The magic of birth and the inevitability of death are, for every other living creature on this planet, part and parcel of the same package called ‘life’.
We are the only species who find it difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that Nature can be incredibly beautiful one moment and so horrifyingly evil the next.
We were in Goa in December 2017 to attend a wedding (not that I ever need an excuse). It was a hectic weekend and I barely got to use the camera, but for the few sessions that did, I do have some images and video footage that demonstrates what I mean.
With the rainy season now a thing of the past – and with it, the easy availability of water – the bird bath was enjoying increasing popularity.
Butterflies too were plentiful. From past experience I knew that their numbers would decrease considerably in the coming months before they return to flood the garden once more at the onset of the next rains. Where they all disappear to in the interim remains a mystery to me!
Most of the birds and butterflies species I saw were not new. With one exception. But before I get to that I’m going to exercise my blogger’s privilege for a flashback!
A couple of years ago, I was on a field trip to the Mahim Nature Park, incongruously located in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum. In response to my interest in attracting butterflies to my farmhouse the tour leader handed me a leaf of a bryophyllum plant.
I planted it in a bed of ixora and since then, for want of a better phrase, the plant has freaked out! I now have a number of individual clumps of the plant sprouting wild within a 20 meter radius of the original leaf.
Back to the present.
Red Pierrot butterflies were all over the backyard. I was thrilled as this was the first time I have seen this particular species in my garden. These colourful, thumb-nail sized butterflies were out in numbers and they were all centred around the bryophyllum.
It so happens that Bryophyllum is the larval plant for this species meaning that it is on this that they choose to lay their eggs so that the caterpillars that hatch can feed on their fleshy leaves.
Though the day, droves of red pierrots zeroed in on the plant with single-minded determination to lay their eggs. And what’s more, they were least bothered by me crouching in wait with my camera!
The eggs were laid singly and to the naked eye they were barely visible, looking more like tiny white blemishes against the green leaf. When viewed through the camera’s macro lens it was a different story altogether!
I would never have believed that such exquisitely symmetrical detail could be crammed into a spot so tiny if I did not see it for myself!
Hundreds of images later I finally decided to take a break.
Like I said before, it was a hectic weekend with the inevitable consumption of large quantities of rich goan food washed down by predominantly amber coloured fluids! I desperately needed to walk off some of those calories.
Picking up the camera I took off down the driveway. On the first bend by the side of the road was this humongous web, with an equally humongous spider. I had seen these before on a trip to Wilderness Resort at Chorla Ghat a couple of years ago.
It was a giant wood spider (Nephilia pilipes) also known as a Golden Orb-weaver for the golden web it weaves. It is one of the largest spiders in the world and this one was almost as big as my palm. Incidentally, this was the female of the species. The male is much, much, much, much smaller!
And if you think those are way to many ‘much-es’ take a look at the image below!!
After a bit of research the following facts came to light. The female can grow to over 20cms (about 8 inches) in size while the male is often as small as 1-2 cms (<1 inch). Several males will often be seen at the periphery of the web waiting for a chance to mate. They have to be careful though. If they don’t play their cards right they are quite likely to get eaten!
Armed with this knowledge I went back to my images and came up with several that had tiny male spiders coinhabiting the web with the gigantic female.
While I was clicking a moth flew into the web and the spider was on it in an instant. It first stunned the prey with its venom. Next, it proceeded to use its hind legs to alternatively pull out strands of silk from spinnerets located near the end of its abdomen, much like a pedalling cyclist, to immobilise the insect in a silk cocoon that it fixed to the web with another strand of silk.
Then, very slowly and deliberately, it turned around to face its victim, pulled on the silk thread that brought the cocoon towards it and began to feed!
I was lucky to get all that on the video below!
And so, within the space of a couple of hours I was witness to pretty red pierrot butterflies laying their tiny yet intricately detailed eggs and setting the foundation for the next generation on one hand and the gory spectacle of a gigantic female arachnid ruthlessly killing and feeding on a hapless moth on the other!