The way back to our room from the main lodge is small path leading down from the museum, to the staff area and further. This small path is mostly used by all our staff during the day and also during the night to move back and forth from work. Along with us the animals on our premises use these paths too. Our resident langur troop hangs around this area when they come to have drink in the small water feature in front of the main building, spotted deer too stay around in the safety of the lights at night. Apart from the larger mammals, there is huge array of smaller life forms which we keep seeing from time to time.
Spiders, butterflies, moths, bugs and a whole array of insects come alive at night while we are making our way back to our rooms. What’s been fascinating is one particular caterpillar, which we found when it just a tiny speck on the leaf. Green in color, amazingly camouflaged amidst the leaves of the Holarrhena Pubescens or Samoka tree, so every day we started watching it while coming to work or at night. Most days it used to be still on this particular leaf, soon we realized that, it too has a time table to feed and rest.
Initially we saw his green body with a slightly brown patch on its back and an impressive head gear which would put a dragon to shame, in weeks the caterpillar was growing to enormous size. From a few centimeters it has grown to a few inches and as thick as finger. One evening Ratik our young naturalist was heading back to the room around 6pm for some pressing work, when he saw that the caterpillar was missing from its usual leaf which it lay motionless on. He started looking for it and later found it on a top branch feeding on a leaf very busily. After coming to know this, we started going back to the tree at the same time each day to see its activity, and amusingly we found it feeding exactly after dark and before dark on a completely different branch much higher than its leaf perch. It was impressive how it had survived the babblers, drongos, treepies, flycatchers and many other species of birds hunting in a mixed hunting flock looking for such juicy meals. The strategy was simple, it stayed motionless throughout the day when the bird activity was at its peak, only moving after dark or at twilight to feed on a completely different branch much higher and further away from its perch.
This leaf home of its was woven with silk on the top layer also on the sides of the leaf was folded using silk, which the caterpillar can produce through a “spinneret”. This tube-like structure is located on the lower side of the caterpillar’s mouth. Silk is generated as a liquid in the salivary glands and excreted through the spinneret; as it makes contact with air, it turns into a solid silk strand. Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers and apparently silk is stronger than steel of the same thickness.
As the caterpillar continues feeding and growing in size, we are all very excited to keep watching it grow. Hope to see it pupate and emerge out as a beautiful butterfly.
- Ashwin HP