Pleasant weather and a clear sky during the night is an invitation to indulge in a nature walk. On one such night, I went out exploring mud bunds near our coconut farm. During the end of the monsoon season these mud bunds are soft with patches of shrubs, grass and weeds. Heavy rains and soft soil expose the top roots of a few trees. Such moist places are a hotspot for arthropods and wasps. These places also serve as a resting place for dragonflies and butterflies.
I walked slowly, observing keenly and searching for tarantulas which stay in tiny holes on the mud bund. As I walked further, I saw an attractive face peeping from the surface of a small circular hole. It had beautiful bulging eyes and fierce looking mandibles. Half of its face was smeared with mud. The face reminded me of kathakali dancers.
I came across many such faces that moved inside in a snap of a second and disappeared. As I was on a lookout for tarantulas, I neglected these sightings and walked further. The next day, I asked my naturalist friends Jithesh Pai and Hayath Mohammed, and learned that the beautiful faces were those of tiger beetle larvae, known for their aggressive predatory behaviour.
Tiger beetles in my farm are mostly seen in groups in the early days of the monsoon, on moist mud bases covered with patches of weeds in close proximity to the waterbody and on shrubs in open places. They lay a single egg in the soil of mud bunds. Once the larvae come out of the egg, they make cylindrical shaped holes perpendicular to the ground. They use their head and thorax to make these holes in the surface. The larvae remain stationary at the surface of the hole waiting for an unsuspecting insect or arthropod to appear. As soon as the prey makes an entry, they swiftly attack and carry it inside their small burrow.
A few days later, I dug out the hole and found it to be 3 inches long. Natural water bodies, mud bunds, trees and shrubs should be retained in their natural form as they serve as a home to rich biodiversity.