Monday, March 6, 2017

SpiderIndia Meet 2017 :: Kolkata, West Bengal

By Dr. Atul Vartak

The much awaited first SpiderIndia Meet was held in Kolkata, West Bengal from the 17th – 19th February 2017.

Stay was arranged in the Oasis Guest House in Jadavpur. Enthusiastic participants from different parts of the country started coming on from the 16th night and some arrived on 17th morning. About 20 enthusiasts from 6 States attended the meet.

On the first day 17th Feb all participants assembled at the Nature Mates office at Bijoygarh. Breakfast was followed by an introduction session by the participants. From there everyone was taken to ZSI (Zoological Survey of India) where we visited the Arachnology section first, spent time interacting with the PhD students and the staff. Also got to see a lot of specimens preserved from the British Indian Empire era. This was followed by a visit to different departments in ZSI and Lunch at the canteen. 



In the afternoon we proceeded for some fieldwork in the Botanical Gardens and the day concluded at the Nature Mates office where everyone made the days checklist.

The following two days, 18th and 19th were busy with a lot of fieldwork at 3 different sites. 18th Morning was spent in Central Park also known as the Banabitan followed by lunch on field. There after we proceeded to the Eco Park where participants had the paper presentation session. An online chat with Vijay Barve and Siddharth Kulkarni currently perusing PhD at the Washington University was very rewarding. A demonstration on Spider dissection was also organized at the same site.




19th morning participants were taken to the Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary for fieldwork .The session concluded in the evening at the Nature Mates office where the participants were presented with participation certificates.

Approximately 12 Families 20  Genera were photo documented and a format for future documentation of spiders was discussed. A number of interesting spiders were photographed. Anepsion sp. , Ariamnes sp. Tylorida Sp. and many more!

Three days with spider enthusiasts… researchers... was a very satisfying with a lot of knowledge exchanged and new friends made. Overall a very good experience. A big thank you to the organizing team … Vijay Barve, Arjan Basu Roy and Team Nature Mates for successfully conducting this meet .

Looking forward for the next one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rare spider spotted in a remote hospital in Assam through activities of a School Nature Club

An article was published recently in the Biodiversity Data Journal entitled, “Report of Platythomisus octomaculatus (C. L. Koch, 1845) and Platythomisus sudeepi Biswas, 1977 from India (Araneae, Thomisidae)”. The first species, P. octomaculatus, is being recorded after 120 years of its last report and its distribution has been extended to Assam in India from its previously known distributions in Java and Sumatra. The article was published by Ms. Swara Yadav, a zoologist from Satara, Maharashtra and Dr. Vijay Anand Ismavel, the Medical Superintendent of the Makunda Christian Leprosy & General Hospital (www.makunda.in) in the Karimganj District of Assam. Mr. Vinayak Patil from the College of Forestry in Dapoli, Maharashtra had also found another species in the same genus, P. sudeepi, and this observation is also discussed and reported in the same paper.
The Assam observation was possible through the activities of the “Makunda Nature Club”. Dr. Vijay Anand Ismavel had been working in the Makunda hospital (a mission hospital situated in a remote part of Assam, bordering Mizoram and Tripura) since 1993. He started photographing and documenting biodiversity in and around the campus in 2009 (shortly after suffering a heart attack). Over the next 7 years, he documented over 5300 observations (of nearly 2000 different species) – all of them uploaded to iNaturalist with over 10,000 supporting photographs - http://www.inaturalist.org/people/8853. Most of them are also posted to the different iNaturalist groups of DiversityIndia.
 In 2015, Dr. Vijay Anand founded the “Makunda Nature Club” – this is formed with some staff members (postgraduate teachers in Botany, Zoology and Biotechnology of the Makunda Christian Higher Secondary School -  a school run by the Hospital Society with over 900 children studying upto Class XII in Arts/Science) and about 30 student members. A seminar on Forest Conservation was the first activity – tree-planting and a talk by Padma Shri Jadav Payeng, the “Forest Man of India”. The club then organized a biodiversity documentation workshop conducted by Mr. Rohit George from Indian BiodiversityPortal (IBP) at Makunda and following this a “Makunda Nature Club” group was also formed on IBP to enable members to upload photos from their cellphones directly using the IBP App. Mr. Siddharth Kulkarni, an arachnologist from Pune who is also the Country Coordinator for India on the World Spider Catalog (he is presently pursuing his Ph.D in Arachnology at the George Washington University in the USA) then conducted a workshop on “Basic Arachnology” for the Club members. A few months later, Mr. Siddharth Kulkarni and Ms. Swara Yadav were  invited to Makunda to spend time with the Club members in doing a survey of spider biodiversity in the 350 acre campus of the hospital. Members learnt about spider families, habits and how to identify different species. The hospital purchased a stereo-microscope for the Club so that identification of spiders could be done in the school science laboratory. It was during this survey, that two specimens of Platythomisus octomaculatus were found (one by Antina Pasyad, a student from Class 8 of the school and the other by Rejoice Gassah, who has joined the hospital as a full-time staff of the Club – he was a student of Makunda’s School and is now pursuing his BA – both of them belong to the Jaintia tribe and their families live in jungle villages close to the hospital). One of the spiders had an egg-sac – members observed spider-lings emerge and grow over several days till they dispersed. Further scientific work on confirmation of the identification was done by Ms. Swara Yadav and Mr. Siddharth Kulkarni leading to the publication.
The Makunda Nature Club is probably the only (or one of the few) nature clubs in schools in India that inform and engage student members in actual professional scientific research in surrounding forests.  This creates an awareness of the different life forms that exist, their interdependence with each other and leads children to appreciate their beauty as well as the need to conserve forests and all the species that forests support. It also stimulates the curiosity of children and inculcates an interest to learn more about the species that are observed and adds meaning to the biology subjects that they study in class. A few children, having been exposed to observation and documentation of biodiversity may decide to pursue it as a career.
In 2015, Dr. Vijay Anand and some members of the Club found a male van Hasselt Sunbird (Leptocoma brasiliana) in surrounding forests – this species has now been found in the hospital campus as well. This was the first time this species had been photographed in present-day India and this observation was published in Indian Birds by Dr. Vijay Anand (along with Mr. Praveen Jayadevan, a researcher from Bangalore). We hope that in the years to come, more such discoveries would be made and citizen science initiatives such as the “Makunda Nature Club” would make significant contributions to existing knowledge on biodiversity.


New butterfly, spotted three decades back


Limenitis rileyi. Picture courtesy: British Natural History Museum, London
Guwahati, Jan. 31: A butterfly, spotted in Arunachal Pradesh nearly three decades back, has been finally described as a new species.

The Limenitis rileyi Tytler was sighted by London-based naturalist Purnendu Roy in Upper Dibang Valley district in 1987, and has now been reported in the current issue of Journal of Threatened Taxa. "This sighting of L. rileyi represents the first record of this species from India, thus adding to India's butterfly fauna," the article says.
The species was previously recorded in southeast Tibet, Myanmar and northern Vietnam.

Roy had found a single male specimen on July 19, 1987, at a height of around 1,800 metres near Anini in Upper Dibang Valley in a wet sub-tropical broad-leaf forest.

A neighbouring subspecies, L. rileyi xizangana Huang, was recorded in southeast Tibet in 1998. The Dibang Valley record lies between southeast Tibet and northeast Myanmar records and fills a gap in the distribution. No subspecies determination has been made because of the sample size of one. Records of L. rileyi from southeast Tibet and northeast Myanmar indicate a flight period of June to August at altitudes between 1,600m and 2,400m.

"When I collected the butterfly back in 1987 in Upper Dibang Valley, there was no freely available literature to identify this species. Even now it is not illustrated on the Internet to my knowledge. H.C. Tytler unfortunately did not illustrate the species when he described it in 1940 from northeast Myanmar. At the time it was bit of a dead end for investigation so I had left it tentatively identified to a related species L. mimica that occurs in Myanmar and China.

"In 2012, my partner Jo persuaded me that I should spend more time on butterflies again. After hearing about the work of Sanjay Sondhi of Titli Trust, I contacted him and offered to assist in the surveying of moths and butterflies at Pakke tiger reserve and Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary. It was after that trip that I decided to approach the British Natural History Museum, London, to assist in identifying what I could not identify in 1987. David Lees identified the species as L. rileyi. He also recognised that another specimen I had was not described before, which I named Callerebia dibangensis in 2003," Roy told The Telegraph.

He said the butterfly is found in wet sub-tropical Montane forests at around 1,800m. Such areas can be inaccessible in monsoon owing to landslides and with frequent rains it can be a lottery to observe butterflies. Consequently, species that fly in monsoon like this species, maybe overlooked, he added.

Roy said habitat loss is the greatest risk to any species. Where the species was collected, the forest is quite fragmented and so locally could be at risk. There are larger forests where it may be less at risk but these are quite inaccessible or in protected areas. "I think it is essential that local biodiversity is conserved and that we are not just left with islands of biodiversity, inaccessible to most people and more vulnerable. For the lower forests, the proposed Dibang Valley dam is a major threat. Despite being initially rejected by the forest advisory committee in 2013, it has been given the go ahead again and some of India's finest forests will be destroyed," he said.





Friday, January 27, 2017

Moths of India reaches 600 species

The Moths of India website has reached 600 species, an amazing achievement in just over 15 months since we went live. Some interesting moths posted in the last few months are...


 
The Zygaenid moth Psaphis euschemoides http://www.mothsofindia.org/sp/355920/Psaphis-euschemoides, which is an amazing mimic of another day flying Geometrid moth, the False Tiger MothDysphania militaris http://www.mothsofindia.org/sp/355022/Dysphania-militaris. Or is it the other way around?
 


 
The incredibly beautiful Zygaenid moth Campylotes-desgodinsi http://www.mothsofindia.org/sp/35591 2/Campylotes-desgodinsi

 
The Sea Buckthorn Hawkmoth Hyles hippophaes http://www.mothsofindia.org/sp/355943/Hyles-hippophaes, previously known from India only by a single specimen collected by Avinov in 1912. 



Orthobrachia hirowatarii, a species described in 2016 from China and Thailand, reported in India for the first time at http://www.mothsofindia.org/sp/355935/Orthobrachia-hirowatarii


 
The other highlight is that the number of contributors has increased to 40.

Keep “mothing" and contributing!

The Moths of India team

It’s a bug’s life

Nita Sathyendran THIRUVANANTHAPURAM JANUARY 25

Author and science education consultant Geetha Iyer weaves tales of insects in her book The Weavers - The Curious World of Insects

When Geetha Iyer looks out into her expansive garden in her home in Suchindram, near Kanyakumari, or any garden or patch anywhere, for that matter, it’s not only the trees, flowers, birds, bees and butterflies that she sees but also wasps, moths, crickets, spiders and hundreds of other insects that live hidden in plain sight. It’s only a matter of opening your eyes and you can see the sheer diversity in the insect world, feels Geetha, author of the book The Weavers - The Curious World of Insects, published by Harper Collins.

The Weavers   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Geetha, a biology teacher and former head of Sahyadri school, Pune, now a freelance science education and environment consultant and macro photographer, was in the city to open up the world of insects to children at an interactive session at Schoolkutti.com Children’s Library. “The moment most people hear the word insect, immediately their minds skip to cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes and other pests and to disease and to issues of hygiene and sanitation. They forget that there are myriads of other insects out there, many of which have fantastic stories to tell and valuable applications that can benefit humankind,” she says, her enthusiasm for bugs, infectious.

Long horned beetle   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

 
“I started taking an interest in insects while I was running a nature culb at Apeejay School in Noida. In those days Noida was just green open spaces populated with all manner of flora and fauna, where you could cross the bund and see birds on the Yamuna. It really caught on while I was teaching at Rishi Valley School, which is set in a sprawling 400-acre green campus in the interiors of Andra Pradesh,” she reminisces.

Moths are as colourful as butterflies   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

 
Her first book was Satpada, Our World Of Insects, a ready-reckoner on insects for students and amateur naturalists, which she co-wrote with former colleague at Rishi Valley, Rebecca Thomas. In The Weavers, the world of insects that weave silk, forms the central thread. In it Geetha explores their lives, their management practices, their mating rituals and so on, peppered with ‘oddities and eccentricities.’

Weaver ant queens with eggs   | Photo Credit: Geetha Iyer

“Contrary to popular perception, silk worms are not the only ones that weave silk. Dance flies of the family Empididae court their mates by presenting them with silk-wrapped prey. Caddisflies weave protective cases in a variety of beautiful shapes. These cases are semi-permeable membranes. Insects have been spinning silk for millions of years, even if it has been only 5,000 years since humans discovered it. Why can’t we see it all as clothing material and harness their secrets of survival, especially as we are living in a world that’s facing cataclysmic environmental changes? Unfortunately, not much of research is being done on this area,” says the author.
However, Geetha’s primary area of interest, is in the field of science education. “My aim is to change the way biology is taught in the curriculum. For decades now, the curriculum has not changed. From class five to class 12, the same things are taught again and again - flower structure, breeding systems... Biology is essentially about life being sacred and we need to teach children to respect life in all its diversity. If they are taught to understand what life is all about then, perhaps, people would think twice about supporting animal cruelty sports,” says Geetha. Apart from helping schools audit their science programmes, Geetha runs the website www.biologyeducation.net to as a free resource for students and science teachers.
“Science can be fun; all it need is a bit of effort on the part of students and teachers. There is much to be taught and learnt from the originality, ingenuity and creativity of animals and insects,” she says.
Did you know?
The Caddisfly is an aquatic insect. These flies thrive only on clean water and are indicators of pollution.
Northern Praying Mantis is a Chinese martial art form, inspired by the aggressiveness of the praying mantis.
The jewel wasp injects mind-altering venom on cockroaches, which makes the latter behave like a dog on a leash. They then take them to their nests and lay eggs on them. The eggs develop on the cockroaches.
The Ming emperors in China used to hold cricket fights. Their prized champion insects were housed in gilded cages.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Butterfly spotted after 58 years - Sighted in Arunachal Pradesh


A Howarth's Hairstreak. Picture credit: Rachit Singh
Guwahati, Jan. 1: His love for the butterfly world helped young Rachit Singh to sight Howarth's Hairstreak, a butterfly species, after 58 years at Tenga valley in Arunachal Pradesh.

Howarth's Hairstreak ( Chrysozephyrus disparatus interpositus Howarth) was rediscovered 58 years after it was first spotted in Sikkim in 1956. The sighting has been reported in the latest issue of Journal of Threatened Taxa and is authored by naturalists Sanjay Sondhi and Rachit Singh.

This record also extends the known range of this species eastward by 350km from Sikkim to western Arunachal Pradesh.

"My journey with butterflies and insects began in 2012, at Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary. I attended a camp conducted by Sondhi when I was studying in class IX. Tenga valley is an amazing place to study the microfauna and other forms of wildlife as it is right in the foothills of Eaglenest," Singh said.

"After the camp, I used to go for field trips to study the biodiversity of the area. On one of those days, I found this butterfly and was told by other experts that it should be reported. Hence, I started working on it with Sondhi," Singh told The Telegraph.

Singh was then a student of Army Public School at Tenga when he spotted the butterfly on May 21, 2014. He is now pursuing BSc (first year) in biotechnology, chemistry and zoology from Christ University, Bangalore.

The butterfly was seen three times around a particular area along the forest streams in May 2014. The first sighting was on May 21, 2014 at 10am; the second sighting was on the next day.

"The butterfly prefers shaded areas and takes small, swift flights staying 2-3 metres above the ground. While perched on leaves, it moves the hind wing to create an illusion of moving antennae using the tail, he said.

Tenga valley is part of Tenga reserve forest at the northern edge of the Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary and Sessa orchid wildlife sanctuary in western Arunachal Pradesh.

The specific locality where the species was sighted is Tseringpam village in Tenga valley at 1,626 metres and covered with thick green sub-tropical forest.

The area is rich with variety of seasonal shrubs alongside the stream that flows through the valley, with a gradual fall in altitude.

The wet patches along the forest form good mud-puddling grounds. The area is free of human disturbances and agriculture.

Surveys in western Arunachal Pradesh landscape have resulted in the addition of several butterfly species that are new to India, including Gonepteryx amintha tibetana, Bhutanitis ludlowi and several butterfly rediscoveries and range extensions, including Calinaga aborica.

Original News on The Telegraph