Rainforests are factories of life. Covering less than 6% of the of the land area on Earth, they are estimated to support more than 50% of the flora and fauna species. Many species, however, are not very numerous in their populations. Also, they tend to be fairly localized making them threatened by human-induced changes like climate change and degrading/reducing habitat.
Western Ghats, due to the heavy rainfall they receive from the monsoons, account for some rich rainforests. Agumbe, also known as the Cherrapunji of the South, has recorded the highest rainfall in peninsular India on multiple occasions. The forests at Agumbe are renowned for their diversity, with the King Cobra being the most well-known denizen. A walk through these forests reveals that there is much more to the undergrowth than snakes and frogs.
This photo-essay showcases creatures that make up a majority of the animal species in the rainforest – insects and spiders.
Red Helen (Papilio helenus ) – Insects perform the key role of pollination. The ones that come to mind immediately are butterflies. With their delightful colours, they are amongst the most easily noticed insects in the rainforest. Colours in a butterfly are actually a strategy against predators. Brightly coloured butterflies send a signal to their predators that they taste awful!
South Indian Blue Oakleaf (Kallima horsfieldii ) – What is a leaf doing in this Photo-essay? Well, as it turns out, this is a butterfly! South Indian Blue Oakleaf (Kallima horsfieldii ) uses its extremely effective camouflage as protection from predators.
Katydid – Most Katydids (family Tettigonidae ) that I have encountered were green in colour, blending very well into the leaves of the trees or bushes where they are usually found. This one, with its amazing colours and patterns, stood out brilliantly against the shrub on which it was sitting.
Cricket – At night, the sounds of the rainforest merge to create a magical symphony. Amongst the musicians, crickets form a very prominent part. From everywhere in the rainforest – trees, bushes, streams, even under one’s feet – they relentlessly call by rubbing the ridges of their wings together. This relatively large cricket produces a soft long-drawn whistle.
Crane Fly – Crane Flies look like large mosquitoes. Thankfully, they don’t bite humans. In fact, most of the adults feed on nectar or don’t feed at all. Their main function as adults is to mate and die.
Clear-winged Forest glory (Vestalis gracilis ) – In forest clearings, especially around streams, one comes across these damselflies in large numbers. Their curious-faces and glittering colour make them stand out against the dark forest floor in the rainforest.
Stick Insect – Stick Insects (Order: Phasmatodea ) are masters of camouflage. They blend into trees and bushes with ease to escape predation. These herbivorous insects also tend to move side-ways to imitate movement of vegetation in wind.
Moth – At night, one comes across a huge variety of moths – from huge Golden Emperor Moths to really tiny ones. Many of them are very dull and brownish in colour. Each of them, when looked at closely, has some amazing patterns. Here’s a brightly coloured one that was encountered on a night trail.
Blue Tiger Moth Larva – Butterflies and moths go through multiple stages – Eggs, Larvae and Pupae – before they metamorphosize into the beautiful adults that we see fluttering by. Larvae, also called caterpillars, come in various forms, sizes and colours, and can be seen nibbling away into their host plants. Here, it is almost impossible to figure out which end is the head and which end is the tail in this Blue Tiger Moth (Dysphania percota) larva.
Fulgoromorpha Nymph – Nymphs of hoppers look very dramatic, especially when viewed really close-up. These tiny insects have waxy projections that form a tail-like structure, probably used as a decoy against predators.
Tiger Beetle (Cicindela duponti ) – These tiny colourful beetles that disappear faster than you spotted them are, in fact, superb predators. With large bulging eyes, long legs and big curved mandibles, they are known to have a reaction time similar to House Flies. On a size-to-size comparison, the fastest Tiger Beetle can outrun the fastest human being by 22 times.
Long-horned Beetle – Beetles are thought to account for more than a quarter of all animal species and come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Long-horned Beetles can be fairly large with very long antennae (sometimes longer than their body length). The larvae of some species bore into wood and cause serious damage to trees and furniture (made with untreated timber).
Grasshoppers Mating – Grasshoppers abound in clearings in the rainforest. They predominantly have a herbivorous diet, but many species may be omnivorous. Some species have the ability to change colour and gather in huge densities to become locusts.
Praying Mantis – Alas, mating also comes at a serious cost sometimes. Cannibalism is well-documented in Praying Mantises, as is shown in this photograph. Female Mantises are known to make a meal of males after mating. Praying Mantises are amongst the stealthiest hunters in the animal kingdom. Camouflaged well against their surroundings, they wait patiently for prey to come within striking range before grabbing it with their front legs.
Ants with Slug – A photo-essay on insects cannot be complete without ants. Ants perform many roles in the rainforest – from scavenging to offering protection to host plants to occupying different places along the food chain (as predators, prey and farmers). Here, a large colony was seen carrying away a slug that was either scavenged or hunted down.