Saturday, June 26, 2010

hic sunt dracones (HERE BE DRAGONS!)

The pond in the park is alive with dragonflies at the moment, probably something to do with the tropical monsoon type weather we are having this summer. We have had 8 inches of rain so far in June! Everything is very green and lush and there are literally thousands of little flying insects for the dragonflies to prey on.

I don't know if you have spent any time trying to photograph dragonflies but it is one sure fire way to drive yourself rapidly insane. They alight on a twig or a leaf in perfect light and before you even get chance to raise your camera into position, they have flown away. Of the numerous species flitting around, only two actually stayed still enough for me to photograph.

The Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera

there are no prizes for figuring out why that name came about. You can't tell from my photos but this is one of the smallest dragonflies in the US with a body length of barely an inch.

But it's colour is so vivid that it is hard to miss. The male selects a stick or twig sticking just above the surface of the water and defends a territory of approximately 3 to 6 meters around it, repeatedly returning to alight on the same spot.

And the Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis, (how is that for a scientific name!!!) The males are distinguished by their chalky blue abdomen

And their white head and metallic green eyes.

The Blue Dasher is also a small dragonfly with an average body length of just over an inch. The males spend a lot of time chasing each other along the edge of still or slow-moving bodies of water.

The stunning blue abdomen is brandished as a threat to territorial opponents. I personally prefer the alternative name for this species, The Blue Pirate! Especially if they are waving their abdomen around to ward off all comers.

Quite apart from the fact that they eat numerous mosquitoes in their average day (and what is not to like about that?) It is hard to imagine why such a stunning and delicate insect is regarded with such foreboding in so many cultures.
Some English vernacular names, such as "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link them with evil or injury. A Romanian folk tale says that the dragonfly was once a horse possessed by the devil. Swedish folklore holds that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls. The Norwegian name for dragonflies is "Øyenstikker", which literally means Eye Poker and in Portugal they are sometimes called "Tira-olhos" (Eye snatcher). They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant". The Southern United States term "snake doctor" refers to a folk belief that dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are injured.

I don't know about any of that but I think they are very cool and when I saw this last photo I had to wonder, if this wasn't the inspiration for the original design for the bi-plane, what was?

Photo Credits - CJT


Kathiesbirds said...

I grew up terrified of these insects because I was told as a child that they would stitch your eyes and mouths shut! Of course, they were around evey swimming hole we went to in the summertime which made swimming a real test of your bravery! Never did meet anyone who had their mouth stitched shut, but I think I knew a few people whom I WISHED it had happend to!

Rambling Woods said...

I learned some new things and yes.. you know I try to photograph them and not usually with great success..