Damsels and Dragons of Mumbai

Black-winged Bambootail Damselfly (Disparoneura quadrimaculata)

Today we are going to look at one of the fastest and also one of the most important insects that we find in our city - Odonatans!

Dragonflies and Damselflies are collectively referred to as ‘Odonatans’ and they are found near water bodies and other damp areas of our city. They are known to have excellent flying skills; some are even capable of flying backwards! Odonatans are aerial predators; that means they are capable of hunting while in flight.

Ruddy Marsh Skimmer Dragonfly (Crocothemis servilia)
These insects bear an important significance as they feed on mosquitoes and other pests and thus help in controlling pest populations in our city. Both, the larval stage (young ones) and the adult stage of Odonatans are known to prey on mosquitoes and other harmful insects. In the past, people in Thailand have successfully used dragonflies to control populations of the ‘Aedes’ mosquito which is an important vector in the spread of dengue fever. Maybe Mumbai can take some inspiration from the above example and do something similar to combat the current dengue issue that the city is facing. 

There are more than 500 different species of Odonatans found in India alone and they form a major portion of the diet of many birds and animals. Odonatans help in indicating the health of the forests. So if a forest contains a diverse and healthy population of dragonflies and damselflies, then it indicates that the forest is in its pristine state. 

Keep a watch for these marvelous insects hovering around the water bodies – they are absolutely attractive and amazing creatures!

Pygmy Dartlet Damselflies(Agriocnemis pygmea)

Butterflies: Beautifying Mumbai!

Mumbai is home to about 160 species of butterflies! A little hard to believe this, isn’t it? But it’s absolutely true!

In our city, many different landscapes are closely intermingled with each other, which lead to the creation of various habitats that are suitable for a rich biodiversity. This has helped the butterflies to adapt to our urban landscape and add much beauty to it. In today’s blog-post we shall look at some of the most interesting and mesmerizing butterflies found in our city of Mumbai. 

The first one that I want to highlight is called the Blue Oakleaf (Kallima Horsfieldi). It usually goes unnoticed due to its resemblance to a dead leaf. Surprisingly, the upper-side of this butterfly is well coloured with shades of white and blue. An interesting fact about the Oakleaf Butterfly is that every individual in this species has a different under-wing pattern, making each and every butterfly unique!

Then there’s the Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor) which is supposedly the biggest butterfly to be found in Mumbai. It is a very restless butterfly and seldom does one get to see it still. The best time to see one is during the monsoons and maybe for a couple of months after that.

The Spot Swordtail (Graphium nomius), like the name suggests, has a characteristic sword like tail and this makes it a great sight to see! It is easily disturbed and known to be very agile at all times. It is mostly found in the forested areas of Mumbai.

And finally the Orange Awlet (Bibasis jaina) also known as the Orange-striped Awl is a very rare butterfly that is found in Mumbai. It is crepuscular in nature, i.e. it is active during early mornings and late evenings. If you find one, then make sure to take a photo of it because in general it is a very rare sight.

The above descriptions give you just a glimpse of the variety of butterflies that are found in our city. Begin observing your locality closely; you never know when you might encounter a rare butterfly just next door!

- Aristo Mendis 

The Bird that goes: Tuk-Tuk-Tuk..

Did you know that Mumbai has its own dedicated ‘city bird’?

You might think that this title has been given to the common crow or the blue rock pigeon or maybe even to the house sparrow; because these are birds that Mumbaikars come across all the time. But what if I tell you that none of the above hold the coveted title of being our 'city bird'? 

The city bird of Mumbai is the Coppersmith Barbet and it is also known as the Crimson-breasted Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala). This bird is more often heard than seen and it is known to make a monotonous call that goes like, tuk-tuk-tuk. The call resembles a coppersmith repeatedly hitting a copper sheet and this is how it gets its name. The Coppersmith Barbet is also known to make an early morning call to welcome the sunrise. Haven't you heard this call in your locality?

Coppersmith Barbets can be found near wooded areas, gardens and possibly even in the greener patches around your residence. They often inhabit older trees, wherein they utilize the cavities to build nests and to roost. They are known to feed on flowers, fruits and occasionally on insects too. And another interesting fact about this bird is that it can consume up to 3 times its own body weight for a day’s meal!

At first glance, the Coppersmith Barbet appears to be almost the size of a sparrow with a greenish plumage that helps it easily camouflage against trees, but at closer inspection we get to see a prominent red forehead, yellow colored eye-ring and throat patch with streaks in the underside. Both the males and females look alike, but the younger ones are paler in comparison and they lack the red patch in their foreheads.  Barbets in general are closely related to the woodpeckers.

Some of the factors that have caused the population of this bird to decline recently are human encroachment, increasing population levels and also the use of pesticides (as it feeds on fruits). But with some amount of awareness and support we can easily help in conserving this wonderful bird. For starters, you can look out for the Barbet the next time you visit your local garden and then make sure that the trees in which it nests and feeds are not harmed or cut down without any reason.

So if you haven’t got a glimpse of this bird yet, hope you get one soon!!

And do share with us your photos/articles/experience about the Coppersmith barbet on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/GreenLineIndia

Backyard Wildlife- By Aristo Mendis

Generally when we speak of wildlife, the first image that pops up into our minds is that of a scenic evergreen forest with tall trees and thick foliage, alive with a variety of creatures. While this interpretation is not entirely wrong, the danger is that by imagining that all ‘wildlife’ exists only in some distant forests, we may unconsciously ignore the ‘flora and fauna’ that actually surrounds us – that is found in the vicinity of our homes, workplaces and other public spaces.

In a city like Mumbai, we unfortunately have close to no interaction with nature; because we are too busy fending for ourselves in a never-ending rat race. Actually, given our stressful lifestyles, nature can prove to be a good stress-buster – all we need is just a basic level of interest in these other forms of ‘life’. 

And we don’t need to look too far; our own surroundings have a relatively good variety of trees and animals that just go unnoticed. Common examples can be that of birds, butterflies, frogs and trees that exist in our residential colonies, public gardens, along roads and other nearby areas.

Praying Mantis- Seen near Don Bosco, Naigaon. 

So how do we go about getting in touch with our ‘backyard wildlife’? For starters, we could become a little more observant, just looking at the trees, birds, butterflies, insects, etc. that we constantly see around us. We could then go a step further by setting aside a few hours, possibly on weekends or holidays, to engage in casual bird watching, or attempting to identify the common trees/insects/animals in our localities. And for those of us who want to get a bit more professional, we could begin maintaining our ‘nature journals’ – jotting down our observations and findings.

Well, my suggestion is that you give it a try. Over the next week, look carefully at every tree that you pass by; observe the birds and insects that are flying around. I can assure you that you will be amazed by the amount of ‘backyard wildlife’ you discover. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s a fantastic learning experience!

And yes, it would be great if you can share your discoveries on this blog.  We would love to hear of your discoveries!