We had been wading for an hour on a trail that passes through a Dhole pack’s home range, and just then a vehicle trotted bringing news about the dogs around. I checked with Giovanna and Alfredo if they would be okay to go off the forest-roads and look for the Dholes and for Manan it was needless to ask, he had leapt ahead on his giant legs!
We showed up at the block where the Dholes were first reported but by then the alarmed Langurs stayed quiet, the safari vehicles had a rough idea of their whereabouts yet uncertain, and the paw impressions were bagged by vehicle tires, the watchful birds also kept their secret. Calling it a consolation we abandoned the pursuit and Giovanna and Alfredo had a long day after their Satpura trip and running with the pack might take more time. While returning to catch the pick-up boat I heard a humming around my ears; it was Manan, who persuaded me to lure the Italian couple into the pack and bend their itinerary. After a two minute thought-process, I spoke to the couple on pros and cons of delaying their planned schedule and tracking the pack.
‘If it is for Dholes I don’t mind missing the cave paintings or the Sanchi site’ Giovanna sparkled.
With that assurance, we dogged after the dogs. Most hunts by Dholes were done during dawn, and now that they hadn’t moved much for the last one hour, could they be around rocks lazing under dappled soft light through teak and Kullu gum trees, away from the herd of safari vehicles around a block, we anticipated. While on foot, we could brave into pugdundees snaking the section between parallel roads. We trekked up a hillock where sandstones had peeled, here were some tracks of dogs on dug-open soil and were recent. By then the vehicles had let go the warrant for the pack and could the whistling hunters have made it an opportune to walk ahead? ‘Let us walk to the parallel road ahead and check’ commanded our guide Kailash. No sign of dogs here but Langurs up on a tree watched their biped visitors and looked alert.
Kailash suggested to take on the large sloping rock leading back to the cliff, and we nodded around a thorny vine to catch up with enthusiastic Kailash; ‘Kutte’ and he pointed at a Dhole on a boulder! It stretched its body while watching us and another Dhole’s tail bounced behind it. In the minute of their distraction towards us we heard a growl and a thud, Giovanna and I at lead saw a leopard flee down the tree. One of the dogs jumped on the leopard but the big cat’s fleet of fear couldn’t match the dog’s grip, but the pack ran after in squeals and cackle, it set the quiet jungle into a brazen pack chase applauded by Langurs.
We paced up but the sounds were distant till it sank. A Sambar’s honk confirmed it several hundred meters away. This leopard must have been squatted up a tree by the dogs for quite some time and this pack of dogs has treed up a leopard second time in a week! Living with co-predators in a well-protected forest that has enough prey, water and cover is to manage time of activity and space for a home. It was Dhole’s opportunity now to instil fear into leopards until Dholes become vulnerable to them during the denning season. Giovanna and Alfredo shall wait to wonder when the tables turn, and Manan shall keep humming around Satpura to maintain this game of life unfinished.
On the super-moon 2016, after watching the most spectacular moonrise on River Denwa in Satpura, Bejoy and I walked under the moonlit skies that poured whiteness onto forested pathway and the sight was euphoric. We walked past some overgrowth of lantana and heard clicking sounds in the air around a bush, the sound was like clicking fingernails. I turned the torch on to cast at some moths in the air – some unidentified and some familiar, a katydid and a mathematical orb spider weaving her web for the night.
‘What could make such a sound?’ exclaimed Bejoy, a naturalist at lodge who has been noticing such clicks since a week during his sunset walks.
Click – click- click again, Bejoy’s excitement triggered the torch towards the sound and there were 4 to 5 Erebid moths, we did a triangulation to confirm if these moths clicked. Yes it did! Some moths were probing on lantana berries. We checked the bush and nearby clumps to discover that they were all similar looking moths having an ‘eye’ mark on their forewing, which might ward off predators while it also aptly titles them as ‘Owlet’ moths. However some moths differed by the white forewing pattern, it possibly indicated their sexual dimorphism. In our inquiry we brightened a worn-out owlet moth with our torch and we bagged it carefully in our fleece jacket as a sack and let it in a room to audit if the individual clicked. It stay put for few minutes and hopped but didn’t click even once, but we did- a few photographs and left it to its lantana pub.
A long time ago, a very long time- about 60 million years ago, when complex senses were developing in complex living organisms like ultrasonic and echolocation, a humble moth decided to equip a military-grade sonar jamming device to counter a recently evolved flying mammal; Bat. Most insectivorous bats have the power of echolocation for their nocturnal travels, but they perhaps were preaching an old man how to cough! Moths have evolved for over 190 million years, and some moth’s ultrasonic ability evolved about 8 million years before bats had evolved!
Wildlife biologist Aaron Corcoran and team shines evidence that the feeble, the papery, the slow-flying, powder-winged moth have ability to make ultrasonic clicks at a rate of 4500 times per second! Further research by scientists also revealed that those moths rubbed the muscles around their genitals to produce such clicks. After several experiments on Tiger moths and Hawk-moths, Aaron was convinced that these insects had developed with time to trick a complex mammal. Investigations revealed that the ultrasounds sent by bats who read the echoes rendered by objects the sound waves hit were blurred by high-speed clicks done by moths and further confounded the bat’s acoustic perception of objects.
Would the clicks made by owlet moths here at Satpura prevent them from a bat attack too? It needs to be experimented the way Aaron did, but we the naturalists at Forsyth Lodge have been tuning in to the moth-talks when they click during the bat’s hawking time. We have been crepuscular since this super moon night to record more observation and credit our owlet moths with such marvelous super power.
Bower birds of Austro-Papuan region are indeed one of the most spectacular birds in the world, who pick objects of same hue to decorate them around their nests to woo their mate. It must be a task to range distances and have an analytical and reasoning skill to differentiate the colors, sizes and shapes of objects.
Nests are built either for refuge, breeding or hunting, some keep them concealed like potter wasps, some decorate using natural and man-made material like the Bowers while some like Velvet mites decorate with their own sperms, and some bagworms modestly yet wisely nest using debris and some engineer their’s just like this one; the networking social insects that make nests right under our feet!
Amita called out for Tarun who was investigating Wild dog’s scat that landmarked their vast home range. She pointed out a decoration of drying Justicia flowers around a half moon wall made of grains of earth. ‘These flowers look like some sort of decoration around a nest’ I speculated, just then two worker ants of Tetramorium species marched out of the hole and one brought the flower and the other heaved a grain of earth and then strolled on the bund drumming their antennae. The grain was thrice the size of their heads and it crumbled when touched as feebly known to mankind. This nest had a wall that faced west, it was as wide as the visor of a pea cap and the nest caved along the grass roots.
As Amita built curiosity about the behavior of ants, we took notice of ants and the floral decor at their nest more frequently in the rest of our walk. Eventually our eyes got hyperaware of the Justicia flowers federation around ant nests even during safaris! We now got intimate with glitzy Bower bird-like-adornment that these ants played with Justicia flower or if it was Justicia who played with ants- we pondered. We noticed that not all winter-flowering Justicia that bloomed in a comb were brought by these florists but they manicured till a flower or four charmed in the combs for the plant to pollinate and multiply. Ants are social insects mothered by one ant in most species and largely workers are sterile females, rarely they have nuptial moments in winters; the adornment echoes the Bower birds but not their intentions of love.
Botanist friend Guru speculates that ants are seldom foe to plants and this picking of flower has got to do with its nectar or pollen, and once done they litter the used flower around their walls. Most Tetramoriums are hearty when feeding, they feed on dead insects, kitchen food and even plant parts like pollen. But these ants bred further questions in my mind; would it not give away their presence to their predators? Does this flower mean special to the queen ant or larvae? We also noticed tectonic work done around many ant nest-sites, hence would the labor squad require more ant-power and is Justicia doing the justice?
We are curious to learn about the spectacular relationship of this plant and ants, do write to us and tell us what you speculate. After all the decorations did draw some love towards these ants!