07 Jul Beauty In The Beast
It was one of those perfect hazy summer days and we were floating around the shore in tubes, enjoying the motion of the water as it rocked us back and forth. Not a care in the world, we laughed and soaked up the summer air as we sipped on our drinks. It was one of those times that you know you are really living in the moment and as I reflect back upon it, I think thats why we saw what we saw.
As the waves moved us closer to the dock, our friend in the first tube pushed back with a little squeal. She had spotted a beastly looking creature on the side of the dock, resting amongst the ropes.
Recovering from the initial scare we moved in to investigate and found what appeared to be the skeletal remains of a prehistoric insect. With giant eyes, long legs and an armoured back, this little guy looked fierce.
The group on the dock moved in to take a look as one person happily exclaimed, “It’s a dragonfly!”
We looked at each other in disbelief, examining this small beast as our eyes were drawn by the motion on the piece of the rope hanging in the water. The dragonfly had just emerged from its nymph stage and was getting its bearings at the waters edge. Fearing it would drop into the water, one of our friends gently placed it on the top of her hand and began floating about with it. We watched it as it changed from a translucent almost moth like creature to a majestic brightly coloured dragon of the summer sky. The wings started to unfold first, slowly becoming recognizable. The body then started to change from almost translucent to brilliant shades of yellow, green and brown. Right before our eyes, this beautiful insect entered its final stage of life.
With life spans of over year, dragonflies have three stages: the egg, the nymph and the adult dragonfly. As they hatch from their eggs the dragonfly larva live in ponds, marshes and calmer areas of lakes and rivers. When the nymph matures and the weather is warm, it crawls out of the water and sheds its skin.
Amazing predators, dragonflies feast on smaller flies and mosquitoes. They intercept their prey calculating distance, direction and speed.
Dragonflies have incredible vision and like many insects they have multifaceted eyes. Comparatively, house flies can have about 6000 eye facets where dragonflies have up to 30,000.
According to Andrew Handley’s article, 10 Surprisingly Brutal Facts About Dragonflies, “Each facet, or ommatidia, creates its own image, and the dragonfly brain has eight pairs of descending visual neurons to compile those thousands of images into one picture.
And it gets even crazier; dragonflies have visual senses that would be considered superpowers by any human standards. Human eyes have three opsins—proteins that sense light—giving us a color range of red, green, and blue (one for each opsin). Dragonfly eyes can have four or five opsins, allowing them to perceive the normal color spectrum, along with UV light and the plane of light polarization (the effect you get with polarized sunglasses). This is believed to help them navigate and reduce the sun’s glare on a body of water.” The article goes further to tell us dragonflies don’t have a blind spot as their bulbous eyes wrap around their head allowing them to see in all directions.
These insect super heroes can fly up and down, backwards and hover like mini helicopters. They have a maximum flight speed of 10–15 metres per second (22–34 mph) and a cruising speed of about 4.5 metres per second (10 mph).
Ancestry of this wondrous creature dates back over 300 million years and fossils containing Protodonata, an extinct order of large insects resembling dragonflies.
A popular and beloved symbol, the dragonfly has inspired many artists and appears on pieces from pottery to jewelry to prose.
In 1833, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote about the same metamorphosis we witnessed on that day.
“Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.”
By Alfred Lord Tennyson
We spent about a quarter of an hour floating around with our dragonfly, watching it as it started to shift its wings around getting a sense of the air. We all looked at each other, knowing it was getting ready to fly away.
It fluttered its wings one last time as it was resting upon our friends hand, and then it artfully propelled itself off into the summer sky.