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Hindu Kush Himalayan Biodiversity Information Facility

HKHBIF

Past species of the month

past species of the month
Parkia timoriana
Parkia timoriana

The tree bean (Parkia timoriana) is an underutilized, nutritious, leguminous tree belonging to the legume family. It is distributed across northeast India and southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia. The tree bean is a characteristic feature of the Meitei home gardens in Assam, India and is grown and consumed widely in Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland.

This photograph was taken in the Hakha township of Chin State, Myanmar. Widely planted for food and wood, the tree grows up to 30 metres tall. The inflorescence or the flower head, as shown in the picture, dangles through a long flower stalk that can grow up to 45 cm. The flower head contains several flowers. The fruit of this tree is a long, flattened legume pod similar to the flat bean and contains up to 21 hard, black seeds. The flowers are pollinated by fruit bats that feed on the nectar. The wood of the tree is used as firewood and lumber and the fruit is a nutritious delicacy, fetching a good price in the market.

Elephas maximus
Elephas maximus

The Asian elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas. They are distributed throughout the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia including Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. About a third of Asian elephants live in captivity. Asian elephants are smaller in size and have smaller ears compared to African elephants. Their diet includes grasses, leaves, roots, bark of trees, and bushes.

Their populations have declined by at least 50 percent over the last 60–75 years, causing it to be listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. They are primarily threatened by loss of habitat, habitat degradation, fragmentation, and poaching.

Helixanthera parasitica Lour.
Helixanthera parasitica Lour.

Commonly known as mistletoe, this plant is a highly specialized aerial flowering parasite. All mistletoes are strictly aerial parasites, some of them are hemiparasites (leafy) whereas others are holoparasites (without leaves). They extract nutrients or their food from the host plants through a special organ called haustorium. There are nearly 1,400 mistletoe species in the world, exclusively distributed within four families of flowering plants in the order Santalales. These species grow in diverse forest types – from tropical to upper cold temperate forests at an elevation of 3,000 masl. Mistletoes provide essential ecosystem services such as food, shelter, and breeding sites to a variety of animals, birds, and insects. They are an indicator of good forest health. In Nepal, mistletoes have been misunderstood as invasive and pest species. Although a parasitic plant, they have their own ecological functions in nature and contribute to ecosystem functioning as a part of natural plant communities. Their physiology is fascinating; for example, their succulent leaves enhance water storage and allow them to rehydrate before their hosts do.

Budorcas whitei
Budorcas whitei

Bhutan takin, locally known as “Drong Gyemtse”, is Bhutan’s national animal. The species is endemic to Bhutan. Prior to 2011, it was considered a subspecies (Budorcas taxicolor whitei) and has since been recognised as a separate species (Budorcas whitei). The other takin species are the golden takin (B. bedfordi) and Sichuan takin (B. tibetana) from China, and the Mishmi takin (B. taxicolor) in India.

The Bhutan takin migrate in small herds to alpine meadows as high as 5,000 masl during summer and in large groups to subtropical forests as low as 1,500 masl during winter. They are primarily found in Jigme Dorji National Park in the north-western part of the country.

Phallus indusiatus
Phallus indusiatus

Phallus indusiatus is commonly known as stinkhorn fungus or the veiled lady mushroom. In Nepal, we call it a “Jaali Chyaau” (जाली च्याउ). “Jaali” refers to a net. This picture is taken in Manaslu Conservation Area, Chekampar, in Gorkha District of Nepal at the altitude of 3025m. The mushroom looks very attractive with its whitish veil technically called indusium. Although elegant, the mushroom has a very unpleasant odor. Both the ordor and physical appearance relates to its advancement for spore dispersal over other mushroom species. Instead of only depending on wind for spore dispersal, the stinkhorns – as their name suggests – produce a stinky, brown, spore filled mucous called gleba. The insects are attracted by its appearance, and when they come to feed on the gleba, the spores get attached to insects and are carried far and wide. The species has several medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, and is among a highly praised edible mushrooms especially in China and Europe.

The Gaoligong hoolock gibbon
Hoolock gibbons

Hoolock gibbons belong to the family Hylobatidae. They are arboreal – live on trees, and mostly frugivorous – feed on fruits, young leaves, and flower buds. Ecologically, they play an important role in seed dispersal and forest regeneration. They are territorial and live in groups of 2-6 individuals. Hoolock gibbons are distributed in the forested areas in northeastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and southern China. Their natural range extends from east of Brahmaputra river to west of the Salween river. Habitat loss and forest degradation is the major challenge around conservation of this species. Conservation and management of habitat of species such as Hoolock that is spread across several countries call for collective efforts by countries sharing their habitats.