“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
I remembered this quote, credited to Yeats, this Saturday (24/3/2018) as I observed the antics of the beautiful Goby fish during a Tidepool trail organised by WWF to commemorate the Earth Hour. It took me a bit of time to spot my first one- well camouflaged until it moved. Watching it swim and hide among the urchins and anemones was certainly a fun experience.
Camouflage in nature is not at all uncommon, seen throughout the spectrum- from the smallest of insects to large mammals and birds. An incredibly interesting phenomenon; one of my favourite birding experiences was spotting and clicking a Nightjar in broad daylight. These nocturnal raptors barely move throughout the day and have great faith in their camouflage, so much so that they wouldn’t move until someone/something is a few metres away from it. I managed to crawl until I was under ten metres away from it, click this full frame shot and turn around without it caring too much about me. Without some luck, I, like most people wouldn’t have noticed it or just passed it off as a stone.
Most larks, and their cousins, the pipits do a great job camouflaging themselves among the dry grass in fields and plateaus.
Another great example of camouflage is the Treecreeper, which interestingly moves only up the tree trunk, and never downwards!
When it comes to camouflage, insects are a class apart, with thousands of well documented examples; but none as famous as the Praying Mantis.
These deadly predators are almost impossible to spot, and it is no surprise that grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches often become unsuspecting meals.
Mantis often display an interesting behaviour known as ‘sexual cannibalism’ where the female eats the male after, during, or if the female is really hungry- even before mating! Hopefully the camouflage helps the male avoid hungry females too…
Another brilliant camouflage is the Peppered moth caterpillar. I had the delight of seeing it in our garden when my father, an agriculturist, showed it to me. So perfectly did it resemble the trimmed end of a rose plant stem that I didn’t believe it was a caterpillar until it moved!
Many butterfly caterpillars resemble bird droppings in their initial stages, then progress to camouflage as they grow larger, the most beautiful example being the common baron caterpillar (which I have unfortunately, and expectedly, never been able to spot despite there being many of these butterflies in my garden). Many butterflies blend in perfectly with dead leaves, especially in summer.
We’ve all heard of the Chameleon’s camouflage skills; and while not as remarkable, the calotes of Goa seem to do a pretty good job fitting in and changing their colour ever so slightly in the process.
As a tall, lanky male with a not-so-great physique, I’d be rather nondescript on a goan beach. Giving me company in fitting in are the large groups of little sand plovers that scurry away from the paths of people without being noticed.
Many other birds like pratincoles and dunlins would also miss detection, as would many of the crabs, who quickly run into their burrows, like this guy.
As I said earlier, many big mammals, including big cats and deer camouflage well to avoid detection. One of my favourites though are the Himalayan Tahrs, the wild mountain goats we chanced upon from the road in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Uttarakhand. I needed some guidance and directions to spot them, and as the minutes passed, I realised there were 11 in total, matching the barren rocks of the Sivaliks.
To conclude, the world is indeed full of magic things, and many of them are hidden in plain sight. Cutting a forest, building on a plateau, polluting a river causes far more damage than it appears at face value, and more damage than a typical Environmental Impact Assessment would take into consideration. Even our daily activities like using and discarding plastic bottles, bags and straws among others would have more far-reaching impacts that we realise.
While the intricacies and diversity in nature may yet be beyond our comprehension, it is important to endeavour to be good guests on this planet so that we don’t accidentally harm our cohabitants that we don’t know yet.