50 meters from my cottage

I am fortunate. I live on an island, in a wooden cottage-on-stilts tucked away on a forested hillside.

One of many benefits of doing so is that I have some exceptionally interesting neighbours. An average day in this neck of the woods is something out of an Alien vs. Predators sort of flick. Some eat each other. Yup, just like that. Resorting to some incredible tactics in order to do so. Some steal food instead, while others farm their “livestock”. Some have crazy exhibitionist sex out there by the path to the dining area. Other voyeuristic ones camouflage themselves and watch. Rascals! And others seem to just hang out, as part of their daily routine – catching a spot of sunlight, sipping from raindrops and generally taking in this green and brown world. Over the last 3 years I have come to know their routines and eccentricities. And in doing so have come to understand a tiny bit of their magical lives. And I love them for the sheer bizarre relief, and ensuing wonder, they bring to mine.

And so, to their chagrin and disgruntlement, with their implied permission of course (!), I have stuck my nose in their business and photographed the goings-on in the area. 50 meters from my cottage is exactly that. Documentation, at a macro level, of the happenings in the forest within 50 meters of my cottage, and sometimes inside it!

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This beautiful bush cricket (Family Tettigoniidae) sat perfectly still for his portrait session, with the end of my macro lens a few inches from his face. A fun fact – the Tuberous Bushcricket (Platycleis affinis) has the largest testes in proportion to body mass of any animal recorded! They account for a whopping 14% of the insect’s body mass and are thought to enable a fast re-mating rate. By association, this fellow’s certainly got cojones!!

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A male ant is a sumptuous meal for this spider

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This Andaman Bronzeback (Dendrelaphis andamanensis) is a regular, often sunning himself by the side of the path near the dish-washing area. For all his high-five-ing, this toad didn’t stand a chance.

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The forest around my cottage is home to many different types of jumping spiders, most of whom spend their time dodging behind stems and under leaves when I show up with the camera. This specimen was thoroughly engrossed in his freshly caught meal and couldn’t care less about my presence.

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Weaver ants make short work of an injured Andaman Catsnake (Boiga andamanensis), endemic to the islands. This 1 and a 1/2 foot-long snake was cut up into 7 pieces in about half an hour and carted off – presumably to the nest of these voracious ants somewhere in the forest canopy.

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The same ants that will devour anything that lies dead or injured on the forest floor or on the trees show a startlingly different facet of symbiotic existence. They are careful “shepherds”, farming livestock of aphids which they will protect from predators, herd towards leafy shelter in a rainstorm and ensure a regular source of sustenance by leading them from frail plants to healthier ones. The aphids, in return, excrete a sweet liquid that the ants love to drink. And so, some of the smallest living things on the planet are also the only creatures other than us humans that actually herd and farm other species for their benefit.

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A Bay Island Forest Lizard (Coryphophylax subcristatus), endemic to the Andaman Islands, enjoys a snack of raw grasshopper.

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For a few months of the year, the forest is filled with Stilt-Legged Flies (Family Micropezidae) that seem to be unabashedly madly in love. Uncaring of the human activity along the forest paths, these amorous flies are at it at all hours of the day, perched on any leaf that suits their purpose.

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Another pair of amorous Stilt-Legged Flies, oblivious to the photographer trying hard to get both pairs of eyes in sharp focus.

Crawling around peering into the undergrowth, beneath leaves and into crevices in the barks of trees makes one a preferred target for the many mosquitos that emerge en masse in the pre-dusk hour. Slapping and swearing helps to deter a few of them, but invariably I need to put the camera down and go looking for the Odomos. Upon my return a few minutes later, I find that the forest ants have already found the victims of my short-lived defensive slapping maneuvers. I photograph them with glee. One man’s squashed mosquito is a forest ant’s lunch.

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Freshly squashed, organic mosquito – take away.

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3 responses to “50 meters from my cottage

  1. Living a life where I often have ‘no time to stop and stare’…I am amazed at the life you have carved for yourself with so much perseverance and courage. I know this path less travelled has not been easy but look at the amazing result. The photographs and the creative description of your experience are stunning

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