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Woe-man's day

chandigarh Updated: Mar 08, 2014 20:45 IST
Wild buzz

Woe-man's dayhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/Paresh%20Churi_compressed.jpg

This giant female spider had a web of circumference six feet. She was sitting pretty at her lunch table 10 feet above ground. Her hubby, who is sized much smaller in their spider clan, was seen in her web's background as an insignificant speck: a hovering, servile attendant who would await his turn for food scraps! And, what is more, the female was slowly eating a small bird, likely to be a sunbird, with one leg of the bird already devoured. This indicated the spider had been feeding on this bird for several days.

Butterfly photographer, Paresh Churi, stumbled accidentally upon this very rare record from India of a giant wood spider or golden silk orb weaver spider (Nephila Pilipes Jalorensis) eating a bird near the Pelhar Dam in Maharashtra.

The significance of Churi's record is that though such spiders are known to eat birds, existing photographs of this phenomenon are mostly from other countries, especially Australia. Multiple photographic records also exist, from India, of this spider having trapped a still alive, struggling bird.

Spider researcher Rajshekhar Hipparagi explains how a spider eats: "The spider first wraps the dead prey in its web, slowly releases the enzymes or digestive juices onto it, and then sucks in the digested food bit by bit. Only the exoskeleton is left behind." Photo: Paresh Churi

God sent an anthttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/amarnath%201_compressed.jpg

Call it faith or the vagaries of chance but farmer, Gurdial Singh, is convinced he has been touched by the hand of God. Gurdial was guarding maize fields of his friend, the soldier, Bant Singh, who is deployed on the nation's borders. The fields lie in Kasauli village situated along the Shiwaliks, 20 km from Chandigarh.

Many nights passed as Gurdial dutifully sat in the machaan and created a din with drums and tin utensils to scare away wild boars. One night, Gurdial lapsed into deep sleep. He was awoken by a bite underneath his armpit. It was an ant that Gurdial promptly squashed, little knowing the tiny fellow would prove to be his saviour. His turban had been folded into a pillow and his hair streamed loosely over his shoulders. Gurdial looked up and saw a common krait (India's most venomous snake) hanging from the machaan's roof and just over his head. The snake struck but the fangs got hold of Gurdial's hair and did not penetrate the blood stream. Gurdial grabbed his wooden staff and lashed out at the krait, which disappeared into the roof.

Kraits are nocturnal snakes and can bite sleeping people as they snuggle alongside seeking the warmth radiating from a human body. Recounts Gurdial: "Had I been asleep, I would surely have been dead. The amazing thing is that I have never been bitten by an ant but it was to happen that very night." CAPTION: Amarnath (left), dog, Kaloo, and Gurdial Singh on night watch. Photo: Vikram Jit Singh

Showy rattleboxhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2014/1/vikram%20jit%20singh%201_compressed.jpg

Walkers nearing the regulator-end of Sukhna Lake may have paid little heed to the wild yellow flowers blooming on the slope leading down to the water. That is quite natural as these wild ones are downgraded to the status of "poor country cousins" when compared to the dazzling array of flowers cultivated by the lake's gardeners, especially the bed of profuse, leggy and dangling yellows under the Peepal tree at the regulator-end.

Well, to clear the mystery about these anonymous blooms, these wild flowers are of the weed, showy rattlebox (Crotalaria Spectabilis Roth), which is classified by botanists as a "herbaceous legume used as a green manure crop to improve soil properties and as a source of durable fibre. However, the plant is toxic to mammals and birds because of the presence of pyrrolidizine alkaloids. A native of India and the Malay Peninsula, the species has been introduced into the US and Pacific Islands where the plant is an invader of cultivated lands." However, the males of some butterfly species are attracted to this weed, which grows along the lake at various points, and feed on its alkaloids as a measure of enhancing sex selection.

Interestingly, the genus, Crotalaria, derives its name from the classical Greek word, krotalon, meaning a rattle or a castanet, alluding to the rattle of loose seeds in the mature, air-filled pods when shaken. It is the same root word as used in the genus name for the rattle snakes family, Crotalus, of the Americas. Photo: Vikram Jit Singh