Our family and other animals

As the web of life unravels itself wondrously within our tiny patch of land, it is hard to know who is the predator, who is the prey and who are the interlopers.
Last Updated 16 March 2022, 08:20 IST

After every visit to Navilu Kaadu, we would leave behind a clean cottage when heading back to the city only to find it littered on our return. The origins of the mess continued to baffle us until we fortuitously chanced upon the culprits.

During our Dasara visit, we were greeted by a mischief of mice on the bed. The mum looked up alarmed as the pups scampered about in panic. The white bedsheet with prints of pretty pink roses was shredded to bits. Mercifully, the mice had left the bedding intact. Ushering out the mouse mother and her brood was a crazy circus, and it was nearing midday when we were finally able to turn our attention to the onerous task of cleaning up the mess.

The mouse mum had discovered a secret pathway into and out of the house — thanks to the faulty plumbing beneath the kitchen sink that resulted in a loose pipe. With the plumbing repaired, I have a hunch the mice are assiduously investigating another way into the house.

Early next morning, as is my routine on the farm, I was tidying up the front porch, and happened to pick up a sack full of cowpeas (alasande kaalu) harvested the day before. Curled beneath the sack in neat coils, was a tiny snakelet of the non-venomous Indian wolf snake species. It was a beautiful little snake with a reddish-brown body and striking cream-coloured bands.

The cosy shelter hoisted up, and its repose rudely interrupted, the snakelet looked peeved as it uncoiled lazily. With some coaxing, the little one slithered away seeking the cover of the underbrush beyond the front yard.

Sometime around noon the same day, my band of women helpers discovered a peafowl nest with a clutch of four large, pale brown eggs in a thicket by our solar fence. Momma peahen took flight as the women picking cowpea unknowingly approached her nest. We stayed clear of the area thereafter. I fervently hope the next generation of peafowl chicks hatched, grew strong and made their way out of the nest undisturbed and safe.

Lying in wait

On Christmas eve, the boys found a strange object in a pile of freshly cut grass, set aside as mulch material for our mango saplings. Little bigger than a marble, the lightweight structure of hardened froth reminded me of a meringue. It was an egg case or ootheca of a praying mantis. The female praying mantis lays her eggs in a frothy substance produced from the glands in her abdomen, which then hardens. We placed the egg case in a cup and left it beneath the neem tree by the house.

At Navilu Kaadu, we are learning to leave nature undisturbed and unfettered. A couple of days later, on a bright morning, the boys called out in excitement. Over a hundred newly emerged baby mantises were milling about the ootheca. As if by magic, the seemingly inert and lifeless egg case had spouted new lives waiting to go forth into the wide world. The baby mantises, also called nymphs, moved tentatively as they got ready to begin the all-important business of life.

Praying mantises are ambush predators and feed exclusively on live prey. They lie in wait and catch the prey when it gets close. They feast on aphids, moths, roaches, mosquitoes and most insects considered troublesome by farmers and gardeners.
These creatures, like many others, are crucial for the well-being of our crops at Navilu Kaadu.

The field mice and the praying mantises feed on insects that pose a threat to our crops, the snakes control the rodent population, and the peafowls keep the snakes in check. As the web of life unravels itself wondrously within our tiny patch of land, we have come to realise that at Navilu Kaadu, there is ample to go around for everybody — predator, prey and with a bit of luck, for us interlopers too.

Rooting For Nature is a monthly column on an off-kilter urban family’s trysts with nature on a natural farm.

The author chipped away at a software marketing career before shifting gears to communications consulting and natural farming. She blogs at and posts as @ramyacoushik on Instagram

(Published 12 March 2022, 19:42 IST)

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