Tales from Nature

Sunday, Aug 01, 2021 08:15 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Aug 01, 2021 02:40 [IST]

Tales from Nature

SAIKAT K BASU

Part 4
International Snakes Day and our society
We recently celebrated the International Snakes Day on June 26. But unfortunately our attitude towards snake is still highly negative. Snakes constitute an important part of our nature and natural ecosystem. Unfortunately, these reptiles around the globe are quite misrepresented in various cultures as evil forces, ghosts, enemy of humans, societal scar or scum. Even in those cultures where snakes are worshipped and revered; still at large in those societies too snakes are brutalized, mistreated, manhandled and killed through unimaginable cruel and gruesome methods. Mob fury on the sight of a snake is mostly due to fear of snake bites as well as a lack of education and awareness about the important role played by snakes in the nature. We all need to appreciate that all snakes (venomous or non-venomous) are apex predators and help in keeping the number of rodents, insects, birds, mammals under natural control.
These natural predators are exceptionally important to play an important balancing role in nature to maintain a healthy population of other species since our natural resources are finite. Snake bites could be well treated with anti venoms. But unfortunately, the production level is way beyond our average annual need. Often snake venom show strong bio-geographical and genetic variations.
As a consequence anti venoms generated in one specific geographical area using same local species may not be fully effective in neutralizing the venom and save lives. Restless poaching, illegal wildlife trade for snake skin, bones, fangs, gall bladders and venom, habitat loss, pollution has pushed several species of snakes almost towards extinction. It is very important for people living close to snake habitats to be able to correctly identify the species before going to local health centres as this will facilitate anti venom administration better. All health centres in rural and forested areas need to stick emergency anti venom shots to prevent unnecessary deaths. Snake bite victims are often treated in remote rural areas by bogus health workers with no credibility, education or training on pseudo religious norms that has no scientific basis. Hence deaths are inevitable. Snakes actually are extremely timid animals and they use attack as the best strategy for survival. So it is often best to keep distance from them and allow them an escape route to avoid any harm. Lack of toilets in the rural homes often causes people to go out in the open due to nature’s call.
This is particularly dangerous during night hours and rainy season as snakes are out foraging. They mostly try and avoid humans; but if someone accidentally steps on them could result in a powerful bite in case of highly venomous snakes. People working in agricultural fields need to wear snake bite preventing long and thick boots. This can considerably cut down snake bite victims. Because snakes often gather in crop fields to catch their preys. Overall, it is important that we understand and respect our snakes else we could be overrun by rodents particularly as we have seen in Australia recently due to lack of natural predators.
Mushrooms and unfortunate deaths
Mushrooms are a gift of nature and highly nutritious. The annual turnover of the global edible mushroom industry is over few billions of US dollars. It is a lucrative business and has both very high demands in both local and regional; as well as international markets. The favourable weather in India with cheaper cost of labour has huge potential for the country to become a leading global producer of both edible and medicinal mushrooms that has still been grossly overlooked. This can also facilitate the employment rate in rural areas if we could train and provide soft loans to individuals or cooperatives interested in the mushroom production business. I personally have big hopes for the future growth of the mushroom industry in the country with increasing local and global demand from customers.
However, it is quite sad to note that people particularly from the North East are dying from mushroom poisoning frequently. We need to remember that in the nature particularly wet, damp forests mushrooms grow abundantly. But not all mushrooms are edible; and a large number of them are highly toxic in nature particularly the Amanita mushrooms due to presence of numerous toxic metabolites in them. People who do not know the difference harvest these wild mushrooms; then cook abs eat them at home resulting in unwanted deaths. It is always safe to eat commercially grown mushrooms; rather than exploring wild species.  Highly colourful mushrooms are to be avoided as most of them are poisonous. But even pale  white, cream coloured, off white coloured wild mushrooms could be poisonous too depending on the species. Therefore, there is need for the forest departments to make people in remote rural areas regarding consuming wild mushrooms effectively.
The “Selfish” banyan tree
Banyan tree is an opportunistic species that take great advantage of the natural seed disseminates process it has. Birds or small mammals like squirrels that consume banyan fruits deposits the seeds randomly and/or accidentally on other plants, old buildings, roofs, varnishes or any imaginable place available; particularly tree species through their poops (droppings) abs helps in significant dissemination of banyan seeds. Over the time the seed germinates on another tree (host) and starts growing rapidly. The host tree provides shelter and protection for the seedling which over the time grows massively on the host to the extent that over couple years it completely overgrows the host species, chocking it of sunlight and nutrients, eventually dying in the process. The banyan tree survives at the cost of its host. So this not a case of symbiosis or commensalism or true epiphytes as none of this phenomenon kills the host plant. Nor this can be called parasitism as the banyan tree does not really penetrate into the host tissue to procure moisture and nutrients.
I consider this as partial parasitism or semi parasitism or more correctly as opportunistic parasitism. The reason I’m calling this opportunistic parasitism is the fact that banyan tree can grow naturally via germination of its seed in the soil. So the natural process of growth of the plant is from the soil as it in case of other plants. But it takes advantage or looks for an opportunity to grow in whatever environment it is placed in. One may have noticed banyan tree growing on the roofs or other age old building structures which is also through random dissemination of the banyan seeds by its natural seed disseminators.
(Email: saikat.basu@alumni.uleth.ca)


 


Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi