With three days left of the year 402 ME, I have just enough time to squeeze in a few words about the real bad guys I saw this year. The very baddest of the year have to be these two goats. The one on the right leaped into the air as I watched and head-butted the other one with a loud thunk. That must have hurt! If I’d gone head to head with another person like this, I think my brains would have ended up scrambled. They continued butting heads until the goatherd came and broke it up.
Don’t ever believe that the small Indian Robin (Copsychus fulicatus) is a cuddly little thing. It is highly aggressive, not only picking lizards bigger than itself as a tasty snack for the chicks, but is also highly territorial. It’s sense of self is utterly contained within its body, and it is aggressive enough to attack its own reflection!
He who underestimates scorpions learns a painful lesson. So I was taught by one who found a scorpion curled up inside trekking shoes. They are aggressively territorial, but are also prey to several larger predators. The really badass thing about this photo is the UV fluorescence. I must get one of those black light lamps for the future.
These centipedes (Chilopoda) have lived in the Indian landmass from before the times when it broke off from Gondwanaland. These original inhabitants of India are decidedly bad for interlopers like H. sapiens, leaving painful welts on the skin if they crawl over you. If you see a swarm like this you better move quickly, these carnivores are faster than you may think.
How bad can these pretty mushrooms be, you ask? These looked similar to the poisonous and widespread Galerina marginata, and I would not take chances with it. Those cause, at the very least, permanent damage to the liver but also result in death in a very significant fraction of cases. Visual similarity is not a great guide in choosing mushrooms, but I would not risk picking them. Foraging for mushrooms is not common in India, and there is little know-how. What you see here is a possible bad guy, but the real baddie is the camera with which took the photo. It’s a small, light thing that fits in my pocket and takes sharp and bright macros. I’m so happy that I got it this year.
Doesn’t everyone need exactly what they don’t have? During normal times I would be so wrapped up in busy-work all day that I had no time to think outside the box. In a life crammed with not-so-necessary meetings, unending traffic, pointless face-to-faces, a holiday was a time to unwind. You wanted the most picturesque. Now, in a time of travel restrictions, any get away is good enough. We are lucky to have spectacular destinations a short drive away. These are destinations that we neglected in the past. Now the idea of wading through seasonal streams in beds of volcanic basalt is wonderful. Everything outside your eyeballs is a source of inspiration. As your body exerts itself, your mind becomes alert. You see new things.
We came to a point where the stream ran below a low bridge. We were forced to cross the road. We weren’t the only ones. A land crab scuttled across the blacktop. I’d never seen a land crab walk before, and I’d expected the same ten-footed sideways gait as sea crabs. This one walked sideways on two feet! Bipedal land crabs should be easy to identify. Unfortunately I have no field manual. So I’ll leave it as belonging to the family Gecarcinidae and move on. I have to move faster than The Family when I’m taking photos, because she gets a little testy sometimes about my frequent photo stops.
Clambering over stones at the edge of the road I saw a mass of pulsating red. A closer look showed me the original inhabitants of India. These were centipedes (class Chilopoda). They have one pair of legs in each segment of the body. This distinguishes them from millipedes, which have two pairs of legs per segment. It seems that their ancestors lived in the Indian landmass 80 to 100 million years ago. The oldest signs of humans here are no older than 1.5 million years ago. I gave these unfriendly ancient natives of India a wide berth, and moved on.
The flooding water had moved loose stones on to the road. These scattered stones now stood in the way of the water still flowing over the road. I looked at the criss-cross of braided flow that resulted. Quite an interesting pattern. Worth a shot, isn’t it?
As we climbed proceeded along the stream on the other side of the road, more inspiration waited to strike. My strides disturbed a leap of grasshoppers (infraorder Acrididae). They jumped from the low grass on to stones. Most of them jumped away immediately into grass again. A few stragglers gave me an opportunity to take photos. Stubby little bodies, light green in colour. Huge hind legs, which could unfold at the knee to allow them to jump many times their body lengths. I saw this species again a couple of times. I should spend some time trying to identify them.
Just ahead, a small caterpillar on a rock in the middle of the stream posed a mystery. What is a caterpillar doing on a bare rock in the middle of flowing water? A mystery worthy of Hercule Poirot, I believe. There were rice fields ahead. This stream led there. Perhaps a clue to the origin of the caterpillar? My little grey cells tickled. I walked on.
Saturday night I fell asleep to the sound of thunder and very hard rain. We’d planned a simple trek, just the two of us, to a hill fort outside Mumbai on Sunday morning. The rattling of windows in a proper monsoon storm woke me before the alarm. I looked out of the window and decided to cancel our plans. Even if the rain stopped, as it briefly did soon after sunrise, the ground would have turned to mush, and the mountainside would be slick with water. Not the easiest conditions for a walk.
After a cup of tea, The Family decided to go for a walk around the complex. It has been an odd monsoon. Very high winds, many dry spells, but normal rainfall on the average. The result is that several trees have fallen, and lots of branches and twigs have been shaken off others. These have been piled up next to paths, waiting for final disposal at the end of the monsoon. Today the lawns and playgrounds between buildings were flooded.
On a tree quite a way above my head, I saw one of the exotic giant snails which usually hide below shrubs and fallen leaves. This climate refugee must have started its journey early, but it was far from the only one. The half hour walk yielded so many creatures that The Family threatened to leave me on my own if I stopped again to take a photo of nameless creatures. I must have really tried her patience, because she was impermeable to my argument that each climate refugee has a story worth listening to.
O bruit doux de la pluie Par terre et sur les toits! Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie, O le chant de la pluie !
Il pleure sans raison Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure. Quoi ! nulle trahison ? Ce deuil est sans raison.
Paul Verlaine (Il pleure dan mon coeur)
Oh sweet sound of rain Ground and on rooftops! For a heart that is bored, O the song of the rain!
He cries for no reason In this sickening heart. What! no treason ? This grief is without reason.
Paul Verlaine (It rains in my heart)
Here is a small selection of creatures which were trying to get away from their flooded homes. The colourful millipede is extremely common along the west coast of India, and perhaps even further afield (It is Anoplodesmus saussurii. Thanks for the ID, NN; it is no longer nameless). Unfortunately there is no go-to field guide which would let me identify it. It is a creature that lurks in leaf litter, and quite innocuous. The small brown snail was new to me. It had crawled out of the pool below a tree on to a giant bracket fungus growing on the trunk. I don’t know how many kinds of slugs you find around Mumbai, but I’m sure I’ve seen this species before.
Back home after the walk, I checked my phone for messages. There was a forwarded message from the Municipal corporation saying that the main water purification plant for the city had been damaged. Flood waters had breached the pipes, and citizens were advised to boil water for drinking. Are these episodic extreme rain events due to climate change? If yes, then are we beginning to see the conditions that will eventually force us to join the ranks of climate displacees?