I tried to think of a clever adjective to describe dragonflies in the title of this post. Words like, ancient, intriguing, mythical, enchanting and magical came to mind but in the end the word ‘dragon’ in the name of these slender predators, is itself, enough to beguile. Lately I’ve been attempting a practice of art and nature journaling and, aside from butterflies , dragonflies are the most popular insects for artists to depict. Their streamlined shape, their expert flying and powerful predatory skills are impressive, and yet, they are harmless to humans, which makes them easy to admire. There is nothing that says a summer picnic than watching dragonflies dart above water with sunlight glinting off their wings.
Adding to the intrigue of the dragonfly is its life cycle, which is largely hidden from us. Even as children we identify that caterpillars are larvae of butterflies and moths. The process of their metamorphosis is told often in stories and picture books like ‘The Hungry caterpillar.” Not so with the damsels and dragonflies. Female dragonflies lay their inconspicuous eggs submerged in still water – generally attached to an aquatic plant. The dully- coloured larvae hatch within weeks and live under the water, unnoticed by humans. They feed voraciously off other insects such as mosquito larvae or even tadpoles and small fish. As with many insect larvae the dragonfly nymph goes through several moults or instars. In can take from a few months to several years for dragonfly larvae to mature and emerge from the water for their final moult into the familiar adult form. The shed exoskeleton left behind during the transformation is generally attached to a plant and is called an exuvia. You are probably more familiar with the exuviae of cicadas after they emerge from the ground – quite a common find in summer. It is one of my aims this summer to find a dragonfly exuvia or even better an emerging dragonfly. The adult dragonfly will only live for a few months in order to mate and reproduce – and even then only if they don’t fall victim to predators like birds, spiders and other large insects.
Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata. This month my backyard bug-a-log will concentrate on the the dragonflies (Ansioptera suborder). The five below represent the total of the dragonfly species I have photographed in my Illawarra backyard – I have photographed two damselfly species which I’ll log in a later post. Even though there’s a small frog pond in my front yard none of my photos or observations are near there. I assume that the slow-flowing open storm-water drain that runs down the back of our row of houses or even a man-made coastal wetland (500m away) are the breeding grounds for the odonata.
My entries are biased towards those dragonflies that perch (ie stay still) long enough for me to photograph.I have often observed a large dragonfly, probably an Australian Emperor (Anax papuensis) doing regular rounds of of the back lawn and pool (in spring and autumn mainly) however because it (or they) are never still I can’t photograph or confidently identify.
If dragonflies knew the romantic names that humans bestowed on them I’m sure they’d be chuffed. It almost seems a shame that other insects are often so pragmatically named. Theses dragonfly common names tend to conjure images of creatures in a high fantasy novel:
My favourite log entry this month is the Australian Emerald – mainly because of the the amazing eyes of the mature adult.