Friday, September 26, 2008

Life On A Balcony

This year we barely got a taste of the fierce Delhi summer. Every time the mercury crossed the 40s, rain clouds would appear out of nowhere, and leave the city drenched, hot and sultry. It has been wonderful for the plants and trees, though.

Potted plants on our balcony never had it so good. Four months of regular rainfall has made us all feel like green thumbs. But the lush greenery has also attracted many guests, many of whom I have been unable to identify.

On top of the list is this caterpillar that appears only on one our two palms. Eggs are tiny (1 mm diam.), red hat like structures that break open to release red grubs that promptly cut out rectangular bits of the leaf to make themselves at home. A few days, and a few half-eaten leaves later, they reach this size (5 cm) and thread some leaves together to make a pupa.

I have never seen the creature that flies out... What could it be? - a butterfly, a moth or a dragonfly?

On the same palm, this fungus (?) turned up on a dry leaf. Does this delicate, stamen-like thing have a name?

This insect appears only on our Tulsi plant...

The last visitor is this butterfly. It seemed fresh out of its cocoon, waiting for the sun to stiffen its wings...

Can somebody help?

Answers from Shaku (University of Georgia, Atlanta) -

1) The larva (caterpillar) of a skipper butterfly - family Hesperiidae, Order Lepidoptera. I really cant identify it to species level without taking a closer look, but if it was the adult, it would have been much easier. You can identify skipper larvae by the constriction between the head and the rest of the body. And they're not usually seen in the open - they always make little cases for themselves out of leaf bits, etc.

2) I'm pretty sure they are not fungal structures, but the eggs of a green lacewing - family Chrysopidae, Order Neuroptera. Lacewing eggs are among the cutest insect structures that can be seen with the naked eye - because they are stalked!

3) Those are the nymphs of the tulsi lacebug (Ocimum tingid) Cochlochila bullita (Family Tingidae, Order Heteroptera). They suck the sap from the leaves and the leaves become speckled with white and ultimately dry up. If the damage is only on few leaves, pluck those leaves and burn them. If it has affected most of the plant, give a spray of mild soap solution - take care to spray undersides of the leaves also. I won't suggest any pesticide for home garden.

4) That is most definitely the Red Pierrot (Talicada nyseus), family Lycaenidae, Order Lepidoptera. Although the common name for the family Lycaenidae is "Blues and Coppers" because most members come in shades of blue or copper, there are exceptions like this one. You can tell its a Lycaenid, from the little tail at the rear end of the wing (the orange half).

Interesting Links (nice pics, but no answers here!):

* Some Indian Butterflies - by Amber & Abha Dev Habib
* Indian Butterflies -
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