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Nature Nuggets

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OUR HIDDEN HOUSEMATES

Ah! Nothing like a solitary evening stroll in your backyard, or a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate savoured alone on your terrace, right? But, reader, are you truly alone? Read on for a surprise!

From ants, spiders, and house lizards, to centipedes, moths, and houseflies, the number and variety of wildlife that live right next to you might astound you! Some earn infamy as pests, but all are part of the thriving urban ecosystem, functioning as pollinators, soil turners, nutrient recyclers, scavenging clean-up crew, and more. This edition of Nature Nuggets takes you on an expedition to discover unseen wildlife—the many-legged tenants and quiet companions with whom we share our homes and neighbourhoods. Come, let’s get exploring!

Check in the corners of your home, under the bed, around light fixtures, between the leaves of potted plants on your balcony, or in the outdoor garden. You’re bound to spot some creepy-crawlies.

  • Spotted some tell-tale webs with their eight-legged weavers? Spiders may creep you out, but they keep less-pleasant insects from overrunning your home. A certain jumping spider, common in houses in tropical Asia, prefers to feed on dengue-infected mosquitoes. Now, isn’t that a considerate housemate?

  • A line of ants in your kitchen might spell trouble for your snacks. But these tiny ants have super-strength in relation to their size—they can lift up to 60 times their body weight easily! 

  • Did you know—the sneaky cockroach is marvellously resilient. It can endure six to 15 times more radiation than humans can. And that’s not all! Remember ‘Nearly Headless Nick’ from Hogwarts, the fictional boarding school from the Harry Potter series? Cockroaches can survive for days, even weeks, without their heads!

  • Moths are considered butterflies’ plain cousins. But these insects are expert pollinators and also master illusionists, often using visual mimicry to avoid being eaten. A moth called Chinese Character looks like—you will never guess— bird poo! The hornet moth mimics a hornet and the Indian owlet moth has eye-spots resembling an owl’s eyes on its wings. 

  • Snails are nature’s recyclers, decomposing organic waste. They also seem to persist in purpose after death. Empty snail shells are often used by spiders and wasps as homes to raise their brood. Read this article to learn more about other backyard species.

Keen to learn more about the hidden homies around you? Here are some activities you can do solo or with your friends.

  • Make a footprint tunnel to observe the small animals that are frequent flyers in your garden. Could you recognize all the tracks? Click a picture of your footprint tunnel and share your observations with us on Facebook and Instagram with the hashtags #OnePlanetAcademy and #MyWildlifeNuggets!
  • Go searching for minibeasts and bugs around your home and backyard. Draw up a ‘life list’, recording every animal you come across in your minibeast hunts. You can also upload your observations to the ‘Never Home Alone’ project on iNaturalist. 
  • Who said insects are creepy? They can be a muse too! Check out this short rhyme by Ogden Nash for inspiration and try your hand at writing a four-line poem about any household wildlife. The sillier, the better!

Hero of the Edition: Dr. Gajanan D. Muratkar 

Invasive plant species like Lantana camara and Prosopis juliflora are steadily taking over grasslands all over India. This changes landscapes and reduces the food available for herbivores, including the prey of tigers and other predators. Guess the solution—it’s an everyday plant from your neighbourhood gardens and parks! You guessed it—it’s grass, the architect of terrestrial ecosystems. 

Enter Dr. Gajanan D. Muratkar, the ‘Grass Man of India’!  His technique of developing meadows by introducing local grasses has been a great success in restoring grassland habitats for tigers and other wildlife. His methods are being replicated by forest staff in various protected areas in over 10 states across India, winning him numerous awards. Pretty cool, right? 

Time to check your Nature Quotient!

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Congratulations to everyone who guessed the answers correctly.

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