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FLORA AND FAUNA OF TAMIL NADU

FLORA AND FAUNA

The Muthupet mangrove ecosystem embraces a heterogeneous mixture of mangrove elements of plants and animals. Among the six principal mangrove species, Avicennia marina is most common and abundant, followed by:

  • Exoecaria agallocha
  • Aegiceros corniculatum
  • Acanthus ilicifolius
  • Suaeda maritima and
  • S monoica in that order.

Five species of seaweeds viz.

  • Chaetomorpha sp.
  • Enteromorpha sp.Gracilaria sp.
  • Hypnea sp.
  • Ulva sp.

and two species of sea grasses namely;

  • Halodule sp. and
  • Halophila sp.

are found in the mangrove water channels.

The Current study has recorded 201 faunal species including:

  • 31 species of Zooplankton
  • 7 species of amphipods
  • 10 species of polychaetes
  • 15 species of crustaceans
  • 19 species of molluscs
  • 57 species of fishes
  • 7 species of reptiles
  • 49 species of birds and
  • 6 species of mammals.

In crustaceans,

  • 4 species of shrimps
  • 2 species of prawns,
  • 5 species of brachyuran crabs,
  • 2 species of hermit crabs and
  • 2 species of cirripede

were identified.

NATURAL VEGETATION

FOREST TYPES OF TAMIL NADU

The physiography of the country has been classified into ten bio geographic zones, of which two viz., the Coromandel or the East Coast and the Western Ghats are occurring in the State.

Naturally, landmass of the State falls under two natural divisions viz., the eastern coastal plain and the hilly region along the north and the west. In view of the vast physical and climatic variations in the landscape, the State encounters diverse types of vegetation. Among the Southern states, Tamil Nadu contains the maximum number of 9 of the total of 16 major forest types. Within the major types, 48 sub types of forests are found in Tamil Nadu.

1. THE COASTAL PLAINS

Can be sub divided into:

  • The Coramandel plain, comprising the districts of Chengalpet, Viluppuram, Cuddalore,
  • The Alluvial plains of the Cauvery delta extending over the composite Thanjavur and part of Trichirapalli districts,
  • The dry Southern plains in Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli and
  • The inner plains comprising districts of Dharmapuri, Salem, Vellore and Madurai districts.

Along the coast at places like Mahabalipuram, Mandapam and Kanniyakumari, outcrops of rocky head lands are present. A narrow belt of sand dunes rising to about 10m is found on the Toothukudi coast. Further south in Toothukudi, red sand hills locally known as “Teri” rises to 50 m above mean sea level (MSL).Typical coral reefs occur at Pamban islands at the head of the Gulf of Mannar on the east coast.

Along the coast are, but a few lakes, lagoons and marshy lands. The Buckingham canal, which connects river Krishna in Andhra Pradesh with Chennai, passes through some of them. Veeranam lake in Chenglepet is one of the largest lakes in the State.

2. THE HILLY REGION

The hilly region along the North and the West Along the whole length of the western part, at a distance from the sea varying from 80 to 160 km runs the range of Western Ghats, a steep and rugged mass averaging 1220m above MSL and rising to 2554 m at Mukurti and 2637 m at Doddabetta in Nilgiris.

It has tropical evergreen, semi-evergreen and deciduous forests, as well as savannahs intermixed with cultivated lands and settled areas in the valleys. The Eastern Ghats from Andhra Pradesh cut across the State to meet the Nilgiri hils. The ‘Palghat gap’ of about 30 km width is the only marked break in the Western Ghats. To the south of this gap, the range is called Anamalai and Cardamom hills.

On the east of Western Ghats are Palni hills, which are an offshoot of Anamalais. Other prominent groups of hills are Javadis, Shervaroys, Chitteris, Kolli hills, Kalrayans and Pachamalais. All these form a chain of low, flat-topped hills. Nilgiris and Anamalais are hill groups with the maximum height.

Slopes of the Western Ghats are the sources of many rivers, which flow eastwards towards the Bay of Bengal. Of these, Cauvery, Moyar, Bhavani, Amaravati, Chittar and Tamaraparani are perennial rivers, whereas Vellar, Noyyal, Suruli, Gundar and Vaipar are non-perennial ones.

All these rivers are rain-fed, unlike the snow-fed ones of the Himalayas. Cauvery, which rises from Brahmagiri in Coorg is the longest river of the State.

It travels the entire breadth of Tamil Nadu and forms a large delta at its mouth in the erstwhile composite Thanjavur district making the region the ‘granary of Southern India’. Tamiraparani also has deltaic deposits at its mouth in Toothukudi district.

MAJOR FOREST TYPE GROUPS IN THE STATE IS AS BELOW

MAJOR FOREST TYPE GROUPS

It is seen that the tropical deciduous and thorn forests constitute the majority of the forest area in the State and account for nearly 60% of the total forests.

VEGETATION AND ITS DISTRIBUTION

THE STATE’S FLORAL DIVERSITY

The Indian region with a total area of about 328 million ha is very rich in biological diversity. It is estimated that about 45,000 species of plants occur in the country.

The vascular flora, which forms the conspicuous vegetation cover itself comprises 15,000 species, of which more than 60% are endemic and have so far not been reported from anywhere else in the world.

The total plant wealth of the country includes not only the usually large, showy-flowered vascular plants, but a large number of non-flowering plants, viz. ferns, liverworts, algae and fungi.

The wild relatives of crop plants along with related species as well as the species of economic plants (estimated to be over 150) are in themselves very valuable gene pool.

Inventorization of floral and faunal distribution continued under the aegis of the national institutes of Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India across the country and with every subsequent survey, new and unknown species of plants and animals came to be identified and added to the list.

The Angiosperm diversity of India includes 17,672 species. With 5,640 species of flowering plants. Tamil Nadu ranks first among the States in the country in angiosperm diversity.

It accounts for nearly one-third of the total flora of India. This includes 533 endemic species, 230 red-listed species, 1,559 species of medicinal plants and 260 species of wild relatives of cultivated plants.

The gymnosperm diversity of the country is 64 species, of which four species are indigenous Gymnosperms and the rest are introduced species. The pteridophyte diversity of India includes 1,022 species of which Tamil Nadu has about 184 species.

FAUNA

RICHNESS OF FAUNAL DIVERSITY IN TAMIL NADU

India is represented by a wide array of faunal species. More than 50,000 species of insects, 4,000 of molluscs, 6,500 of other invertebrates, 2,000 of fishes, 140 of amphibians, 420 of reptiles, 1,200 of birds and 340 of mammals, totalling more than 65,000 species of animals are recorded from the country.

The faunal diversity of the State includes 165 species of fresh water fishes, 76 species of amphibians, 177 species of reptiles, 454 species of birds and 187 species of mammals.

According to the CAMP reports the red-listed species include 126 species of fishes, 56 species of amphibians, 77 species of reptiles, 32 species of birds and 40 species of mammals. The endemic fauna includes 36 species of amphibians, 63 species of reptiles, 17 species of birds and 24 species of mammals.

IMPORTANT SPECIES

Nilgiri Tahr

Nilgiri Tahr
Nilgiri Tahr

The Nilgiri tahr is the only mountain ungulate in southern India amongst the 12 species present in India. It is also the state animal of Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiri tahr, which used to be found along the entire stretch of Western Ghats, is presently found only in small fragmented pockets. A large part of its population has been wiped out from its historical range. The existing populations are under severe stress due to habitat loss and hunting.

This endemic species of the Western Ghats is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972.

The Nilgiri tahr is a sure-footed ungulate that inhabits the open montane grassland habitats at elevations from 1200 to 2600 m of the South Western Ghats. Currently, the Nilgiri tahr distribution is along a narrow stretch of 400 km in the Western Ghats between Nilgiris in the north and Kanyakumari hills in the south of the region.

Though there are smaller populations found in the Palani hills, Srivilliputtur, and the Meghamalai and Agasthiyar ranges, only two well-protected, large populations are

documented — one from the Nilgiris and the other from the Anamalais, including the high ranges of Kerala.

The Eravikulam National Park in Anamalai hills, Kerala, is home to the largest population of the Nilgiri tahr, with more than 700 individuals.

Threats:
  1. Habitat loss due to rampant deforestation, competition with domestic livestock, hydroelectric projects in Nilgiri tahr habitat, and monoculture plantations
  2. Occasional hunting for its meat and skin

Indian Giant Squirrel

The Indian giant squirrel is a large rodent species native to India. More specifically, it is a type of tree squirrel. This animal’s appearance is unlike most other squirrel species due to its vivid colors and notable size.

These giant squirrels are distinguishable by their striking, multi-colored hues. The colors vary between individual squirrels. There is a common pattern of two to three shades, including white or cream, brown, black, red, maroon, and sometimes dark Fuschia. The deep shades are primarily seen along the body, while the lighter colors occur on the underside and the long, bushy tail.

These squirrels are hailed as giants because of their impressive size. They ordinarily weigh one-and-a-half to two kilograms or 3.3 to 4.4 pounds. Two kilograms is about five and a half times as heavy as a can of soup.

Malabar giant squirrels are endemic to South Asia. In the wild, they can be found specifically in India. Their habitat ranges through many states, including Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

They prefer to live in tropical rainforest environments and are widespread within the Malabar rainforests. These squirrels spend most of their lives in trees. They are sometimes able to hide from predators on high limbs and in hollows of trees.

Humans are one of the biggest threats to these amazing creatures. Deforestation, logging, development, and the building of dams all lead to habitat loss and further fragmentation of populations. Some humans also hunt giant squirrels for their meat, which greatly contributes to a decline in the population.

Lion Tailed Macaque

Lion-tailed macaques have black fur. They are characterised by the grey mane around their face. In fact they are sometimes called bearded monkeys. They have a small tuft on the tip of their tail. Their tail resembles a lion’s tail which is where the name ‘lion-tailed macaque’ comes from.

In the wild, lion-tailed macaques are only native to India. There, they live in the Western Ghats hills and mountains of southwestern India, where they live in tropical rainforests and on elevated mountainsides.

Lion-tailed macaques use some seventeen different vocal calls to communicate with each other. They also communicate a lot through facial expressions and posture. Their tail is also a major component of their communication.

The lion-tailed macaques’ habitat is shrinking and has become very fragmented. There are currently three sub-populations that are not connected to each other. This is because humans are chopping down the forests to construct things like tea and coffee plantations and roads. Macaques are sensitive to changes in their habitat.

Malabar Grey Hornbill

This small, plain brownish-grey hornbill is found only in the tall wet forests of the Western Ghats. They have been categorised as vulnerable under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Its head and underparts have whitish streaks. It lacks the casque typical of Hornbills. Its beak is quite long, slightly curved and yellow. Its wings have white tips.

The male has a long curved yellow-orange bill, paler at tip, low casque.Female is smaller, with smaller dark-spotted casque and black base of mandible. The tail is black, tipped with white at the bottom. White broad supercilium above eye running from head to hind neck, whitish streaks on head, crest, throat and upper breast. Size: 45 cm, male: 238-240 g. They are only about 60 cm long.

Malabar Whistling Thrush

Found in

Nilgiri Langur

The Nilgiri Langur, also known as Indian Hooded Leaf Monkey, John’s Langur and Black Leaf Monkey, is an attractive black Colobine monkey with a pale gold mane. The rump and base of the tail are white, and females have white highlights on their inner thighs which are present from an early age.

These langurs form groups with one dominant male and around 20 females, with the sub-adult and subordinate males forming bachelor groups. These troops move through the forest feeding on leaves of about 100 plant species (which gives rise to their name ‘Black Leaf Monkey’) as well as fruits, flowers and seeds.

The home range of Nilgiri Langurs is between two and six hectares, which varies according to how concentrated the sources of preferred food are and the density of langur troops in the area. They only occur in the Western Ghats of southwestern India, next to the Mudahalli Elephant Corridor.

The Nilgiri Langurs are hunted for their skin to use for drums, and other parts of their bodies are used for traditional ‘medicine’, which has led them to be classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as there may be only 5,000 left in the wild. They have been affected by habitat loss due to crop plantations, mining, dams, and human settlements but they are good dispersers and are able to colonise new areas, which makes them better adapted than primates like the lion-tailed macaques.

Neela Kurunji

Neela Kurunji is a shrub that is found in the shola forests of the Western Ghats in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The plant is named after the famous Kunthi River which flows through Kerala’s Silent Valley National Park, where the plant occurs abundantly.The genus has about 250 species. Out of that, around 46 species are found in India. Most of the Strobilanthus species have an unusual flowering behaviour varying from an annual to 16- year blooming cycles.

Characteristics include gregarious flowering, mass seeding and synchronised monocarpy (the characteristic character of certain plants which flower once in their lifetime and die after fruiting).

Honey bees act as pollinators of Neelakurinji. The nectar collected by honey bees from these flowers is found to be very tasty, nutritious and has medicinal values.

Some Kurinji plants bloom once in every seven years and then die. Their seeds sprout subsequently and continue the cycle of life before they die eventually.

Kurinji has long featured in the culture of South India, especially the modern-day states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In the ancient Sangam literature of Tamilakam or Tamil Country, land was classified into five types.

Theyare Kurinji (mountainous), Mullai (forested), Marutham (agricultural), Neithal (coastal) and Paalai (desert). Tamil scholars opine that this classification was based on the most characteristic plants of these ecosystems: Strobilanthus kunthianus (Kurinji), Jasminum auriculatum (Mullai), Nymphaea nouchali (Neithal) and Wrightia tinctoria (Paalai). The mountainous landscape, referred to as Kurinji, abounded with Kurinji flowers.

The Paliyar tribal community that lives in the montane rain forests of the South Western Ghats uses the flowering periodicity of this plant to calculate their age.

Kurinji used to once grow abundantly in the Nilgiri Hills (part of the Western Ghats) in Tamil Nadu. The brilliant blue colour of Kurinji has given the hills the name “Nilgiri”, literally meaning “Blue Mountains”. But presently, plantations and buildings have occupied the hills.

ECO TOURISM

Tamil Nadu is a State with several distinguished tourism genre. It has cerulean mountains, verdant vegetations, sandy beaches, mammoth monuments, timeless temples, fabulous wildlife, scintillating sculptures and reverberating rural life. It has picturesque spots, continuing heritage, cultural confluence and aesthetic magnificence.

Tamil Nadu has excellent hill stations like:

  • Ooty
  • Kodaikanal
  • Yercaud
  • Elagiri
  • Javvadhu Hills
  • Kolli Hills
  • Sirumalai Hills
  • Valparai
  • Topslip
  • Parvathamalai Hills
  • Pachamalai Hills.

It has silvery cascades in:

  • Courtallam
  • Hogenakkal
  • Thiruparappu
  • Monkey falls
  • Thirumurthi Malai
  • Akasa Gangai
  • Papanasam.

It has excellent National Parks like Guindy National Park and Anamalai National Park. It has wildlife sanctuaries in Mudumalai, Kodiakarai, Kalakkad, Mundanthurai and Berijam. It has Botanic Gardens in Ooty, Kodaikanal and Coimbatore.

It has UNESCO declared monuments like living Chola temples at Thanjavur, Darasuram and Gangaikondacholapuram, monuments at Mamallapuram and Nilgiris Heritage Train. The vast coastline of Tamil Nadu has many silvery beaches like the Marina, Elliots, Thiruvanmiyur, Tiruchendur, Rameswaram and Kanniyakumari.

The temples of Tamil Nadu reverberate with spirituality and music. Madurai, Rameswaram, Kumbakonam, Chidambaram, Thanjavur and Tiruchirappalli have innumerable temples with different deities. The finely hewn grandeur sculptures reflect artistic excellence and cultural splendour.

Tamil Nadu is a unique and fascinating State, where technology co-exists with tradition, old architecture blends with contemporary vitality and where nature is at its unsullied best. These make Tamil Nadu a year round destination. It boasts of abundant tourist wealth, which can be broadly grouped under the following heads:

HILL RESORTS

They are a beautiful mix of mountain ranges and plains with pastoral landscape, exotic plants and shrubs, and grassy hillocks. The notable hill resorts are Udhagamandalam, Kodaikanal and Yercaud.

BEACH RESORTS

Out of 7100 km long coastline that India enjoys, Tamil Nadu has a 1000 km long spectacular coastline with sugar-white bays and sun -drenched beaches. Marina beach is the second longest in the world.

Kovalam Beach, a zero liquid waste managed beach has received Blue Flag. The beach has a grey water treatment plant, 40 KW off-grid solar power plant and a solid waste management unit with an automatic composting machine.

The recent beautification drive launched by Government on the Marina has earned the appreciation of all and Marina has been restored to its past glory.

WATERFALLS

They present an awesome spectacle with the colossal cascade of water. Hogenakkal, Kutrallam, Thirparappu, Kumbakarai, Papanasam etc. are worth mentioning.

WILDLIFE SANCTURIES

Mudumalai, Anamalai, Mundanthurai, Kalakkadu will attract various enthusiasts.

ZOOLOGICAL PARKS

They have abundant wildlife that can be seen and appreciated in their natural habitat.

BIRD SANCTUARIES

These visitors can be seen in close range during their sojourn to India, when the climate is inhospitable in their homelands.

BOTANICAL/ HORTICULTURAL GARDENS

These gardens that are immaculately maintained will provide a visual feast.

In the next part, we will cover Temples/Churches/Mosques, Heritage Monuments, Mangroves, Lakes and more.

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