Project Croak
A cnemaspis gecko licks its eyelids clean in the Western Ghats

Monsoon fauna of the Western Ghats Part I

A photo-essay of the several unique microfauna found on the monsoon hit slopes of the Western Ghats in India. Reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife of the Sahyadris through a naturalist’s eyes.

Common Indian Toad
A Common Indian Toad found at the side of the road visibly in pain. It died shortly after this image was taken.
Through the years of my course on herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) with the Bombay Natural History Society, I was constantly learning about the different adaptations of reptiles and amphibians to their unique habitats and was keen on seeing these incredible creatures in their wild habitat.
 
Thus, I undertook my first trip in the heart of the monsoon to the herpetology hotspot of the Western Ghats, Amboli in Maharashtra, Cotigaon Wildlife Sanctuary in Goa and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka and the adjacent areas first in 2013 and since then have been religiously visiting these parts each monsoon along with exploring other parts of the Western Ghats in search of crab species new to science with Tejas and team. More about our crab expeditions to unchartered territories of the Ghats can be found here.
Panorama of the Western Ghats
A panorama of the Western Ghats clicked en route one our chosen spots.

 

The Magic of the Monsoon

For me, squirming through the squelching, squishy muck and splashing through the overflowing streams in the verdant green hills while the thick fog obscures your vision and the pelting rain hitting your back is a cathartic process. I revel in the sights, smells, and sounds of the monsoon, the harbinger of life in this part of the country. The croaking of Typewriter frogs echoing through the thickly wooded forest, the Bull Frogs and Common Indian Toads coarsely calling for mates, interrupted only by the claps of thunder resonating with the ground that you are standing on…! Each inch of the land is brimming and bursting with life, making you feel so alive!
 
Here is a short photo-essay on some of the common species of reptiles, amphibians and other creepy crawlies that roam the Western Ghats. These are some of the most misunderstood groups of animals in the world for they are not as dangerous as they are portrayed to be; only ever striking back in self-defense after being treaded on or threatened.
 
Hope you enjoy these images!

 Into the Sahyadris

Igatpuri before the monsoon
This image was clicked in early June, just before the monsoon hit the Western Ghats.

 

Hump Nosed Pit Viper Hypnale hypnale Arjun Kamdar
Hump Nosed Pit Viper in ambush in Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. note how well they camouflage with the leaf litter. Although they are venomous, a bite will generally not be fatal to a human being but extremely painful. anti-venom is also not made for these snakes in particular as they are not commonly encountered by humans. this was at the base of our field station.
A young Vine Snake, Ahaetulla nasuta photographed by Arjun Kamdar in the Western Ghats on a monsoon night
A young Vine Snake curled up and dozing on a tree just next to our field station. They are one of the most often sighted snakes on the field.
A young Vine Snake, Ahaetulla nasuta photographed by Arjun Kamdar in the Western Ghats on a monsoon night
A young Vine Snake on a tree just next to our field station. They are the only snakes in India to have horizontal pupils. due to the pointed shape of their head, folk myth has it that it gouges out the eyes of humans by piercing its head through the eyeballs, it is known as ‘haran-tol’ in marathi.
A moth caterpillar in the Western Ghats Amboli
A moth caterpillar hangs by a strand of silk from a tree. this keeps wily predators at bay and out of reach. I used a torch to illuminate one end and make this image.
wandering spider Ctenizidae in the Western Ghats India Arjun
A Wandering Spider makes a meal of a cricket by covering it in silk and then injecting it with digestive juices. This was clicked seconds after a thunderstorm cleared up. These Spiders typically do not make webs but ambush their prey.
Mosquito on Calotes veriscolor in Aarey Milk Colony Mumbai India wildlife
A mosquito sucks the blood of a Garden Lizard. Ironic as the garden lizard is known as the ‘bloodsucker’ and here the ‘bloodsucker’ is getting its blood sucked by the real bloodsucker as it rests. the garden lizard is often mistaken to be a chameleon by the layman as it resembles one, however, a chameleon is much slower, has a curved tail and protruding eyes whereas a garden lizard possesses a longer, straight tail, non-protruding eyes and is extremely fast.
translucent microhyla tadpoles in the western ghats india
Translucent tadpoles of the Narrow-Mouthed Frog in a small pool of water. these tadpoles will grow to be thumbnail sized frogs that have an unusually loud call for their size!
Malabar Gliding Frog calling in Western Ghats Amboli. India
Malabar Gliding Frog sits on a dead branch in a pool of water and calls. I had to switch off my torchlight and lay down completely in the water for fifteen minutes to get this shot of him and his reflection.

 

Nyctibatrachus eggs suspended on a leaf in the Western Ghats. The Wrinkled Whistling Frog lays these eggs
These transparent eggs belong to the Wrinkled Whistling Frog and are laid on leaves/branches suspended directly above a waterbody so that when the eggs hatch, the tadpoles drop into the waterbody. this adaptation allows the eggs to develop away from the water where ravenous predators and pathogens are plenty. the transparent eggshell permits us to peek into the world of a developing tadpole, still attached to the yolk sac.

 

A Skittering Frog inflates his vocal sacs in a muddy pool in the Western Ghats India
A Skittering Frogs inflates its vocal sacs to amplify his call in search of mates in a muddy pool. These frogs are found across the country especially in stagnant waterbodies.

 

tarantula in india in the leaf litter
This tarantula was found in the leaf litter, being harassed by ants, one still clinging on to his leg in this image. One can also notice the silk shooting out from the spinneret at his rear end.

 

Arjun Kamdar herping in the Western Ghats
So thick is the fog that visibility is down to a few feet. Even powerful Maglites and torches cannot permeate the cloak of clouds. going in search of reptiles and amphibians (herpetofauna) is known as ‘herp-ing’.

 

A Malabar Pit Viper, Trimeresurus malabaricus lays in ambush in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India
My first image of a Malabar Pit Viper in its habitat. it lays perfectly still in ambush, a few feet off the ground waiting for an unsuspecting frog or rodent to pass within striking range.  Made this image by providing an external light source and clicking it from the ground level.

 

Do it yourself!

The Western Ghats are abound with wildlife and all you need to know is how to look for it. One of the best places to start ‘herp-ing’  is in Amboli (nearest bus and railhead is Sawantwadi 31 km away | Sawantwadi is well-connected by overnight buses and trains from major cities. I prefer the Konkan Kanya Express 10111 that leaves Mumbai at midnight and reaches Sawantwadi early the next morning, thus saving you a day). Important to note that the Sawantwadi station is about 8 km away from the highway where you shall get a bus, hence you could get off a station prior, at Kudal.
Beware of traffic on the ghats to Amboli on the weekends as locals gather around waterfalls en route to make merry generally in the second half of the day, leading to massive jams.
There are a handful of budget and mid-range hotels in Amboli and it is advisable to book beforehand as they tend to get full in the monsoon. You could also ask them whether any ‘eco-camps’ have been scheduled which are these trails lead by naturalists, either locals or those who have worked in the area. A picturesque homestay run by a butterfly and herpetofauna- expert called ‘Whistling Woods’ is a good place to consider.

Hope that you enjoyed the first part of the series, the next part shall be uploaded in two weeks’ time!

Please drop me a message on projectcroak [at] gmail.com or comment below if you have any feedback!

-Arjun
All text and photographs by Arjun Kamdar

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