Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Camouflage - II

In one of my earlier posts, I'd described how I stumbled on a leaf insect. Well, it seems like leaf insects are dime a dozen. One just needs to look through their cunning camouflage.
The other day, I spotted this green leaf insect resting on my Sweet Basil plant. Its spindly legs were the exact hue and appearance of a thin woody basil stem, while other parts of its body bore the illusion of mottled basil leaves.
Spot Me If You Can
 Green Leaf Insect Wandering Violin Mantis
in Belly-up Position
The next morning I went to check on the insect, not quite expecting to still find it. I was in for a big surprise, when not only did I find my original green leaf insect, I also found two other brown leaf insects. All three insects were pressed against each other. My theory is that the two brown ones were males who were fighting for the lone green female. In the evening, I found one of the brown insects all by himself in a corner, while the other brown chap was sticking to the green one. Isn't that how it usually is in the animal kingdom.
There are 3 of Us Here: One Green and Two Brown
In a Tussle?
I now believe that I've probably brushed past many a leaf insect without a second glance, owing to its brilliant camouflage.

PS: I'm off on holiday, so you may not hear from me for a while. 

Update: I had incorrectly identified the above insects as Leaf Insects. I believe the insect is actually the Wandering Violin Mantis.

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Splash of Colour

The unrelenting rain has taken a toll on our garden. There are broken branches everywhere. The paths are slushy and slippery. The ground is waterlogged. And my potato experiment is most likely to fail, for the third time this year. 
Garden in Disarray
Waterlogged Potato Plant

But in this post, I'm choosing to focus only on the beauty that's still around us. Granting a respite from the dark, grey skies are a few bright and colourful blooms in the garden. Here is my first Zinnia flower. I'm grateful that it obliged to bloom in such wet weather. While in most regions, gardeners strictly follow a sowing and harvest season, in Chennai we do get away without following the calendar. With the exception of the monsoon months, throughout the year, the weather in Chennai is much the same: hot and humid. If the plants aren't weak and immature when the monsoons strike, most plants can tide over.
Another plant that's just begun blooming is my Butter Bean. When a small batch of fresh butter beans were forgotten and too old to be eaten, instead of throwing them away in the compost bin, I carelessly scattered them in a spare container. While the squirrels destroyed every other seedling that sprouted, this vine seems to have made it.
Butter Bean Bloom
Drenched Yellow Bells
The Yellow Bells and Morning Glories are in full bloom. Yellow Bells, with their delicate fragrance, are terrific bee magnets. But their fragrance doesn't carry very far. For fragrance that spreads further, there is the Rangoon Creeper. This creeper has climbed up our bare, leafless Gulmohur tree. Both these are hardy plants, which require little care, but reward you with plenty.
Yellow Bells / Yellow Trumpet Flowers in Profusion
Morning Glory: One of the 1000 Species
Rangoon Creeper
All the flowers I've mentioned here are sun lovers. So unless the sun is out soon, the flowers will all be gone. The thought makes me want to sing my son's nursery rhyme: Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me.
Sun-loving Scarlet Cordia Tree

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Monsoon Skyscapes

Right now, the Northeast or winter monsoons are sweeping through Tamil Nadu. While we felt the first few thundershowers around Diwali last month, more squally weather is anticipated till the end of this year. The sky often changes colours swiftly from dark grey to clear blue. Here are a few pictures of the sky, taken in the past few days.

Looming Dark Thunderclouds
Next Morning: Clear Skies and A Rainbow
The term "Monsoon" is derived from the Arabic "Mausam", meaning season. While there are monsoons experienced in other parts of the world, the Indian Monsoons are the most spectacular, providing the country with most of its rain. Here's a layman's perspective of the workings of the monsoon. We have two monsoon seasons: the Southwest monsoon or the summer monsoon and the Northeast monsoon or the winter monsoon.

In summer, while the Asian continent is steadily getting heated, the surrounding giant ocean does not get similarly heated. Reason: land heats up and cools down much faster than water. The difference in heat between the land and water bodies is huge, since on the one hand we have the large Asian continent and on the other, we have an equally vast Indian ocean. As the hot air above the land rises, a low pressure is created. The cooler air from above the ocean rushes in to fill the void. Laden with moisture from the oceans, winds (blowing from the south west to the north east) hit the Indian coast by the end of summer. The date of arrival is around June 1st. This is the summer or Southwest monsoons.

Later in the year when the sun retreats, the land cools rapidly, while the ocean still holds its heat. The result is a high pressure zone over the land, which causes the wind from the Himalayas to sweep down towards the Indian Ocean. These winds pick up moisture from the Bay of Bengal and bring rain to Tamil Nadu and other parts; these are known as the Northeast monsoon or the retreating monsoon.

Southern Sky at 11 a.m.: Cloudy Turmoil

Western Sky at 11 a.m.: Azure Blue Skies
Above are pictures from yesterday, taken at exactly the same time. While parts of the sky seemed to be in turmoil, when I turned around, the scene was much calmer.

Evening Sky at 6 p.m.: A Beautiful Sunset
By evening, the sky had cleared up a bit and was a brilliant crimson. There was little hint of the torrential rain that was to follow at night.
Soft Pink Glow
The monsoons are rather erratic and highly unpredictable.  In fact, I read here, in this rather informative article, how the only predictability about the monsoon is its unpredictability. Indian farmers are hugely dependent on the monsoons. Yet, our meteorologists give us little and sometimes misleading information about this annual mega weather event. The monsoons are poorly understood and need to be studied more. With more research and better technology in the future, I hope India will have improved weather forecasts. Until then, many Indians may be more content relying on astrological predictions rather than predictions from the met department.

Linked to Skywatch