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Dragonflies in Flight
Dragonflies are the UK's largest insects. They are also some of the most primitive of insects, very early fossils being very similar except that some early dragonflies were HUGE, having 60cms wingspan. This is a typical Hawker Dragonfly with a wingspan of about 10cm. Dragonflies were the first creature to use our ponds for breeding - they arrived and started laying while the first pond had only been filling for a day. Ever after the pond has been known as 'Dragon Pool'.
These insects form a family of insects of increasing size through Damselflies, Darter Dragonflies and Hawker Dragonflies. All are exclusively carnivorous in all stages of life. The insects live as nymphs for 2 or 3 years underwater, preying on tadpoles, small fish and other dragonfly nymphs and similar. They emerge on a summer morning by crawling up a reed, splitting the nymph case and crawling out, pumping up their beautiful wings. In this new form they live the rest of their life looking for things to kill and eat, but add to this finding a mate. Eggs are laid in the water, some species laying 'in tandem' with the male in front holding the female by the scruff of her neck using claspers at his rear.
Male Darter and Hawker dragonflies are extremely territorial, guarding an area that seems to be typically 100 square meters. They fight on the wing any intruder that they are not interested in mating with, whatever the species. They chiefly hunt midges, flies and similar, but can cope with small butterflies, though larger butterflies (e.g. Peacock) seem to be strong enough to escape. They will suddenly shoot upward while patrolling, grab a tiny speck out of the sky, and then return to patrolling while sucking the juices out of their prey, dropping the bits when they have finished. We are trying to photograph hunting or fighting activity but the prospects don't look good!
The top picture thought to be a Migrant Hawker dragonfly in free flight, taken by flash triggered by breaking an infrared beam. If you like such photographs look for books and pictures by Stephen Dalton who showed the world how to raise such photography to an art form. He mostly photographs large tropical exotica - we have designed our equipment for more typical UK sized subjects.
The lower picture is of a pair of Common darter Dragonflies 'in-tandem' laying eggs taken at the edge of one of our ponds. This was taken hand held with Flash.