Plants are often bunched up as green leafy ‘thingies’ and not really considered as smart or formidable as animals. By humans, that is. But once you start looking around, one can realize why the word ‘jungle’ is so apt for the plant kingdom! There are all sorts of defense, offense being mounted in that one quest for survival – thrive, propagate and reproduce. One such observation was of this hairy shrubby plant with huge leaves! Given the hairy nature, I suspected it may not be browsed upon easily, but come scarcity, and the local domestic cows and goats did not let this plant continue with its photosynthetic process, with much success! 🙂 As I was mulling whether to give it a ring guard, I found it resilient enough to grow back leaves and so waited to see what unfolds. Soon enough, beautiful pink tubular flowers appeared and the plant was on its way to the next stage of its life.
So far the plant looked innocuous enough but strong in its ability to grow back. And then the young fruits appeared. Sheathed in green they were also furry and spongy. Until it started to dry and split open the sheath to reveal the ripe fruit. The various common names given to this plant, became sorta obvious now! Devil’s claw, cat’s claw, tiger’s claw! 🙂 To say that the end of the fruit curved into a sharp spine is an understatement. It was as sharp as it gets, in a plant, without metal! This really got me hooked (get the pun, eh? :)) and I looked for more information about this plant. Known as Martynia annua this is the only species (monotypic genus) of the Martyniaceae family and apparently native to Mexico and central America, but introduced and naturalised in other tropics such as India. The spines help the fruit hitch a ride with mammals that help disperse them. And trust me, one would not want to mess with the fruits and so the defense to stay safe works out, admirably! Interestingly enough, it finds place in Ayurveda and Siddha medicine, despite its non-native status!
And so it was a lesson in plant smartness for me! Watch this space for more jungle lore – stories of the tropical flora, in the tropics and how they do justice to the ‘jungle’ they are a part of! What is your ‘jungle’ story? 🙂
When you are born with an insatiable wonderment about nature and carry it into your adulthood, you tend to observe and pick up tiny things around you. On a morning walking your cat, preparing a vegetable bed patch, or whilst catching the water for the day! Only flip side? sometimes you are caught without a camera or phone to capture the moment! at other times, you have to make a mental note and come back after chores; or if your specimen is off in a hurry, you pause your works quickly and go and grab your phone or camera (depending on what is alive at that point! most often one is dead on the battery or space! 😉 ) so that you can get photos! The observation has nothing much to do with it though! And one can still always always enjoy the company of little things – camera or no camera!
And that was how this guy got my attention! The mornings temperatures here rise to a crescendo very quickly and so everyone has to follow the early bird, to survive! Here I was, up early and digging up an earth patch to prepare it for veggies, when I saw this guy snouting its way around! The whole appearance itself is like that of a cartoon character (or one of those Japanese anime character types, don’t you think? with the dotty eyes and spiny tail? :)) And my hands were generously coated in soil and dirt! I thought of finishing up the work and heading in for a phone, but this fella seemed in a hurry to get on with. And so I quickly decided to stop, wash, run in, get a phone and take a shot (this shot). Here’s a video of the fella, scurrying! 🙂
And after all the shots and work, I walked in to check on the species of this little guy! Turns out, it is the caterpillar of the Vine Hawk-moth (Hippotion celerio). I was curious about its host plants (larvae of moths and caterpillars are usually dependent on a few or many host plants that they love to devour on their journey towards winghood! :)) While there isn’t a lot of information on this, on the internet, a listing indicates cissus species and impatiens (balsams) and I suppose that could be the case here, as those are to be found in the vicinity. Now to wait and see if we can spot this fella in the moth form!
Until the next nature observation post, take a look at your backyard and let me know what you find there! 🙂 PS: Caterpillars (or cats as they are fondly called 🙂 ) get a bad rep as pests or some for their toxicity. But remember, they play their own equally important role in their natural environment and as adults too! Found this nice website that talks about how the author reared these cats! You can access the website here: https://breedingbutterflies.com/hippotion-celerio/
Here’s a picture of the adult moth, for visual identification (taken at a different location, long ago – Bengaluru, 2018)
The cute green alien
Ever wondered why movies go to such lengths to depict aliens with quite a lack lustre creativity, when nature has a bounty of alien-look ideas to borrow blatantly from? 🙂 The green caterpillar instar of the common mormon is definitely high up in that list! Fact note: I came across the mormon sect while reading Sherlock Holmes, as a kid, long before I ever laid eyes on the mormon butterfly. But it was fascinating to later learn that the name derives from the idea of polygamy and the female mormon adopting different forms, including a wonderful mimic of the toxic rose. The early instar looks like a poop splat of a bird and is missable for most, because you aren’t looking for it. The real alien inside comes out well and truly in the final instar and if you happen to be missing this one around you, you surely need glasses! 😉
So, next time around, don’t go to the movies for aliens! Just look at your neighbourhood curry tree or lime trees! 🙂
A story of David and Goliath (November 2022)
I saw dung beetles closely for the first time, long back when I was a part of a survey of grasslands in south TN. I wasn’t studying dung beetles, but the team was, and that was when I was fascinated at how insects seem to perform herculean tasks way beyond their might. In case of the ‘roller’ dung beetles, it is fascinating how they manage to roll such a perfect round mass of dung that then become food storage or brood mass. They are able to push their dung ball over distances with their strong hind legs and it is stated that they can roll 10 times their weight! a truly ‘goliath’ an attempt for something so ‘david’ sized! 🙂
In this video, a copper dung beetle navigates a small plant to get its dung ball to where it wanted to. Reading up a little more on these interesting beetles, I learnt that they may use it as food or for making brood ball, into which females then lay eggs! And in this case, both the male and female participate in the dung ball rolling. And it turns out, I happened to see this as well, with a smaller dung beetle species in these areas!
The speed at which they roll, the distance covered and the size of the dung ball, are all, to say the least, most impressive! a true story of David and Goliath! So next time you see a dung beetle, stop and watch what it is upto! you may come away surprised! 🙂