Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Common Jezebel


Common Jezebel
(Delias eucharis)

  • Description: Upperside of male white or bluish white with prominent black veins and black outer discal band in both wings. Marginal black band with arrow of white sots in forewings and light pink spots in the hindwings. Female dull white with yellow and pink tinge. Veins and spots heavily marked in the forewings. Underside hindwingspale yellow ( rarely dark ) with black veins and a row of white ringed red or pink marginal spots, bordered black on both sides in both the sexes. Wingspan 66-83mm. Only species of Delias, widely distributed in our country with unmistakable bright colours on the underside of the wings unlike other butterflies to warn the predators. Weak flier fluttering about but on the wing throughout the year. 

  • Distribution: In most of its range, this species is common. Generally found all over India, except in the desert tracts, and up to an altitude of 7000 feet in the hills. The butterfly may be found wherever there are trees, even in towns and cities, flying high among the trees and visiting flowers.

  • Habits: It is commonly seen in gardens. The females can be seen flying amongst the trees in search of its foodplants, while the males are more frequently observed visiting flowers for nectar or mud-puddling. It rests with its wings closed exhibiting the brilliantly coloured underside. The Jezebel often flies high up in the canopy and usually comes lower down only to feed on nectar in flowers. Due to this habit apparently, it has evolved a dull upperside and a brilliant underside so that birds below it recognise it immediately while in flight and at rest.
  • Reproduction: The Common Jezebel, like the Pioneer, but quite unlike other Whites and Yellows, is a butterfly which lays eggs in batches, instead of laying them singly. Each batch consists of about ten to twenty eggs, although in rare cases up to a hundred eggs may be laid together. They are usually laid on the underside of leaves. the eggs are oval, shiny, and bright yellow. All the eggs from one batch hatch together. the new-born caterpillars devour the eggshells and then move on to eat fresh leaves. They live and feed together and always stay in a disciplined army fashion: all resting side by side with their heads in one direction, and whatever they do they do together.
  • Host Plants: The host plants are various species of small shrubs which are plant parasites growing on branches of trees such as Loranthus. Their ability to form dense aggregations as caterpillars and to feed on Loranthus has led to suggestions that they could be used for control of this parasite.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Common Rose

Common Rose
(Pachliopta Aristolochiae Fabricius)

  • Description:  
  • Male: The Upperside of male is velvety black. Fore wing with well-marked pale adnervular streaks on the discal area that do not reach the terminal margin, the latter broadly velvety black; the streaks beyond end of cell extended inwards into its apex.Hind wing with elongate white discal markings in interspaces 2-5 beyond the cell.In dry-weather specimens these markings are very short and do not nearly reach the bases of the interspaces; beyond these a curved series of subterminal lunular markings in interspaces 1 to 7 dull crimson irrorated with black scales, the spot in interspace 1 large, irregular, diffuse, margined interiorly with white.On the Underside of the males, the ground-colour and markings is similar, but the red subterminal spots on the hind wing much brighter;it is not irrorated with black scales, better defined, the anterior four subquadrate, the next two crescentic, sometimes quadrate also, the spot in interspace 1 triangular and pointed. Antennae, thorax and abdomen above up to the preanal segment black; the head, sides of prothorax above, and of the whole of the thorax and abdomen beneath vermilion-red; anal segment vermilion-red.
  • Female: Female is similar the males; they differs from the male only in the comparatively broader wings and this is most conspicuous in the fore wing. 
  • Distribution: Common Rose is distributed all over the Oriental Region and is very common throughout India. It is found mainly in open, cultivated areas, scrubs and deciduous forests. A common Visitor to garden flowers, it is also seen in most crowded cities. it is more frequent during very cold or very hot period of the year.
  • Habits: It is the commonest of the large tailed butterflies of India and one of the most interesting butterflies for the Indian amateur naturalist to observe. The red body, slow peculiar flight, bright colouration and pattern of the wings are meant to indicate to predators that this butterfly is inedible, being well protected by the poisons it has sequestered from its larval food plant. It also emits a nasty smelling substance when handled to further enhance its unappealing qualities. Hence it is rarely attacked by predators, a strategy so successful, that edible butterflies have evolved to mimic it, the classical example being that of the female morph of the Common Mormon that is Papilio polytes, female form stichius. The Common Rose is active much earlier in the mornings than most butterflies and remains so throughout the day until dusk. It flies just as readily in the shade as in the sun, and frequently visits flowers. In drier regions around noon, the butterfly rests in thickets to avoid the mid-day heat. Here, it will rest and ventures forth only in the late afternoon once again. In the evenings, it retires into wooded areas or thickets in search of dead twigs or small branches on which to roost. It prefers sites that are 10 to 15 feet above ground, below the canopy in trees with sufficient cover from the elements, where it frequently roosts in the company of others of its type, and, sometimes, in the company of the Crimson Rose.
  • Reproduction: The female has been observed inspecting the host plants and selecting healthy plants with verdant growth to ensure adequacy of food for its voracious caterpillars. It lays round and reddish eggs with fine black markings. The eggs are laid singly on top, the underside of leaves or even on shoots. The caterpillar is a beautiful velvety maroon colour and has a beautiful white band on a segment on its middle reminiscent of a belt or collar. It has numerous fleshy red-tipped white protuberances on the body. It is bulky and slow in its movements. It is a beautiful caterpillar. The Pupa is brownish with various shades of brown and pink markings. It is attached to its support by the tail and held at an angle by a body band. The support is usually a stick. The distinguishing feature of the Common Rose pupa is the presence of large semi-circular projections on the back of the abdomen, thorax and head.
Caterpillar of Common Rose

Pupa of Common Rose

  • Host Plants: The larvae feed on creepers and climbers of the genus Aristolochia, Family Aristolochiaceae and they sequester toxins such as aristolochic acid in their bodies. This makes the adults toxic to vertebrate predators such as birds and reptiles. However the Braconid wasps which parasitise the caterpillars have apparently co-evolved with the butterfly and are not affected by the toxins. Larval foodplants include :-
    • Aristolochia bracteolata ( Kitamari)
    • Aristolochia indica. [Isarmul {Hindi}, Sapsanda {Marathi}]

Thursday, March 5, 2009

White Throated Kingfisher

White Throated Kingfisher
(Halcyon smyrnensis)

  • Description: This is a large kingfisher, 28 cm in length. The adult has a bright blue back, wings and tail. Its head, shoulders, flanks and lower belly are chestnut, and the throat and breast are white. The large bill and legs are bright red. The flight of the White-throated Kingfisher is rapid and direct, the short rounded wings whirring. In flight, large white patches are visible on the blue and black wings. Sexes are similar, but juveniles are a duller version of the adult. There are four geographic races differing mainly in the plumage shades, but H. s. gularis of the Philippines has only the neck and throat white. Race fusca is found in Peninsular India and Sri Lanka and is slightly smaller, bluer and with a darker brown underside than the nominate race found in northwestern India. Race saturatior is found in the Andaman Islands and is larger with darker brown underparts. Race perpulchra (not always recognized) is found in northeastern India and is smaller than fusca with paler underparts. Albinism has been noted on occasion.
  • Local Names:  Hindi: Kilkila, Kourilla;Himachal Pradesh:Neela machhrala; Punjabi: Wadda machhera; Bengali: Sandabuk machhranga; Assamese: Masroka; Cachar: Dao natu gophu;Gujarati: Kalkaliyo, Safedchati kalkaliyo; Marathi: Khandya; Tamil: Vichuli; Telugu: Lakmuka, Buchegadu; Malayalam: Ponman; Kannada: Rajamatsi.
  • Nesting: The White-throated Kingfisher begins breeding at the onset of the Monsoons. In its courtship display it spreads out the wings with bill raised high to show the white patterns. Some perform a courtship flight, flying straight up then spiralling downwards. White-throated Kingfishers nest in steep earth banks besides roads and stream, and occasionally, termite mounds. They dig out a tunnel about 7 cm wide, 50 cm to nearly 1 m deep ending in a breeding chamber about 20 cm in diameter. During the construction period, the mated pair are very vocal and call and display to each other continuously. 4-7 white eggs are laid. Both parents raise the chicks.
White Throated Kingfisher with a Prey (Toad)
  • Habits & Habitat: White-throated Kingfisher is a common species of a variety of habitats, mostly open country with trees, wires or other perches. The range of the species is expanding. It perches conspicuously on wires or other exposed perches within its territory, and is a frequent sight in south Asia. This species mainly hunts large insects, earthworms, rodents, snakes, fish and frogs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
(Tyto alba)

  • General Information: These pale, nearly worldwide, birds are closely associated with man through their traditional use in the old world of barn lofts and church steeples as nesting sites. Although widely known beforehand, it was in 1769 when the Barn Owlwas first officially described by Giovanni Scopoli, an Italian naturalist. The species name "alba" also refers to the colour white. Other names for the Barn owl have included Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, Golden Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Scritch Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.
  • Description: The Upperparts are light grey with numerous fine dark lines and scattered pale spots on the feathers. There are buff markings on wings and on the back. The underparts are white with a few black spots, occasionally none. Feathering on the lower legs may be sparse. The heart-shaped facial disc is white with a brownish edge, with brown marks at the front of the eyes, which have a black iris. Its beak is off-white and the feet are yellowish-white to brownish. Males and females are similar in size and colour, females and juveniles are generally more densely spotted. Generally nocturnal, although it is not uncommon to see this species emerge at dusk or be active at dawn, occasionally being seen in flight during full daylight. Flight is noiseless, with wingbeats interrupted by gliding.
  • Nesting: Barn Owls will breed any time during the year, depending on food supply. In a good year, a pair may breed twice. Rodent plagues cause Barn Owl numbers to increase dramatically. During courting, males may circle near the nest tree, giving short screeches and chattering calls. The majority of Barn Owls nest in tree hollows up to 20 metres high. They will also nest in old buildings, caves and well shafts. 3 to 6 eggs are laid (occasionally up to 12) at 2 day intervals. The eggs are 38 to 46mm (1.5-1.8") long and 30 to 35mm (1.2-1.4") wide and will be incubated for 30 to 34 days. Chicks are covered in white down and brooded for about 2 weeks, and are fledged in 50 to 55 days. After this, they will remain in the vicinity for a week or so to learn hunting skills and then rapidly disperse from the nest area. Young birds are able to breed at about 10 months.
Barn Owl Chicks
  • Hunting & Food: Barn Owls specialise in hunting small ground mammals, and the vast majority of their food consists of small rodents.  Mice are an important food item, as well as pocket gophers, shrews and rats. Barn Owls breed rapidly in response to mouse plagues. Other prey may include baby rabbits, bats, frogs, lizards, birds and insects. Prey are usually located by quartering up and down likely looking land - particularly open grassland. They also use low perches such as fence posts to seek quarry.

  • Calls of Barn Owl: The Barn Owl calls infrequently, the usual call being a drawn-out rasping screech. The courtship call of male at nest is a shrill repetitive twittering. Adults returning to a nest may give a low, frog-like croak. When surprised in its roosting hollow or nest, it makes hissing and rasping noises and snapping sounds that are often called bill snapping, but possibly made by clicking the tongue.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Red Headed Vulture

Red-headed Vulture
(Sarcogyps Calvus)

  • Description: The Red-headed Vulture, also known as the Asian King Vulture, Indian Black Vulture or Pondicherry Vulture, is the species of Old world Vulture found in South Asia. Up to 85 cm. long and weighting 3.7 to 5.4 Kg, this gaudy-faced vulture was historically abundant with range over South-central and South-eastern Asia extending from Pakistan to Singapore. Today the range of the Red-headed Vulture is localised primarily to Nepal and Northern India where it is found in open country and in cultivated and semi-desert areas. 
  • Ecological note:  It frequents open country (often near human habitation), well-wooded hills and dry deciduous forest with rivers, usually below 2,500 m. Nesting has been recorded in tall trees. It occurs at lower density than Gyps vultures owing to its predominantly territorial behaviour, and movements are poorly known. Vultures play a key role in the wider landscape as providers of ecosystem services. They were previously heavily relied upon to help dispose of animal and human remains in India. Furthermore, since the collapse of the vulture population the number of feral dogs in India has doubled since the 1980s and rabies now poses an increased threat to human populations in the Indian Subcontinent. As a consequence, the majority of respondents during a socioeconomic study in Nepal, were strongly in favour of vulture conservation and were willing to contribute towards it.
  • Threats: The disappearance of vultures from Asia is linked to a suite of factors: notably the demise of wild ungulates, the intensification of agriculture, increased sophistication of waste disposal techniques, direct persecution and disease. However, rapid declines over the last eight years are believed to have been driven by the pharmaceutical NSAID diclofenac used to treat livestock, which has proven highly toxic to vultures, causing mortality from renal failure resulting from visceral gout
  • Conservational Measures: The Indian government has now passed a bill banning the manufacture of the veterinary drug diclofenac that has caused the rapid population decline across the Indian Subcontinent; their aim was to phase out its use by late 2005, although it was still in widespread use in 2007 and is likely to remain so for several years. Similar laws banning import and manufacture of diclofenac are now in place in Nepal and Pakistan. Efforts to replace diclofenac with a suitable alternative are ongoing; drug companies have now developed meloxicam, an alternative to diclofenac. Monitoring of vultures has been conducted in a number of protected areas in India. Monitoring of vulture populations, combined with supplementary feeding, is underway in the northern and eastern plains of Cambodia. Captive breeding efforts are not as advanced as they are for Critically Endangered Gyps vultures and these are urgently needed. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Saw Scaled Viper

Saw Scaled Viper
(Echis Carinatus)

  • Description: Saw scaled viper is a very venomous snake and is common throughout India. Body is short, Adults length measured between 300 - 500 mm (12 - 20 inc). Scales are strongly keeled and are rough in appearance. Head is broader then neck; scaled on upper surface of head are small and strongly keeled. Large eye has vertical pupil. Tail is very short and thin. Back has light, dark brown, brick-red, gray or sand-colored with zigzag patterns. Top of the head has usually distinct, arrow-head mark. Underside is white speckled with brown. Several different color forms exist. This snake is called Saw scaled Viper because it rubs sides of it's body together, producing a rasping sound. It is very ill-tempered snake and will attack any intruder. It's venom is highly hemotoxic and quite potent. Many deaths are attributed to this species.  Found in a variety of environments, it is common is rural settlements, cultivated fields, arid regions, barns and rock walls. It is also found in deserts. This snake is very well camouflaged and due to the size, it is barely noticed by anyone. 
Scalation of Saw-scaled viper

  • Reproduction: Male combat observed. Female bared 4-8 living young between April - August. Female may produce two clutches a year. In Maharashtra (ratnagiri Dist. ) over 2000 Saw-scaled vipers were recorded in one week (July). The same area was visited in December and not a single snake could be found. Hibernation or aestivation in laterite crevices may account for this dramatic disappearance. 
  •  Distribution: Saw-scaled vipers are found throughout India except West Bengal and the Northeast. Also found in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Found upto 1500mtr. (4920ft).
  • Look-alikes: Common Cat Snake, Sand Boas, Russell's Kukri Snake, Sind Awl-headed Snake.

  • Images of look-alike snakes:

Common Cat Snake

Russell's Kukri Snake

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Indian Rat Snake

Indian Rat Snake
(Ptyas Mucosa)

  • General Information: Snakes fascinate us more then any other creature on earth. Because people don't know much about then, snakes are misunderstood and feared. In India most of our snakes are absolutely harmless to humans while only four species are responsible for thousands of deaths each year.Indian snakes range in size from a few centimeters to almost ten meters in length. Snakes live in scorching deserts, humid forests, cool hill ranges, in lakes, streams, and even in the sea. The variety of colors and patterns rivals the butterflies while their grace and fluidity are unmatched in nature. Snake behaviour and adaptations are endlessly exciting but the first step is to be able to identify them. So let us get a bit close to them. Let us get a little friendly with such fascinating creature. 
Scalation of Indian Rat Snake
  • Description: Rat snakes are non venomous. They are large, fast moving snakes which grow to a length of 2 ½ meters or more. Color varies from pale yellow, olive, brown, gray or black. There body is lightly or strongly marked with black; Marking usually distinct on tail. Lip scales usually separated by vertical black lines. Underside often has prominent dark cross-bars. Scales smooth or keeled (upper rows). Head is broader then neck. Large eye has round pupil. Rat snakes are found wherever rats and frogs/toads are prevalent. So, of course, they are often found in rice fields and in human habitation. As hill forests are cleared and agriculture spreads to the slopes, rat snakes too are spreading "upwards". Recent records say that they are found 2,000 meters up in plains. Formerly they were rarely seen above 1,000 meters.The rat snake is active during the day, hunting for rodents, frogs, toads and birds along fields and in bushes. Large rat snakes can give a painful bite and are quick to defend themselves. 
  • Reproduction: The female lays about 8 to 16 eggs. At hatching young sizes between 320 - 470mm (13 - 19 inc.). Young ones start on hatching start their diet on frogs and toads. During a breeding season, a male rat snakes perform a combat dance. This is actually their way of protecting the area they live in and preventing other male snakes from entering their territory. This dance has nothing to do with mating as people claim.
  • Distribution: This snake inhabits a wide range of habitats - coastal, arid, wet, mountainous, open fields as well as forests. Found throughout South and Southeast Asia, from Sea level to 4000m (13,120ft).
  • Look - alikes: Indian Rat snake looks alikes are Cobras, Banded Racer, Indo - Chinese Rat Snake and King Cobra.
  • Images of Look - alike snakes:


Banded Racer

Monday, February 23, 2009

Plain Tiger

Plain Tiger
(Danaus chrysippus)
Plain tiger is one of the commonest butterflies you come across in the city. Beautiful butterfly with black
border and white spots, it's wingspan sizes between 70-80mm. This is a Tawny, medium-sized butterfly. 

  • Male Upperside: Reddish reddish brown with black borders in both wings and black apex in fore wing. Fore wing with variable number of white spots in the costal and apex. Hind wing with 4 small black spots around the cell in Male . The fourth spot in male is a cluster of scent-scales that attract females. 
  • Male Underside:  Dull orange. Fore wing dark brown in the upper half with white spots in the black area and hind wings with six black spots. 
  • Female Upperside and underside: The coloration and marking of forewing similar to male. Hind wing has 3black spots around the cell instead of 4 in male. Underside same as of Male.
  • Also known as the African Monarch, the African Queen, the Lesser Wanderer and the AK Butterfly, it is the commonest of all Indian butterflies and the strongest flier of the genus Danaus. Found throughout the country, including the deserts and in the hills up to 3000m. flies in an undulating fashion and generally remains on wing for considerably longer periods. The female of the danaid eggfly, Hypolimnas misippus; the Leopard Lacewing, Cethosia cyane and the Indian Fritillary, Argyreus hyperbius hybrida mimic this butterfly.
  • Distribution: Clearings and edges in open forests, scrubs and savannhas, neglected corners and gardens in human habitations and riversides are the best places to look for this butterfly. This butterfly though breeds throughout the year it is most commonly seen during the monsoons or just after it but persists even in summers. 
  • Habits: The plain Tiger is protected against attacks from avian and reptilian predators by virtue of the unpalatable alkaloids it ingests during it's larval stage. it's bright colors advertise it's unplaltability. It's flight is slow and laborious. This gives it's predators sufficient time to recognize it. It flies straight and close to the ground with few vertical deviations. When at rest, the wings are closed over the black. However, the newly - emerged specimen, still too wet and soft to fly, flaps them slowly to reveal the brighter colors on the upperside.  While basking, it rests close to the ground, on small bushes, etc. and spreads it's wings with it's back towards the sun, so that the wings are completely exposed to the sun's rays.
  • Reproduction: The male courts the female by hovering over it with light wing-beats. To lay eggs, the female perches at the edge of a leaf, curls it's abdomen to reach the lower surface and lays a single egg at a time. The female may lay well over half-a-dozen eggs on the same plan, especially on a large bush of Calotropis, but never more then one on a leaf. The egg is silvery-white and shiny. It is tall with an apical point and ribbed sides. After the caterpillar hatches, it's first meal is of the eggshell itself. The caterpillar is cylindrical and of almost uniform width from the head to the abdominal tip. it's most striking characteristics are a banded body and three pairs of long and black tentacles. Initially the caterpillar is yellowish with black bands on it, but later it turns a dark chocolate-brown or black with alternate, narrow whitish and yellowish bands and a series of dorsolateral, rather longish yellow spots.
  • Larval Host Plants: The caterpillars feed on "milkweed" plants. these, in our region, include a large bush - Calotropis ( Sanskrit - Arka, Marathi & Hindi - Arka), Asclepias Curassavica ( Sanskrit - Kakatundi)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Grass Jewel

 Grass Jewel
(Family Lycaenidae: Blues)

After introducing you all to two of very common birds found around human habitation now it's time to get familiar to the tiniest ( Wingspan - 15 - 22mm) of the butterflies - Grass Jewel

- Description

  • Male Upperside - Brown but varies coloration in dry areas and humid areas. the coloration in Dry areas is much paler as compared to that of humid areas. Forewing are uniform with a very ill - defined anticiliary dark line in some specimens. Hindwings have a subterminal series of round black spots crowned with pale Ochraceous ( Pale Yellow or Orange), the posterior four spots generally well defined and outwardly edged with white.

  • Male Underside - Pale silky brown. Forewing consists of following white markings: - a short line on the inner and outer sides of the discocellulars ; a transverse, slightly curved, discal series of small, more or less incomplete rings; a transverse postdiscal series of disconnected slender lunules; a subterminal series of similar but more regular lunules and a terminal broken line, followed by a dark unbroken anticiliary line; the groundcolour between the two short discocellar lines, that enclosed within each ring of the discal markings, and between the sub-terminal lunules and the terminal line slightly darker than on the rest of the wing. 

  • Female upperside and undersides : ground-colour and markings as in the male, but the latter larger and more clearly defined; on the hind wing the yellow crowning the black spots on the tornal area on the upperside and surrounding the same on the underside, wider and more prominent. Antennae, head, thorax and abdomen as in the male.

  • Habits - A unique habit which at once distinguishes this species from all other Blues, is the way in which it moves it's wings. As soon as it settles after a flight, it sways all it's four wings from side to side, and then slows down and finally sits still. it's flight is weak, fluttering and in short bouts; it remains within half a meter from the ground and settles often. The male occasionally basks with their wings half open. Other then small herbs and flowers the male also feeds on wet soil where they may assemble in a small group.

  • Reproduction - The female lays it's eggs singly among the bracts of flower-buds. It bends it's abdomen and reaches deep, into the base of the bract, to lay eggs. (Please refer the image given above). The egg is disc-shaped and has fine, smooth, microscopic reticulations on it, which forms irregular polygons. the color of egg is glassy green with a blue tinge. The caterpillar stays hidden among the bracts and buds ad feeds on them. The Caterpillar is green or brown with dorsal and subdorsal longitudinal lines on the body.  Pupation takes place close to where the caterpillar fed, as the dense bracts provide good shelter.

  • Larval Host Plants -  The host plants are varied and since this is a wide-ranging butterfly, there are likely to be many more as yet unreported species. The recorded host plants include: Hygrophila Auriculata ( Sanskrit - Kokilaksha, Hindi - Talimakhana), Lantana Camara ( Sanskrit - chaturangi, Marathi - Ghaneri, Hindi - Khaneri).