The Decision is To Bee

Researchers are using micro sensors to learn about the problems bees face. PHOTO: BBC

Researchers are using micro sensors to learn about the problems bees face. PHOTO: BBC

Around here, we understand the importance of bees. That explains the numerous posts on these winged creatures. If you must know right away, bees are guardians of the food chain and keepers of biodiversity, thanks to their super power of pollination. Precisely why it’s a cause for worry when we hear of their numbers dwindling. Now, an international group of scientists, beekeepers, farmers and technology companies is using cutting-edge technology to help find out why honey bee populations around the world are crashing.

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From Perfume Research to Eco-friendly Pesticides

Jim White's Anti-Pest-O grew out of ill effects of working with chemicals as a botanist. PHOTO: Gordon Chibroski

Jim White’s Anti-Pest-O grew out of ill effects of working with chemicals as a botanist. PHOTO: Gordon Chibroski

Are the beanstalks over your heads and the Japanese beetles in your garden driving you into a murderous rage? Then meet Jim White, creator of an eco-friendly insect repellent called Anti-Pest-O. Talk to him about bugs and find how we can dispense with them in the garden without relying on hard-core chemicals. The Portland resident came up with the formula for his product in the late 1990s as a form of self-defense when he was working as a botanist; every time he sprayed his plants with pesticides he broke out in a rash and/or developed a cough.

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Masters of Disguise

The green coloration helps this cricket blend into its leafy environment

Members of the animal kingdom have developed an amazing number of ways of defending themselves from predators. Some have highly evolved poisons that can wound or kill animals many times larger than themselves (think venomous snakes and spiders, or poison dart frogs); others have barbs, spines, or just generally prickly parts that render them unappetizing, making would-be-assailants think twice about the hassle of getting the creature into its craw; finally, there are more innocuous methods of self-defense, like cryptic camouflage. Cryptic camouflage makes the creature more Continue reading

Butterflies from the Butter-files

As I mentioned in the “flora-file” series (see posts #1 and #2, more are forthcoming), I’m posting a number of photos I collected during my time at Xandari Resort & Spa this summer. Some of these photos aren’t of plants, so I’ve got to think of another punny name for this post featuring butterflies: what about the “butter-files”? It’ll have to work for now! Continue reading

Common Mormon Butterfly

Photo credit : Faisal

Photo credit: Faisal

The Common Mormon Butterfly is seen throughout the year in Kerala. The male butterfly is black with a band of large whitish yellow spots running across the lower portion of the wing. The female may have a rose color, but always has an entirely black abdomen. The male butterfly is frequently spotted near patches of standing water or mud puddles.

Kerala Butterflies: Great Eggfly

Photo Credits: Aparna P

Photo Credits: Aparna P

Great Eggfly butterflies are very common and found all over India, flying throughout the year and preferring forest openings and edges, as well as bushes and gardens. The male has black wings with white patches surrounded by blue iridescence (not pictured here), and also has a row of white  spots and crescents along the edge of the entire wing. Continue reading

Clear-Winged Forest Glory

These are the first good shots I’ve gotten of any glories before. I have seen Stream Glories (Neurobasis chinensis) in Gavi, but they were far too shy to be able to photograph them. Walking through the forest the other day, however, a single Forest Glory (Vestalis gracilis) flew past me into the undergrowth. Careful not to lose sight, I followed it, only to discover a total of  five damselflies lounging about in the shade.  Continue reading

Granite Ghost

Bradinopyga geminata (male)

I’m still a student of Indian dragonflies (of the world, for that matter), but one species that has captivated me since I read about it is the Granite Ghost – Bradinopyga geminata. Typically an urban dweller, the species has adapted itself to city life – breeding in water tanks, feeder ponds, and all other pools of water that can be found in a metropolis. The species is so well suited to concrete jungles not only because of its extreme agility and keen hunting senses, but because of its remarkable ability to remain unseen. Continue reading

Scarlet Skimmer

One of the fastest and most agile dragonflies I’ve seen, this red male was sighted on a riverbank in Alleppey, Kerala. Although not unusually large, this insect stands out due to its bright red body and head. Most of the red dragonflies I have seen (in the genus Orthetrum for the most part) have some combination of colors – azure eyes, black face, blue thorax and red abdomen (O. pruinosum); black eyes, red face, brown thorax and red abdomen (O. chrysis), etc.

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Yes, spotting wild elephants on a mountainside is exciting. Agreed, a field full of flowers that blooms once every dozen years is a heart-warming sight. But not everyone who loves and appreciates nature has the time or money to travel to places where such phenomena can be experienced. Many people who live in cities – myself included – complain about not being able to connect with nature the way they would if they weren’t urbanites. However, I recently had an eye-opening (or re-eye-opening, rather) experience in Chennai, a city proportionally larger and less vegetated than Cochin, where I live, which showed me that nature is never far away.  Continue reading

Mombo Jombo

Early this morning Pierre and I set out from Morgan’s Rock towards Granada, which is maybe two and a half hours away. Before reaching the city, we turned onto a road that led to Mombacho Volcano, an inactive peak with several extinct (and some fully collapsed) craters. The volcano is protected by the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, created in 1996 by the several local fincas on the volcano’s foothills that comprise the NGO Cocibolca Foundation. Our time at Mombacho, described in the rest of this post, is part of the exploratory trip that Pierre and I are taking over the next three days, assessing the possibility of connecting Morgan’s Rock’s tour offerings with other operators in the area.

The day’s activities started at the Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve (MVNR), where we met our guide Jennifer. We decided to take the longest trek, called the Puma Trail, so named because there are some big rocks and even caves that pumas are said to live in, although none have been sighted in a decade. Prior to starting this four-hour hike we stopped by an area called Los Fumalores where Jennifer had fun by daring us to put our hands in a small hole next to the trail, reassuring us that no snakes would be inside. As we placed our hands near the opening in the ground, we could immediately feel a stunning temperature difference. The place is called Los Fumaroles because sulfuric gases rise from volcanic holes and crevasses in hot gushes, heating the surrounding stone to a surprising degree. This area also provides a nice view of Las Isletas, which are known as children of Mombacho because they are islands initially created from a volcanic eruption. I mentioned Las Isletas very briefly here.

The Puma Trail’s path is very well maintained, Continue reading

Defensive Insects

My younger brother Milo has posted about Entomotography, sharing his excellent “macro” pictures of dragonflies in India. Yesterday I was walking in the woods at Morgan’s Rock when I remembered that I had promised to describe in more detail the cornizuelo tree, which fronts fierce fire ants and sports sharp spines on its branches. Since these trees are all over the place, I set my camera to macro mode and looked for a good specimen. Below is a video that shows just how diligently the ants patrol their home, both when no imminent danger is present and also when a threat is detected. At the end of the video I’ve included footage of a caterpillar.


When I first saw the little balls on the caterpillar’s back, I wasn’t all that surprised. Many insect species (and other animals like fish and crustaceans, for that matter) cover themselves with debris to disguise themselves from predators. What struck me as odd, however, was that this caterpillar, clearly a poisonous species (or at the very least an example of Batesian mimicry), felt the need to cover itself with crap (which, as the video shows, I discovered to literally be true) and thereby potentially avoid predation. Of course, it may be Continue reading

Arthropods and Sunsets

While walking on a trail today, Pierre and I came across a spider with a lime green back. As we approached it, it bared its behind at in our direction and dripped forth some dangerous-looking white liquid. They were very small droplets that didn’t spray towards us, but merely fell down to the dirt below the web. We paused to photograph this spider, keeping our distance in case what we had witnessed was just the priming of a more serious discharge mechanism, and then went on our way.

As I thought back on this spider I realize that we may have simply walked in on its moment of defecation, and incorrectly interpreted the droplets of excrement as an attack. A quick Ecosia search showed me that spiders’ poo is often white liquid that leaves a chalky residue, so I am starting to believe that what Pierre and I saw was not a direct assault but perhaps still a method of self-defense in some cases.

What we watched later in the day, however, was a clear attack. A millipede (which I incorrectly identify as a centipede in the short video I took) was beset upon by a fast-moving bug that darted at its writhing, myriapodous prey without mercy. Unfortunately, Pierre and I had were on the way to Sunset Hill (see my previous post) so we had to leave at the risk of missing what we hoped would be a great view of the sunset.

When we got to the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the best sunset I’ve seen from the point so far out of the three times I’ve been up there. I think the better sunsets must be during the dry season, when there aren’t quite as many clouds covering the sun as it descends over the ocean horizon.