Life in an overgrown garden

When you walk around a ruined medieval citadel you are likely to come across much more than humans. In the sporadically maintained garden of Mandu we came across many of the wonderful creatures we share the earth with. I wrote about some of the birds earlier, but I’d missed one. A peacock displayed its wonderful feathers to a peahen. The peahen looked up once and then sauntered away. I and The Family were the only others in the scene, and we paid him more attention than the object of his love. C’est la vie.

Where there are plants and birds, there will also be the creatures which link these into a web of ecology: the insects. The most noticeable were the butterflies: the common emigrant, the common crow, the common tiger and the common lime (in the photos above). There were many moths too, but I’ve said before how bad I’m at identifying moths. I won’t even try now.

The little pools of water had some water lilies. I stood and admired a small pool with these pink lilies. I saw some motion there, and looked closer to find a bee exploring the flower. What an industrious fellow, I thought to myself.

Another pool had lotus. No bees here. I took some photos and was about to walk away, when I noticed this jumping spider in one of the blooms. These predators often hide inside flowers, waiting for an unwary insect to come in search of dinner, only to become someone else’s dinner instead.

I’m always happy to find creatures like this grasshopper. I don’t see them very often, but there must be many of them around. I guess I’ll just have to make a trip with an entomologist to figure out what tricks I’m missing. I suspect the main trick is to look closely. There’s life everywhere you look, unless people have been spraying insecticide.

Utterly common butterflies

When you spend a weekend walking through ruins overgrown with wild flowers and creepers, you are bound to come across a few of the commonest of butterflies. I saw Pioneers (Belenois aurota) in large numbers. The Indian cabbage white is often also found in similar places, so I needed to take a closer look at the brown markings on the wings to make sure which one I’m looking at. The pattern that you see in the featured photo marks this out very clearly as a Pioneer. The cabbage brown would have smudges of brown at the edges of the wings, without the enclosed white dots. The Pioneer is found in a wide geographical arc from South Africa to India, including Madagascar and Sri Lanka.

I passed through a garden where a sunny patch had attracted a large number of the Common Emigrant (Catopsilia pyranthe). Their colours are extremely variable, ranging from chalky white to a pale green; nor do they have any clear markings for identification. This bunch was pale green to my eyes, but the camera seems to have caught a different colour. A butterfly’s colour has more to do with the diffraction of light rather than pigments. The difference between the photo and what my eyes saw is a wonderful reminder of this fact.

Perhaps the commonest of the butterflies that I took a photo of is the common grass yellow (Eurema hecabe). I’ve seen these small and bright yellow butterflies flying between cars on roads when verges or dividers have grass. Sometimes they appear as unbilled extras in movie sequences shot in grassy meadows. The underside of the wing has the more muted colour. Like the Pioneer there are distinct wet and dry season forms with different colours and p[atterns. Since a butterfly lives for less than a month, the seasonal changes are due to environmental factors changing during the development of the butterfly. These are such wonderful systems in which to study the question of nature versus nurture!

Butterflies of the Andamans

It rained in the mornings when we went out to the woodlands of South Andaman. As a result, butterflies were hard to spot. I would occasionally see a Psyche fluttering in its usual lost Luna-Lovegood-manner in low grasses around roads. Now and then some grass yellows would flutter in and out of sight. It was only on Mount Harriet on Christmas day that the weather was good enough to actually spot butterflies. I saw the Common Emigrant in the featured photo up there. Nearby there were also a Mottled Emigrant.

I briefly saw a butterfly which looked like a Mormon. It could have been either the female of the Andaman Mormon or the Andaman Clubtail. The sighting was too brief for me to be certain of its identification.

At the entrance to the Mount Harriet National Park there is a little office and garden which belongs to the forest department. The garden was full of Great Orange Tips. One day I hope to have a good photo of this beautiful animal.

bushbrown Identification of the little brown butterflies that flit among low bushes defeats me. I think the one whose photo you see here is a bushbrown. I’m reluctant to go further along the branching pathway of deductions which depend on the number of rings on the wings, their sizes and distribution between forward and hind wings. I leave it to a careful naturalist to identify this specimen which I saw on Baratang island.

A brown crow butterfly on Mount Harriet, Port Blair

The commonest of larger butterflies I saw was the Andaman Crow, whose photo you can see above. I saw this species in various places in South Andaman, Baratang Island and Neil Island. The photo here was taken on Mount Harriet in South Andaman. I also saw them flitting through mangrove forests in various places. I hope someone writes a little more about its natural history. I had fleeting glimpses of a few more Danaids: the eggfly and a brief view of something like a glassy tiger as it disappeared behind a tree. Could it have been an Andaman tree nymph? The two look similar.

Usually Lantana bushes are magnets for butterflies. I often stand next to a sunny bush and wait for butterflies to come by. In the Andamans this did not work. Maybe there are few of the species which feed on Lantana. The zoological survey offices in Port Blair reportedly have a specimen collection, but I was unable to visit because they were closed during the period I was there. A paper from twenty years ago talks of habitat destruction and lack of surveys on some islands. I hear the same today. Amateur naturalists visiting the islands could turn out to be helpful in this respect.

I saw a pierrot of some kind on Baratang island, and also possibly a baron. I guess I will have to go back to Andaman another time to really follow up on butterflies.