Archive for December, 2009

Sunday Article: Indian Chameleon

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

INDIAN CHAMELEON
Chamaeleo zeylanicus
                                     Photo courtesy Amrut Singh, Goa.
 
 
The Amazing Chameleon !
 
Apart from changing colours, it can focus each of the two eyes in different directions and observe two different objects simultaneously!

 The Indian Chameleon, Chamaeleo zeylanicus is a species of chameleon found in India, Sri Lanka, and other parts of South Asia. Like other chameleons, this species has a long tongue, feet that are shaped into bifid claspers, a prehensile tail, independent eye movement and the ability to change skin colour. They move slowly with a bobbing or swaying movement and are usually arboreal.

The ability to change colours has made these lizards famous. Strangely, they do not choose the background colour and may not even be able to perceive colour differences. They are usually in shades of green or brown or with bands. They can change colour rapidly and the primary purpose of colour change is for communication with other chameleons and for controlling body temperature by changing to dark colours to absorb heat. Though many lizards can change colour, chameleons have made an art, and we see them go from brilliant yellow through shades of green and brown, all the way to dark purple.
 
There is only one species of chameleons found in the Indian subcontinent, scientifically known as Chamaeleo zeylanicus. The term ‘chameleon’ is a combination of two Greek words, ‘Chamai’, meaning ‘on the ground/earth’ and Leon, meaning ‘lion’. Thus, ‘chameleon’ means ‘earth lion’. The foot structure, eyes and tongue of all the chameleons are the same.

Physical Traits

The body of the chameleon lizard is covered with granular scales and measures upto 37 cm in length. Its feet are split into two main fingers, each of them attached with sharp claws that help in climbing trees. The bulging eyes are nearly covered by eyelids. The upper and lower eyelids of a chameleon are joined and there is a small pinhole through which the pupil can be seen. The chameleon can focus each of the two eyes in different direction and observe two different objects simultaneously.

One of the most interesting features of an Indian Chameleon is its extremely long tongue, which at times may exceed its body length also. The tongue is sticky at the end, which helps the reptile in catching prey. The moment the tongue of a chameleon hits a prey, it forms a small suction cup and draws the prey into the mouth. Chameleons do not have ears and vomeronasal (bone forming part of the middle partition of nose) organ.

Mating Behavior

The breeding season of the chameleon lizard falls around the month of October. Ten to thirty eggs are laid at a time and the gestation period is 3 to 6 weeks. Before laying eggs, the female chameleon digs a hole in the ground, between 4 to 12 inches deep, and deposits her eggs in that hole. The eggs hatch after a period of 3 months. Like all other lizards, they do not look after their young

Diet

Chameleon lizard survives on a diet of locusts, mantids, crickets, and other insects.

Geographical Range

Chameleons are seen inhabiting almost all the parts of south India and west of the Ganges. However, they are rarely seen in areas that receive heavy rainfall. Chameleons are mostly arboreal and are found in trees or on smaller bushes.

 
References: iloveindia.com, Wikipedia.
  
  
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Sunday Article: Pallas’s Cat

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 Pallas’s Cat
 Octocolobus manul
 

 Pic courtesy: Edinburgh Zoo
 
An exotic and rare feline, Pallas’s cat is a small size predator of Central Asian mountains, found only in the Ladakh region in India.
 
It is named after the naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist and botanist who worked in Russia who first described the species in 1776. Pallas’s Cat is the oldest living species of the modern genus felis .
 
The pallas’s cat is a small, long tailed cat with a broad head, low forehead and short widely – separated ears. Pallas cat is small in size, weighing between 2 – 4.5 kg. and has a grey to ruddy grey coat. Its legs are short and striped. The forehead is spotted and the tail is bushy and striped. Pallas cats are adapted to cold, arid environments and have a wide distribution through Central Asia, but they are relatively specialized in their habitat requirements. Pallas cat is chiefly crepuscular and feeds mainly on pikes and rodents. Birds and insects also form part of its diet. Pallas cats are seasonal breeders, with most litters being born between April and May. Four to five kittens (sometimes up to 8) are born in a litter. Their gestation period is of 66 – 75 days. They are found in stony, alpine desert and grassland habitats but are generally absent from low land sandy desert basins except along river courses. They are found at altitudes up to 4,800 mts. Globally, its distribution spans the cold arid regions of the Central Asia. The northern cold desert region of Ladakh in India is its southernmost distribution
 
          Range map of Pallas’s cat                                                    
 
Pallas’s Cat is the oldest living species of a clade of felids that includes the modern genus Felis. This feline, along with the extinct Martelli’s Cat, were the first two modern cats to evolve from Pseudaelurus approximately 12 million years ago.
 

 
This cat has several features which distinguish it from other felines. Most strikingly, it has round pupils. Its legs are short, its rump is rather bulky, and its fur long and thick. The combination of its stocky posture and thick fur makes it appear especially stout and plushy. Its coat changes with the seasons: the winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer coat. The ears are set low and give the cat a somewhat owl-like appearance. Because of its relatively flat face, it was once thought that Pallas’s Cat was the ancestor of the Persian cat breed.
 
Pallas’s Cat inhabits the Asian steppes up to heights of 4000 m (13,000 ft). They are thought to be crepuscular hunters and feed on small rodents, pikas and birds.
 
The Pallas’ cat is similar in size to a housecat. A thick coat of shaggy fur and a long, bushy tail help combat extreme temperatures that reach lows nearing -60°F. Pallas’ cats take shelter in marmot burrows, caves, and rock crevices. 
 
Fact File

Length: 1.5 to 2 ft Weight:2-4.5 kg Lifespan: 8 to 10 yrs in wild Habitat: Mountain regions, including grassland, woodland, and semi-desert Diet: Pikas, hares, and small rodents such as gerbils, voles, and young marmots Status: Species at Risk (IUCN—Lower risk/near threatened )
 
 


 
Pic courtesy: Zurich Zoo
 
 
References: Wikipedia.
 
MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my articles visit:
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For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
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For detailed blog (6 Chapters from my book) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
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For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
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You can also access my blogs on Sulekha and WordPress
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http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
For my book “The Flight of Gods – Hindu Temples & Shrines of Goa” please log on to:
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(Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa)

Sunday Article: Nilgai

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 
 
Nilgai
 Boselaphus tragocamaelus
 

 
 

 

India’s largest antelope
 

Hindi word Neelgai (Nilgai) refers to the bluish color of the adult male, and therefore Blue Bull is another name for the animal. Neelgai probably evolved in open, dry Indian forests during the Tertiary geological period. Nilgai are classified as bovids (family Bovidae), and with their close relative, the Four-horned Antelope Tetracerus quadricornis, are the only living representatives of the tribe Boselaphini.
 

Neelgai is the largest of the Asiatic antelopes. They have a life expectancy of 20 -30 years, most of which they prefer to spend in open jungles and scrubby grasslands. Adult bulls weigh about 220 kg, while the cows weigh about 180 kg and calves about 7 kg at birth. The blue-gray adult bulls have black legs, and some may be brown-tinged, particularly younger bulls. Cows and calves are fawn or pale brown. All have similar dark and white markings on their ears and legs. Only the males have horns, which are black-coloured, short (about 18 cm), sharp, and bi-curved. The hair of adults is thin in density, wiry, and somewhat oily. Their skin is thick, particularly on the chest and neck of the bulls, where it forms a dermal shield. The eyesight and hearing of Neelgai is quite good but their sense of smell less acute. They have good speed and endurance.

Neelgai make several low-volume vocalizations, including a short, guttural “bwooah” when alerted. Calves may bawl and may make a grunting sound while nursing. In India, Nilgai occurs from the foothills of the Himalayas southward to Mysore. They live on a variety of land types from hillsides to level ground with scattered grass steppes, trees, and cultivated areas, but not in thick forests. Their habitats are characterized by paths, water holes, defecation sites, and resting cover. Neelgai were common in India during
the 1880s and were hunted for sport by the British. Besides man, the tiger is their main predator. In the 1980s Neelgai had drastically declined because of shooting and loss of habitat.

Neelgai segregate into male and female groups except during the breeding season. Bulls do not maintain a fixed territory but defend a space around themselves. Fighting occurs between dominant bulls, and serious injury or death sometimes results. Neelgai make dung piles by defecating repeatedly on the same sites. The social and territorial significance of this habit is not known. Some breeding takes place year-round. At that time breeding groups of one dominant bull and one to several cows are found. The peak calving period is September through November. Neelgai breed at age two to three years, whereas males may not mature until their fourth year. The gestation period is approximately 245 days. Twins are common, and triplets occur occasionally.

Neelgai eats mainly woody plants supplemented by agricultural crops. Their diet includes herbs and plant parts (flowers, seeds, fruit, leaves, stem tips). In the absence of preferred food they readily alter their diet. In India they share certain diseases with livestock and wildlife. Perhaps the most universal of these are foot-and-mouth disease and malignant catarrhal fever. 
  Nilgai pursued by dholes, as drawn by Robert Armitage Sterndale in Denizens of the Jungles, 1886
 

Status 
 
Nilgai antelope has been listed in the ‘Low Risk’ category by the IUCN. The estimated population of Nilgai in India is approximately 100,000. The main threat to the Neelgai is from the destruction of its habitat to accommodate the ever-swelling human population.
 
Tidbits
 Blue bulls generally come to the same place to deposit their droppings.
Blue bull can survive for a long period of time without water.
Nilgai was introduced in Texas in 1920’s.

In India, it is believed that the Nilgai antelope is a sacred animal (precisely a cow) and it is protected against hunting.
 


 
References: Wikipedia, iloveindia.com
 
MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my articles visit:
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For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
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Sunday Article: Indian Jackal

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 The Indian Jackal
 Canis aureus
 

  Photo coutesy: S. Das
 
Tabaqui of Kipling’s Jungle book with an eerie howl.
 
Tabaqui, the jackal (Gidur-log) in Kipling’s Jungle Book is an opportunistic associate of Sher Khan, the lame tiger and he is also a mischief maker. Also known as Golden jackal, this animal features in many fables (Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Jataka Tales) and generally projected as a sometimes conceited, sometimes foolish and sometimes greedy, cunning and shrewd creature.
 
Jackal’s long-drawn eerie howls at dusk or just before dawn are characteristic of the Indian countryside and jungle and has been subject of superstition about death and evil spirits. The other characteristics which makes the jackal infamous is the rabid jackal attacks on people. Just last month (November, 2009) jackals attacked over 50 people in Bargama and other villages of Samastipur, Bihar.
Fredrick Forsythe’s popular book “The Day of the Jackal” where Carlos is the professional assasin has also endowed this animal with some popularity.

Description:

Golden Jackal are 70- 85 cm long and weigh around 8 -10 kg. They are golden yellowish in colour with a reddish tail having a black tip. The tail itself measures upto 9 -14 inches. It has white mark on its throat and the back of the ears is darker in colour. Males are usually larger than the females.
 
 
 


 
Tabaqui’ of the Jungle Book
 
Distribution:

Golden Jackal are found throughout India. Jackals live in almost any environment, in humid forest country, or in dry open plains, or desert. They are found at higher altitudes in the Himalayas but greater number lives in the lowlands about towns, villages and cultivation. In Kodagu and Nilgiris their population appears to be declining. The total estimated population in India is around 80,000.

Diet : Golden Jackal are omnivorous. They feed on small mammals, insects, hares, fish, birds and fruits.

Reproduction: Gestation period rests for nine weeks. Females give birth to 3-6 pubs. During pregnancy males go out in search of food and the females rest at home. They weigh around 200 -250 g at birth. They open their eyes in about ten days. They are weaned in 4- 6 weeks. The females are sexually mature than in less than a year, the males closer to the two years.

Conservation status : Not threatened

Life span : Golden Jackal lives up to 14-16 years of age. 
  
 

 Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead

For centuries, golden jackals have made an impression on Middle Eastern civilisations. They feature in many fables, are referred to in the Bible several times, and Anubis, a god of ancient Egypt, was depicted as a man with the head of a jackal.

References: Wikipedia, Jungle Book, The Book of Indian Animals, S. H. Prater.

MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my articles visit:
http://mohanpaiblogger.blogspot.com/
http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters from my book) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
http://omashram.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
You can also access my blogs on Sulekha and WordPress
https://mohanpai.wordpress.com/
http://mohanpai.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
For my book “The Flight of Gods – Hindu Temples & Shrines of Goa” please log on to:
http://flightofgods.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
http://flightofgods.blogspot.com/
For “Miscellany” log on to:
http://paimohan-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
(Traditional Hindu Central Courtyard Houses of Goa)


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