Jurassic Times

The year was 2012. I was visiting a place in the vicinity of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve called Kakachi. We had earlier crossed this area on our uphill drive to Kuthiraveti. There was this rickety old wooden bridge which passed over a stream that originated from the hills above. We parked the car at a turn. The agenda for today was: A good stream walk! We got down the semi-wet slopey path that lead to the stream below. The forest was thick and we saw roots and lianas all intermingling with each other and we couldn’t tell them apart. We reached the stream and I felt that we had walked into a different time period- The Jurassic period! The entire stream bank was lined with beautiful ferns and there were gorgeous looking tree-ferns up ahead.

We could hear crickets, frogs, bird calls, and other insect buzzes. It was like the we had walked into a ‘Nature Pub’ which had its loud ‘music’ playing at the background. The stream had a gentle flow. Water came from the crevices left by the big huge rocks and then formed a small pool which had shin-deep water…. this water then continued to flow ahead and this was where the wooden bridge was. It was like stepping into the jungle book.

It was like we had walked in to the Jurassic Era!

We spent three and half hours in that small area and I am sure we could have spent the whole day there!!! From small insects like dragonflies, damselflies, water skaters, water beetles to reptiles, amphibians to birds like Racket- tailed Drongo, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Malabar Whistling Thrush to small mammals like Madras tree shrew, Malabar Giant squirrel, Nilgiri Langur- we saw it all!

A fallen tree connected the banks of the steam and we could see a thick growth of lichen on the bark (Incidentally the photo in the about me page is from this very place, redrawn by @drawnbybutool). Tiny mushrooms were there in the underside and lateral sides of the bark. It had rained the previous night. The forest floor was wet. Moss on the tree bark was damp owing to dew. Having a closer look at the fallen tree, I saw (most likely) Civet scat right in the middle of the bark. It was a fresh scat sample and its presence gave us an idea of what we could spot here during the night. Two Madras Tree Shrews scrambled up and down the tree that was about a couple of feet away from the stream. Bird calls were coming from all directions. We saw a hunting party of Drongos and other birds pass by.

We spotted this brilliantly coloured dragonfly. Comparing my notes and photographs with available literature, it looks like we might have spotted a Nilgiri Torrent Dart (Euphaea dispar)- a beautiful iridescent winged dragon fly whose body was a deep shade of crimson red. This species is endemic to Western Ghats between Nilgiris and Udupi districts.

Nilgiri Torrent Dart (Euphaea dispar)

Apart from these winged beauties, we saw several types of water-strider whose shadow in the water intrigued us a lot. I was particularly interested in these as it was because of these shadows that we were able to spot the small thin insects. The gentle pressure of their hairy legs created a small dimple on the water surface. And if seen in direct sunlight, these dimples cast an enlarged, rounded shadow onto the stream bed.

Shadow of the dimples!

Numerous spiders had created their webs between boulders, which were less than a feet away from the water. We did not see many tadpoles, but spotted a few frogs by the bank and over the rocks. Skinks were seen slithering between the huge buttress and roots and at times, it was like your eyes were playing tricks on you, and you think maybe you saw a snake! The whole place was just teeming with life…all the colours were so vibrant and exotic looking. I felt that I was indeed in an other era…and thanks to the huge number of Pteridophtyes, it seemed like a mini Jurassic era ! 🙂

Finally after a few hours (and with a heavy heart), we decided to leave before it got dark. Just as we climbed back up, we noticed blood on our feet…oh yes! The leeches had made their way up. The few leeches that we encountered on the forest floor didn’t let us leave without us donating some blood! While I tried to scramble my way uphill back to the main road, I saw something electric blue-coloured…. something whiz past under the leaves. I stopped dead on my tracks since it was my scrambling that caused the initial ‘movement’. I waited for a couple of minutes and then I saw a blue-tail. Seconds later, I saw the owner of that beautiful tail. It was a skink… the anterior part of the skink was a shade of orangish-brown while the tail was electric blue!

A juvenile Side-spotted Ground Skink

The brown colour of the skink was a perfect match with the colours found on the forest floor..the dry leaves..and the twigs.. but the blue tail was a dead give away. I managed to get a record shot which helped me later to identify it as the Side-spotted Ground Skink, a forest skink that is endemic to the southern part of Western Ghats. It usually occurs at elevations between 1,000 and 1,700 meters above sea level. It prefers mid to high elevation evergreen forests and montane rain-forests of the southern Western Ghats (Ganesh and Gowri Shankar 2009; Indraneil Das’s field guide, 2002).

Coming back on to the road, suddenly led to a change of scenery. Soon we were viewing tea estates and mountains. We had traveled back to reality, carrying with us new found memories of the Jurassic times we had just witnessed!

References

  1. A. Kumar, Ravi Chellam, B.C. Choudhury, D. Mudappa, K. Vasudevan, N.M. Ishwar and B.R. Noon. (2002). Impact of rainforest fragmentation on small mammals and herpetofauna in the Western Ghats, south India. Final Technical Report. Wildlife Institute of India publications, vii+iii+146p.
  2. Das, I. (2002). A Photographic Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of India. R. Curtis Books
  3. Das, I., Srinivasulu, B. & Srinivasulu, C. (2011). Kaestlea travancorica. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. < http://www.iucnredlist.org >. Downloaded on 08 August 2012.
  4. K. A. Subramanian (2005). Dragonflies and Damselflies of Peninsular India-A Field Guide. E-Book of Project Lifescape. Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institue of Science and Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India. 118 pages.
  5. S. R. Ganesh and P. Gowri Shankar.(2002). Range extension of Kaestlea beddomeii (Boulenger, 1887) (in part) (Reptilia: Sauria: Scincidae). Herpetological Bulletin [2009] – Number 107

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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