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Home / Chandigarh / Wildbuzz: A mousetrap for fish

Wildbuzz: A mousetrap for fish

chandigarh Updated: Jul 04, 2020 22:53 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
The Fish trap submerged in the Mirzapur waters and (below) the small fish that had been trapped in the contraption.
The Fish trap submerged in the Mirzapur waters and (below) the small fish that had been trapped in the contraption. (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)

Along the banks of a wetland, life thrives in all its resplendent glories and diversities. And so do hunters and illegitimate killers. Rambling along the thorny and undergrowth-lined northern banks of Mirzapur dam in the Shivalik foothills on Tuesday, I was making heavy headway with a wary eye for serpents. But something impelled me to keep moving on, lured as I was by the unexplored wilderness. Perhaps, it was something else that Nature was driving my fated footsteps towards.

I stumbled upon a suspicious, basket-like contraption placed in a wedge of submerged weeds. The weeds poking out of water would twitch nervously from a submerged source. I realised it was a fish trap, an innovative contraption fashioned from riverine grasses and slim bamboos with a door of sharpened spikes that lets a fish come in but the trapdoor closes behind the fish. It works very much like a mousetrap with nine-tenths of its structure submerged in water and is normally used to nail large fish. The trap allows the poacher to fetch the trapped fish at his leisure as the fish remains alive and flesh preserved within the water even as the victim paces the aqueous trap like a tiger wandering distractedly along the perimeters of a zoo enclosure.

This is the second occasion that I have come across such a mousetrap for fish, the first being while on a tour of the Harike Wildlife sanctuary in December 2015. The wildlife officials had removed the trap from Harike’s waters.

I proceeded to pull out the Mirzapur trap and discovered there was no big fish but nearly a 100 very small fish or minnows, tinier than goldfish that had entered the trap and could not get out. They had been left to rot and stagnate in the trap as their size was too small to appease the taste buds of the poacher. They looked helpless with a wide-eyed innocence as human babies snatched from the comforting bosom of free waters. I liberated the little ones, who bounded away in the waters without so much as a grateful glance over their shoulder. I did not fault the fish for their lack of grace and general distrust of humanity.

The Fish spider with a dragonfly prey on the Mirzapur bank.
The Fish spider with a dragonfly prey on the Mirzapur bank. ( Photo: Vikram Jit Singh )

SPIDER HUNTS THE DRAGON

From that fish poacher a genuine hunter was just a few steps and 24 hours away on the Mirzapur banks. The day after, on Wednesday, I again made my way to the spot where I had dismantled the fish trap. As I stood gazing at the waters and imagining the happiness of the freed ones below the gentle ripples, I observed a whitish twig that looked like a piece of driftwood that had washed ashore and had dried. But the funny thing was that a beautiful Red-veined Darter dragonfly was poking out of one end of the supposed driftwood. On closer examination, I realised it was a huge spider which had preyed upon the insect.

Not only did the spider mimic a piece of natural bank litter but it was completely still. Not a twitch, as still as its dead prey. The ingestion of the dragonfly was so measured that it seemed it would take a lifetime. As I watched, another dragonfly and a damselfly hovered dangerously close to the spider. But the spider did not bother. It had its food and would not prey until it needed to do so again. Neither, like humans, would it kill many more that it needed to, just to cater to unforeseen eventualities like a frenzied over-stocking of rations for a Covid lockdown. Or, succumb to the sheer lust to kill and stack up, and assert a murderous dominance like the Chinese dragon!

On verification from experts later, the Mirzapur spider was identified as a Fish Spider belonging to the genus, Nilus. It derives its name from its penchant for preying upon small fish that nibble along the shores and are deceived by this ingenious ‘bagula bhagat’.

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