The term `wildlife’ immediately brings to our minds dense, impenetrable forests teeming with the animals like deer, tiger, lion, elephant, etc. And, when one wants to see some wildlife, a visit to a National park or a wildlife sanctuary is thought to be unavoidable.
According to the dictionary, `wildlife’ means `undomesticated plant and animal life’. And here, wildlife refers not only to the large mammals but also to the larger world of trees, shrubs, other smaller plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and all else that is living. So, when one looks at wildlife with this definition in mind, it becomes clear that all plants and animals very familiar to us had been hitherto ignored. These may be the ones that we may have seen in a nearby park, in a garbage dump, in a small garden or for that matter even inside our houses. All of these are components to be found in many an inhabitation. Now, with this understanding, let us explore our surroundings and spy some wildlife.
Let us begin our search for wildlife at a park that seems most ideal in a bustling and polluted city, which we might feel, has little to offer for wildlife.
Herbs, shrubs and trees are normally used to create a park. These may be flowering and ornamental plants from far and near to suit various tastes and needs. Observing all these life forms along with their interactions can be rewarding.
As plants support life, the first place to start our exploration would be amidst them. A congregation of plants can be home to certain mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and a multitude of other life forms including fungi, each of them being governed by their surroundings.
If you have a pile of organic matter lying about in your garden, there is every possibility that you will be surprised by the sudden appearance of some or the other fungi growing on it.
In a park, birds make their presence felt owing to the ease with they are seen and/or heard. Bulbuls, magpie robins, cuckoos and others herald their presence with their melodious voice. Others prefer to keep out of sight. And during winter months, migrants add to the variety. One can, over a period of time, make a long list of birds for a frequently visited area!
Butterflies with their myriad colours are almost always present in such settings. Mormons and jays, emigrants and grass blues are just a few. They can be seen visiting flowers or drinking from a patch of wet soil.
Butterflies co-exist with other organisms, all waiting to be discovered. These may include leaf-like grasshoppers, stick-like praying mantids, sap-sucking bugs, spiders and many more. Social insects like ants, bees, wasps and termites along with arachnids like scorpions, reptiles like lizards hiding on tree trunks, caterpillars under leaves or predators lurking in a flower can be noted.
The presence of a water-body, immaterial of its size, often enhances the variety of organisms in the vicinity. The most prominent addition to the already growing list would be a frog or a toad. You may also have insects like dragonflies and damselflies appearing on the scene.
Some 17 species of amphibians are reported from Bangalore. Over the years their numbers have declined. However, one can still see some frogs and toads near water bodies, particularly during the monsoon months.
Checkered Keelback is a snake that is often associated with water bodies in the city. During summer months when the water level has receded, it can be seen making a meal of fish. In winters, this non-venomous snake can be seen basking.
The garbage dump, depending on the composition, often attracts the omnipresent crow, mynas and kites besides rodents.
The Jungle Myna is among the common denizens of the city. It can be seen picking up a variety of food that is found in the urbanscape.
The Common Kite seems to have become a commensal of man. It can be seen in a wide array of situations in an urban scenario. It could be in the market areas or near large drainage systems of the city. It is a pleasure to watch the flying capability of this bird as it dodges the traffic to pick up a morsel.
All of us have an innate liking for plants. We tend to grow a few about the place where we live. A kitchen garden or just a collection of potted plants can support quite a few organisms. A potted palm in the garden or a lemon plant may support caterpillars of some butterflies, while the lantana and zinnia provide nectar for the adult butterflies, thus providing an opportunity to watch the entire life cycle of a butterfly. You may find spiders hiding amidst flowers to make a meal of insects visiting them. A few birds like the sparrow or a warbler may also be seen.
House Sparrows were once part of daily life in the city. For a variety of reasons, their numbers have dwindled. Reasons as wide ranging as apartments replacing bungalows to cell phone towers are attributed to their decline.
A small garden with a smattering of flowers that yield nectar, either native or exotic, is very likely to attract some butterflies like this Striped Tiger.
Finally, coming to our own immediate and familiar setting – our homes. Though we believe that our home is not a good place for wildlife, the truth that our residences are particularly suitable to some organisms will remain. There are innumerable places in a home where wildlife can be seen.
The outside of the house can be a good place to start with. On close observation of the outside wall surface, very flat spiders that closely resemble the colour of wall (this is however restricted to dull colours) can be spotted. Here they spend all their lives. One may even have the rare opportunity of seeing a bat roosting under the eaves. The many dark corners often reveal a variety of spiders, small wasp’s nest, cocoons of moths and many more. While the antenna on the rooftop can be a good perch for many birds like the crows, mynas, bushchats, kites and others.
Similarly, while inside, one can find many situations suitable for wildlife. Evening is a particularly good time. Geckos (wall lizard) can be seen hiding behind tubelights waiting to catch mosquitoes and others that are attracted to the light. Depending on where you are you may have some beetles visiting you at certain times of the year. There could be more than one kind of spider within the house. Some, which have built their webs in the corners, are also waiting for a meal while others prefer to either run their prey down or pounce on them.
All of us are only too familiar with the gecko. These little reptiles can have a substantial impact on the insect populations inside residences. They feed on a range of insects, from the nagging mosquito to the ubiquitous cockroach.
Most of our homes provide adequate spaces for the Daddy-long-legs or Dancing Spider. Even the slightest disturbance to their web, typically built in the corner of homes, will educate you on why it gets the latter name.
Unplugged electrical sockets seem ideal for wasps to lay eggs in after stashing with paralysed prey (which would then be fresh food for the larva to be born), subsequently sealing the entrance.
Any uncovered food material attracts houseflies. Ants can also be seen visiting similar food sources. Sugar containers seem to be their favourite. Careful observation often reveals the presence of more than one species of ant in any household.
Even those other than bookworms would be particularly familiar with this tiny creature – the silverfish which spends most of its life between the pages of a book. The earwig, centipede, the caterpillar that came with the vegetables and the odd toad that strayed into the house and there are many more to be discovered.
Though tree frogs have disappeared from the heart of the city, they can still be seen on the outskirts. They can be seen using spaces behind photo frames, etc to hide during the day. They come out in the evenings to hunt for food.
Small organisms are not the only wildlife to be seen. Even the large mammals can be seen in almost any city. The most often seen among them are the monkeys and squirrels. A mongoose may also surprise you. Many other mammals like rats and bats being nocturnal, often go unseen.
The Grey Musk Shrew is often mistaken for a rodent. It is actually an insectivore. It may be a good idea to encourage these creatures as they are known to keep other rats away!
Shortnosed Fruit Bats can be seen roosting in a variety of situations. It could be under leaves, eaves or even amidst dry leaves on a tree. In the evenings, fruiting trees, particularly the Singapore Cherry Muntingia calabura can be a magnet for these bats. They also play a very important role in the seed dispersal of several other species of plants in the city.
Wildlife, let us be reminded, is not just animals but also the plants. So, the next time you want to see wildlife, just keep your eyes open and you will see plenty of them wherever you may be! Let us not forget that the wildlife we see even in an urban situation can provide ample learning opportunities.
What more, once you have developed an interest in natural history, there is no room for boredom but only fascination and respect for nature!