(This article appeared in Parthenos (April-June 2011) - A newsletter of DiversityIndia)
I have always loved Entomology. If not for my choice of the University, I would have earned a Masters in Entomology instead of Plant Pathology. The interest begun with Honeybees as our Professor, Mr. Kulkarni taught us Apiculture during the undergraduate days. Even as some of my friend found it tough to remember the scientific names, let alone spell them correctly, I found myself at ease with the whole business. The course taught me the applied angle of Entomology but the seed of Taxonomy was sown somewhere deep within.
It was sometime in 2008, 9 years after I earned my Masters Degree and after my book on butterflies was being received well that I decided to take insect taxonomy seriously. The Phylum Insecta is so vast that one lifetime would be insufficient to study a single Order. Butterflies or Order Lepidoptera seemed the obvious choice but my selection of the Order Odonata, which consists of Dragonflies and Damselflies probably, has its origin in Amboli, the village where my interest in wildlife can be traced. As a child brought up in a village setting, I was witness to the game of catching dragonflies and tying their tails with thread. I say witness, since I never found the game amusing, one, since I felt pity for them and second since I knew they bite back. I did catch them though, but the smaller ones and observed how they tried to bite anything that was brought close to their mouthparts. But what caught my imagination where those which flew in thousand over open field and never seemed to tire. There would only be few on one day and on another the whole open field would be swarming with the reddish coloured dragonflies. It was fun to see the Small Green Bee-eater hawk them in the air, beat them against the wires, break off their wings and swallow them. Numbers would be so high on occasions that a few would get crushed under passing vehicles. Now I know they are called the Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) and rightly so.
|Long-legged Marsh Glider (Trithemis pallidinervis)|
That was a very long time back and after graduating I had the opportunity of being associated with the World Wild Fund of Nature (WWF) as a Volunteer and took pride in sharing my knowledge of biodiversity with adults and children alike during many of the Nature Trails and Camps. One hurdle though was the identification of Odonates. With no guide readily available, like the ones for Birds and Butterflies, all the different species remained just Dragonflies and Damselflies for me. By the way somewhere in between I learned that the smaller cousins of the Dragonflies are called Damselflies.
It was my Nikon D80 brought in 2006 that changed things for the good. Armed with a 105 mm Macro lens, I started photographing Dragons and grew to genuinely appreciate their amazing variability. With the collection growing and the need to know their identity made me look for people and sources which would help in identification. The world of the internet was a mine of information and within a short time I had names for most of the photographs. But something somewhere was amiss. I felt like the school kids accompanying me on trails and accepting every word that I said or all identifications that I made without ever questioning their authenticity. That is the time I decided to identify Odonates myself. The seed sown in the college days had finally germinated.
What has followed has been a great learning experience full of joyous, proud and frustrating moments. It is ironic though that the basic work done by the British of cataloguing the biodiversity of this Country still remains the most widely used literature for identification of lesser fauna. The three volumes of The Fauna of British India on Odonata by Fraser is a monumental work and one wonders how anybody could dedicate so much time and energy to classify organisms which even in today’s world are not considered significant enough.
|Trumpet tail (Acisoma panorpoides)|
I also became conscious that the State of
has only 39 species documented by various researchers and here I was holding images of more that 70 species. I wonder how in the world we will ever conserve anything that we do not know exists in the first place. The gaps in our knowledge of our surrounding environment are so vast; it makes me wonder what are we searching for on the Moon and Mars?? I felt sorry that very few students and researchers are interested in Taxonomy, which actually is the brick on which the building of science stands. As I explore the interiors and water bodies of Goa Goa in my search for new Odonates, I realize how important Taxonomy is not only for these winged predators but also for all the wide variety of biota that we have around us.
I will continue on my quest, which I am sure is not going to be any easy one, but hope that more and more youngsters take interest in lesser flora and fauna of this country with a view to aid in their conservation.