Wild buzz: The princess and the moth

  • Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 12, 2016 11:17 IST
Bindiya chamkegi! The moth perches delicately on the forehead. (Photo: Selfie by Resmi Varma)

You may find moths frozen on your curtains, doors or in other dark nooks and crannies. Some of us may swat them, shoo them or spray them with insecticides. Or simply not know what to do with these nocturnal creatures.

Some moths are too ‘’drab’’ to attract even a cursory human interest. Unlike butterflies, which catch our eye and adoration, moths occupy an amorphous zone in our consciousness of the natural world. But here was one lucky moth, an Aporandria specularia, which found a most welcoming perch: the forehead of a Travancore royal, Resmi Varma. She did not throw a fit of shrieks as might be expected when a strange creature alights near so well groomed a coiffure!

Varma is a keen wildlife photographer and was delighted at playing host to the green moth. A beaming Varma clicked some memorable selfies with the moth, who obliged her with the poise and patience of a professional model. While one may be tempted to believe that the moth was dazzled by her radiance, fact is some moth species are known to alight on humans to find nourishing salts in the secretions from the host body.

‘’The compound of our Kowdiar Palace (in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala) has a few acres of greenery that houses few varieties of birds, moths and butterflies. My interest in them grew and led me to photograph them out of curiosity. In course of time, I indulged myself by photographing birds and butterflies by travelling to different places,’’ Varma told this writer.

Raj Bhawan in flames

Flame of the forest tree in bloom at Raj Bhawan. (HT Photo)

The blooms of the Flame of the Forest (FoF) tree are by power of statute the State Flower of Chandigarh. If one wants to catch a glimpse of these flowers in the City Beautiful’s genteel areas, a laboured search may yield exotic daffodils and tulips, but not the FoF’s orange petals that liken to flames kindled by late spring.

Very few of Chandigarh’s much-vaunted gardens sport this tree. A few trees can be found on the Sukhna Lake’s promenade and in the lake reserve forest, though it grows in abundance in the sub-montane Shivalik jungles. However, our search does finally yield one FoF specimen and it is to be found in the most posh residence. This specimen occupies pride of place in the Punjab Raj Bhawan, which also serves as the UT administrator’s residence. It stands in such isolated splendour there, like a Tricolour unfurled on a republican monarch’s lawns.

Eminent horticulturist Harjit Singh Dhillon, who enjoyed a long stint in the UT administration, says the FoF (known as dhaak, tesu, palash) is not suitable for gardens due to its crooked trunk and unseemly shape, flowers that last only a few weeks, and large, thick leaves that spawn a tedious litter.

‘’I have not seen the administration’s nurseries cultivating this tree. The solitary specimen at the Raj Bhawan was planted on the insistence of then conservator of forests Ishwar Singh years back. A very well developed ‘imli’ tree was to be removed because its branches had broken and injured labourers. In its place was planted the FoF, against which I voiced objections, but was overruled,’’ Dhillon told this writer.

A falcon’s powers

(Photo credits-Sarabjit S. Mahal)

In last week’s columns, I had narrated the episode of the wounded Peregrine falcon developing a strange friendship with a hen offered to the raptor as food at the Chhatbir zoo hospital. It was not as if the formidable falcon could not kill the hen. It was just that the falcon had a broken wing and did not have enough space in the enclosure to mount its attack. So, a mutually-comforting friendship developed between the two in the recuperative enclosure. However, in the wilderness, a hen is easy meat for a fit falcon.

As luck would have it, Ambala-based birder Sarabjit S Mahal read the column and sent me fascinating photographs of a Shaheen falcon eating a well-sized hen on a tree on January 24, 2007. The tree was part of rows of Silk cotton and Amaltas straddling the army hospital’s parking lot in Ambala cantonment. Mahal says the falcon must have filched the hen from a nearby butchery or from backyard poultry retained by domestic helpers in the parking lot’s vicinity.

The Shaheen is the resident Indian race of the Peregrine and was prized by Mughal nobles and contemporary falconers for its distinguished looks, speed and killing prowess. A trained female Shaheen could even hunt Mallards and Lesser floricans.


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