Archive for the ‘poisonous substances’ category

Caterpillar of the Oleander hawk-moth on Tagar

4 January 2011

I recently visited friends in Kolhapur who live close to the New Palace. Their boundary wall with the neighbouring building (like all boundary walls) is lined by a few bushes of which one was a shoulder-high Tagar Tabernaemontana spp). I was surprised to stare right into a pair of blue eyes – these were not on a person but on a large caterpillar. I guessed it was a sphingid (hawk-moth) but not sure which it was. Searching the bushes revealed two large moths each about three-four inches long.

The caterpillar with large blue eye-spots

The moth caterpillars were bright green with two large amazingly beautiful blue-eyespots. The sides had a line of white spots arranged as if demarcating a saddle . On the sides it had small vertical black marks.

First I searched  the Hosts Lepidoptera foodplant database with keywords “Sphingidae” (the family to which hawk-moths belong) and  “Tabernaemontana” (scintific name of the genus to which Tagar belongs). The search gave me four likely candidates. Information on Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Life enabled me to ascertain that it was the caterpillar of the Oleander Hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii)   and not the other three.

Oleander Hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii) (Image:Viern Vaz on Wikimedia Commons)

The English entomologist W.F. Kirby (1844-1912) writes in his “A hand-book to the order Lepidoptera” that :

The moth is very abundant throughout Africa and Southern Asia, but becomes scarcer and more local in Southern Europe, and migrates northward in Central Europe in warm summers.  Single specimens have been captured in the South of England at long intervals.

This is a fairly easy caterpillar/foodplant combination to identify though it is difficult for beginners to distinguish which species of Tagar the hostplant may be.  Tagar belongs to the plant family Apocycnaceae, which contains many toxic plants. Tagar, I assume,  is also toxic and should give the caterpillar/pupa/moth added protection by seqestration of plant toxins. The usual hostplant of the Oleander hawk-moth is Nerium or Oleander which most of us know is poisonous.

Pupa of Oleander hawk-moth (image:Viren Vaz on Wikimedia Commons)

The Oleander Hawk-moth is also a relatively easy moth to find and rear in India. Most of the images seen here are by my friend, Viren Vaz, who reared them on the balcony of his Chembur home.

Notice : This is a version of an email sent to IndianMoths email group which you must surely join if you are interested in Indian moths.

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Do you know – Mushrooms?

11 October 2009

As a gesture of thanks to all the visitors  to the post “Mushrooms – by Sylvia Plath“, this ‘Do  You Know?’ has been placed.

Did you know that –

* the mental picture we have of a mushroom with cap, gills and stalk is typical only of the Agaricales, (an example being the store-bought White mushroom). The wide variety of shapes a mushroom can take can be understood from their names – polypores, puffballs, jelly fungi, coral fungi, bracket fungi, stinkhorns, and cup fungi.

Fungi such as this one is considered as a mushroom.

Polypore fungi such as this one are considered as mushrooms.

Unidentified mushroom growing on a decaying log in Calais, France

Unidentified filamentous mushroom growing on a decaying log in Calais, France

Woody bracket fungus - also considered a mushroom!

Ungulina marginata, a woody bracket fungus - also considered a mushroom!

Yellow Coral Mushroom

Yellow Coral Mushroom

* not all mushrooms are edible, the vast majority of these produce a vast array of toxins and allergens. You should only eat a commercially produced mushroom or a known edible mushroom reliably identified by an expert.

Shiitake - an edible Japanese mushroom whch was the subject of word play in an Austin Powells movie.

Shiitake - an edible Japanese mushroom whch was the subject of word play in an Austin Powells movie.

* many mushrooms produce secondary metabolites that render them toxic, mind-altering, or even bioluminescent.

Foxfire is the term for the bioluminescence created by a few species of fungi, such as 'Omphaltos nidiformes' that decay wood.

Foxfire is the term for the bioluminescence created by a few species of fungi, such as Ghost Mushroom 'Omphaltos nidiformes' that decay wood.

Panellus stipticus, a green bioluminescent bracket fungus.

Panellus stipticus, a green bioluminescent bracket fungus.

* the term ‘toad-stool’ was used in earlier times for poisonous mushrooms.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is the quintessential mushroom of British folklore.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is the quintessential toadstool of British folklore.

The Death-cap (amanita phalloides) contains amatoxins which are toxi to the liver. It resembles several common edible mushrooms and thus features in many accidental poisoning cases.

The Death-cap (Amanita phalloides) contains amatoxins which are toxic to the liver. It resembles several common edible mushrooms and thus features in many accidental poisoning cases.

* though mushrooms are commonly thought to have little nutritional value, many species have nutritional or medicinal value. Many mushrooms are high in fiber and provide vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, cobalamines, ascorbic acid. Mushrooms are also a source of some minerals, including selenium, potassium and phosphorus.

White or button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) ready for cooking. While common, they are just one of the many types of mushrooms cultivated and eaten.

White or button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) ready for cooking. While common, they are just one of the many types of mushrooms cultivated and eaten.

* some mushrooms, if exposed to UV light can become valuable sources of Vitamin D.

* poisonous mushrooms containing hallucinogenic substances are eaten by some people in order to get a ‘high’!

Dried psilocybe mushrooms contain hallucinogenic substances such as Psilocin and Psilobycin and were known to the Aztecs as 'divine mushrooms'. (Notice the characteristic blue bruising by the end of the stems.)

Dried psilocybe mushrooms contain hallucinogenic substances such as Psilocin and Psilobycin and were known to the Aztecs as 'divine mushrooms'. (Notice the characteristic blue bruising by the end of the stems.)

* oyster mushrooms, a widely eaten mushroom,  naturally contain the cholesterol drug lovastatin.

The Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is the subject of many medical research initiatives.

The Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) is the subject of many medical research initiatives.

* that a large number of valuable drugs such as penicillin, lovastatin, ciclosporin, griseofulvin, cephalosporin, and ergometrine, have been isolated from the fungi kingdom.

Collection of medicinal mushrooms including Enoki, King Oyster mushrooms, and Shiitake.

Collection of medicinal mushrooms including Enoki, King Oyster mushrooms, and Shiitake.

* that in Tolkien‘s trilogy “The Lord of the Rings” the favourite food of hobbits is mushrooms.

A Hobbit - an image by Andre DeWitt

A Hobbit - an image by Andrew DeWitt

Credits –

* All mushrooms – Wikimedia Commons. Original filenames have not been changed for all the photos.

* A Hobbit – Andrew DeWitt, drew this picture at ehow.com to show us how to draw a hobbit! Used non commercially here under ‘fair use’.