Cliff hangers

Light faded as we completed the climb to Naneghat. The monsoon clouds had gathered again. The pass was too narrow for a motorable road. We parked, and I took some of the slippery steps down. There were intriguing caves ahead, but with The Family’s back strain, I wasn’t going to risk them. The pass had narrowed to about two meters across, the high cliffs above me almost seeming to meet. In this bad light I looked at the wet cliff walls and noticed a tapestry of orchids!

Orchids could be the most numerous family of plants on earth, both in population, and the number of species. In fact, the number of species is twice that of birds. So I find it difficult to identify them. I just figured that with three petals, one elongated into a leaf, and with roots which only tap into the cliff lightly, this couldn’t be anything but a member of the family Orchidaceae. It’ll be great if you can help with the ID.

The next thing that I saw on the cliff walls were snails: many of them. There are even more species of snails than there are orchids, perhaps 50% more in numbers. Of course, when there are so many species, it is hard to count precisely. In any case, I’m worse at identifying snails than orchids (that is not to overstate my ability with orchids). There was so much variety of plants and mosses on this cliff that I was not at all surprised by the number of snails. They were all the same species, so if you can help me identify one, you’ve given a name to all of them.

After all this, I was happy to see a small flower which I was able to identify with some help and effort: the common Begonia (Begonia crenata). These are common in this kind of sheltered mossy rocks with plenty of water. Under such conditions it is hard to get good photos. Although it is dark, a flash would create terrible reflections. I didn’t have a good reflector at hand (even my clothes were dark). All in all, I’m happy with the photos I got. The close up shows a female flower; the five petals are not the same size. In the other bunch (the one in which the mosquito obligingly sat to gave a scale) you can see a few of the strange two-petalled male flowers.

Beasts of Kaas

Since this post is about creatures fairly high up on the food chain of the Kaas plateau, I could start with the top predator I saw: the funnel-weaving spider (family Agelindae) you see in the featured photo. This one had laid down a huge sheet of a web covering several Topli Karvi bushes, and was waiting for food to fall out of the sky. When an insect lands on the web, it usually runs very fast to it and engulfs it in silk. Now, with rain drops falling intermittently on the web, I’m sure this guy had his work cut out, trying to distinguish rain from food. Other insectivores on the plateau are plants: sundews and bladderworts. I’ve written about them elsewhere.

Snail on the Kaas plateau

This snail is about the largest animal I took a photo of on the plateau. There are birds; the Crested Lark (Galerida crestata) had put in a hazy appearance in the morning mist. After it started raining we saw no birds. The rain does not stop a snail, as it munches the roots of Topli Karvi bushes. This was on its way from one bush to another, when I saw it. It didn’t seem to move as I took the photo, meaning it would take an age and half to get to the next busg. The western ghats harbour a large variety of land snails; I’m not sure which species this is. Any expert comments?

Startled grasshopper

One of the more common animals which inhabit these parts are grasshoppers. Judging by where it was sitting, this one probably feeds on the leaves of Topli Karvi. It has a silly startled look, as it turns its head slightly to take a look at the relatively large camera lens looking at it. I couldn’t get a shot of the three eyes it has on top of its head. Again, I have no idea what species this is, and have to depend on the kindness of an expert to provide the answer.

Plant borer seen in Kaas

A very strange animal was this leaf piercer. It stood on this leaf for a long while as people tried to photograph it. The early photos show a little spot of sap on its long snout. By the time the last photos had been taken the sap had disappeared: it had done its version of licking its chops. I have no further idea about the classification of this beautiful and strange beast.

Tiny moth seen in Kaas

Interestingly, none of these animals are pollinators. This tiny moth which flew on to a Topli Karvi leaf while I watched is also unlikely to be a pollinator. It is quite likely to be another herbivore. Interestingly, the leaf it is sitting on already has been attacked. Usually true bugs (order Hemipteran) attack plants in this way. Unfortunately I didn’t see any.

Caterpillar munching grass

I didn’t see a single butterfly in my few hours in the Kaas plateau. It was raining, and butterflies don’t like to get their wings wet. More likely, the butterflies had not pupated yet. I had evidence for this soon afterwards when we arrived at a grassy meadow full of caterpillars. I don’t know which butterfly they will metamorphose into, but the complete fearlessness with which they crawled across the ground, and the absence of predators, probably means that they are toxic.

I’m sure I missed a very large number of insects. It was raining hard, so most of them were probably hidden under leaves. Since it was muddy, I was not intent of kneeling or sitting to peer under the low leaves of the Karvi. So I’ll have to leave the job of talking about more beasts of the plateau to someone else.