyes opened to these wonders, it became like a playground…. Now we sight a big silverish growth on a dead Cedar tree… a close examination and a conference before we decided that it was not a nest but a fungi of some kind…. and of course later we found it was a species of ‘slime molds’…. And then we decide to take a rest on the grassy patch in front of us… but here too, a butterfly (an ‘Indian Red Admiral’), decides to come and check if we are worthy place to sit and sun itself.. and sits on my knee contentedly while I click away… and then my attention wonders away to a small lump of white which seems to be moving, examining it closely, we found a small bug carrying it’s food/house (don’t know) on it’s back…. will wonders never cease, I think as we move back towards our home… but even in this last leg of our walk we come across a mushroom colony on a decaying trunk… doing their task of re-cycling the waste in nature.. and for the last time that day I again sit down next to the trunk, photographing what I know to be a species of the Coprinoid mushrooms…

Back home after a whole day in the forest, tired but happy, I set aside the material for research and identification… the walk providing not only breath of fresh air and exercise.. but also the opportunity to study and learn about these life forms co-existing with us on this earth. I know that after this where ever I might live.. I’ll always be aware and looking out for the beauty of nature… be it in desert, mountains, seas… where ever…..

Lichens.. and Fungi.. March

The world of Lichens and fungi is quite fascinating… especially since I know that the species found in these particular parts of Himalayas have not really been recorded…. Makes me feel like an ‘Explorer’, discovering new things… Of course till now I cannot say that I have really discovered anything new since most of what I have found has been recorded somewhere or the other in the world…. But in the field of Fungi especially, the Mycologists are reorganising the taxonomical structure, since the introduction of genome mapping they had to re-structure the whole thing.. and what were till now a part of one family, find themselves assigned to another family together…

Discina, polypores, Phycomyces, Metatrichia, Sarcoscypha, Rhizopogon, Hypoxylon, Lycogala, Myxomycota, Schizophyllum commune, Astraeus, Panellus, Ramalina, Agrocybe, Xylaria, Tramates, Auricularia, Lichens and fungi… will remain just tongue twisters and mysteries till seen in reality for the beauty they possess… (although some of it might require a microscope)… And someday, I may be able to lay my hands on a microscope and be able to precisely list what are the species found here…. Who knows what all we might……

Colours of March….

It has been quite a while since I managed to get in an update on my blog… Firstly, the spring is here and every spare moment is spent in the forests.. secondly as a layman to identify wild flowers is not an easy thing, since I do not know anything about the families of plants and their characteristics and there are no specific field guides available for the areas of Dalhousie or Chamba region. On the whole it is a great learning experience and did make me appreciate the nature around me much more. The medicinal uses of these plants have been given separately on the page of ‘Wildflowers in March‘.

Acknowledgement:

I have done a lot of searching on the internet and of course a lot of help through the members of the Google group ‘Efloraofindia’, especially mentionable are Dr. Gurcharan Singh, Shri Tanay Bose, Shri Pankaj Kumar, Amit Chauhan and the other members of the forum.

The ‘Jungle’ tales….

Every walk in the forest is a new experience.. each time a different tale to see. Especially, when one starts to understand the language of nature and the life that inhabits the forests. Animals, do not come up to us and  introduce themselves… they leave their signature all around and it is up to us to read the signs… I marvel at the old timers who could tell by the rustling of leaves, or by the way the ground was disturbed, if there was an animal around… for me most of the time it is wind moving the leaves… but I am learning…. ( I’ve put records of animal tracks on the page ‘Animal tracks…’ since  did not find much information on the Internet about things like Ghoral tracks, martens or droppings of animals…)

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One can see easily, when the animal had passed, by the freshness of the tracks.. and poking the droppings .. (yuk… yuk…) you don’t have to poke the scat with hands..!!. But reading all these signs makes a forest walk really interesting… for most part, animals would try to avoid human contact…. thankfully.. but reading the signs also make you aware of the nearness or how recently had any particular animal had been there… and avoid them…

Usually, I’ve noticed that the animals mark out their areas and one would notice their droppings or prints in a particular place signifying their habits, making it easier to avoid them… on the other hand making it easier to hunt them too…..

This along with the beautiful wild flowers, butterflies, bugs, beetles, trees, cool breeze or the misty mountains, etc… make it worthwhile being in the mountains anywhere in the world. But when I see all the tourists (mostly my own countrymen) coming to Dalhousie (Chamba district, Himachal Pradesh, India) and for that matter anywhere in the Himalayas, and sighing painfully and complaining… what is there to see here… so borrrrring…. no excitement…!! I feel like sending them instantly down the hill… and wondering why they came here at all…

Unfortunately we have no Nature education center’s running next to each wildlife area.. if that had been the case we could have more informed and environmentally sensitized people…  But, a trend of getting tourist groups as eco-trail tourism has been catching on … just hope these people will keep to the peripheral forest areas and not litter them, or, spread noise pollution and scare away the animals.

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