Bird week: Pleasantly Pheasant.


Today’s bird is the colourful Lady Amherst’s PheasantChrysolophus amherstiae. Also seen in the aviary at Karanji lake, where you get to walk beside a whole nye of pheasants, while they go about their clucking and hopping.

This pheasant always reminds me of an old biddy who’s walking around, hands behind her back, trying to chase down those pesky kids.

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Bird week: Pleasantly Pheasant.

Bird week: Running afowl.


Hey everyone. Guess what? I’m off to Wayanad for the whole week!

It’s on work, but it’s Wa-ya-naaad! It’s crazy to get paid to go to such places. So anyhou, I may have good net access from there, but I can’t be sure. So instead of posting heavy, analytical spider posts, you’ll all be treated to a week’s worth of birds. Hope you like ’em. Warning: My cam’s not exactly the best for capturing birds. Kindly make do.

(And yes, this was where I got to capture the Phonognatha vicitra on camera for the first time ever, so I am really excited about finding more spiders there. Y’know, so long as it doesn’t rain too much when I’m there.)

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This is a Red Junglefowl that I got to see at the lovely aviary at Karanji lake in Mysore. It’s this lovely little getaway in Mysore (behind the zoo, on the road to Chamundi hills) that most people miss out on. I went there once for the first time before I left for the states, and since coming back, I must’ve been there at least four times.

Oh, and the Indian-subspecies of the red junglefowl is known as the Gallus gallus murghi. I’ve come across a trippier subspecies name, but let’s save that for later in the week, shall we?

Continue reading “Bird week: Running afowl.”

Bird week: Running afowl.

An ant or two.


Yesterday I’d talked about a spider that disguised itself as a weaver ant, and how I had stumbled on to one without realising at the time. Turns out that the spider is Myrmarachne plataleoides, also known as the Kerengga Ant-like Jumper.

(When you have about 40,000 spider species with over 5,000 of them being jumping spiders, you end up using silly common names like that one.)

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I had spotted a female, and this was way back in January btw. A couple of months ago I’d seen the same near the flower pots some evening, but I didn’t have the camera near me, and the critter disappeared before I could arm myself with one.

Cut to Tuesday evening this week, I noticed something like an ant or two on one of the leaves of a plant growing just in front of my door. It’s evening and after dark, so my eyes almost glanced over it. But my spider sense tingled. 🙂 And then I noticed the webs to one side.

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As it turns out, the male Myrmarachne one-ups the female, not very common in the arachnid world. While the female Myrmarachne resembles a weaver ant, the male resembles TWO! It has adapted itself to resemble a worker weaver ant carrying a smaller ant.

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Most jumping spiders are cute, but this one looks nasty. Even though they are quite timid, really. They mimic the fearsome (and apparently bad-tasting) weaver ants so that they can get by unmolested. They try to be so convincing in their disguise, these jumping spiders rarely jump, except in dire need.

I love the way the name rolls off my tongue, though. Myr-ma-rach-ne. Apparently, that’s ancient Greek for ant and spider: myrmex and arachne. Everything sounds cooler in ancient Greek. If only we can decipher Linear A some day.

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Continue reading “An ant or two.”

An ant or two.

Sheep in wolf’s clothing.


A long time ago, I’d made a mention of the Weaver Ants, with a vague mention of their ruthless ways. Nasty, belligerent creatures always ready to bite, I’d have to admit that they’re quite clever as well. I am yet to see some of their best work in person, but together they can build living bridges, pull up large leaves and twigs to build their own lairs, all the while looking damnably smug.

Weaver ants.

Alone they are far from invincible, but in rank they are quite imperial in their abilities. Last winter, my backyard had a variety of critters, all occupying little nooks and corners of their choice. Some were partial to the remnants of a curry leaf tree, some lived on the trunk of coconut trees, and others stuck to the ground.

Almost all of them disappeared once the weaver ants started making inroads. The ants went after cobwebs, into crevices in the wood, into every hidey hole that other critters were seeking refuge in. Between the ants and the coming summer, all other critters in my backyard dwindled or disappeared altogether. That’s one of the reasons why you may not have seen any recent posts from my backyard.

Below you can see one denizen being carted away by a squad of weaver ants. They are quite gifted in their skill at teamwork, to transport an insect much larger and heavier than themselves, and on a wire, no less. They would quickly roll over to the far side of the cable if I went in closer with my camera. And all the while, they did it with a flair and an ease that would cause envy even amongst the finest furniture movers.

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There are a few long cables and nylon ropes that run along the length of my backyard, and I’d often find many varieties of ants scurrying across its length. On one day I found one that was a bit slower than the usual, not quite as furtive, and more accomodating of my camera.

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It’s only after I started looking at the photographs on my computer did I realise that something didn’t feel right. The ant felt wrong in some ways. The colour was a bit off, and there was something about the eyes and the shape of the body that didn’t quite add up.

Only then I realised that this was no ant, but a spider! And a very clever one at that. Waving about its two front legs like antennae, the spider moved only on six legs. Its body structure also felt a little warped as it had adapted the usual head-thorax-abdomen arrangement of a spider to the four-part body of an ant.

One lucky shot of the “ant” amidst the cables confirmed it. Of all possible things, this was yet another jumping spider!

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The rest I’ll talk about on the morrow. 🙂

Continue reading “Sheep in wolf’s clothing.”

Sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Curiosity did not kill the jumper.


Good morrow, gentle folk.

I thought I’d elaborate on what I was talking about back on Wednesday eve. Jumping spiders are truly tough to beat in any posing contest amongst critters. I think that comes in part because of the size of their primary two eyes, which are large enough to throw up reflections of their surroundings. Think anime eyes and their exaggerated expressions.

The other part is their apparent curiosity. Again, this is connected to their large eyes. Jumping spiders, like most other spiders, have a LOT of eyes – usually six or eight. Now, all but two of these are fairly rudimentary in function: some can only make out light and shadow, others some minimal detail.

The two primary eyes (called Anterior Medial eyes, for those interested) are quite something else, though. One of the best set of eyes in the invertebrate world, the eyes are telescopic in nature, recording an extraordinary amount of detail. The eyes also have four different kinds of receptor cells, giving them the ability to perceive four distinct colours (humans, in comparison, have only three different types,) giving them a visible range stretching from near UV to the near IR spectrum.

The apparent curiosity of theirs comes in because of this: their tiny little brains take a second or more to process all the incredibly rich visual information that comes their way, so they often stay still in that time.

The usual experience of a photographer with a jumping spider (that’s not too jumpy) usually goes like this: You approach the spider; the spider “takes cognizance” of you and quickly turns to look at you; the doe eyes stay focused on you for a few seconds; if you move or go closer, the spider usually jumps backwards while continuing to face you; you click some more pictures.

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That may not sound like much in print, but that’s pretty awesome for a photographer. ^_^

Continue reading “Curiosity did not kill the jumper.”

Curiosity did not kill the jumper.