Flora and Fauna


Manjunath S Nayak:

A new genus of wasp has been named after Soligas, the indigenous community of B R Hills. Soliga ecarinata is in recognition of their immense contribution towards conservation of B R Hills Tiger Reserve in Chamarajanagar district of Karnataka, India. Extremely beneficial to humans, wasps make up for a diverse array of insects and prey upon every pest insect found on earth.

The Entomologists of Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) has detailed a new parasitic insect Soliga ecarinata belonging to a new genus. This new insect was collected from different locations in BR Hills. The researchers Dr Ranjith A P and Dr Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan while naming the new genus decided to dedicate the new genus to Soliga people for their efforts to conserve forests and biodiversity. The species is named as ‘ecarinata’ denoting the absence of ridges in certain body regions. It is strikingly colorful and distinct from all its relatives. These specimens were collected 15 years back, as a part of ATREE’s Western Ghats Insect Inventory Program.

Further, additional specimens of the same species were collected from secondary wet forest habitat of Nagaland. This new wasp belongs to the sub-family Metopiinae of Darwin wasps’ family Ichneumonidae. The sub-family Metopiinae has 862 species in 27 genera including two fossil genera, most of those are seen only in Palearctic region, Neotropical, and Nearctic regions. This is the second genus of this subfamily reported from India and the first from south India. All species of Metopiinae for which the biology is known, are parasitoids of the caterpillars of moths and butterflies, and are well adapted to parasitize leaf rolling and web inhabiting caterpillars. So, they have high potential as biological control agents against several insect pests. This new discovery was published in the European Journal of Taxonomy.

“Bidi saar, Swalpa namma kaduge bekku” (Leave it sir, our forests too need a few) was the response of late Jadaya, my field assistant, when I asked him to collect even the last insects that got trapped in a bait. This is the philosophy Soligas follow – a thumb rule of sustainability what modern world preach today” said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan the senior author of the new discovery.

Soligas are indigenous people living in the forests of B R Hills and adjoining Male Mahadeshwara Hills of Chamarajanagar district, Karnataka. Traditionally, they were seeking a livelihood from collecting a wide range of non-timber forest products (NTFP), small game hunting and shifting cultivations.

In 1972, when the BRT was designated a wildlife sanctuary, shifting
cultivation and hunting were completely banned, and the Soligas were allocated small pieces of land to practice settled agriculture. However, the Soligas retained the right to collect NTFP and it continue to be a major source of income for them.

The tiger population of BRT was less than 10 in 1990s which increased to 30 by 2010. In 2011 the government under the aegis of National tiger Conservation Authority decided to declare it as a Tiger reserve. As per Indian Wildlife Protection Act, a tiger reserve should be an inviolate area without people living inside the area. But in BRT, the government allowed people to live inside the forests. Thus, the Soligas became the first tribal community living inside the core area of a tiger reserve in India and to get their forest rights officially recognized.

The BRT Sanctuary is a laboratory for ecology students and researchers. Falling at the confluence of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats, it has scrub forests at the foothills and transitioning to dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen forests and Shola forests and grasslands at its high elevations. The unique geographical positioning and diversity of the habitat makes BRT one of the richest areas for biodiversity in India.

Apart from several 100 species of plants 120 species of ants, 120 species of butterflies, and 105 species of dung beetles are found here. But many remains to be discovered and described. ATREE entomologists have described about 40 new species of insects in the last one year, out of which 10 are from BRT.