I work with a company called Invis Multimedia. The name of the company has been abbreviated to Invis Private Limited. What we do mostly is work that is related to multimedia video, news video, and so on. Our projects invariably involve working with different cameramen and artistes, and a person we met in this manner is Mr Rajeev. His uniqueness is that when he comes to shoot, he captures the images of insects, butterflies and other small creatures too.
He has cultivated a deep knowledge of plants and butterflies through self-study. Before Rajeev tells you about the things he knows about, he will perform a small trick for us. He will show us one use of the lemon grass plant that few of us know about. This is no magical feat. It is the power of a plant, the power of Nature.
He has put a few leaves of the lemon grass plant into his mouth and is chewing them. The leaves should be ground well inside the mouth so that the juice sticks to the teeth. But you should not swallow the juice. Let it mix well with your saliva, and when the juice increases in your mouth, spit it out.
Should you take such a big stone? This is an experiment, after all. This is metal.
That doesn’t matter. I shall start from one end.
It looks as if you’re biting into a toffee.
I’m gnawing it, little by little.
If you had come here earlier, I could have used your services to pulverize some rocks!
This does not affect the teeth in any manner.
He has bitten off nearly a half of it.
When I present this programme, I often introduce matters relating to Ayurveda. In reply, I get messages that warn me against encouraging people who propagate fake Ayurvedic cures. All medicines, even those of modern medicine (Allopathy), are sourced from plants. Ayurveda, Yunani, Homoeopathy too do it. But people do not have much awareness about it.
I was born in a place called Ilaveezhaapoonchira. It is located on the Kottayam-Idukki border. Many plants that I used to see in my childhood have vanished from my native place by now.
How old are you?
Don’t let that surprise you. My native place has also changed beyond recognition.
It used to have a canal that never went dry. But now, during summer, it dries up. There used to be carnivorous plants too, that consumed small insects. Plants belonging to rare species used to be found in great numbers.
I took up History for formal study. But what we choose to learn and what we are passionate about are usually very different.
After seeing this place, your opinion is that a kind of natural pest control is taking place because of the activity of birds like rufous treepie and jungle babbler.
Plenty of worms can be seen here and they eat leaves in enormous quantities. You say this is the larva of a butterfly.
I saw a lot of butterfly larvae here. Most of the time, butterflies lay eggs on plants that we use for medicines like curry leaf tree, lime tree, Indian bael, crown flower and others. The monarch butterfly lays eggs only on the crown flower plant whereas the southern birdwing (another butterfly) chooses only the Indian birthwort.
Didn’t you talk about the worms that are seen on teak trees? I’ve seen plenty of them in my garden plot. They swing down on a silken thread. Is that the caterpillar of a butterfly?
Yes. It is not blanket worm. Every worm causes itching, if it comes in contact with our skin. But there is no need to kill them.
Everybody desires to have a butterfly garden. And people grow a lot of flowering plants for that purpose. But most of the time butterflies don’t come there.
If there are a lot of chemicals in the air, they will not come. We may not be aware of it but small insects can detect even tiny changes in the atmosphere. A healthy ecosystem exists here. The reason I say this is that I see plenty of small creatures. When chemicals are used in great quantities, small insects are the first to disappear. You will not see honey bees, house flies, and so on. That in turn will affect pollination. Some flowers have pollen deep inside them. Only small honey bees can access those spots. Some holes are so tiny that only butterflies can insert their proboscis. Though small in size, these creatures do a lot of good.
Let me share an experience I had. A relative of mine grew passion fruits in this neighbourhood. The first time she raised them, she harvested a lot of fruits. The next year, in a bid to increase the yield, she sprinkled pesticides as soon as the flowers appeared but they did not become fruits. So one day I went there to observe what was happening. What I found was that there were no house flies at all, except inside the kitchen. Those flies came there to consume kitchen waste. They were not the pollinator variety. For pollination to happen, we need to have dwarf honeybees, beetles, butterflies and so on. One day I used a small twig and did pollination myself. A few fruits appeared as a result. But small creatures that assist in natural pollination were not coming there.
Here, I have planted passion fruit vines and trailed them on as many trees as I could. Seeds fall and new sprouts also appear. I don’t uproot them. When the fruits appear, bats, civet cats and squirrels raid them and distribute the seeds everywhere. There are plenty of New Guinea rosewood trees in this plot. There is one on the other side of the river. The bats bring the seeds here.
These days we look at bats with fear, imagining that they are carriers of diseases. In reality, there is nothing to fear.
The people of Kerala should be taught statistics. If four individuals contract Nipah virus infection, 45,000 bats are slaughtered. Only four persons in a population of four crores are affected. On the other hand, 4,000 people get killed in car accidents. But no one discards cars. The case of snakes is a similar one. Twenty-two individuals died of snake bite. But that news gets greater attention than the fact that 4,000 died in motor accidents.
Here, plenty of insects infest those plants you see in the water. Only if such insects remain here, will other small creatures come to eat them. And only that can control their numbers. But those insects don’t attack other plants. That means there are predators who eat others.
Worms are eaten by other worms and ants. Then there are wasps that skin these worms and keep them in their nests.
I have heard about jewel wasps that inject chemicals into the brains of cockroaches and take their live victims to their nests. The cockroaches do not die. Then the jewel wasps lay eggs inside the thorax of the cockroaches. The eggs hatch, the wasp offspring feed off the insides of the cockroaches that are still alive, grow mature, and fly away.
Yes, everything in Nature is amazing.
We don’t usually observe these phenomena. Here, we used to think that grasshoppers were herbivores until we saw one grasshopper catch and gobble a butterfly.
Grasshoppers eat not only butterflies but almost anything they can hold between their jaws. Even spiders. These are praying mantises that keep their front legs folded usually. They stretch the legs to catch insects. They ambush their prey to catch them.
Do you collect information about medicines?
Have you compiled them in book form?
No. But I know them. It is usually said that if we impart knowledge about medicine, its effect will decrease. But the fact is that if the person concerned does not use medicine in the prescribed and proper manner, the medicine will not take effect. However, the general tendency is to blame the person who suggested the medicine or the medicine itself. That is the reason why I do it, rather than talk about it.
There is no point in merely planting trees in order to attract butterflies. A favourable ambience too should be created. Plants that put out flowers carrying nectar – like rose, hibiscus, peacock flower, white bauhinia or jasmine – will attract plenty of butterflies.
If you plant Indian bael, crown flower, curry leaf, lime and jungle geranium, they will also attract butterflies. After a butterfly emerges from the pupa, what it drinks first is not nectar but plain water.
I witnessed a scene here. A frog was sitting at a spot. There was water on one side and a jungle geranium plant on the other. Its flowers had fallen. As soon as a butterfly flitted close to the flower, the frog jumped and caught it. This is the first time I’m seeing a frog catch a butterfly.
That’s how an ecosystem works. A butterfly drinks only nectar and water. It’s a very beneficial insect. Pollination takes place mainly because of them. Then, there are beetles and honey bees.
Everyone knows that honey bees help in pollination but few people know that butterflies do it too. No one knows that a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. So as soon as people see it, they stamp on it and kill it.
Your childhood surroundings may be the reason for your interest in such things. It’s a great thing that you’ve not let that interest wane and vanish.
My interest has not waned. It has only increased.
Many who take up Zoology lose interest in that subject. Everyone loves butterflies but few remember that worms are what evolve into butterflies. We perceive most of them as blanket worms.
Dragonflies mostly lay eggs on water.
Isn’t the antlion too a flying insect? Yes, it develops wings and emerges. The antlion is one phase in the life of a dragonfly. The caterpillar of a butterfly lives for nearly 45 days. And within this span of time, it moults 8 to 10 times. Only then does it become a chrysalis or pupa.
That is, if it doesn’t get gulped by the rufous treepie.
A butterfly lays 10-50 eggs, and every egg hatches. Ants eat up some eggs. Birds eat up a few that develop into worms. Spiders too consume these worms.
So, only a couple of them ultimately survive, isn’t it?
At most, 8 or 10, not more. If all of them survive and perch on the same species of plant, there will be nothing left of it. This is Nature’s way of controlling the numbers.
Rajeev, you told us that you take keen interest in these natural phenomena that happen around you. You have taken numerous photographs and videos. Have people seen them and felt inspired? Small children, for instance?
Once I watched a butterfly emerge from its pupa early in the morning. There was a small boy with me who saw the butterfly spread its wings and fly away. He was so happy to see it. His joy is indescribable! And seeing that made me really happy. So, I was able to show him that.
Everyone loves to watch butterflies. I still remember spotting a cocoon on a fence around my school, long back. We had studied about it, and seen the pictures in the textbooks but not observed one directly. That was my first experience.
Did this boy show interest in Nature?
Indeed! He would keep looking for it every day. He imagined it was a daily phenomenon.
I uprooted two manchium saplings from the upper plot. This place is full of manchium trees. Somebody had planted them as part of social forestry project.
That tree does not permit any sapling to grow under it.
Mahogany too has the same nature.
Another tree that caused havoc in Kerala was the subabul or the river tamarind. I myself distributed a lot of its saplings in my younger days, claiming that it provides fodder for cattle and goats. That is true. But once the tree takes root, it won’t permit any other to grow in the vicinity. It is an invasive species. No indigenous species of insects lays eggs on it. The ecosystem gets altered. And if that tree is planted, the insects that prey on its leaves will increase in our ecosystem.
We will request those who view this channel to show your videos to children. Let them see your work and get inspired.
Grown-ups need to be taught that worms should not be destroyed. Instead, the worms should be allowed to pupate. And people should be made to watch butterflies emerge from the pupae.
If small children view these videos and feel inspired, that will be nice. Don’t imagine that circumstances do not permit you to show them such phenomena. It is not difficult to create an ambience for that to happen. Please plant a few indigenous saplings on your terrace and create an environment because that will your children get close to and love Nature.