“When you find yourself cocooned in isolation and you cannot find your way out of darkness…

Remember this is similar to the place where caterpillars go to grow their wings”

Necole Stephens

Butterfly concertina (Photo Credit: Rohan Mathias)

One fine morning, we noticed the hordes of butterflies migrating. For some reason, I had never paid attention to this phenomenon but these slow months under enforced lockdown has made me more aware of the surroundings and this sort of migration was new to me. A friend, also a crazy butterfly enthusiast, told us stories behind it. His eyes lit up talking about these delicately beautiful creatures and his birthday happened to be around the corner. So what better gift than something to do with these winged wonders.

For a few months now, I have been thinking of working on a concertina, only thing missing was the subject for it. And here I had few butterflies to draw. Both put together became a butterfly concertina. My apprehensions of using any kind of colour has been dominant as ever but what fun would be butterflies without colours. In the process of research for what species to draw, a whole new section of the natural world opened up for me.

Needless to say, most of us are going through a tough phase in life dealing with the pandemic and the roadblocks that come along. All of us cocooned in our houses trying to stay safe yet that doesn’t mean the confines of the walls doesn’t affect us mentally. Nature comes to rescue again! Cocooned for a while until we emerge out of it with wings.

From the hermitage

For some reason, self preservation becomes my first response to any kind of uncomfortable situation. Life in the city after a full year in the Jungle became too difficult to handle. Unaware of how deep I had sunk in, one fine day I reached close to the breaking point. It seemed easier to banish every societal facade and take time off to recover from the emotional damage I had done to myself unknowingly. A week far away from the chaos of the city within the shell of my hermitage, I had recovered the energy and the zeal to go back and face everything that I ran away from. That’s when I thought of the hermit crab, a member of the living world who looks for a shell appropriate for its size and need to protect itself and go on living.

Learning from insect social networks

October 20, 2014

Insects like honeybees and ants live in groups that constantly communicate with each other. In fact, communication networks in some insect groups have been successfully compared to artificial technological information transfer networks. Drawing parallels between such highly coordinated processes in living organisms and their artificial counterparts, a team of scientists from IISc, IISER-Kolkatta and BITS-Pilani, seek a better understanding of network communication, to improve the existing information processing networks.

The survival of living organisms depend on the well-coordinated processes at different levels – the cellular and genetic levels, for example. Group living animals take coordination to a different level — schools of fish and flocks of birds rely on competent communication by every individual to all other members, at every point in time. Efficient transfer of information happens through communication systems, which hold good even when there are time or energy constraints.

Among non-human living beings, social insects like bees have some of the most complex societies. Scientists study them to understand communication between the members of a colony, which ensures division of labour between thousands of individuals. Different species of social insects have different modes of communication: bees in large colonies communicate using chemical cues or pheromones, while wasps in smaller colonies use direct physical interactions.

Anjan Nandi and colleagues have studied a tropical wasp Ropalidia marginata to understand the flow of information within a colony. They found that the flow of information between individuals is by pairwise physical interactions, like dominance behaviour, which plays a major role in the regulation of activities of the workers in a colony. For example, foragers that find food receive more dominance over the non foragers, and the extent of dominance varies depending on the circumstances (higher during starvation while lesser during excess food). Apart from dominance, wasps also use paired behaviours like grooming, soliciting and food sharing for flow of information.

There are also global structures that emerge from the two way interactions: the average path length for communication and the average density of interactions could be determined from individual interactions. In other words, the building blocks of a network formation is identified by studying the local structural elements.

The analysis revealed that networks constructed from dominance behaviour in Ropalidia marginata is structurally similar to different biological and technological regulatory networks. Further, the networks are sufficiently robust and capable of efficient information transfer. Even though one would expect a wasp colony to be less complex because it has fewer individuals, a comparison demonstrates that there is a common design principle involved in different biological systems who have evolved to perform similar tasks

The paper was published in the journal Royal Society journal Interface during second week of October 2014.

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