Man vs Wild: Now playing at home!

Man vs Wild: Now playing at home!

Man vs Wild: Now playing at home!

SMALL WONDERS What you see in your house, garden, park or pond can provide plenty of excitement and learning, so keep your eyes peeled! Pics by the author

The term ‘wildlife’ immediately brings to mind dense forests teeming with animals like deer, tiger, lion, elephant, etc. And, when you want to see some wildlife, a visit to a national park or a wildlife sanctuary is your best bet. Or is it? The term ‘wildlife’ includes undomesticated plant and animal life. Wildlife refers not only to large mammals but also to the larger world of trees, shrubs, other smaller plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and all else that is living. So, when you look at wildlife with this definition in mind, it becomes clear that  plants and animals very familiar to most of us are often ignored in the quest for bigger, exotic creatures!

There are so many plants and animals we may have seen in a nearby park, a garbage dump, a small garden or even inside our houses. Come, let us explore our surroundings to see what is quietly lurking around us.

Let us begin our journey in a park, which we mistakenly believe has very little to offer in terms of wildlife watching. Herbs, shrubs and trees are used to populate a park.
Some may be flowering and ornamental plants from far and near to suit various needs. As plants support life, the first place to start our exploration would be amidst them. A congregation of plants can be home to certain mammals, birds, reptiles, butterflies and a multitude of other life forms, each governed by their surroundings.

In a park, you are likely to see birds. They are easily seen and/or heard. Bulbuls, magpie robins, cuckoos and others herald their presence with their melodious voices. Others prefer to keep out of sight. And during winter months migrants add to the variety. You can, over a period of time, make a long list of birds to your frequently-visited park.

Butterflies with their myriad colours are almost always present in parks.  Mormons and jays are just a few of them. They can be seen visiting flowers or drinking from a patch of wet soil. You may also find leaf-like grasshoppers, stick-like praying mantids, sap-sucking bugs, spiders and many more. Social insects like ants, bees, wasps and termites along with arachnids like scorpions, reptiles like lizards hiding on tree trunks, caterpillars under leaves, or predators lurking in flowers can all be spotted with patience and perseverance.

You could also visit a water-body, immaterial of its size. The most prominent addition to your growing list would be a frog or a toad! You will also see insects like dragonflies and damselflies.

A kitchen garden or a collection of potted plants can support quite a few organisms. A potted palm in the garden or a lemon plant may support caterpillars, while the lantana and the zinnia provide nectar for adult butterflies, thus providing an opportunity to watch the entire life cycle of a butterfly. You may find spiders hiding amidst flowers to make a meal of visiting insects. A few birds like sparrows or warblers may also be seen.

Train your sights on your house next. Look at the outside wall surface carefully. You may see very flat spiders that closely resemble the colour of the wall (this is however restricted to walls with dull colours). These spiders spend all their lives here. You may even have the rare opportunity of seeing a bat roosting under the eaves. Dark corners often reveal a variety of spider webs,  wasp nests, moth cocoons and more.

In the evening, you will find geckos (wall lizards) hiding behind tube-lights, waiting for mosquitoes to snack on. Depending on where you are, you may have some beetles visiting you at particular times of the year. There could be more than one kind of spider inside your house.  Some, which have spun their webs in cool corners, patiently wait for a meal. While others, like the jumping spider, prefer to either run their prey down or pounce on them. Bolt holes in the door frame provide an ideal place for the leaf-cutter bee to build its nest. Watch how it cuts leaves with surgical precision.

Leave food uncovered and it attracts houseflies. Ants can also be seen visiting similar food sources. Sugar containers seem to be their favourite! Careful observation often reveals the presence of more than one species of ant in any household.

Look for the silverfish, which spends most of its life between the pages of a book. The earwig, the centipede, the caterpillar that came with the peas, and the odd toad that strayed into the house are just waiting to be discovered.

If you’re lucky, you could see monkeys and squirrels. A mongoose may also surprise you. Mammals like rats and bats, being nocturnal, often go unnoticed.

A word of caution: Be careful. Incorrect handling of these creatures will not only harm them, but may harm you too.

So, the next time you want to go wildlife watching, just keep your eyes open and you will see plenty wherever you may be. What’s more, once you have developed an interest in natural history, there will be no room for boredom, but only fascination and respect for nature.  What you see in your house, park, garden or pond can provide you with ample excitement and learning. Keep your eyes peeled.

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