Sings beautifully, a parasite all the same

You know Koel leaves her eggs in other birds’ nests. But did you know there are plants that are parasites too?

When we hear the word "parasites", we generally think of leeches. But there are other creatures and plants around us, that are parasites – living beings which live on other creatures. One of them, not often known, is the Braconid wasp. This wasp ensures a fresh supply of protein for its young, by laying its eggs on a caterpillar. When the eggs hatch on the caterpillar, they feed on the caterpillar, sucking its blood…and then, as all insects do, the larvae turn into pupae, still stuck on the caterpillar’s hairs. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae end up eating the caterpillar.

Caterpillar with wasp’s eggs on it. Pic: Deepa Mohan

Another creature that we often see in our city, hearing its melliflous call, is the Asian Koel. The male is a black-coloured bird with bright red eyes, and the female is dappled black-and-white.

Asian Koel male. Pic: Deepa Mohan

The Koel lays its egg in other birds’ nests, and the birds ignorant of this, bring up the baby Koel along with their own nestlings. Often, the Koel pushes out the other nestlings to get more food for itself.

In the plant world, too, there are several parasites, the best known of which are the various orchids we grow in our gardens. But there is also the Strangler Fig.

Strangler Fig. Pic: Deepa Mohan

This fig tree starts life on another tree, when it germinates from the seed that birds have dropped. It then puts down roots that slowly form a network around the host tree, and reach the ground. Over a period of time, the Strangler Fig literally strangles the host tree to death. In the above photograph, you can see the Fig forming its deadly network of roots around the trunk of the host tree.

No one likes parasites, who live on others, but it’s a fact of life in Nature.

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