The Hindu: Not so pretty, mate

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YOUNG WORLD

Not so PRETTY, mate

         AREFA TEHSIN
Commons

You may think they look “ugly”. But ask them, and they’ll tell you who really fits the bill.

In the sub-Saharan Africa, there is a wild member of the pig family called warthog, which would make its domestic cousins look rather glamorous in comparison. If you think it looks naked, see closer and you’ll notice bristly hair on its wrinkly skin. They have four sharp tusks, a crest of hair on their backs and shovel shaped heads covered with warts, which are not warts at all but protective, fleshy pads. We have named them after their warts. How considerate!

We discussed some of the animals we think as the great uglies in the first part of this article, that appeared last month. Here are some more. Maybe after this we should have an article on what these animals would name us according to our looks or reputation. (Pimply Prema, Nerdy Nargis, Ratty Rijjo, Bittu Buck-teeth. Nah… Bittu Bad-breath, more likely.)

Sea Hare

ature’s uglies: Sea hare. Photo: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzlie   | Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Scott A-P Muzli

The two long growths on its head would have looked like rabbit-ears to the ancient Romans and they named this sea slug ‘sea hare’. Never mind that they are actually not ears but a nose. The largest species of sea hares can weigh up to 14 kg! When disturbed, they can release an ink to deter the predator. The slug with frills is a hermaphrodite — both a male and a female at the same time. When pregnant, it lays long noodle shaped strands with millions of eggs. Isn’t that egg-citing!

Vampire Bat

With their dark leathery cloaks, fang-like teeth, wrinkled noses and their appetite for blood, these bats are one of most feared animals of South America. Hundreds of them live together in dark caves and abandoned building and come out at night in search of unsuspecting victims. Their heat sensing noses lead them to warm blood. Making a cut with their razor sharp teeth, they lap the blood of animals like cattle and horses. Don’t find the vampire handsome? It won’t bat an eyelid.

Naked Mole Rat

Pinkish yellow skin wrinkled like a baked apple, giant incisors, spindly limbs and tiny eyes make them radically ugly to most of us. But these subterranean rodents who live in colonies under a queen are super animals. They do not get cancer, don’t feel pain and live much longer than animals their size. And to top that, a recent study shows that they can “turn into plants” to survive without oxygen! In the experiment, they survived for 18 minutes. They alter their metabolism so their cells sustain on fructose instead of glucose.

We tend to preserve only the creatures we find good looking and cute, like pandas and tigers, and do not care about those we find repulsive. In 2013, blobfish, a blob of a fish with a permanent miserable frown on its face, was voted the world’s ugliest animal. It has much to be miserable about as it is facing extinction due to over-fishing by humans. Now, who’s the ugly one?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fiction books, and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur.

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Talks at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017

Talks at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017

 

The schedule of my talks/sessions at Bookaroo, Bangalore 2017.

Venue: Freedom Park

Bookaroo Speaker Profile: http://www.bookaroo.in/year/2017/bengaluru/

Arefa grew up treading jungles with her naturalist father. She was often found trying to catch a snake or spin a yarn. Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur, she’s the author of several books and columnist in newspapers/magazines.

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Saturday 2nd September

 

12.30-13.30 The Studio for 8-10 ages (English and Hindi)

Snake – Foe or Friend?

What comes to mind when you think of…a snake? Fangs? A slithering creep? Or a giant anaconda? … a mouse? The cute Jerry of Tom and Jerry? But who is the deadlier of the two?

 

15.30-16.30 The Studio for 10-12 ages (English and Hindi)

Do Tigers Drink Blood and Other Mysteries of Nature 

Do tigers drink blood? Does the ‘flying snake’ fly? Were the ‘Elephant Bird’ or ‘Roc’ eggs that Sindbad the sailor saw a myth or reality? Let’s get to the bottom of some of the mysteries of nature!

 

Sunday 3nd September

 

12.30-13.30 The Studio for 10-12 ages (English and Hindi)

Into the Heart of Darkness

Follow in the footsteps of renowned naturalist Raza H Teshin, deep into the wilderness in the dead of night, hear the sounds carried on the wind. Are those anklet bells tinkling? Is that chattering laughter?

 

15.30-16.30 The Studio for 8-10 ages (English and Hindi)

The Serpent Hunters in the Backyard 

Who is the venomous 100-legger in your bathroom? Who lives in your kitchen but can survive a nuclear bomb attack? Whose home is it? Wildlife isn’t confined to forests, check out the backyard with Arefa.

 

The Hindu: Ugly, Am I? Part I

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Ugly, Am I? Part I

 
 
 
 
 
If they are neither cute nor cuddly you wrinkle up your nose in disgust. But, these animals think well of themselves and don’t give a hoot about our opinions. 

 

We drool over the tall, dark and handsome, or the slanting doe eyes or the rose-petal lips. And the majestic mane of the lion king, the emerald blues and greens of the proud peacock, the fins of a goldfish forming liquid golden clouds… What about a pendulous nose like that of the Proboscis Monkey, or a smile with zigzagged teeth like that of a croc, or a nose tipping with fleshy rays like that of the star-nosed mole? Don’t tell me only a mother could love that.

Aye Aye

“Nay nay,” this primate will say. “Who are you calling ugly, dude?” Found only on the island of Madagascar, these rare dark brown mammals of the night have big eyes and ears, long bushy tails and rodent-like front teeth that keep growing their entire lives. They spend their days on trees sleeping curled up like a ball in their leafy nests and seldom descend on land. They have pointed claws on their long fingers and toes. It’s not just their gremlin look that makes them freakishly ugly to us, it’s their skeletal long middle finger.

At night, they tap-tap on the tree trunks with their long finger, hear the echo with their sensitive ears, tear away the bark with their large teeth to reach the insect tunnel and use their long finger as a grub dip-stick. It comes in handy to pry for insect larvae and grub…I mean grab a bite. People believe they are harbingers of bad luck. If they point their long witchy finger at you, you’ll die. People often kill them at sight and hang them upside down. Now if that isn’t ugly (and supremely idiotic), then what is?

Shaggy Frogfish

You may call it shaggy and unkempt due to its round, hairy appearance, but count your stars it can’t hear you and doesn’t stay on land. Shaggy Frogfish is a deadly predator of the seas who can swallow a prey almost as big as its own size, opening its mouth as wide! It doesn’t like company except when it goes out on a date. If the lady chooses to hang around a little after the date, the gent might get cross and have her for dinner. These fish, which are around 20 cm long, are masters of disguise. They can change their colour and use their dorsal spine as a fishing lure. Even if their fin is eaten by an unsuspecting prey, they regenerate another one. Simple. But the prey is unlikely to grow another head before next Christmas.

Panda Ant or Cow Killer
  • This black and white furry ant, which is actually a wasp, looks like a giant panda. Well, only in looks, not size. It is a kind of velvet ant that prefers to live alone and has an arsenal of defenses like hard slippery shell and legendarily painful sting. It has earned them the name ‘cow killers’, though their stings are far from that potent. Holy cow! Let not the gau rakshaks hear about this one! And it is South American, that too!
  • We’ll check out a few more weird creatures in the second part of this article. Hadn’t someone said that it’s weird not to be weird? We all are differently weird with our own preferences of food, friends, clothes… Maybe striped pajamas make you feel like a convict. But zebras wear stripes of every stripe. Maybe you hate flies over your food. But Kremlin the frog says, “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” See?

The writer is a columnist, author of fiction and non-fictions books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Sleep Deep

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Deep SLEEP

HANG OUT: Time to rest.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

Check out these animals as they grab a shut eye. Not all of them need a bed!

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth to the weary head.”

Thomas Hood rhymed in his cautionary tale of Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. While she wanted a precious golden leg, we all want our precious golden slumbers. One can live without love, but sleep? Nah… What is life without those forty winks, the short naps, the afternoon siestas, the long deep night sleep and, well, those open dripping-mouthed snoozes. Ah…such comfort. In the first part of this article, we spoke about the REM (rapid eye movement or deep-wave sleep) and non-REM sleep; how humans need to have both while some animals don’t.

You would have seen mammals and birds sleep. Insects, fishes and reptiles too need their brains to rest in some or the other form. The little kankhajura would even risk falling prey to a hungry vagabond crow while he dreams of the multi-legged beauty who preferred to hang out with the Centi-the-senti-pede instead.

A few more snoozing secrets

Saddle up

Horses get most of their sleep while standing. They have a mechanism called “stay apparatus” where their ligaments and tendons allow them to remain upright with ease, even while sleeping. They do occasionally lie down to get REM sleep, but only for short periods. As they are standing, they can just bolt away if a predator attacks, even if they are asleep. No wonder, our wars have been fought and won on horses.

Don’t bat an eyelid 

Standing up and sleeping is fine, but can you beat sleeping upside down? Bats are masters at that. Unlike birds, they can’t take off in flight. They have to fall in it. This is because their wings are not strong enough to alight in flight and their hind legs not sturdy enough to bear their weight in an upright position. The special tendons on their feet let them hand effortlessly while they sleep. They are so effective that even a dead bat can continue to hang!

Power naps 

A study on fire ants showed that they take up to 250 naps a day! Each lasting around a minute. But those are the workers. The queen, of course, takes lazy long naps. The research suggested that queens dream while sleeping and move their antennas while they dream. RAM instead of REM, get it? Rapid Antenna Movement instead of Rapid Eye Movement. They live almost 10 times longer than the worker ants do. And they ask me why I’d like to be a queen!

The animal world is full of sleeping wonders: Our hairy cousins — the great apes like orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos — make mattresses to sleep on. Sea otters occasionally wrap themselves up in seaweed, float on their backs and at times hold each other’s paws so that they don’t drift away while sleeping.

While elephants can do with three hour sleep a day, an edible dormice can sleep for nearly a year! You may like to hibernate like dormice but I am more like a giraffe who sleeps for five minutes at a time, on an average 30 minutes a day. As the quote collector, Terri Guillements says, “I’ve had such bad insomnia the sleep cops have issued a warrant for my rest.”

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Love them all

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YOUNG WORLD

LOVE them all!

AREFA TEHSIN

Today is World Wildlife Day. A day for us to rally together and address ongoing major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation or illicit trafficking.

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, summarized it to three simple lines, “For, in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” We, the most evolved of apes, are the reason behind the Sixth Age of Extinction, after the dinosaurs. So, we are more potent than an earth-shattering meteorite; and that is not a compliment. However, we will always try to save those whom we love. On World Wildlife Day, let’s say hi! to a few animals in India that may not be with us in the near future, unless we begin to love them hard.

Ganges Shark

Along with our mighty river, its creatures are also in danger. This stocky shark, which lives in the Ganga is under threat of being wiped away from planet earth due to pollution of her home river, construction of dams on it, overfishing and so on. Really…? Blood…gore… We’re talking about saving Jaws? Yes, now even they require rescuing from the greatest of apes.

Ghats Warts Frog

It likes to hang out in moist tropical forests at an altitude of around 2,200m in the Western Ghats. It seems no princess has kissed this frog. Warts, you think? Nah…warts are no competition for elfin green money. It faces threats from commercial timber plantations and loss of its home due to agriculture.

Sangai or Manipur Dancing Deer

According to the 2016 census, there are 260 deer left in the wild, a slight increase from 2013. (Imagine if only 260 humans were left in the world! What…students of grade 6,7,8 of your school put together?) The Manipur zoo is successfully breeding the dancing deer maintaining our hope for the survival of the species.

Himalayan Wolf

The evil wolf of Red Riding Hood…wish it had more cunning than humans! The Himalayan Wolf is under threat of extinction, only 300 or so left in the wild, due to human activity. Darjeeling zoo and Kufri zoo are breeding these wolves in captivity. You might hear people talking about banning the zoos. What is the alternate plan to save various critically endangered species? Banning zoos, for all we know, might accelerate their extinction. Zoos give us an opportunity to see varied animals at close quarters and offer a large vista of possibilities to educate and sensitise people. Almost 50 million people visit zoos in India every year! Although it may seem ‘cruel’ from human perspective to encage animals, there are many advantages in it for the animals. The lifespan of most species is more than doubles in captivity. This is due to an abundance of food and water, no threat from predators and medical care.

Peacock Tarantula

This beautiful spider sports a brilliant metallic blue body. We are cutting down the forests where they live. Little Miss Muffet should never venture in the small forested area in Andhra Pradesh where this spider is surviving. But for how long?

Gharial

One of the longest of all living crocodilians, Gharial is found in our part of the subcontinent. Less than 235 of these long-nosed crocodilians are left in the wild due to…you don’t need a wild guess for that: human activity. Fishing, loss of river habitats, less fish for them to eat. And we don’t even seem to shed crocodile tears for them.

Okay, we might not have heard about the muscular Javan rhinos, or the cute little Forest Owlet, or the white toothed shrew (which is not shrewd but sweet Mr. Shakespeare), or the swarthy Leatherback Turtle, or the Kashmiri Stag with the most incredible horns, or the proud, straight-eared caracal or the desert-smart wild ass; all these and more who are on the verge of extinction from India. But what about the sparrows whom we don’t see in our garden any more? Or those formidable vultures no more circling our skies? Let’s just do what Roosevelt said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” For what would life be with a sunset where birds didn’t fly back to their nests? Not wild, for sure.

The writer is a columnist and author of fiction and non-fiction books. Her latest book is Wild in the Backyard.

The Hindu: Hit that Snooze Button!

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CHILDREN

Hit that SNOOZE button!