The Wildlife of Richards Town 2

Granite Ghost- Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

I am fortunate to live in Richards Town, a locality in Bangalore that has a good density of trees and relatively open spaces. The residents share this area with members of the animal kingdom on whose lives they have a direct impact. It is up to the residents to decide if this impact is to be positive or negative. The first step, of course is to be aware of our wild residents. In this series I present to you the wild residents of Richards Town.

The Granite Ghost

Granite is the one of the most commonly used stones in Bangalore. You find it everywhere and you trample on it every time you step on to a sidewalk. But beware there is a ghost lurking in the granite, not only a ghost but a dragon to boot! Don’t be alarmed, no need to spook the kids for it is nothing more than a species of Dragonfly called — you guessed it — The Granite Ghost!

Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonates) are aquatic insects and India with its diverse regions support a large number of species. The British, as usual, were the first to document this diversity in the famous work — The Fauna of British India — Odonata (1933–1936). It runs into three volumes and records a total of five hundred and thirty six species and sub species! There are about six thousand species worldwide and were among the first to develop wings and take to the air.

The life of the Odonates is closely linked to water bodies. While most species are highly specific to a particular type of habitat some have managed to adapt to the urban environment , making good use of man — made water bodies including overhead tanks.

The Granite Ghost Bradinopyga geminata belongs to the family of dragonflies called Libellulidae or Skimmers. Skimmers are usually brightly coloured and found in diverse habitats. They have a worldwide distribution consisting of 1139 species out of which 95 are found in India.

The Granite Ghost has a wing span of 32 to 36 mm and is a medium sized Dragonfly. They have black and white markings which make for excellent camouflage among boulders and stone walls. They can be usually found perched on these features. They are very alert and thus almost impossible to catch with your bare hands.

The Granite Ghost is very common in urban landscapes including Bangalore. They favour small water bodies like rock pools etc and in the urban areas breed in overhead tanks and garden ponds. The larvae are aquatic and have a tendency to destroy fish hatchlings. Different species of Dragonflies have varying flight seasons (time of the year when they can be seen flying) however the Granite Ghost can be found flying all year round. After sunset they come to roost in the same area day after day.

Odonates are predators both at the larval and adult stages and thus play a crucial role in the ecosystem, especially of wetlands. Adults feed on mosquitoes and other blood — sucking flies. The Granite Ghost, common in urban areas, renders its human co — inhabitants a very useful service. They control the scourge of Bangalore — the mosquito .They have been used successfully in the urban areas of Thailand to control the Aedes mosquito. Its role comes into sharp focus when we realize that the Aedes mosquito is responsible for the spread of Dengue and Chikungunya fevers!

Very little is known of the ecology of the odonates of India. The first comprehensive work — The Fauna of British India — Odonata (1933–1936) is also the last! Considering the direct benefits we humans derive from just one species in an urban environment, they at least on purely selfish grounds merit much more detailed study. Another species waiting to be studied at our doorstep.

Bull Frog — Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

The Bull among Frogs

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live close to the ever disappearing lakes of Bangalore, the onset of the rains bring with it a special chorus sung during the night. I am sure everyone is familiar with it. It seems that the perpetuators of this chorus are as joyous as we are for the arrival of life giving rain. Each new shower of rain is welcomed with a fresh bout of calling. The unseen voice is that of the Indian Bull Frog.

The Indian Bull Frog Hoplobatrachus tigerinus is the largest of the frogs found in India. It is found all over the Indian Subcontinent and is an integral part of the ecosystem of any pond, well or field. We usually tend to miss seeing them as they blend so well with their habitat. Look carefully at the grass near the edge of any bit of permanent or semi permanent body of water and you are sure to find them lurking there. But be quick for they have a tendency to jump into the water at the smallest sign of danger.

The Indian Bull Frog though vocal during the rain, which happens to be their breeding season, is silent during the rest of the year. During the dry season, where there is no permanent water, they aestivate which is similar to hibernation but occurs during the summer. In places where the soil is sandy they follow the water table as it recedes sometimes burrowing up to a depth of eight meters.

The Indian Bull Frog, once very common, is now facing an unprecedented danger to its survival. And one of the culprits, you will be surprised to learn, is our taste buds. Yes, the Indian Bullfrog is selectively poached for its large fleshy legs, the most prized part of a frog. I use the word ‘poached’ and not ‘killed’ because in 1985 the Government of India declared a blanket ban on the catching and the killing of frogs under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. The poaching of frogs attracts stringent punishment with a fine of Rs 25,000 and/or imprisonment up to 3 years. As a matter of fact in the year 2008, ten people were detained and fined under the Act. The other dangers are habitat loss, habitat alteration and usage of pesticide. Due to haphazard ‘development,’ of the lakes and water bodies in Bangalore vital breeding areas have reduced and little space is left for this amphibian species to breed and sustain healthy populations.

It is ironical that the monsoon which is a season of vibrant life and joy for most species including frogs has now turned into the time when they are systematically hunted for food. As mentioned this is also their breeding season and the selective killing of the mature bigger adult frogs, before they breed, will lead to a catastrophic decline, drastically reducing their numbers in the future.

The Indian Bull Frogs feed on anything that moves and can be swallowed. They even use their hands to shove in parts of their prey. Apart from their normal diet of insects, they are reported to take mice, shrews, small birds, small snakes, toads and other frogs. From its diet one can gauge the role it plays in maintaining the ecological balance in its ecosystem, urban, rural or wild.

From a human and urban perspective the most important fact is that the tadpoles of the Indian Bull Frog feed on mosquito larvae, thus controlling their numbers and thereby preventing diseases and helping to save human lives. A drastic drop in their population can cause untold misery for us.

Don’t be surprised if during the middle of a chorus, one rainy night, you hear a human scream. For that is the call a Bullfrog makes when it is caught by a predator. The main predator in its case being man.

I wrote this series for our neighbourhood newspaper ‘In & Around Richard’s Town’. While they were written almost ten years ago they still remain relevant today.

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Vikram Nanjappa

Vikram Nanjappa

Described as an interested and well-informed amateur, Vikram’s field of inquiry is ‘Man and Nature: whatever is performed by the one or produced by the other’.