Dragonflies & Damsels were once as big as birds

Most people know what a dragonfly is but not everyone knows what a damsel looks like? We’ve all heard the saying ‘damsel in distress’ and I thought that it must be a flower, perhaps because the damsel is classically identified as a woman.

Last Friday I learnt that a damsel is the thinner, smaller version of a dragonfly that we see flying around. It was the electric blue flash of such creatures darting around me in Guatemala that made me so curious about the species, to the point I almost got a tattoo of what I thought was a dragonfly on my foot. That could have been an incorrigible error!

There are many intriguing things about these insects, which made me inquisitive enough, to drive half an hour, get stuck in traffic and very lost to arrive late at the folk hall in Portishead and listen to a talk, where I was the only one without a head of grey hair.

The talk was particularly academic and dry in this respect, different from what I hoped. In my flight of fancy I thought we’d hear wondrous tales that really brought to life these mysterious ancient insects. However the evening had its insights –

Did you know:

  • Dragonflies pre-date dinosaurs and used to be as big as seagulls, but still invertebrates. This could not happen now because the oxygen in our atmosphere has become so diluted they could not survive as insects this size.
  • The way dragonflies and damselflies mate is very unique and was the focus of the majority of the talk and slides. They form this loop called ~ “the wheel” – where the male clasps the head of the female with the end of his tail and she bends her abdomen to connect with the accessory area near the front end of the male where the sperm is. Prior to this the male has to transfer the sperm from the tip of his abdomen into the accessory area. It is quite a display and can go on for up to an hour.
  • The female will then go and deposit the fertilised eggs in a river bank or near an area of water. The rump of a dog lying by a river is not overlooked, apparently! Often the male will not let go of the females head until she has deposited the eggs somewhere in case another male interferes. And often they will scoop out any residual male sperm before beginning to reproduce – a very thorough procedure from beginning to end!

I’m not sure why I am fascinated by dragonflies but I guess it is just one of those personal things that doesn’t really require an explanation. Up close they aren’t particularly attractive and look extremely alien. The fact they have remained on earth so long is particularly worthy of note, impressive and as striking as their colours. Who knows, maybe they will out live us too, the way we are continuing to turn environments and oceans into a human rubbish dump.

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2 thoughts on “Dragonflies & Damsels were once as big as birds

    • Yes I agree! I’ve just visited your blog, love the idea, and see that you have been in the South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. I worked there last year for Norman Carr’s walking safaris.. it was a real encounter with wildlife and those primordial fears that come with being back in the food chain.. an unforgettable experience. Have an incredible time.. 🙂

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