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MOSS CODE Agumbe Moss Code A Quarterly Newsletter from Agumbe Rainforest Research Station Volume 1 Issue 1

December 2010

WHAT’S INSIDE! ARRS: Past, Present, Future Tales from Telemetry The Burrowers From the Foothills of the Himalayas Kazaks in the Rainforest Acrobatic Lizards The Secret World of Arthropoda Agumbe Artistry


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MESSAGE FROM THE FIELD DIRECTOR Welcome to the first issue of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station Newsletter, aptly named “ Agumbe Moss Code”. Agumbe is famous for its heavy rainfall and we receive an average of 7640 mm of rain a year. I hope you enjoy reading about our ongoing projects, encompassing a wide variety of subjects. ARRS currently hosts studies on a number of topics including those on the king cobra, scorpions and flying lizards. ARRS thrives on diversity, which also reflects in our staff and volunteers. Our team comprises of local people from the village of Agumbe as well as research associates and enthusiastic volunteers from across the globe. For the coming issues we promise you enjoyable reads and fantastic pictures from our research station. I am proud to be part of this creative team, and I am thrilled about the warm welcome I have had as the field director. Siddharth Rao

ARRS: Past, Present, Future I first came to Agumbe in 1972. Within a few days I had spent a day with lion-tailed macaques, found a pair of king cobras and interacted with the people of Agumbe village. I fell in love with the place: leeches, ticks, ten metres of rain, warts and all. Then in 2004 when we were working on a king cobra film for the BBC I spent considerable time roaming the surrounding forests and gradually hatched the idea of a research station inside the rainforest. That year my mother, Doris Norden Chattopadhyaya passed away and left a small legacy for my two sisters, brother and me. Doris was always amazingly supportive of all our various and strange pursuits and in this case she would have loved the fact that I spent my share on buying 10 acres of land surrounded by forest. What a find! We have hundreds of species of plants and trees right on our base with a host of wild creatures, from leeches to leopards, visiting us. I guess we could have set up a research station almost anywhere in the Western Ghats, but the high rainfall, proximity of Protected Areas like Kudremukh National Park and Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary make Agumbe a choice location. ARRS will hopefully grow into a multi-disciplinary research station, used by researchers from around India and the world who are interested in every aspect of rainforest flora and fauna; climate change, weather patterns, stream hydrology… basically the works! ARRS needs to be self-supporting or endowed by an umbrella organization which has the wherewithal to keep the base ticking along, providing outdoor lab facilities to researchers, conducting field courses for students and training programs for wildlife biologists. This newsletter aims to bring people into the ARRS fold by giving them a vicarious trip into what the team is doing at any given time. When you live in the forest fulltime you see things no one else gets to see: who ever saw a male king cobra swallow another in the wild, or a vine snake swallowing a flying snake? If you are a mere visitor to the forest how can you expect to appreciate what different seasons bring to the forest, the changes, the comings and goings of migratory birds and animals? We want to foster an interest in rainforest research and conservation and one way to do is to have a regular newsletter to circulate as widely as possible to potential researchers, funders and just good old (or young) interested naturalists and well-wishers. This issue is a start and here’s looking forward to your feedback

Romulus Whitaker Founding Trustee


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Tales from Telemetry: PART I Sandesh Kadur

We started this project in March 2008. Wild king cobras with surgically implanted transmitters are tracked every day to study their behavioural ecology. This is India’s first telemetry project on snakes. To date we have tracked five adult king cobras for varying periods, and have documented a number of interesting behavioural patterns. Two male king cobras (M2 & M3) were radio-tagged in March 2009. M2 was lost after just a few days of tracking. M3 was unexpectedly killed by a predator on 6th June but luckily M2 was found a day later. When I arrived in late June he was the only one left to track. Once while tracking M2 along with our local tracker Vittala I observed the snake foraging very actively. His tongue was flicking rapidly as he climbed up a small tree. I went close to the tree and suddenly he moved towards the branch above me. I slowly took a step back but it was too late. The 11 ft King Cobra, just 2 m away from my head was staring right at me! At that very moment I realized I had a leech moving on my lips. I wasn’t able to move so I chewed it. Yummy. After a while the snake continued foraging and came down the tree. Suddenly a Malabar Pit Viper fell down from a branch just next to him. Next thing I knew he struck the pit viper, and the viper struck back in defense. M2 let go for a while and then seized its head. Within minutes the hunt was over and the pit viper was dead. This was my first time seeing the King hunt. This was also the first record of a King Cobra feeding on a pit viper in the wild. Dhiraj Bhaisare

Heterometrus under UV light

Rohit George

Naren Sreenivasan & Neethi Mahesh

Thrigmopoeus truculentus

Ben Tapley

Burrows are fascinating places, as not much is known about the “deep dark secrets” of the hollows that different creatures choose to inhabit. “B 24/0 has caught something!” I yelled to Neeti, as I saw the scorpion, fluorescent green in our UV torch light, dart out of its burrow. Reacting to us turning on our normal torches the scorpion slowly walked back into its burrow with a squirming crab held tightly in its right pedipalp. Being nocturnal ambush hunters, the Heterometrus spend most of their lives deep inside their burrows. At night they sit poised at the mouths of their burrows with sensitive hairs constantly analyzing vibrations in the air. Large pedipalps and powerful stings allow them to catch prey many times larger than themselves. Typically scorpions dig rectangular burrows. They can also modify already existing burrows and inhabit them permanently or for short periods of time. For people who have a keen eye for burrows, another arachnid that can’t go unnoticed is the Tarantula. It makes concentric, silk-lined burrows which are perfectly excavated to fit the size of its body. Unlike scorpions, tarantulas don’t glow under UV light. Their undeterred stance is indicative of a top predator of the Arachnid world. The sight of a tarantula extending its front legs and palpi revealing the otherwise hidden fangs, is like something out of a martial arts movie! The insights we get into the world of these burrowers as we continue this project is something that we look forward to writing about in the next edition of the Moss Code.

Martin Buurmeister

The Burrowers


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From the Foothills of the Himalayas to the Sahayadris

Geordie George

The ancient land formation of the Western Ghats has figured in Indian mythology and in the works of great writers and poets. As researchers we always hoped to work in this landscape. We grew up in Assam on the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, where we were exposed to diversity in culture, tradition and nature. Nature has played a central role in the history and tradition of the North Eastern States, and this was one of the factors that pushed us towards graduating in ‘Environmental Science’. Our journey of environmental research took us to various parts of the country like New Delhi, Himachal, Sikkim and the plains of the Ganges. We heard about the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station led by Romulus Whitaker, who along with his team was working hard to conserve nature and a flagship species, the King Cobra. So finally we landed in the Western Ghats of Karnataka with an approved project in hand; ‘Mapping of Agumbe and its surroundings’. We only knew a little about the Western Ghats, and our first thought after getting down from the bus at Agumbe was ‘it’s like home’. GIS and Remote Sensing is our area of expertise and we started working on our project with enthusiasm. The earth surface is a dynamic thing which changes with time and human activities. It’s a great help for conservators, foresters and researchers to know the changes and to monitor them. GIS and Remote Sensing is one of the best tools for this kind of work. Our work includes interpretation of satellite imagery and calculation of the changes on the ground. The ARRS is not only a comfortable base for researchers to carry out their work but a great knowledge building institution where researchers from different fields work together.

Neelu Bhatt & Arati Rao

Nitali Doley & Siddharth Baruah

Kazaks in the Rainforest In just a week’s time Agumbe has been conquered, greenish warblers from central and west Asia have occupied the rainforest and now it resounds with their calls. They have been followed by grey wagtails, Indian blue robins and many others. Rainforest bird communities in the Western Ghats are augmented by many migrants in the winter. Each migrant has its own survival strategy in the jungle and the residents have to cope with the added competition. All this makes for some exhilarating birding. Although a well studied group, long term monitoring of birds has been very scant in India. Taking advantage of the exciting avifauna at our doorstep, ARRS has started regular bird walks along trails to capture the composition of the bird community of the area. This data will aid to create a strong baseline upon which other studies can be built. As they are perpetuated, long term data from these walks can help us discern patterns in bird community dynamics across seasons and years. As we move into an age of significant environmental changes, the need for long term monitoring cannot be overstated. Anyways, it doesn’t hurt seeing trogons and paradise flycatchers first thing in the morning.

Sahas Barve & Chetana Purushotham


PAGE Calotes rouxii

Draco dussumeiri

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Acrobatic Agamids! By volunteering in two observational studies here at ARRS we're gaining a better understanding of the behaviour of two species of reptiles; Draco (flying lizards) and Calotes (forest lizards). These two small and elusive species are found at this time of year camouflaged against the bark of the Areca nut trees in the plantation directly behind the ARRS office. Typically they move between trees in search of food, sun or rivals to dual with. For five hours everyday we have been studying these two very intriguing and agile animals in the field. The Calotes are observed from 08:00 - 09:30 and then again at 12:30 - 14:00. By choosing these times we can see the influence of temperature on their behaviour. During the ten minutes that we observe each Calotes we can see them diving into the vegetation to chase food, head bob and change colour to blend in with their surroundings. The Dracos are observed from 10:00 - 12:00 every morning, the perfect time to watch them warm up and start their daily activities. We follow the same Draco around the plantation with our sights firmly set fifteen meters up. As the Draco is only eight centimeters long and quickly glides between trees this makes for a good challenge to keep your eyes on them!

Chris Oakes & Emma Mosman

The Secret World of Arthropoda The rainforest around the ARRS is a huge world, largely overlooked. In my free time I’m trying to explore this secret world a bit more. The residents of this world belong mainly to the phylum Arthropoda which includes Insects and Arachnids (spiders and scorpions) just to name the most famous classes. Since more than 80% of all described species on earth are Arthropoda, I decided to concentrate my energies on finding and identifying beetles (Coleoptera) which is the biggest group of insects. Beetles occur in nearly all kinds of habitats so you will be able to find them almost everywhere during day and night. The fascinating thing about the world of beetles is that the variations in size, coloration and shape are nearly endless. The chance of finding a beetle which has never been scientifically described is probably quite high in the Western Ghats Unfortunately I’m only able to identify a few families of beetles with my knowledge. So, the whole staff of the ARRS would be pleased to see more people concentrating on the discovery of this secret world of invertebrates. Martin Burmeister


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Agumbe Artistry The school in Agumbe held its annual public exhibition on the 26th of November and some people from the ARRS team were fortunate enough to attend. At the entrance of the school building we were met by a young boy, proudly showing off his water heater. Based on the same principle as a solar panel, but made up of charcoal, soil and plastic tubes, he showed us this inexpensive and eco-friendly way to heat water. We were all very impressed with the creativity and hard work that had gone into the making of this exhibition, from both students and teachers alike. Especially striking were some of the Styrofoam models that the students had made; a lifelike King Cobra in its natural habitat and an intricate model of Kodareshwara Temple in Belligavi. Most of the students had spent three weeks to one month making their exhibits. Along with the presentations of their work held in both Kannada and English, it’s clear that their knowledge and creativity got a great boost from the preparations for the exhibit. The ARRS team looks forward to next year’s exhibition, and to future collaborations with these bright, young minds. Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen

Photos of the Month!

Grayscale Colonizers of the Lime Tree

The Tree of Life

Chetana B Purushotham

Naren Sreenivasan

To subscribe to our newsletter write to arrs.india@gmail.com AGUMBE RAINFOREST RESEARCH STATION Suralihalla, Agumbe, Thirthahalli Taluk, Shimoga Dist, Karnataka-577411, India

Ph. No. – 08181 233186 Sore Throat

Sahas Barve

Moss Code  

The Quarterly Newsletter of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, India

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