Explore the incredible world of the invertebrates that dwell in your backyard in this article; step-calculating ants, wily caterpillars, stronger-than-steel spiders and so on!
Humans have been curious about invertebrates since time immemorial. Here is a short insight into some of these incredible invertebrates of India.
A trail of ants depicted in an ancient rock shelter in Central India- these paintings are presumed to be several thousand years old! Read more about these paintings here.
A Barythelphusa crab that is endemic to this windswept lateritic plateau in the Western Ghats. Studying these invertebrates throw light on the process of speciation and biogeography; more can be found on this blog here and here.
A Sahyadriana thackerayi on a rock- symbolic of the ‘sky- island theory’
A two-tailed Hersilia spider with its prey wrapped in a cocoon. Spider venom attacks the nervous system and liquifies the inside which is then sucked up by the spider. However, intimidating as it sounds there is nothing to be afraid of (unless you are a tiny insect!) as there have been no reported deaths in India from spider bites and almost all spiders are generally wary of humans and will avoid them at all costs! Read more here.
An iridescent spider’s web in the dense rainforests of Sri Lanka. Some spiders are known to travel hundreds of kilometers, riding air currents using strands of silk as parasails!
Each year at the onset of the monsoon, several hundreds of thousands of fireflies congregate in the Western Ghats; creating this incredible spectacle- almost as though the stars fell to the earth and are dancing with the clouds! Read more about them here.
A long exposure of a firefly moving amongst the leaf litter- they use patterns in their flashes of light to communicate and identify their species from another.
Neoscorpiops satarensis, a recently discovered scorpion that lives largely a subterranean life- living between sheets of rocks. The pancake-like dorsoventrally flattened body aids this kind of lifestyle.
A leaf katydid perfectly camouflaged in the undergrowth of a rainforest. Here is an interesting article on the significance and advantage of the evolution of camouflage in katydids.
Theory suggests that caterpillars hang down from trees by a strand of silk in order to stay safe from predators. While dangling off a tree, it is out of the reach of geckos, lizards, spiders and other arboreal predators as well as leaf and bark gleaning birds. Here a woolly caterpillar hangs in the dark by a strand of silk. More here.
A Cataglyphis ant with the dismembered carcass of a tiger beetle, these ants have adapted to the super-hot, scorching landscapes and possess a brilliant sense of direction and path-finding on their long foraging excursions. They zig zag all over the place but make a straight line back to the nest when they need to return; evidence suggests that they make use of the sun as a navigation tool along with ‘counting’ the number of steps they take. More here.
A beetle covered in an Impatiens flower’s pollen. Beetles have been pollinating flowers since over 200 million years. Being the most diverse group of organisms, they are also responsible for pollinating a majority of the angiosperm – read more here.
A dew-drenched spider’s web in Central India. One of the most structurally-advanced materials in the natural world is spider silk; pound for pound, stronger than steel! Engineers and scientists have turned to spider silk for inspiration for several new-age technological solutions. Read more including about a diving spider here.
A damselfly at a waterfall in the cloud forests of Sri Lanka. Read about their interactions with each other here.
An ant-mimic spider looks identical to an ant to not only secure prey but also to deter predators. Some species are known to go a step further and secrete similar pheromones to those as the ants themselves. Read more about their feeding mechanism here.
An Ant-mimic Praying Mantis in the leaf-litter; several insects mimic ants from flies, mantis, to spiders!
A male stream jewel damselfly Rhinocypha fenestrella woos a drab-coloured female with its gaudy display. In the animal kingdom, the male is the more ornate, gaudy sex – some hypotheses suggesting that this is because females invest more heavily in bearing and raising offspring while males compete amongst each other to get chosen for mating by females. More on the sexual selection behaviour of damselflies here.
A huge amount of appreciation to Dr Shannon Olsson, a chemical ecologist teaching us invertebrate biology for inducing us to think on different lines!
Please let me know in the comments below if there are any invertebrates that you would like me to cover for the coming few pages.
All images and text by Arjun Kamdar.