Have you discovered your ‘Rebel Genes’ yet?

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I realised something in the silence of the forest. I cannot change as fast as society wants me to. In this fast-moving world, there is no place for sluggish people like me. Evolution would probably not take my lazy traits forward and a ‘slow life’ like mine would see the same fate as that of a giant ground sloth.

I’m one of the 7 billion homo sapiens living off this planet. I speak a particular language, belong to some caste, some race and that reminds me that I must be married. Else, I will be destroyed by my own creators. When I was growing up in a tiny home surrounded by the forests of central India – spending time with ants, moths and butterflies gave me immense pleasure. Two owlets frequented my backyard. I refused to have dinner without having watched them ‘hoot’. Twenty-four years later, I still absolutely love watching owls and totally love tripping on ants and moths. I have always dreamt of a simple life around animals and trees. I never wanted to attend school but I landed up there every day. Like everyone else I knew, I then proceeded to get my degrees. And now I am doing my PhD; thankfully, after enough battles, I am finally learning and working on something that I love and am passionate about! The wildlife of India, frogs and forests is what keeps me ticking. It’s been a long and a tiring journey and I feel compelled to share some of it with you.

When I went to school, I diligently followed my teachers’ advice. They asked me to sit in a particular way, play certain games and behave in a socially acceptable way. I tried hard to become that ‘good girl’. After school, father said that I must attend college. I put a cover on my camera and kept it away. I picked up books that didn’t interest me. After I finished college, I remember someone telling me – you’re a big girl now – let’s find you a life-partner! A male member of homo sapiens, belonging to the same caste and creed who will work hard and provide bread and shelter to the vulnerable other sex. I didn’t say no to this. Why should I? The only thing I was taught since I was a child was to say ‘yes’ to whatever the elders of my society said. They’re more experienced after all, aren’t they? They began meeting prospective candidates and discussing my future – children, a decent job and family. That’s all there is to life.

That night, I woke up with tears in my eyes. The air-conditioner had frozen my room with artificial, choking cold. I had a lump in my throat and I wanted to shout out loud. I wanted to tell everyone around me that they were wrong and that they were all being foolish. Life is not about children, family and husband. It’s a lot more than that. All this that they were focussing on is just a tiny part of life. But it’s not life in its entirety. No!

I knew what I was longing for. My heart had figured out exactly what was missing. I went up to my terrace and stared at the stars. That night, there was a lunar eclipse. I saw the moon change its colour. In a span of three hours the bright white sphere slowly turned ruby red and then white again. I lay on the cold floor. This cold wasn’t choking me. It was beautiful. Cool, mellow breeze tickled my hair. My tears had now vanished.

Soon, I’d packed my bag and vowed to roam the forests, to find frogs and owls. Mother-nature cradled me. I had decided not to live by the societal standards that had kept me tied up for years. I found myself hitch-hiking across the barren mountains of the Himalayas. I was finally smiling 🙂

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Three years have since passed. I have seen most wild corners of the country. Tried to study frogs, birds and what not. Sometimes I’ve found great company – some people have written me poems and someone once composed a song. Sometimes I’ve felt lonely. But I have always worshipped forests and I continue to do so even today. The people I have met have given me the strength to live the way I like. I have found myself sleeping on clean beaches on the west coast and sometimes running into bushes to hide from elephants in the Anamalai. This uncertainty always sends a shiver down my spine as I contemplate exploring a new forest.

I have found shelter within villages that surround protected forests. I have gossiped with people living in these forests. I have lived and experienced the tales of Kenneth Anderson, something that I had only read about as a child – and am now living them myself! Shouldn’t I be proud to have explored so much and that I decided to go against the tide? I probably should! Well, the reality is something else. Every time I see these false expectations imposed by the society upon each and every one of us – I am unwittingly pushed into a miserable state of existence. I know that I should ignore these societal expectations, ignore the need for external validation and instead live life solely by deriving validation from myself internally (and maybe a few more people I trust deeply). But it is tough to do that every single day, to remind myself that validation stems from within and that society can be wrong!

Fast-forward to today – I have often questioned the path that I’ve chosen. At 28, I don’t plan to have babies. I don’t want to live a successful married (read, patriarchal?) life. I don’t want to be that sweetheart girl who’s loved by everybody. There are over 3 billion women on this planet and each one has a unique story to tell, a different set of emotions and opinions. Just a simple Homo sapiens, an animal living off the woods, wasn’t enough. We called ourselves ‘the wise man’? Rational beings, aren’t we all? 

PS: An edited version of this article appeared in WomenForOne, a global community of women truth tellers. 

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‘Frogs of Manipal’ is Now a Book

Dear friends, readers and wildlifers,

Here’s something that has made my new year very special (and hopefully yours as well!). I have published a pocket guidebook to help identify common frogs around the stunning town of Manipal. ‘Frogs of Manipal’ was launched as a campaign in the year 2016 to raise awareness and bring amphibians into the limelight. It was supported by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR). But it is the enthusiastic and nature loving locals and students of Manipal who have taken it to a whole new level. 

Copyrights Madhushri Mudke
Cover page
Copyrights Madhushri Mudke
Inside

This guidebook has photographs, common and scientific names and habitats for the frogs we find in and around Manipal. It is my sincere hope that the guide shall serve as invaluable in helping everyone identify frogs (cryptic species) in and around their backyards.

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Who it’s for?

  • Locals living in the university town of Manipal
  • Students and citizen scientists living in Manipal
  • Naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, animal lovers, wildlife/nature photographers, biologists, students, scientists and citizen scientists all over the globe

On a side note: This booklet is relevant to everyone who’s interested (or looking to start getting interested) in frogs! The frogs we find in Manipal are also present at several other places in the Western Ghats.

What’s in it for you to learn?

This guidebook shall help you understand that a tiny university town on the coasts of India is home to a rich population of amphibian species. Documenting these cryptic species that are generally linked to monsoons is a tough job for scientists. People like you, i.e all environment/nature-loving citizens and locals have made documentation and action-oriented conservation possible. With this booklet in hand, we are now a step closer to understanding the environment that we all share. So grab your copy soon!

Is it helpful?

To understand whether this guide has done what’s it meant to, is a difficult question for me to answer. So I have two requests for you (puppy face):

  1. Leave me a comment and let me know
  2. Help me spread the word so that your friends, relatives and others can help improve the second edition of this guide

I cannot wait to hear back from you. Write to me personally using this form on my About Me page or leave a comment here.

Wishing you a very happy 2018.

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#FridayFrogFact – One night with the Small-handed Frog (Indirana semipalmata)

Note: This blog post is dedicated to my dear friend Tushar Verma. Tushar, who’s a writer and a nature lover, had come down to Manipal all the way from Raipur to enjoy the beauty of the sea, the frogs and the forests. Vrinda, a core team member of FoM and I took him on a long frog-walk which was a part of my campaign #NotJustFrogs with the Jane Goodall Institute. We trekked up the mountains, cutting through tall trees and reeds on a warm summer evening. And while the seasonal warmth left us sweaty and lost in the middle of nowhere, we were delighted to find ourselves immersed in the wild setting of the scenic lush green mountains of the Western Ghats. The nightjars gave background music and five monsoon monsters allowed us to get close and watch them. With Tushar in town, I felt as if the summers had cooled down a little!

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The Indirana group of frogs is by far one of my favourite frog groups. I am not sure why I have this unfair bias towards the Indiranas but I find them pretty psychedelic (read the last paragraph) in nature. Part of my interest in the Indiranas also lies in their evolutionary history, their overall structure, the habitat that they live in and their exceptional tadpoles (stay tuned- I’m going to write an elaborate post about Indirana tadpoles in the coming weeks). All Indirana frogs are endemic to the Western Ghats. When I come across any of these, my days instantly become super memorable! One day during my surveys in the benevolent mountains, I felt extremely fortunate to have gotten a chance to interact with the Gundia Leaping Frog (Indirana gundia) in the wild, thanks to my mentor – Dr Gururaja KV. On another frog walk, I stumbled upon three individuals of these frogs while exploring the forests of Agumbe.

On 21st March 2017, a warm sunny day greeted the three of us as we explored the depths of a forested patch in Manipal. The greenery around me filled me with joy and soon my eyes caught a glimpse of a freshwater lake that had taken the colour green to match the surroundings. As the birds chirped and flew back to their homes, the setting sun painted the sky in shades of pink and orange. Soon darkness took over. Vrinda and I passionately looked for frogs near the reeds and scanned the fringes of the road in our dim torch lights. It looked like we were crawling on the ground in search of marbles or pebbles like kids used to before the tech era got them searching for virtual marbles. Tushar simply walked along with a wide smile and looked at the two of us as if we were indulging in childlike activities under the dark blanket of the night sky embedded with sparkling stars. Little did he know how important our daily frog walks are to research these dying frog species!

After some time, all three of us got into a single line to have a look at one of the darkest corners in the forest. Our torches pointed towards the ground as we trekked in search of frogs. Suddenly my torch beam fell on a chunky frog that was sitting in a tiny burrow surrounded by dry leaf litter of the acacia trees. At first, I couldn’t identify the frog so I decided to catch it to examine it closely. But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the frog sensed our presence and jumped to take cover under some small plants. I jumped straight at the frog and caught hold of it in one go. Over months of running behind these hoppers, I have now mastered a unique skill set. I can hop like a frog to catch my prey and walk like a human to show my intelligence. At this point, Tushar was probably traumatised by my behaviour. He was trying to figure out what exactly happened in the darkness, a few meters ahead of him. I placed the frog in a setting with appropriate lighting and photographed it quickly taking utmost care to not injure it. As soon as I had the pictures I needed, I studied the morphology of the frog and gently placed it back from where I had found it first.

That night, Tushar and I returned home to process the photo and admire the elegance of the Small-handed Frog that we were lucky enough to find! This frog belongs to the family of Ranixalidae, otherwise referred to as the ‘Indian Frogs’. Ranixalidae is an ancient family of frogs that evolved independently in India over millions of years. The family is now known to have two genera – Indirana and Sallywalkerana. The Small-handed Frogs are distributed across the Western Ghats. The overall size of the frog can range from 2.3 to 5.5 centimetres. The one we saw (photographed above) was a male frog of 4 centimetres in size. The presence of a pair of special glands, called the femoral glands, on the insides of the frog’s thigh tells me the gender. Femoral refers to the femur (thigh bone) or the thigh and that’s how they got their name. This gland is considered as a secondary sexual characteristic and is present only in the male frogs. The gland is also known to release pheromones to facilitate mating. Although the function, presence and absence of this gland needs further clarification in the case of Indirana frogs, in the Small-handed Frog, the gland is said to be present in all males but its function remains largely unknown.

It is easy to identify this frog. It is the commonest frog to be found among the Indiranas. The frog dwells on the ground, on wet rocks or leaf litter. It has a very typical rotund structure. The overall coloration can vary but is largely pinkish brown. The frog’s back has longitudinal irregular skin folds. Tiny spine-like structures can be noticed on the sides of the frog. The lower jaw has a leopard-like spotted pattern of alternate dark and light brown markings. And the eyes are very like any other frog (staring right at you) – large and round. Tympanum or the circular ear drum is placed, one on either side, right behind the eye and is almost the size of the frog’s eye. A pair of large, well-developed hind limbs has greenish brown and light brown alternate bands. Forelimbs look unusually small when compared to the body size; maybe that’s why it was christened the Small-handed Frog?!?!

Indirana semipalmata

In conclusion, I have a small experiment for you to try which Tushar and I have tried and tested when we were high (on life) that night. Download the above picture of this incredible frog onto your computer or mobile phone. Then open the file in any photo viewer that you are using; put the picture in the full-screen mode. Now look into the eyes of the frog and you will return to innocence and find love, devotion and feelings! Otherwise, the obvious ‘no-connection’ that human beings exhibit towards frogs will become apparent. Make sure you let me know how you felt when you looked into the frog’s eyes! 

If you have missed any of the previous #FridayFrogFact posts – read them all over here! And if you liked this article, join our growing community of amazing froggers on Facebook. Also please fill out this form and tell me what would you like to read in the next post.

Now go and croak it out (read share this article) to the entire world on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sharing the #FridayFrogFact with your friends on social media is a great idea to show your love for these species <3

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Spooky Memories From Bisle Rainforest Within The Western Ghats Of India

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Rain hug- that’s my way of showing love!

I love the monsoons. Unlike most people who complain of the rains as messy, dirty or a season of inactive gloomy life, I set out on explorations to discover the hidden world unknown.

You must let the rain kiss you, let it beat upon your head and let it sing you a lullaby to discover new life springing out of everywhere!

1. I spent ten rainy days in a rain-forest, take a glimpse into that world beyond ours!I set out in my car and drove three hours straight. With constant lactic acid build up, there was a need to stretch. Finding a place was really difficult so I stopped by the side!

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 2. One more hour of driving and I was off into the wild.

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 3. With every turn, the forest grew greener and darker. Although I loved each turn as I cuddled in nature’s lap

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 4. There is simply nothing as beautiful as listening to showers and soaking in your own thoughts

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 5. With all that love the clouds went hard on me, I took shelter and promised I won’t leave all night

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 6. After a peaceful sleep, I woke up to a dark morning

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 7. Went out to discover hidden life on an unknown path, although I knew it was safe because it was GREEN!

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 8. As I walked I came across smaller beings bustling with life, creatures no one usually marvels at! And probably this little blood sucker is enough to keep people away from the rain forests

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9. Wait, there is more to life!

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 10. By far he is my favorite, I spent hours watching him hunt frogs and swim in the water

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So when I looked deep inside, the clouds smiled at me. We had developed a great relationship after spending 9 drenched days cuddled together.

On the tenth day the sun came up to bid me farewell!

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PS: Any help to my travel fund will be highly appreciated!
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