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Horn OK Please!

Rhinoceros Beetle, Kabini

For those of us brought up on a literary repast of captions adorning signboards and those quirky lines on the backs of trucks that own our highways, the title of this story will bring about a strong sense of déjà vu. As it will, for our naturalist cousins in Kaziranga, home to the great Indian Rhino, a ‘one-horned’ armoured car on legs that rules the jungle highway. In the sylvan biosphere of Kabini too, you’ll find that the owner of this tag is a Rhino, albeit a version that flies. Just a few million kilos lighter than his Kaziranga cousin, the Rhinocerous Beetle is also referred to as the Hercules Beetle for his muscularity, or the Unicorn Beetle. This is one Rhino however, that doesn’t send a shiver up the spine, and is favoured as a pet across Asia. In fact, despite his size and those intimidating horns on his thorax and central thorax, he is harmless to humans and doesn’t bite or sting. These horns, however, aren’t mere ornaments; they double up as implements for digging, and real weapons that he uses to fight off other males during the mating season. In fact, these Rhinos are favourites of punters who pit one male against another, and place large bets on the outcome. They aren’t particularly strong flyers, but get along on a pair of thick wings overlapping a pair of membranous wings. Surprisingly, though, a research team of experts, funded by the US National Science Foundation, believes that the Rhino Beetle may be significant in the next generation of aircraft design. So the next time you decide to fly down to our resort, you may give the Jumbo Jet a miss and fly a Rhino Jet instead. Though, chances are, you’ll keep looking over your shoulders, wondering if your plane is showing signs of locking horns with another Rhino in the skies!

Photograph: Sanket Reddy Story: Rajesh Ramaswamy



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