#FridayFrogFact – First Ever ‘Batracharium’ in India

Batrachology is the study of amphibians (caecilians, newts, salamanders, frogs and toads). It is a subdivision of Herpetology (meaning: the branch of zoology concerned with reptiles and amphibians- collectively referred to as herptiles). ‘Herp’ finds its roots in the ancient Greek language- derived from a word- herpeton meaning ‘creepy animals’. ‘Herping’ is a common term used by ‘herpers’ (people with avid interest in Herpetology and herptiles) to describe the act of searching for herptiles. There’s a common joke that does the herpetology rounds-  if it slithers around on its belly, a herper will probably know what it is 😉 Modern biologists say that the term Herpetology needs a review since amphibians and reptiles are two groups of animals with quite different life histories. Batrachology too finds its roots in the ancient Greek language- the word is derived from ‘Batrachos’ meaning frogs.

An elegant dancing frog posses for my camera
An elegant dancing frog posses for my camera

A Batracharium (Batrachos+arium), similar to an aquarium, is a place reserved for frogs. Simply put, an aquarium is a place for aquatic animals while a Batracharium is a place for frogs. The suffix -arium (Latin), which indicates ‘a place for’ or ‘associated with’, is intelligently used in this case for frogs. This is a novel concept is given by Dr Gururaja. He is a globally renowned Batrachologist based out of Bengaluru and one of the pioneers of frog conservation in India. This frog space is technically nothing but an area dedicated to conservation of frogs, in other words a Frog Sanctuary.  

The first Batracharium in India has already been thrown open to the public in Vivanta by Taj in Madikeri, Coorg. This luxury resort spans around 180 acres of montane rainforest of the Western Ghats. Taj allows its guests to experience the untamed natural environments. Mr Arun Achappa, a gentleman who dons several hats- hotelier, naturalist, engineer and landscape manager- came up with an idea of contributing to the environment around him. He learnt about Dr Gururaja and the plan for a frog conservation center at Taj was born. Without any delay, surveys were carried out in the monsoons by a team of naturalists and researchers. More than 30 species of frogs were observed and recorded. The list includes many of the endemic frogs like the dancing frogs, bush frogs and night frogs. Read more about these frogs – here and here.

What do Batrachariums do? They:

  • Spread awareness about the utility and beauty of amphibians
  • Allow visitors to observe these wonderful little creatures in their natural habitats
  • Are self-sustainable as responsible tourism generates revenues!
  • Allow tourists, herpers, nature enthusiasts visiting to donate, fundraise and volunteer!

BRILLIANT, I say 🙂 So many uses stemming from one simple activity!

Picture by Mr Arun Achappa
Picture by Mr Arun Achappa

How exactly does one go about building a Batracharium?

  • A known pond, stream or man-made water body with frogs is demarcated. Pointers are put up to highlight the areas where frogs are found.
  • At these areas, information regarding the frogs found there is displayed prominently on boards and hoardings- including the scientific name, the common name, a photograph, its habitat and a two line description. Also warnings are put up guiding people on how to ethically watch the frogs without harming the habitat there.
  • The Batracharium is now thrown open to visitors and locals.
  • This facilitates knowledge exchange and helps spread awareness among both visitors and locals. Not to mention the pure joy one gets from observing these lovely croakies!

Vivanta’s Batracharium is an outstanding initiative to bring about awareness concerning these fragile bio-indicator species. Travellers and tourists from all over the world not only enjoy the luxury of Vivanta but also exchange knowledge, observe natural habitats and most importantly learn to live sustainably. Perhaps this Batracharium in a luxury resort is the first of it’s kind in the entire world! It is indeed sending out a strong message to all – this planet belongs not only to human beings but also to many other wonderful creatures. Biodiversity is the beauty of our planet and man is a but one part of this vast ecosystem. Being responsible towards our choices, living sustainably, taking the right step for our unique habitable planet and compassion towards other animals is our only future!

The untamed natural landscape outside my room!
The untamed natural landscape outside my room!

Mr Arun’s passion to give back to nature led Taj Vivanta to build this amazing frog conservation center- the first of its kind in India! We all can take inspiration from this and give back in our own little ways. How exactly – you may ask? If you really want to take a step towards helping these cute lil’ croakies, we could build a small batracharium together! If you live near a frog habitat or know of a frog habitat which you think needs attention, get in touch with me and we can discuss how we can take this ahead 🙂

PS: This article wouldn’t have been possible without valuable inputs from Dr Gururaja and Mr Archit; thanks for all the love and support!

PPS: Stay tuned for more such amazing frog posts- we post every Friday!
If you have missed any of the previous #FridayFrogFact posts – read them all over here!

If you liked this article, join our growing community of amazing froggers on Facebook.

Also fill out this form and tell me what would you like to read in the next post. Don’t forget to follow Not-Just-Frogs campaign with Roots and Shoots by Dr Jane Goodall – here.

Now go and croak it out (read share this article) to the entire world on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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#FridayFrogFact – Wayanad Night Frog (Nyctibatrachus grandis)

Last week we discussed nature’s potter – a sombre colored night frog. It’s unique and brilliant pottery skills were mind blowing not only for us but for the biologists as well. If you haven’t read about it- click here NOW.

This week’s focus is on another night frog (genus Nyctibatrachus). I just cannot get over their rhomboidal shaped pupils. Look deep into those eyes – am sure you will be mesmerized as well! It’s an optical illusion of a different kind – one that isn’t available on the internet yet, only to be found in nature!

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OMG, which side up?

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Picture by my friend – Shrikanth Nayak

These unique night frogs occupy streams, puddles, waterfalls and adjoining rocky areas in the luxuriant forests of the Western Ghats. Among the 28 known species of night frogs; Wayanad Night Frog (Nyctibatrachus grandis) is the biggest. It isn’t surprising that taxonomists call it ‘grand’. The frog’s size ranges from 6.2 centimeters to 7.6 centimeters. Whereas other members in the genus of rhombus-eyed frogs can be as small as 1.3 centimeters.

My naturalist friend told me stories of this grand frog as we explored the freshwater streams of Coorg. He said, he will show me a frog that literally ‘honks’! Yes, I didn’t believe him either. But after I heard the call, I’m quite sure that the inspiration for those tuk-tuk horns probably came from here –  

(This audio clip is from Mandookavani – an acoustic guide to the frogs and toads of the Western Ghats)

I think the call goes well with it’s aggressive nature – if a male frog is seen guarding a clutch of eggs; don’t dare to go close. Also almost never try touching it. The male frog will jump straight at you to bite your finger!

More Information:

http://frogsaregreen.org/tag/nyctibatrachus-grandis/

My naturalist friend (Shrikanth) and I were really lucky to see a mating pair of this grand frog species in Kodagu (Coorg). He filmed a beautiful video while giving them their privacy! I will be sharing the video in the coming week. Keep watching this space 🙂

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#FridayFrogFact – Kumbara Night Frog (Nyctibatrachus kumbara)

Until 2011, only 15 species of night frogs (frogs belonging to the Nyctibatrachus genus) had been discovered in India. A paper by SD Biju and team uncovered 12 more, taking the count to 27. Today there are 28 known species, with Kumbara Night Frog; the latest addition to this list. These night frogs live in the freshwater streams of mountains throughout the Western Ghats. In other words, they are found only in the Ghats and nowhere else in the world- this is why they are called ‘endemic’ to the Western Ghats. Today I am talking about one of these unique night frogs – the Kumbara Night Frog. Kumbara (in Kannada) or Kumbhara/Kumhara (in Devanagari) literally translates to a ‘potter’.

Mating night frogs! Picture by Dr Gururaja KV
Mating night frogs! Picture by Dr Gururaja KV

After numerous surveys and tremendous effort, a team of scientists led by Dr Gururaja has observed something extraordinary in this frog’s mating behaviour. Post courtship, the male frog of this species stands on its tiny hind limbs, then using its forelimbs it packs the newly laid clutch of eggs with fine mud from the bottom of the stream. The team members’ minds were blown away at this completely new discovery in the frog world. Researchers spent hours on end recording this obscure nature’s ‘potter’ and later appropriately named it such! This amazing behavioural trait (hitherto unknown) was observed from 2006 to 2012 at Kathalekan, near Jog falls in the Uttara Kannada region of Karnataka. The team published their findings in an international journal called ‘Zootaxa’ in May 2014 – sharing their fascinating discovery with the global scientific community.

More information –

http://jlrexplore.com/explore/from-the-field/kumbara-night-frog

http://www.amphibians.org/news/a-new-frog-species-that-stands-on-its-head-while-laying-eggs-and-then-carefully-covers-the-eggs-with-mud/

More Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0P10Pxsg5w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZW9zJsjg4Y

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyg2fQLwV60

PS: Today we know about these incredible frogs because of the excellent scientific discoveries by teams of scientists studying and observing them day and night. Stellar scientific discoveries by passionate scientists like Dr Gururaja KV and Dr SD Biju have taken us to a wholly deeper level of understanding in this fascinating world of frogs!

More fun, mind-blowing facts next week. Stay tuned  🙂

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Why I love Frogs And Why You Should Too!

A beautiful froglet of endangered Rhacophorus lateralis. (Clicked by Shrikanth Nayak; naturalist in Bagh Villas, Kanha.)
A beautiful froglet of endangered Rhacophorus lateralis. (Clicked by Shrikanth Nayak; naturalist in Bagh Villas, Kanha)

Often when I tell people that I love frogs, one the most important question that they ask me is “Why do these ugly frogs fascinate you? What’s in them?” So to answer this FAQ, I have made a list of fascinating facts about these croaking knights.

I am sure these will not fail to impress even the most unexcitable amongst you:

1. Bioindicators- The word ‘bioindicator’ literally means a creature that tells you something about the environment. Did you know that frogs breathe through their skin? Fascinating- ain’t it! Scientists over the years have explained that frogs and amphibians are good bioindicators because they are affected by the natural environment. Their skin is highly permeable and any change in the quality of air or water will directly or indirectly affect their existence. Sudden increase or decrease in the population of frogs can speak a lot about the environment that we live in.

Watch this video to know more –

2. Hate creepy crawlies? Love frogs- Most frogs feed on little invertebrates on the land and in the water. They play a major role in controlling the population of pests. Frogs will feed on mosquito larvae thus keeping the environment clean and preventing many deadly diseases. This could be most people’s personal favorite reason to love frogs 😀

Take a look at this mind-boggling poster released by Vancouver Aquarium to show you what the world without frogs would look like –

iffrogsgoextinct

 

3. Two lives specialist- Amphibians are specialized creatures that live in the water and on the land. Alfred Sherwood Romer quotes- “The amphibian is.. in many respects, little more than a peculiar type of fish which is capable of walking on land.” Frogs spend one-half of their life in water being tadpoles and other half on land or trees. There are indeed frogs that are fully aquatic but would still spend time at the edges of the pools (half immersed) instead of fully being in the water, unlike any fish.

An adult frog with a tail!
Almost adult night frog (with a tail) chills on a wet rock surface by a small puddle in Coorg, India!

4. Breathing through the largest organ- Just like human beings, frogs have skin, bones, muscles and in-cavity organs. In the early nineteenth century, a number of scientists studied the frog’s respiratory system and found out that frogs could stay alive in the absence of lungs for more than a month! Skin is the largest organ in the body and frogs rely to a great extent on cutaneous (through skin) respiration. This explains why the frog’s skin is highly permeable to water and air, although the only constraint being it must be kept moist at all times.

Such beautiful and photogenic creatures clicked by Dr Gururaja
A group of Rhacophorus lateralis clicked by Dr Gururaja. Aren’t they innocently photogenic?

5. Clean drinking water- Excessive algae blooms have been a major cause for the destruction of fresh water bodies. Most tadpoles and frogs feed on algae that grow in the water bodies. Thus they help in maintaining the oxygen levels of the water. They form a part of natural filtration system in the freshwater ponds. You might also like to know that they are never found in salty water or in the sea!

This tiny rests on the rock overflowing a stream
This tiny croaker (Micrixalus Saxicola) rests on the rock adjoining an overflowing water stream in the Western Ghats of India

6. Eggs so weird- Frogs lay their eggs in water or on very damp surfaces. Their eggs are unlike any other reptile or bird eggs – they are not covered by hard shells. Frog eggs are little squishy bundles made of a jelly like matter that protects the growing embryo. Most amphibians use external fertilization (the female lays eggs first and the male fertilizes it later). This again explains the need for damp surfaces and requirement of fresh water for their survival.

A male Nyctibatrachus grandis guards it's eggs
This male night frog (Nyctibatrachus grandis) sits alert to guard his egg clutch!

7. Psychedelic calls- ‘The sound, which the scientific books describe as “croaking,” floats far and wide, and produces a beautiful, mysterious effect on a still evening’ – W. H. Hudson (1919). You might have heard continuous trrrr-trrrr-trrrr during damp, dark nights in your backyard. Have you ever wondered how these little beasts call all night? Well, the answer lies in their wonderful and functional three-unit “noise-production-system” inside their body cavities. This system consists of trunk muscles, larynx and vocal sacs. Trunk muscles give power, larynx helps in the production of the sound, and the buccal cavity and vocal sacs together transmit the sound to long distances. Sounds are either produced for attracting mates or for dominating other males in the area.

This clip by Ramit Singal tells you how interesting the music can get –

8. Highly intelligent- These tiny wonders are extremely intelligent. They are smart enough to manipulate their sounds and signals according to different needs. Some frog species, considering the habitat they live in (torrential streams), call at different pitches and manipulate their frequencies.
The ones living near heavy flowing rivers might give “click” sounds with long breaks to stand apart from the continuous background sounds. And there are frogs that have evolved to give ‘visual signals’ to convey their message. Foot-flagging is one such visual signal. The genus Micrixalus (endemic to India) is popular for their foot-flagging signals. They are popularly nicknamed Dancing Frogs. There are about twenty-four known species of Dancing Frogs in India.

This video by Dr Gururaja shows how a frog dances –

These are only but a few facts that I have listed due to time and space constraints. If I sit back and start to mention each hard-to-believe fact of these slimy creatures, I could write an entire 100-page magazine dedicated to frogs. Now I’m sure you understand – why I’m crazily in love with frogs <3

I would also like to tell you, that I am starting Part 1 of my campaign #NotJustFrogs in India. All you have to do is click pictures of frogs (add date and location) and share them with me using the hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.

You could also join this facebook group!

Also, if you would like to take one more step towards saving frogs then click on the link below. You will be asked to make your profile and then you can show your support towards my project with Roots&Shoots by Dr Jane Goodall.

https://www.rootsandshoots.org/project/notjustfrogs-part-l

Don’t forget to tell me your reasons to love (or hate?) frogs in the comments below 🙂 

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On a Snow-Hooded Himalayan Trail: The Story of Serken

Into the Mountains
Into the Mountains…

There are only 3000 to 6000 Snow Leopards estimated to be alive today- they are an endangered species. By some conservative estimates, you would be 10 times more likely to be struck by a lightning, than having the absolute luck of seeing the majestic Snow Leopard. Serken (in local name) is considered to be a symbol of God. With these thoughts in mind, five layers of warm clothing and strong, sturdy shoes I set out on a journey to feel the Himalayas. A lot of effort was put into bringing together all necessary life belongings into one rucksack. The aim was to keep it as light as possible. I was going to climb steep rocky mountains in -10 degrees celsius (it was late October), explore the frozen valleys and live with the locals of the Spiti-Lahaul district in Himachal Pradesh, India.

When I arrived at Chandigarh in the morning, three free souls and one self-driven car welcomed me at the airport. We hopped in and shortly hit the highway to Manali. A night spent well and an energy packed breakfast filled me with thrill and enthusiasm to drive further. Through the snow peaks and huge rocks we paced our SUV to stop right at our next destination- Chatru. Unlike the usual tar or cement roads, the roads here were made only of gravel. For the first time in my life, I witnessed a landslide right beside me. Mother Earth pulled down everything from big boulders to minute sand particles and threw them at us puny humans! Everything was grey, hidden under the vast dust cloud that rose in the sky. Gravity showed its aggression to us. It looked like a trailer. Earth- like an angry goddess; trying to tell man that she is far more powerful than any human being could ever aspire to be!

A big speed breaker and a bumpy bridge, got me back to the present and I saw that we had by now passed the landslide. The grey had disappeared and I had reached Chatru, just before dusk! The stars shimmered and glittered, as only the stars under the grand Himalayan sky can. There were only two huts where we could ask for food. The temperature fell rapidly but the small hut, the family we met, the fried eggs and noodles they cooked for us brought much needed warmth and love! After setting up the tent I watched stars change position for about two hours and discussed how enlightened our life was to be experiencing pure nature first hand. We also discussed struggles of life while talking to the only family we had met. They had no permanent address- they lived six months in Chatru and the other six in a village at a lower elevation. They were filled with joy to meet us, to share their dinner with us and allow us to spend a night on their land- it wasn’t often that they had visitors this late into the year. They told me people like us, make their life beautiful. I strongly believe the struggles you choose determine the level of carefree and happy life you lead!

The next morning I woke up to numb feet, ice in my hair and chirping birds. There were a pair of singing River Chats flying all over the place. The tributary of Spiti river flowed freely by the side. After waving goodbye to the family who provided us shelter we moved ahead to Dhankar Village. On the way we spent another night at a pristine lake that we bumped into after our not so perfect google search. We took a narrow, winding road that led us to Chandra tal lake- the Lake of the Moon- one of the highest lakes in the world. We spent the night under the starry galaxy and woke up to clear blue water which literally turned the Himalayas upside down.

When the Himalayas turned upside down
When the Himalayas turned upside down

Dhankar Village was 8 hours away from the Lake of the Moon. After a great bumpy make-your-own-way ride on gravel, the stars twinkled their smiles upon us one by one. The night fell dark- we were about to reach Dhankar Monastery. It was 9 PM at night. To my ecstasy, the monastery lights shared the space with twinkling stars at the horizon. I shouted with joy “Yay, we found a home”. All of us got really excited to see civilization again! Faint with hunger, we decided to distract ourselves by turning our attention to our daily “wildlife talks” and discussed how we were 4000 meters above the sea level. My friends curiously asked me about the wildlife found here! I told them about the Short-toed Larks that we had seen flying in flocks at the lake, the majestic Himalayan Griffon that perched on the rock, the Ibex which we couldn’t see and then we discussed the mighty and elusive Snow-Leopard.

Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!
Himalayan Griffon in all its glory!

“The Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia), lives in high altitudes about 3,000-4,500 meters from the sea level. It can walk on the rocky steep slopes of the Himalayas and is usually seen only above the tree level. Sources say that there are only 6000 of these individuals left in the wild. They have been facing major threats like climate change and habitat destruction owing to the greed of homo sapiens. They can hunt prey three times their size. They are about 125 cms long- not counting their tail length. They have an extremely useful tail which can sometimes be used to protect them from the harsh snow.” Can we come across a Snow-Leopard here? Asked a friend who was currently concentrating on driving and reaching the horizon with lights. “Yes”, I said, “If only fate is on our side! It is an extremely rare and elusive animal, and finding one is like finding an angel falling from the sky” My friends laughed as we continued making our way.

After about thirty minutes, while we were still driving and I was lost in the stars that followed us, my friend who had never seen even a Snow-Leopard photograph, shouted out- “Snow-leopard!” as he brought the car to a grinding halt. Wait, what, that isn’t possible- I thought. “No, it can’t be”, I said still lost in the stars. “It is, there is no other creature this size with that long a tail. Her eyes are shining in the car’s headlights, at least take a look, you girlgonebirdzz!” He exclaimed. I got up from my recumbent position and to my surprise an adult solitary “Serken” as the locals would call it was sitting comfortably on the cold, very steep mountain beside me. I hurriedly got my torch and focused straight on the animal, keeping a safe distance. “Yes, a female Snow-Leopard!”

Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!
Yes, the elusive and rare- Snow Leopard!

We stopped the car to get a better look. I tried photographing it but it was too dark. It stared at us as we stared back. I tried to climb up to get a better picture, careful not to make any sudden movements and scare it away. The result was this shot that I managed to capture after 30 minutes of slowly and painfully inching forward. By then I had closely monitored her behavior towards me- she looked calm and peaceful, she just wanted to relax on the mountain! We stayed like this for another 30 minutes, staring at each other before my friends dragged me away and I went to the car reluctantly. That night we holed up at the monastery, where the monks told us that yes indeed a Sow Leopard had been dragging away their livestock over the last few weeks. They mentioned that spotting a Snow Leopard is very rare and that we were one of the luckiest travelers that year! I slept fitfully, dreaming of the leopard, chasing it through the mountain crags.

Next day morning, at the break of dawn, I jumped out of my bed and drove towards the place where we had spotted the Serken. Alas, it was gone! I jumped into the narrow gap between the mountains and started pulling myself up. Although the Serken was gone, I was fortunate enough to collect her hair and a few droppings. I secured these valuable samples up in air- tight zip-lock bag to get them tested at a lab once we returned to civilization. The Serken was a majestic sight, one that crowned our entire trip. It was more than the icing on the cake, for me personally, the Serken took the cake itself! 🙂

 

PS: This article was first published on Travelettes – an online platform for women travelers to share inspiring stories. Read it here. Don’t forget to show your love- comment, like and share! Any help with my Travel Funds will be highly appreciated. Thanks!

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How To Avoid Leeches?

In the simplest definition- a Leech is a parasite that sucks blood. If you happen to wander around during the monsoons in the Himalayas or the Western Ghats of India you will encounter them in large numbers. They live off another organism and suck the blood (literally) of their host. Usually it is vertebrates that play hosts to these leeches. During my endeavors in the forests I have seen them attack a slug, a toad, many dogs and most commonly human beings. They usually make their way up from the host’s foot and crawl up till they find an area to suck on. They are capable of attacking any part of the human body including eyes, nose, mouth, vagina, penis, ears and breasts.

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Kodagu District lies in the Western Ghats of southwestern Karnataka. The district’s elevation is roughly 900 meters above the sea level. Most of the land is covered with coffee plantations and the rest is evergreen forest. In my quiet and peaceful hamlet within the coffee plantations, I lied down on a bench in my veranda watching rain and birds. They say an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. The devil had taken over my mind. I impulsively decided to venture out in the forests barefoot. I wanted to feel the clean, moist earth and moss that covered the rocks. I had been warned not to go out without gum-boots for the fear of stepping on snakes, dangerous invertebrates and of course thousands of leeches that would attack me in no time. But often, I do as I like, and went to take a walk barefoot. When I returned I had at least ten leeches clinging on to me in a short span of ten minutes. Most had grown from a mere 2 cms to over 12 cms in length. They had sucked my blood and grown ten times their original circumference. Some had fallen off leaving a profusely bleeding wound while others still hung around my legs, upper arms and neck. 

The point is, leeches are harmless to human beings. But they do send a shiver down the spines of most people who are not accustomed to them. Also, once attacked, each one’s body reacts to it differently causing irritation and inflammation. Most leech wounds would heal in a period of a week. Sometimes the wound leaves a small, itchy scar behind. The tiny dark scars most often go away in the second week. I’d like to say, if you plan to get attacked by leeches like I did or are wandering around in moist forests, you must keep in mind your sugar levels or any other coagulation disorders that you may be suffering from. In no case should a person diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus (DM) come in contact with leeches. The wounds of people with DM do not heal easily. Having DM may cause unnecessary complications, like infections.

(On a side note- I’d like to point out to those of you who think that DM only hits the elderly, that’s a myth! DM can affect anyone at any age. It is also important that you do not have any suspicions of increased sugar levels. In my case I was sure of not having elevated sugar levels in my blood, thanks to knowledge gained in my 7 years of medical schooling)

For people who are still grossed out by the idea of getting leeches on themselves, and as a general precautionary care- I have got easy ways to stay away from these blood suckers just for you:  

  1. Pluck it out: In an unfortunate incidence of watching a leech crawl up on you or feeling it in an unwanted area on your skin, you could simply pluck it out. That being said, there’s a specific way of doing it. You can’t just flick it off like a mosquito or a fly. With dry hands, tightly grasp the leech in between your fingers and pull it out. Now roll it using the pads of your thumb and index finger and flick it like you would the striker in the famous eastern origin game of Carrom. On most occasions you will have a bleeding wound. Use a bandage or dettol to prevent any infections.
  2. Use Salt: Salt has been popularly used by people who go to leech infested areas. The benefits of common salt against leeches are well known to the indigenous tribes of India. Salt can be sprinkled directly over the leech to kill it almost immediately. I have seen locals carry a special stick. Before getting into the forests they wrap salt in a piece of cloth and tie the ball at the end of a stick, like shown in the picture below. It is super easy to use, carry, store and it lasts long. Just slightly wet the ball at the end of stick and apply to wherever the leech attacks. Interesting isn’t it?

    A special salt stick prepared by the locals in Sikkim to keep the leeches at bay. As seen in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge; in a study done by Jokem Bam et al (Jul 2015)
    A special salt stick prepared by the locals in Sikkim to keep the leeches at bay. As seen in the Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge; in a study done by Jokem Bam et al (Jul 2015)
  3. Rub Vinegar: I learnt this technique from an old experienced man who had lived in the forests for more than 30 years. For him getting leeches off himself and fellow travelers was an everyday task. He tells me that rubbing vinegar all over limbs, thighs and soles of the feet can help prevent leech attacks.
  4. Tobacco: Just like common salt, tobacco has been frequently used among ancient Indian tribes. They rub a mixture of crushed tobacco and water over their limbs to protect themselves from leeches before entering the forests. I remember the old man from the forests mentioning that he uses tobacco for his pet dogs. Dogs often sniff around in the forests. As a result, leeches get inside their nose. An easy way to ease out the troubled dog would be to get him to sniff on a mixture of tobacco and water. A modern variation for trekkers and people like you and me would be to carry a cigarette along. Powdered tobacco from the cigarette can be put directly on the leech to kill it immediately. (Please don’t smoke in the forests)
  5. Eucalyptus Oil: If you have eucalyptus oil handy apply it all over your body. This does not let the leech stick to your body. Although the oil has a very peculiar smell and not everyone would like you to smell like that in the forests.
  6. Iron and lighter trick: When I was 16 I learnt about leeches. I found them very interesting and started scanning the internet. Most people were looking for ways to get them out of their body. This method is indeed a very cruel way of getting rid of this tiny animal. Warm up a small iron piece, like a safety pin or a corkscrew using the lighter flame. Now pierce it straight into the leech’s body. This will burst the animal and it will fall off immediately. Take care not to over heat the iron.
  7. Leech proof socks: This is by far the easiest way to prevent leeches from attacking you. You could buy a pair of professionally made leech socks in any of the outdoor apparel stores (I personally love Decathlon). But if you are not going to be using it often this would sound like a dead investment. In that case you could use any of the thick cotton socks/stockings or soccer socks that are long enough to cover your calf up to your thighs. This will keep you free from leeches on your trek. Thank me later 😉
  8. Alcohol: Alcohol has been proven to be very effective against leeches. Drinking alcohol is the best way to get rid of a leech that has inadvertently entered your mouth- although it is best to prevent such a thing from happening; possibly speak less when you are in the forests 🙂 If a leech has bitten you- putting an alcohol based sanitizer or drinkable alcohol on it should also work.

I was once working on a biodiversity survey in the Western Ghats when a leech entered a friend’s eye. We had to do a quick procedure to remove the leech immediately. A friend had to pull his upper lid up and lower lid down to expose the area as much as possible. Another friend pulled the leech off using her fine grip. The aftermath was not so scary, my friend’s eyes were all normal in about eight hours and his vision was also all right. In such circumstances washing the eye might help but a mild betadine solution will get the creature off. Usually it is advisable to carry betadine eye drops as part of first-aid kit. I read about this only later and confirmed with a few of my ophthalmologist friends.

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Picture by Shrikanth Nayak during his daredevil endeavours in the forests!

Leeches in general are not very deadly, they just leave you bleeding profusely (for a little while before the blood coagulates) and with an unnecessary itch. Sometimes an infection in a person with poor immunity can be triggered but most healthy individuals with protective footwear should be all right in the forests. The most natural way to get rid of them is to let them suck on your blood and fall off naturally, unless they have entered one of your body’s openings!

Don’t forget to tell me if you’ve encountered leeches in your life. I’d love to know how you got rid of them 🙂

PS: I hope you enjoyed reading this. Any help with my travel funds will be highly appreciated

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How I Met My ‘Courage’

‘Courage’ the little frog sat comfortably across this fast flowing stream. It looked as if he had made friends with the stream and her fast flowing water. The very strong wavy water was trying to protect it from predators.

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The rocks neighboring the water made it even more difficult to reach the frog. As soon as I stepped in the stream the water flow increased and the waves stopped me from getting close to Courage. But I knew I wasn’t supposed to give up. I had to prove to the stream and her friends that I am different. I am not the human being who throws plastic at them and usually comes to destroy them.

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I am going to observe this frog and help conserve him. So I put my foot down and went ahead. While I played with the fast flowing waves, another Whistling friend joined in. Thrush, the bird, occupied the canopy above me and watched all the drama below. He looked at me like “Oh just another creepy human being”. But wait, there’s more to me, I thought as I struggled to keep my foot down in the waves.

Look at the frog

The rocks had decided to stop me as well. They turned slippery and asked moss to cover them. I knew, these are not inanimate objects that we look upon them as. They are in fact the beloved children of Mother Earth, live creatures in themselves. All these life forces come together to make a brilliant cradle for the survival of human beings. In return it is our duty to give back, as much as we can.

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As my mind recited these thoughts, Mother Nature seemed to guess this already. She calmed down a little, after a good twenty minutes of my struggle through the rocks and waves. I had reached where Courage was. He posed for me and said ribbit-ribbit. Two more frogs jumped in and these I decided to call- Moxie and Energy!

Mr Courage

As I got out of the stream, I felt super happy. All the adrenaline rush and this new bond of frogship felt really wonderful. I was on top of the world. When I first decided to cross the stream, I was afraid. But as I gathered my courage and decided to take this path, I made friends on the way. These friends might not be able to party, wish me birthday or Whatsapp me, but they will always be there. Having them as companions, I realized, I don’t need anyone else!

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What’s Your Reason To Watch Birds? If You Don’t Have a Reason Find One Here

Bird-watching needs no introduction. Bird-watching (or Birding as we like to call it) is a wonderful way to step outdoors. Not only does it give you a chance to experience some of Earth’s greatest flying wonders but also to show compassion for nature. Just like any other happy drug, birding is super addictive! I have also observed that it is equally enjoyed by children, youth as well as the old. Did you know it is listed among the most pleasurable and well liked hobbies in the world?

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I have come up with a list of reasons why people get addicted to watching these bright, astonishing winged creatures:

Because You Are An Adventurer: You are among those crazy people who find excitement in danger. You love putting yourself in trouble and mostly use the ‘try it out’ way of learning. Yes, bird-watching involves a lot of adventure. It definitely isn’t for the fainthearted. Many times it involves trekking up and down through rocky terrains, climbing trees, walking miles through dark evergreen forests and open lands, experiencing ticks and leech bites and sometimes even walking through slush teeming with snakes and crabs!

But you enjoy it all, and that’s what makes you a successful bird-watcher.

Walk through the misty rainforest to watch some incredibly colorful birds!
Walk through the misty forest to watch some incredibly colorful birds!

To Show Your Love for Mother Earth: You get to go closer to mother nature and enjoy every season. Your love for nature can only be expressed through bird-watching. You often feel like hugging a tree or living in a tree house.  You love the mixed fragrance of poisonous herbs, jungle berries, various other trees and plantations found in the forests. And all of this complements your love to watch these colourful beauties take to the air.

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I often hug a tree and thank her for being so good to birds!

Because You Love Your Camera: Photography is a fancy hobby. When clubbed with exciting adventure, amusing nature and unmanned beautiful green surroundings, many jump in the field with their cameras and choose birds as their subjects. Although they are super difficult subjects, the satisfaction of capturing a great “bird photograph” is boundless. Tagging along with an experienced bird photographer is a great option for starters. Else just read about birding ethics and you are good to get out to explore the avian world with your lens!

Photo Credits: Reshma Bhat

To Make New Friends: Bird-watching is a social activity and is best enjoyed with people of similar interests. By means of different online bird-watching groups and forums you tend to meet several exciting people who possess vast knowledge about birds and nature. Each new person you meet, might amaze you. Considering similar interests and likes, the bond of friendship grows forever.

Photo Credits: Reshma Bhat

To Get a Little Famous: Bird watching makes you famous among your friends, extended families, work-groups etc. Mostly birding is combined with great photographs. These days when social media is all pervasive, the photographs go straight on your Facebook timeline. Birds, natural habitats, your travel joys and places fetch you too many LIKES (Y). Whichever platform you choose, your bird photographs help you stand out from the boring study crowd.

Oh yes!
Oh yes!

To Fight Boredom: On a Sunday Morning you are dragged by a bird-watcher friend into a new world.  You always wanted to know the “twee twee” in your garden so you’re out on a birding excursion. Once you experience the birds up close, it wouldn’t take you long to get addicted.

And when you are addicted, you’ve taken care of your boredom!  😉

To Get Into Serious Research: You are the next bird-man/woman of India. You’re not only familiar with names of different birds but also with climate change, different habitats, behavior, songs, various species, etc. You know it all! Mostly associated with some wildlife NGO or other organisation, you are this generation’s Dr Salim Ali in making!

Did you know- we can all get a little scientific by helping this brilliant Citizen Science Project called Bird Count India!

Just upload all your records on EBird and participate in their monthly contests! This is also a great way to keep all your bird sightings organised and in one place.  🙂

More research, anyone?
More research, anyone?

For The Unbeatable Surprise Element: With birding you start exploring more and more forests. The forest in itself is the greatest unsolved mystery. It becomes routine to come across unrecognized birds but sometimes there’s more than just that. Leopards, scorpions, deadly snakes and other small creatures share their territory with birds. WOW!

I clicked the following photo of Soldier Crabs (Dotilla mycteroids) when I went out to an undisturbed beach on the coasts of Karnataka in search of waders. Aren’t they gorgeous?

My favorite army of soldier crabs!

And how about something more interesting and creepy?

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This Green Vine Snake swallows down a whole Calotes; while the birds chirped behind!

To Travel on Budget: Bird-watching involves a lot of traveling. It becomes an obsession for you to want to spend more and more time with birds. You might also like to travel to different destinations to watch different birds. In your unique bird watcher gang, there is always a little space for you in someone’s SUV!

Take the road less traveled in your best birding friend's SUV
Take the road less traveled in your best birding friend’s SUV

Because Birding Is Healthy: Believe it or not, being close to nature has several health benefits. Walking on natural non-cemented paths is great for your joints and muscles. It reduces the ground reaction force exerted on your joints (the physiotherapist me is talking here). Also trekking/walking in itself can help you fight several diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and depression. Talking more about depression and stress – Birding is a great stress buster. Not only does it allow you to go to faraway places but also helps you spent some time with yourself. For me it is equivalent to meditation. We all are aware about the benefits of meditation, if not, read more here!

Photo Credits: Rishi Gupta
Start walking while you’re birding!

Just for Fun Folks: You smile ear to ear when you see a bird. You feel relaxed in the lap of nature and in the company of chirping creatures. You follow many Facebook groups about birds and wildlife. You go out for bird-watching trips and travel to different bird sanctuaries. You just enjoy this outdoor activity and believe me, there is no greater reason than this one!

No matter whatever be the reason for you to be close to nature or watch birds. It is the duty of every individual to prioritize the environment and its well being. Developing a feeling of compassion and love for species other than man is beautiful and enlightening. It isn’t late to protect the only habitable planet. Start today and appreciate the wonders of Mother Nature, she is the biggest and the strongest. You do your bit and she will protect you!

Dr Jane Goodall rightly said- “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference”

Take a step! Start appreciating nature today.

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Frogs Of Hampi: You Must Check Them Out During Your Visit To The Heritage Town!

Hampi, a UNESCO heritage site is not only rich in its heritage but also unique in its wildlife. The town is slightly touristy and has numerous temples which makes it a very famous tourist spot. In my search to find lesser known places, I ended up staying in the north of Hampi (across the Tungabhadra River) in Sanapur. Sanapur has pristine, undisturbed habitats which are a home for numerous frogs, birds and reptiles. Especially in the rainy season, the paddy fields, adjoining granite monoliths and the mud houses of farmers become a paradise for frogs and toads to breed. If you happen to be in Hampi, anytime during the months of June to September, you will definitely get to see a number of frogs here-

I am in love with these paddyfields, just outside my homestay!
I am in love with these paddyfields, just outside my homestay!

Here are all the frogs that I saw during my visit to Hampi-

The Sri Lankan Painted Frog (Kaloula taprobanica)

This colorful and distinctive frog is about 5 to 6 cms in length. It is stocky with short legs. It is possible to come across this frog in moist places, smaller puddles and near fields. Occasionally, it is possible to find this in your courtyard or your bathroom.

I found him jump below my hammock when I was reading a book in dim light very close to paddyfields at Rambo Homestay

This colorful frog is such a poser!
This colorful frog is such a poser!

Variegata Ramanella (Ramanella variegata)

This frog looks like a tiny birthday balloon with its distinctive fine yellow spots. I am not sure what this loner was doing in my bathroom. But it probably swum through the sewer opening, jumped through the door or was just planning to say “hi” to me. Did you know that this frog has a very large distribution and if you are observant enough, you might just find it in almost any damp places, protected forests, rivers, fields, etc. There are eight species of Ramanella out of which six appear in peninsular India.

Tiny, spotted beauty in your bathroom!
Tiny, spotted beauty in my bathroom!

Common Indian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus)

The toad has to make it to my list wherever I go in India. They can be found almost everywhere, a toad, could most likely be. In monsoons, a walk around your own home in a sparkling city can reveal at least one toad. These are super easy to identify- just look for a “V” above the snout with warty skin and dull color.

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That “V” = Common Indian Toad

Common Indian Tree Frog (Polypedates maculatus)

This is apparently a very common frog. It is possible to find one almost anywhere and everywhere, given its distinctive call. It is distributed throughout India as per resources. My frog expert friends tell me- “You should know where to look for this frog”. It lives in the trees and shrubs about 3 to 4 feet above the ground. Occasionally, it climbs down on rocks near puddles and fields and you might be lucky like me to find one.

Chilling on the rock!
Chilling on the rock!

Burrowing frog (Sphaerotheca species)

I came across this species of frog while taking a night stroll. The tiny frogs of this genus have a specialized digging apparatus on their feet. A really funny incident happened when I spotted this one. I was walking on the road and the frog jumped over someone’s feet who was pissing by the side. I am sure I weirded out this man but still managed clicking this one awkward shot in all the smelly area. So now you know where to get this digging frog!

Little digging frog
Little digging frog.

I love these little, slimy creatures. How about you- have you visited Hampi yet?

If not, pack your bags this monsoon for the much needed weekend break and stay at my favorite Homestay to see all the frogs in one go! 

PS: Heartfelt thanks to all my wonderful frog loving friends who helped me with the frog identities and information. For more check the inspiration section!

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7 Awesome Reasons To Attend The 7 Day PRiMER Course By Gubbi Lab

I am in love with this classroom. The first of its kind where I chose to sit inside rather than standing outside or being absent! ;)
I am in love with this classroom. The first of its kind where I chose to sit inside rather than standing outside or being absent! 😉

To get a chance to study in this brilliant classroom- This Eco-classroom is to die for. The simple classroom ambiance consists of limited chairs, walls made of mud with the natural amber paint, bamboo pillars with hay ceiling and one projector screen for convenience and ease of learning. All this makes a different environment to study in, while providing the much needed natural cooling and light. Who wouldn’t fall in love with studies here?

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Tall coconut and beetle-nut trees make a peaceful outdoors. Most times a flame-back woodpecker called out loud to claim that the heights belonged to him and his flaming female!

To realize you need no “Techie”- Getting to learn the intelligent QGIS, R, PAST softwares step-by-step is an incredible experience. The patience of teaching these skills to everyone coming from diverse backgrounds is an art that the expert teachers from Gubbi Labs have mastered over years. Not only do they teach you the principles behind the data analytics- they also hand hold you through the demo of the software and most importantly- they open your minds to the varied usages of data in ecological and other researches!

Trying to figure out lat-long on a mobile app!
Trying to figure out lat-long on a mobile app!
We’re getting there- to the statistics and much more inside the classroom
We’re getting there- to the statistics and much more inside the classroom

To experience the wonders of an Eco-Toilet- Woah, what? Yes, a brilliant concept of eco-toilet was fascinating for me. It doesn’t mean “In-The-Open”. Eco-toilets have a long history and the concept came from Paul Calvert of EcoSolutions. Sudhira and others of Gubbi Labs realized, at Gubbi Field Station they needed a solution to prevent sewage from entering the fresh water owing to the area’s high water table and the conventional septic tank wasn’t appropriate. With some time spent on google and other secondary research they came up with this brilliant solution to preserve fresh water, stop spread of diseases and maintain hygiene!

Walk that stairway to reach the Eco-toilet!
Walk that stairway to reach the Eco-toilet!
Look at this incredible wash-basin design, who needs the luxury of a glass bowl anyway! ;)
Look at this incredible wash-basin design, who needs the luxury of a glass bowl anyway! 😉

For Gurujee Time- Dr Gururaja KV, a very humble man studying frogs of India and the Western Ghats is a well known Batrachologist. He needs no introduction. Filled with enthusiasm and vigor, he supports students wanting to work in Ecology and gives important insights to their work. He believes “any research is an important one”. Sadly, I haven’t met too many scientists with the same beliefs. Don’t forget to check out this brilliant frog app by him! And read more about him- here

Gurujee takes outdoor classes for his beloved students!
Gurujee takes outdoor classes for his beloved students!

For Frogging, Birding, Lorising and much more- The course is filled with interesting field sessions sometimes with real frogs and sometimes with rubber ones- both packed with their own cuteness! The backyard of the classroom is a home for many endemic birds like Grey francolins, White-browed bulbuls and Short-toed snake eagles. These sessions are awesome to rejuvenate you while the experts from Gubbi add that missing piece with their helpful insights.

Gurujee has a whole lot of toy frogs (which resemble and feel like the living frogs) for you to experience it hands on. You do not want to mess up with the real frogs. This red frog-head is my favorite among others. Isn’t that filled with “Aww!” :)
Gurujee has a whole lot of toy frogs (which resemble and feel like the living frogs) for you to experience it hands on. You do not want to mess up with the real frogs. This red frog-head is my favorite among others. Isn’t that filled with “Aww!” 🙂
Measuring the frog’s snout-vent length with a Vernier’s Caliper
Measuring the frog’s snout-vent length with a Vernier’s Caliper

To meet like minded people- It is fun, interesting and wonderful to be in the company of people who can understand and discuss topics that you enjoy the most. Learning from each other’s experiences, getting to know their opinions and most of all discussing research topics that are absurd for many yet seem doable when discussed in depth! This is the power of beautiful people who worship nature, diversity in species and much more!

SAY CHEESE- for an incredible group picture!
SAY CHEESE- for an incredible group picture!

To add a whole new dimension to your research skills: Not only does this course teach you new concepts and new ideas on Ecology but it also teaches you how to apply the same to your data! We all have captured raw data and we do not know what to do with it or even how to make sense of it. So often, we are lost, not knowing which direction to take. It is at this juncture that you will remember the concepts taught to you here at Gubbi. Personally speaking- I am sure I will use the skills I have picked up here to convert the data I have collected into actual meaningful research. And get them published 😉

Look at the field, take a book, read it loud, google it, then google scholar it, collect data, analyze and write a paper! Wow, isn’t that quick?
Look at the field, take a book, read it loud, google it, then google scholar it, collect data, analyze and write a paper! Wow, isn’t that quick?
My certificate after the completion of the course. I’d call it- narcissism in the most subtle way!
My certificate after the completion of the course. I’d call it- narcissism in the most subtle way!

PS: A heart full of thanks to Dr Gururaja, Dr Sudhira, Mrs Ramya and Ms Vidisha for their contribution of photographs and other valuable information in this blog. This amazing experience definitely wouldn’t have happened without their loving support. Get in touch- Gubbi Labs

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