Monsoon! Rains! Come May, everyone eagerly awaits the press release by the meteorological department, with predictions for the monsoon. The date of arrival, distribution patterns, etc. all hold interest to the people of our country; it helps everyone, particularly the agrarian populace, to gear up for the good that the rains bring with them, and with that, plenty of hope.
Across the subcontinent, plants and animals, man and beast, organisms big and small, all wait for the rains that soak the earth. They have all managed to survive the harsh summer and are now looking forward to the showers for some respite from the heat.
Trees, exhausted after producing flowers and seeds, busy themselves with the onset of the monsoon. They now produce new leaves, shoots and branches, whereby they cover the landscape with a green cloak. Various other organisms that were lying in wait for favourable conditions make an appearance too, all trying to make the most of the short period of plenty. Our jungles too quickly don a green garb and look very vibrant.
As you walk through a forest, some things catch your attention. But something that you may notice only after you have come out of the forest are leeches! These little creatures don’t waste any time: they become active with the first rains of the monsoon. A keen observer would probably notice the little leech sitting on low vegetation, as it tries to sense your presence in the hope of clinging on to you for a meal of blood. However, often, it is only when you get out of your shoes that you realise that some of these slimy leeches have managed to even get through your socks to satisfy their hunger.
More noticeable though is the Hammer-headed Worm. It is easily identified by its very characteristic form. These worms leave behind a glistening slime trail as they move about on the vegetation. They are predators, and are out to make a meal of snails and their ilk.
Snails, which spend the hot, dry summer months hiding, come out in good numbers during the monsoon. One species that is very special is the large, colourful and charismatic Indrella ampulla. This beautiful snail is endemic to the Western Ghats, where it is seen on the forest floor.
On the forest floor, snails share space with millipedes; these ancient arthropods can be seen moving about, seemingly at leisure. Millipedes largely feed on decaying organic matter. The manner in which many millipedes form a coil when disturbed may be familiar to many of us.
In forests, during the rainy season, while looking at snails and millipedes, one could also stumble upon snakes, particularly shieldtails. They are non-venomous snakes and are particularly visible during the wet season, as they come out of their burrows to the surface. Shieldtails are best seen in areas with good leaf litter.
In forests, the leaf litter and other organic matter also support a plethora of plants. In wet forests, Impatiens are particularly noticeable near water, by the roadside, on mud banks and other similar situations. They add colour to the otherwise dull forest floor. Most Impatiens can be seen through the rainy months, after which they wilt away, only to be seen at the onset of the monsoon the following year.
Many a time, a variety of moss, and plants like Utricularia sp. and Eriocaulon sp. are also seen alongside the Impatiens. Also, a whole array of different species of ferns occupies different niches in the forest – many ferns grow on the forest floor while others perch pretty atop trees.
This monsoon, when you are outdoors, keep your eyes open for these and other life forms; else you will end up waiting for a whole year to see them in action again!