Spiders, dung and other unusual delights of the monsoon
The monsoon this year has been particularly ferocious with images of flooding beamed by satellite across the world. For the animals and plants, however, it is just another annual event which fits seamlessly into their lives.
After a few weeks, when the puddles have turned to ponds, providing much needed water holes for all the animals, the rufous bellied babblers begin to collect long thin dry leaves – if they can locate them - to build and reinforce their nests. And, whilst the Indian pitta birds stop calling the koel start making much more noise than other birds, especially the crows, who start to chase them away from their nesting sites.
The barren brown hills have become lush green as the sal, Shorea Robusta and jamun tree leaves soak up the life giving rain, and begin to blossom whilst the rocky outcrops become a shiny black as moisture intensifies their sparkling presence.
As mushrooms start to grow on the elephant dung on the forest floor, other equally unusual signs of life also begin to emerge under the canopy of sal tree leaves. Red velvet spider mites seem to emerge from nowhere, seemingly to provide entertainment to children who like to watch these tiny spiders whizz across their hands. In fact, a number of these small velvety creatures actually lose their territory because of being moved around by the kids. To an outsider this must seem one of the more bizarre aspects of the monsoon.
This is the time when the rhesus monkeys begin to chase the beautiful grey langurs and as many deer as they can away from the mango trees – these greedy monkeys want to keep the ripe mangos all to themselves. But the young langur babies have plenty of new shoots and fruits to eat. This is their first monsoon and they are in heaven because there is in reality more than enough food to go around. Indeed there is a surfeit. In addition to the mangos, there are plenty of tendu, jamun and kari fruits bringing a season of great bounty to the forest.
Micro plants like fungi and moss which looked dead thrughout the summer heat, have emerged on rocks and branches providing soft beds for monitor lizards to lie on. There is a double bonus within these plants - they holds thousands of tiny insects providing a veritable feast for the rock agamas - close cousins of the lizards.
The interconnectedness of nature
Butterflies that were rare in the summer are now seen in huge flocks indeed some like the common leopard only appear with frequency and strong numbers during the monsoon. This demonstrates the fantastic inter-dependence of nature because these butterflies are dependent on the aristolochia plant which in turn are dependent on the bounty of the monsoon rains. It is not uncommon to see plants so covered in caterpillars that the plant itself becomes invisible.
A similar symbiosis exists between the grey count butterfly and the citrus plants and when these blossom the moths are not far behind. Some hawkmoths breed on the mangos and we know who loves these.
The life cycle of insects is much faster in the monsoon than during any other season. The jungle cockroaches start to breed in their millions and provide much needed protein to bulbul chicks which, well fed, are then able to leave their nests within an amazing ten days of hatching.
All before your very eyes
But of all the flora and fauna that enjoys the monsoon, surely the bamboo, itself a grass species, is the happiest. This most invasive of plants will grow as high as 30 feet within a matter of weeks. Now that’s the monsoon shift for you.