Monsoon season in Angadibail western Ghats forest, I was sitting and watching the paddy fields
It’s the month of August 2016. Eshwarnna, Raagu and Manju were adding mulch to the coconut trees along the stream.
I saw Ehwarnna coming to me holding something in his hand “akka! ನೆಲ ಅಗಿಯುವಾಗ ಎರಡು ಮಣ್ಣ್ ಕಾಯಿ ಸಿಕ್ತು ನೋಡಿ "(akka! I got this mud balls /mud fruit while digging). I was surprised to see two perfect round shaped mud balls of tennis ball size ..the other one was little smaller to compare the first one .It was harder too. It looked like someone carefully hidden this balls under the soil. “Why it is called mankaayi? when it was just a ball of mud? I asked him . (Mannu ಮಣ್ಣು menas soil kaayi ಕಾಯಿ means fruit -Mud fruit)
Eshwaranna told these are not just mud balls it has medicinal value too and villagers know about it .
Eshwarnna recalls the things his mother told him about the Mann kaayi. To prevent children from eating mud, -(a kind of eating disorder)this was used as a medicine.
Eshwarnna also explained how to use this .To prepare this medicine take half spoon of sanna menasina kaayi ಸಣ್ಣ ಮೆಣಸಿನ ಕಾಯಿ water on a flat grinding stone.(san mensin kaaayi is a tiny chilly which grows in western ghat region ) Take mudball and roll/rub it in circular motion over the stone with this spicy water until you get a paste like texture on the grinding stone. Scoop it with your index finger and let the child who has got this eating disorder lick it on the tongue. The child will stop eating mud!!
I was fascinated with mud balls and took a photo and stored them away in a cupboard hoping for to meet a child who eats mud.
A year later, I got them out to show it to my interns- Haritha and Meghana who were documenting local wisdom of this region. Surprisingly, the mud balls have holes over them and the surface was not smooth anymore. It looked like some insect nibbled the entire surface of the ball.
|Ehwaranna and Harita|
We sat with Eshwarnna for a discussion about the same. Eshwarnna had no clue of how this balls were created .. He only knew the medicinal value of this mud balls which his mother told him ..
I knew about dung beetles that make these kind of balls with dung to feed on them but much smaller in size These balls were bigger and made with mud and not with dung .So I ruled out it belongs to dung beetle and I loved the story of it having a medicinal value which Eshwaranna told
Later I saw similar kind of balls but much smaller in gersoppe forests. There were 4-5 dung beetles fighting for one ball . Again, these were mud balls not dung balls
|gersoppe forest obseving Man kaayi|
However i guessed these mud balls also belong to dung beetles but i never knew why they make it .
Looking at the holes we guessed it may be a breeding balls of dung beetles which would lay their eggs inside this ball. The holes in this ball confirmed the adult beetle broke through the hard-outer layer of the ball.
We decided to open it and see what is inside this ball. Eshwarnna with his knife made perfect halves of it ..what we found ..the interior of the ball was stuffed with layers of black dried coarse dung! Yes it was a dung ball coated with thick layer of mud and deceived us
This is what the brood ball represents to the larval dung beetle. Hatching from the egg inside each ball the larve eats its way around the interior of the ball
The pair can make and bury many brood balls like this. The outside layer of the brood ball hardens once buried forming a protective layer for grub. The inside layer remains moister and a food source for grub. When the grub metamorphoses into adult .it breaks through the hard -outer layer of the ball
-With Harita Gandrajupalli and Meghna