Saturday, 30 April 2016

Jewel Bug

Jewel Bug shines like a jewel. It is a tiny creature less than one-cm long. Also called Metallic Bug. Have you seen one? Take a look- spotted right here in Ghumakkad's front yard in Secunderabad India.

Is it not truly a marvel of Nature? As you see in the picture, it has 'attached' itself to the back of a leaf. It does so with suction in its  tiny legs. More on suction later.
Notice its triangular head and the metallic shield on its back. This is what differentiates it from beetles. 
I noticed this bug while watering the Karela करेला (Bitter gourd) creeper in our front yard. It seemed 'stuck' up side down on a leaf back. Probably to shield itself from hot sun with day temperatures of 43 degrees Celsius. It stayed there throughout the day. It seemed to have moved a bit as can be seen from the suction marks next day. See the next picture taken against back light.

During feeding, jewel bugs inject proteolytic enzymes in their saliva into plants, digesting plant matter into a liquid form which they then suck up. Our jewel bug stayed on that leaf for good three days defying gravity.

Jewel Bugs belong to the family Scutelleridae which is a family of true bugs. True bugs are those that have mouths that suck unlike 'Beetles' that have mouths that chomp. Closely related to stink bugs, they may also produce an offensive odour when disturbed. There are around 450  species worldwide. Jewel bugs have been sighted in India, Australia and USA. Readers may browse an interesting account of a jewel bug in Australia by clicking this link.

The jewel bug is not easy to spot as it hides itself under a leaf. See the picture below. The bug is under the Karela leaf in centre of the picture!

May be in summer months it is difficult to spot. But a zoology professor from Karimnagar (130 kms from Secunderabad) has shot a video of the bug on the move. Click this link for the video.

The belly of the bug has different colouration. Difficult to photograph without disturbing the bug, here is a side view.

Readers interested to learn more about the bugs may browse a site called TenRandomFacts.

After observing the bug for three hot days, I couldn't spot it in the evening. A thunder storm followed by light drizzle cooled that particular evening. As if on cue, the jewel seems to have disappeared. Perhaps relocated to another plant, another garden, somewhere.

If you have observed the jewel bug in your neighbourhood, do add a comment. It will enrich our knowledge of this tiny wonder of Nature.

Our previous stories on other tiny creatures can be browsed by clicking the links below:
Caterpillars and self-discipline

Mantis which looks like a Violin

When a Bumble-bee died because of heat stroke

Thanks for browsing.

    Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 30th April 2016


Thursday, 28 April 2016

World Dance Day 2016

Another edition of World Dance Day is here. 
What is the significance? You may like to browse our post last year. Suffice it to say that it cuts across regional and cultural barriers. Celebrated world wide, it recognises this age old performing art.

This year we bring you a Bharatanatyam exponent from New Delhi who performed in Hyderabad. Priya Srinivasan my niece, is already making waves. She has performed in all major cities of India. Her performance in Hyderabad left the audience spell bound. Through her pictures, we wish all the readers a happy World Dance Day also called International Dance Day.

These pictures also double up as PQs- Picturesque Quotes in dance or dancing series.

Ask any dancer why does he or she dance, and they will tell you that dancing gives the ultimate happiness! Does Priya's picture below say so? 

Once again, greetings to all readers, dancers and those who appreciate dancing!

Special thanks for this post are due to Priya who enthralled us. May she continue to dance her way to success and win hearts across the globe!

Thanks for browsing

   Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ World Dance Day 29th April 2016

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Friendly Munias

Birds and dogs becoming friends? Ever heard that?
Right here in our garden in Secunderabad India, we have seen it happen. This story is about tiny birds called 'Silverbills', Indian Silverbills to be precise. 

Also called Silverbill munia मुनिया or white-throated munia as in the picture above. Munias are small love birds, many times caged and kept as pets. In India, there is a famous film song:
चलत मुसाफ़िर मोह लिया रे 
पिंजरे वाली मुनिया 
Roughly translated it means 'the traveller's heart was won over by the caged munia'. So much for the attractiveness of munias.

According to Wikipedia, the adult Indian silverbill is 11–11.5 cm 
long and has a conical silver-grey bill, buff-brown upper parts, 
white underparts, buffy flanks and dark wings. See the portrait below.

These munias are known to be gregarious and are found in flocks 
of as many as 60 birds. We observed up to 30 birds in our garden as you will see in the video.

Silverbills feed on grass seeds. These seeds are not as hard as bajra or millet. The birds break open the outer shell and eat only the inner seed. The discarded shell being so light just flies away with the wind. These Munias also teach us team work. See the video.

Coming back to the story of birds and dogs becoming friends. In this video, you will hear the bark of a neighbour's dog walking down the lane. The birds ignored the 'familiar' bark and kept feeding on the seeds. Similarly, when our regular vegetable hawker passed by, the birds did not fly away. But when another dog who lives few houses away passed by, the birds sensed the danger and flew away. Another video for you. 

Birds are part of Nature's food chain. Cats in the enclave jumped at the bird feeder tossing it over. We saw the bird feeder lying in the flower beds. Then we could connect two and two together. Closer observation revealed the cats crouching and stalking the munias. Though I could not take a picture of the cats in action, but it was a warning for us. We had to find a safer place for the bird feeder. See what Neeta did for the munias. Short video for you.

We placed it on the roof. It worked. But soon the cats also discovered the new place and started stalking the munias on roof top. This posed a challenge to us. Neeta applied her mind and suspended the feeder from the parapet. See the picture below.

We heaved a sigh of relief. Birds are safe from the cats. At least for the moment.

Ever seen munias in conversation? See the male munia appreciating the female sitting next to it. And how the female seems to 'ignore' the compliment! Does it not usually happen with us humans too? Picture for you.

Birds have always fascinated Gumakkad. Some of the previous picture stories on birds are listed below-- just click the link to browse:
Birds of Tadoba- A Tiger Reserve

Giving birds a life

Kolleru- The Pelican Paradise

Ranganathittu- Where you can talk to the birds

Hope you enjoyed the encounter with friendly munias. Do share your experiences and pictures. Would be happy to append it to the blog!

Thanks for browsing.

    -Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 26th April 2016

Friday, 22 April 2016

Bhavani Island An Ideal Getaway

Heat wave continues in most parts of India. If you can't make it to a beach or a hill station, at least 'cool' yourself through pictures and video! 

This picture story takes you to a river island named 'Bhavani Island' (named after Goddess Durga दुर्गा) in river Krishna, near Vijayawada Andhra Pradesh. APTDC runs an island resort there (Browse the link for a map of the river and the island). Ghumakkad went there on a Sunday night in April 2016. 

For last six months or so, an entrepreneur has set up water sports facilities jointly with the Tourism corporation. The resort at Bhavani Island is beautifully conceived. Set amidst large trees, it has both AC and non-AC suites, overlooking the river. Even in summer months, the island is cool because of the river and accompanying breeze. Four tree-top suites have been added recently. The view is superb and so is the thrill of being on tree-top height! Don't miss the spiral staircase!
 Visitors have to take a ferry from the eastern bank of the river. APTDC runs another resort at Berm Park Vijayawada. See picture below taken from the jetty- this resort too overlooks the river.
The tourism department has an exclusive jetty at Berm Park. Ferries ply frequently. Guest staying at the Island resort do not have to pay for ferry ride. You can park your car at Berm Park resort. It is a safe place with security at night as well. One suggestion-- travel light as you have to cart your baggage to the ferry at both ends.

Neeta boarding the ferry which can take about 50 persons.
 The island has five-tiered tower on western bank of the river. It is visible from Vijayawada city. 

As the ferry sails, Prakasam Barrage on the river catches your eye. Massive barrage with a road. The vast water basin is ideal for water sports. Just as these thoughts crossed my mind, a speed boat zoomed past.
A short fifteen-minute ferry ride takes you to Bhavani Island. Krishna river and its cool breeze had a soothing effect even though it was noon when we got there. Hope you are able to beat the heat as you 'feel' the pictures! 
After a quick lunch at APTDC restaurant, it was time to stroll up to the water sports jetty. Being a Sunday afternoon, people were waiting for their rides. The place looked well managed with an expandable pontoon serving as the boarding platform.
Variety of rides await you costing between Rs 200 to Rs 1500 per person per ride. Guests staying at the island resort get a complimentary ride upto Rs 500 for one guest only. Depending on your appetite for adventure, a wide choice is available. Pictures.
A rotating coffee table with contra rotating stools on board-- if your head is not spinning already!

There are rides for the young or old, boys or girls, loners or families. Take your pick!

We had chosen to take a speed boat ride. The same boat which had taken the para sailing enthusiasts had to come back and take us. The wait turned out to be worth it as Neeta and I had an exclusive boat ride as against 8 to 10 people in one round-- courtesy Mr Madan Rao, Operations Manager. Madan had also been in the Navy like me! Fringe benefits of professional brotherhood!

Here is a short two minute video of the speed boat ride. The noise which you will hear is the wind howling in the camera as we turned and twisted in sharp winds in Krishna river. Very exciting ride indeed-- fit for senior citizens like us! Watch the horizon go up and down. 

We then walked back to our suite and took pictures enroute. The picture below was taken using DSLR timer. The camera had been precariously balanced on a fallen branch of a tree. I ran to take my position. Beep beep and the shutter clicked. And with that the camera fell down from the branch. I skipped a heart beat. Dusted the camera and found no damage done! Thanked my stars as this was the second time the camera had taken a toss, earlier mishap having happened in Jaislamer sand dunes.

For those planning a trip to the island, here is a view of the cottage. Try and avoid AC Suites numbered 10X and 20X series as these suites are old and have no false ceiling. Takes longer to cool and furnishings are worn out. In comparison, suites 30X and 40X series are relatively better maintained and have a false ceiling for faster cooling. As with most government properties, the location is top class. However, they could do with better upkeep. 

Booking is online. Breakfast is complimentary. Restaurant serves good food. But they will serve you an early dinner as the staff leaves for the mainland by the last boat. Similarly, you have to wait for the breakfast till the first boat arrives next morning with the cook and fresh supplies! For emergencies, a ferry is standby. Most cell phones work. All in all-- a great place.
Tree-top suites are recent additions. Though fitted with ACs, we were told it is not functional. But in monsoon months, it would be magical to stay there. Only drawback is no clear view of the river. But I guess it is by design. You get a view of trees all around. You also feel the forest a bit closer, as these suites are tucked away from the dining area and rest of the AC suites. So take your call.
Why the name Bhavani island? As we had mentioned earlier, it means Goddess Durga who rides a tiger and is a symbol of  courage and valour. An idol of Gurga crated out of metallic waste has been tastefully erected in the Park. Picture for you.
Water sports end with sun set every day. Casual visitors depart the island. The resort has guests and a few duty staff not to forget few stray dogs which are like pets. You can feel the silence after dusk. As the night lights come on, the resort gets another look!
On that Sunday night, we were the only occupants of the resort. It was like having the whole island to ourselves! A picture.

Hyderabad-Vijayawada drive requires a bio-break mid way. An excellent facility exists called '7' mid way naer Suryapet (see map below, courtesy Google.). While driving from Hyderabad on NH-9, it will appear on your left with signages well in advance. The restaurant serves piping hot snacks and lunch/dinner. Very clean rest rooms with misty sprays in the lobby to keep you cool in the summer. And the best part-- there is covered parking for about 50 cars with no parking fees! All privately managed. 

So Hyderabadis-- get going and have an enjoyable getaway at Bhavani island! 

Thanks for browsing

     -Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 22nd April 2016

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Sand bubbler Crabs and Sand Galaxies

Sand bubbler crab gets its name as it produces tiny spherical sand balls like solid bubbles of sand. It produces these sand balls from the sand that it 'eats'. It actually eats microscopic food within the soft sand on a sea beach. It then discards the sand balls towards its back, two to three balls every second. And it does not push all the balls in one direction but adjusts its position continuously. The result is an amazing pattern of sand balls arranged artistically. See the picture.
Since there are hundreds of these tiny crabs (just one cm wide) working simultaneously, all the patterns together appear like a galaxy. Since this galaxy is in sand and not in space, it is called a 'sand galaxy'. We had explained this behaviour of sand bubbler crabs in our earlier story in December 2014 (click here to browse). Here is one part of the sand galaxy for you.
Jacob Abraham, a regular reader of the blog, has sent the following picture of a real galaxy taken through Hubble's telescope. Does it not resemble our sand galaxy? 

While some patterns appear similar, we could see many new patterns. The crab goes into the burrow as high tide comes in. It remains there till the tide recedes. It then starts to forage for food digging the sand and discarding the remains in the form of sand balls. We know that the tides change every six hours. Therefore, these tiny crabs work tirelessly every 12 hours. And in the bargain, create artistic patterns like the one below.
We also saw patterns having radial spokes of almost equal length! Amazing, how much intelligence this tiny one-centimetre creature has? See the picture.
 During this visit to Suryalanka, we could not spot any spiral pattern made by the crabs. But in Dec 2014, we had spotted spirals galore.  See a file photo below. Does it mean that the patterns made by the crabs vary with the season? Or, the temperature of the water? Or, the direction of the Sun? Would be grateful to any reader who can throw some light on this aspect.

Look at the pattern below-- like the headgear of an ancient Chieftain ! See the arcs and the symmetry.
 How does our tiny craftsman look like? It is so agile and alert that it is difficult to capture on the camera. Here is one picture. See nature's camouflage to deceive the predators.

Depending on the pattern made by the crab, it's burrow lies either in the centre or in one corner. See another pattern below with the burrow in the centre.
 The next pattern looked like the famous Palm-Jumeirah property in Dubai which has been created on land reclaimed from the sea. Notice the burrow in one corner of the pattern.
So much for the tiny crabs. We also saw its elder cousin with similar camouflage and agility. But the burrow is larger and the discarded sand is not in the shape of balls but as sand pellets. It makes it burrow on high ground. The burrows can be seen every morning. See the pictures below.
 Sand pellets produced by crabs larger than the sand bubbler crabs.

While observing the larger crabs, we saw them playing with the surf- much the same way we humans do. We captured this crabs-and-surf game on video. A short 30 seconds clip for you.

If you are unable to see the video, click here to browse it on youtube.

The sand bubbler crabs are found on the tropical beaches of India, Malaysia and Australia. But within India, we haven't seen clips or blogs of sightings on the west coast. Could a reader substantiate this please?

Hope you saw that sea beaches have so much to offer beyond the surf and the sand. Next time you are on a beach, look out for these tiny creatures and their sand galaxies.

Thanks for browsing

   Harsh-the-Ghumakkad/ 14th April 2016

Postscript: 21st April 2016--The mystery of creating varying patterns with season remains. However, a reader M Susree pursuing PhD at IIT, Hyderabad has sent an interesting link to Aquatic Ecology-- a scholarly journal. The article explains the Population Biology and Breeding Period of the Sand-Bubbler Crab from Southern Mozambique. So, see where did we find a match in this tiny creature? Thanks Susree.