Dragonflies and Damselflies: Fast flying jewels - News - Gondwana Collection

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Dragonflies and Damselflies: Fast flying jewels

Avatar of inke inke - 15. February 2018 - Environment

The rock dropwing or orange-winged dropwing is common in almost all parts of the country, but rare at the Okavango River and in the Zambezi Region. It is often found at swimming pools in private gardens. This one was photographed in Windhoek.

Dirk Heinrich

Usually they occur close to water but often they suddenly appear in dry and arid places. They are fast flying colourful insects, only a few centimetres long. They can zigzag through the air, they can hover, they can fly backwards and they can land precisely on the tip of a twig or on the ground. It is amazing that these water-bound insects are found in the driest country south of the Sahara, not only at the perennial rivers on our borders or at dams but in fact all over the country – especially when there are pools after rain. They seem to appear from nowhere. Their bright colours are just as amazing as the unique patterns on their long segmented abdomen.

According to German scientists Prof. Frank Suhling and Prof. Andreas Martens, who studied dragonflies and damselflies in Namibia from 2000 to 2007, Namibia has almost 130 species of these flying jewels. About 880 species occur in Africa, around 6000 worldwide. It is an extraordinary  phenomenon that enormous swarms of millions of wandering gliders (Pantala flavescens) together with some other species enter the desert every year at the onset of the rainy season. Odonata is an order of carnivorous insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies. Some species which are found in Namibia also occur in most African countries and in Europe and Asia. Others are common in a number of African countries but in Namibia are only found in one area, such as one of the perennial rivers.

The rock dropwing (Trithemis kirbyi ardens), for example, occurs all over Namibia – except in the central north and Naye-Naye area – and other places of continental Africa, as well as the Comoros, Madagascar and Europe. The luminous percher (Diplacodes luminans) is found from the Gambia and Somalia to Namibia, South Africa and the Comoros. In Namibia it is widespread in the north, particularly in the Zambezi Region.

The various dragonfly species have interesting names: they are called glider, basker, dropwing, sprite, skimmer, emperor, groundling, tigertail, hooktail and more.

While dragonflies cannot fold their four wings over their long body, damselflies can. Dragonflies and damselflies should not be confused with antlions which in a way resemble a dragonfly but are much weaker flyers and have longer antennae. They can fold their four wings over their body, and the wings are longer than the antlion itself. The larvae of antlions live in the ground while dragonfly larvae live in water.

Dragonflies have very good eyesight and catch their prey mid-air. Some male dragonflies defend their territory vigorously and fight off any intruder. During mating pairs of dragonflies often fly in tandem, as do damselflies. Eggs are deposited in water where the larvae develop. Dragonflies and damselflies generally live a few weeks only.

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