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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Down in Jungleland: Part II: What Lies Beneath

Of first impressions and coloured perceptions in the animal world.

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi | Updated: July 7, 2019 6:30:35 am
Ranjit Lal articles, indianexpress, Down in Jungleland, indianexpress Sunday EYE, indianexpressonline, Sunday eye stories, rats, animals, environment, conservation, ranjit lal environmentalist, bird watcher, EYE stories, Eye 2019, snakes, eagles, wasps, insects, cockroaches, conservation of nature, animal kingdom, dragonflies, animal kingdom, ratels, nature, beauty, wild animals conservation, domesticated species, wild species, reactions to animals, animal phobia, mongeese animal kingdom, dolphins and humans, sharks, orcas, crocodiles, The metallic eyes of wasps are enough to keep you away.(Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Following from my last column, here’s more on my first and general reactions to various denizens of the wild, big and small.

Crocodiles: We’ve all probably shed crocodile tears but what about their big toothy, goofy grin? Goofy until they snap those jaws shut! It’s better to stay away — whether on land (where they can gallop like racehorses) or in the water, where they are more dangerous than a submarine.

Orcas: With smiling faces and gleaming tuxedos, orcas (which are really dolphins) look like benign businessmen who have had too many lavish business lunches. Alas, they’re also known as “killer whales” and with good reason — ask seals, penguins, et al. Like a cartel of rapacious tycoons, they hunt in packs and corner and consume what they want, smilingly.

Dolphins: Everyone loves a smile. These hugely intelligent guys have mastered the art of sucking up to us, smiling cheesily and doing our bidding. With prey, they can be as ruthless as their big boy cousins above.

Sharks: There’s something stone cold and calculating about them. It’s the eyes: expressionless, emotionless, metallic and merciless. Watch the sinuous way they swim in — and admire their sleek streamlined bodies — from afar. Their dentistry is legendary. Whatever their reputation, they certainly don’t deserve to have their fins chopped off just because we’d like a bowl of soup.

Frogs: Who can’t love Mother Nature’s smileys? And, as always, she will bowl the occasional googly — touch a glamorously-clad poison-dart frog and you’re done for!

Toads: Fatter, prosperous smileys from Mother Nature, warts and all. So benign-looking, and yet when that gape opens and snaps, you’re done. The creature will still be smiling benignly and gulping with satisfaction.

Rats: Usually hated and hunted all over — are they only squirrels with scaly tails and bristly fur? But, when cornered, they may even see off their arch-enemies — cats — with a ninja act. We are often conflicted in the ways we treat them: legions of little boys have kept white mice, rats are worshipped, and we also try to exterminate them.

Squirrels: Rats with cute furry tails and better fur? We love the way they sit up and nibble nuts and their general sprightliness — racing and chasing each other in the canopy, like children.

Bats: Most people think they have evil faces — they’re so ugly that they’re irresistible. A mixed bag from Mother Nature: they have a reputation for spreading rabies, and Nipah virus, but without them we wouldn’t have bananas (and a lot else) and they have superb hi-tech night-flying skills using echolocation. “Blind as a bat” is something we often say, but bats get around just fine being blind.

Ratels: They epitomise the fighting spirit. Nothing scares them — an attitude which we must inculcate when dealing with the wooden and obtuse in the government.

Mongeese: With their protuberant eyes and belligerent attitude, them you really should not tangle with — though they make good pets, and sadly, paintbrushes! But watch them deal with a snake and man.

Snakes (in general): Are children born afraid of snakes or are they made afraid of them by adults? Whatever the case, it’s better to admire them from afar. While they can be beautiful, we’re just weird: we call them slimy yet make handbags and wallets out of them.

Eagles: They epitomise everything an alpha male wants to be. Though, with eagles, it’s usually the lady which is larger and fiercer than the gent. But those fierce glowering eyes, the cruel curved beak, the grappling iron talons: there’s nothing quite like them to take your breath away. And the magnificent way they fly — and hunt on the wing. And then you see them scavenging and quarrelling on garbage heaps. As they say, never meet your heroes!

Wasps: Their metallic eyes are enough to keep you away — they don’t need all the war-paint some of them wear. Deadly to many other insects and caterpillars, which they anesthetise and lay their eggs on, so the baby grub has fresh, live food. The grub is usually as hideous as its parent — carefully eating all around its meal’s vital organs so as to keep it alive and fresh as long as possible.

Cockroaches: If you’re truly objective and look at them carefully, you’ll see how handsome cockroaches really are! Rich, polished mahogany, every spiky leg perfect, long, so sensitive feelers and translucent wings.

Dragonflies: They spend most of their lives underwater, terrorising tadpoles and small fish in their “nymph” or “naiad” mode. They’re neither nymphs nor naiads — they’re monsters armed with a snapping prehensile hook-like jaw. In the skies, as adults, they’re no less fearsome, if beautiful — hunters on the wing, like World War I fighters, with 28,000 lenses in their eyes.

Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher.

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