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).



Thursday, February 19, 2009

About Red Vented Bulbul

Red Vented bulbul
(Pycnonotus Cafer)

Bulbul... We all must have heard this bird species. One of the frequent visitor to our gardens. Bulbul is a species name and it has almost 15 - 20 sub - species. But the commonest of them all is a Red Vented bulbul. This bird is frequently seen around our gardens as well as scrub jungle. These birds are seen in large swarms on Peepul or Banyan trees, eating the fruits but also have a varied diet consisting of insects, vegetables and flower nectar.

  • Description The Red-vented Bulbul is easily identified by its short crest giving the head a squarish appearance. The body is dark brown with a scaly pattern while the head is darker or black. The rump is white while the vent is red. The black tail is tipped in white. Sexes are similar in plumage, but young birds are duller than adults. 

  • Nesting - Nest is built in the bush at the height of around 2-3 m.  Sometimes nest is made in lamp shades, lofts, wire bundles, electric housings and similar places. Nests are made from grass, twigs, rootlets, paper, plastic, cobwebs, foils etc. Male and female both equally share parental responsibilities.  Two or three eggs is a typical clutch. Nests are occasionally built inside houses or in a hole in a mud bank. Breeding season is from February to July. The eggs are pale-pinkish with spots of darker red more dense at the broad end. 

  • Ecological Note - Bulbuls are good Pollinators and also insect controllers.

  • Cultural Note - Bulbul is a persian name for Nightingale, which featured extensively in their poetry. It was given to the Red Vented Bulbul of Bengal and the actual bird was forgotten! It now featured extensively in our poetry.  In 19th Century India these birds were frequently kept as cage pets and for fighting especially in the Carnatic region. 

  • Related Species - Yellow Throated Bulbul ( Rare sighting or individual sightings recorded in South India). Red Whiskered bulbul ( Found in the Western coastal region of India and in North East India)


About House Sparrow...

House Sparrow
(Passer Domesticus)

Today we will get familiar with a very familiar bird - House Sparrow. 

 We all must have seen this cute little bird around our house and garden since childhood, but how much do we know about it???

We here in Maharashtra know this bird as "chimnee". This bold bird is closely linked to human being. One of the first  birds to visit a bird - feeder. Sparrows freely mix with Bulbuls, White - eyes, Munias etc. 

  • MaleWhite cheeks. Black throat and chest. Back of head chestnut, extending to eye. Gray cap. Bill black. Broad, white upper wingbar. Back feathers edged with chestnut. Underparts whitish gray. In winter, the black bib is hidden by pale tips to the breast feathers that eventually wear off and reveal the black. 

  • FemaleDingy brown all over. Unstriped gray brown chest and underparts. Large pale yellowish eyestripe. Black and straw-colored stripes on back. Bill yellowish. Eyes black. Crown plain gray brown.

  • Nesting - Nesting sites are Wall hole, under the roof and any place in the house where nesting material can be placed and eggs can be laid. They nest throughout the year and parental responsibilities are carried equally by both male and female. At a time about 3-5 eggs of greenish - white color with brown spots are laid.

  • Cultural Notes - Sparrows are extensively featured in nursery Rhymes. In Rigveda, a reference is made to a sparrow injured by a wolf, which was treated by Ashwinikumar twins, the physicians of God.

  • Status - Though commonly seen around human habitation number of this little bird is Declining currently.  Save this beautiful species from vanishing. 

  • House Sparrow Call - A Familiar chirping call when feeding or Roosting. Breeding male sings Tsi - tsi, Chip, Chip, Chew, Cheer when displaying with flapping wings.