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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fascinating Millipedes

Recently A Wandering Mind carried some pictures of the insects mushrooming after the onset of monsoon in Mumbai. Among them there was the scary hoard of centipedes whose one sting would make you weep for hours together. Then I recollected the mild and sober Millipedes, I had photographed while we were at our native place, that is Kerala, during May this year.
See how inquisitive Siddharth  is
On being dropped on the ground
When it was finally released and relieved
One day I found my nephews engaged in some serious exploration in the garden surrounding our ancestral home. They were playing with something, they discovered. Since they were either from Mumbai or Chennai, they were deprived of being closer to nature. While at our home, they had the opportunity of seeing things, their text books talked about. I had a notion that children brought up in cities are devoid of any inquisitiveness but I was proved wrong. Children are  children and they have it ab-initio.

Millipedes, literally means "thousand-legged," although most millipedes do not have  more than 300 legs,are found in all temperate and tropical regions of the world. They rest and hide among leaf fall, soil, or anything rotting for they survive on dead and decaying plant matter. Most species of millipedes are said to be  nocturnally active but in Kerala I found them moving around even during day time. Apart from the ones shown above, I have encountered Millipedes which are pink and dark brown in appearance. Looking them when they are on a move is a real pleasure. They are so majestic.The rhythmic movement of hundreds of legs is worth a watch.

As a means of protection, millipedes have developed unique defense mechanisms for survival. One strategy is to curl up into a spiral. This coil protects the millipede's head and soft underside. Some species of millipedes can also secrete a foul-smelling/terrible tasting fluid through glands located alongside their body, near the legs on each segment. The toxicity of this fluid varies from species to species. For example, the excretions of some species can discolor human skin or irritate the eyes, others are corrosive, and some species even produce cyanide that can repel or kill insect predators.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pit Elephants (കുഴി ആന)

This summer we were in Kerala  to participate in a family function. It was extremely humid and hot and there seemed to be no end to sweating and that too quite profusely, despite all the greenery. Kerala summers were never that harsh, thanks to Global Warming. 

Before dropping the Ant

After dropping an ant
One afternoon, I was just loitering around my  ancestral home. I came across some familiar soil formations on the sides of the pathway. Instantly my childhood memories came alive. They were the Sand Pit Traps laboriously created by “Ant Lions”, a term I have borrowed from wikipedia, but we knew that they are the abodes of “Kuzhi Ana” (കുഴി ആന) or literally “Pit Elephants” as they had  long noses. They are a bit different from the one wikipedia describes. The tiny, elephant like insect, used to position itself under the sand awaiting its prey which were usually the ants and other tiny insects. Myself and my sisters used to dig up the pits to catch the insects (Elephants!). Thereafter we used to amuse ourselves by organizing a race for those tiny creatures. Every one of us  used to shout to cheer up one’s own Elephant! as if we are in a horse race.   

Upon spotting the Sand Pit ant Traps, I could not resist the temptation of showing a live demonstration to children at home. They were summoned and a camera was brought in, an ant was caught and put in the hole. Lo! the ant just disappeared. The Antlion or our Pit Elephant living under the sand just dragged its prey in, in   a fraction of a second. There was only a depression in the cavity left behind. We could not, however, photograph that particular action. We should have applied the video mode instead.