Friday, 23 May 2008

Sri Lanka Forktail Up Close & Personal

Sri Lanka Forktail - head close up photographed with flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
Sri Lanka is blessed with 117 species of dragonflies and damselflies, of which a staggering 53 are endemic. Among these, the Sri Lanka Forktail Macrogomphus lankanensis is a very special one as it is the only endemic dragonfly species found in my home garden! It belongs to the family, Gomphidae—derived from "gomphus" meaning bolt, a type of arrow shot from a crossbow. The members of this family are popularly called as "clubtails," as they have expanded anal segments giving a broader look to the ends of their long bodies. Clubtails are also easily identifiable due their widely separated eyes seen well in the photo above. There are 14 species of clubtails found in Sri Lanka out of which 13 are endemics—a landsalide endemism! Sri Lanka Forktail has fork-shaped ending to its body, which earns it its name, but this feature is hard to see in the wild.

Sri Lanka Forktail - lateral view photographed with flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
I found this individual when I ventured into a section of my home garden that I "maintain" in a wild state to invite the migrant avian jewel, Indian Pitta. Now that the Pittas have gone back to their breeding grounds in Himalayas (and because I had no internet for 6 days), I accessed this last frontier in my home garden to see what is in store.

My Pitta patch
This above is the patch I am refering. As you can see it is pretty densely vegetated, and is shaded by several large trees hovering above. It has no water body immediately near it. I was quite thrilled when I set my eyes on this dragonfly resting on a low twig in the shade. All my previous three encounters of it had been close to my lawn, but this was the first time, I found it in my woody patch. Sadly, my happiness was short-lived as it took wing as soon as I got into position to fire my first shot. I couldn’t find the direction it went as it was fast.

Dragonflies have compound eyes and have up to 29,000 facets to their eyes, giving them nearly a 360° field of vision. These individual lens systems, or ommatidia, function separately from each other. Each captures its own tiny piece of the overall picture. All these tiny images are processed simultaneously in the eye, which enables insects to have outstanding fast-motion detection.

In slow motion and with a bit of guesswork, I reached the corner of the patch in search of it and got lucky when probably the same individual was spotted low-down again. This time, I stayed still to take some record shots first. Thereafter, I slowly advanced closer it to improve my shots. Unfortunately, my stealth mode was again not good enough for it, as it once again played games with me flying off the radar. After about 30 minutes of searching, I was finally able to zero in on it again, and this time it obliged to reward for my persistence.
Sri Lanka Forktail anterior view showing venation clearly, photographed with no flash, Bomiriya, Kaduwela
There are a lot of mosquitoes in my woody patch, which I believe is one of the reasons why it prefers this habitat as dragonflies love to feast on them. The female form of Sri Lanka Forktail has not been found by scientists yet. So, I am on the hunt for their fairer sex.

The above picture taken with no flash, shows its wings in sharp focus revealing their venation extremely well. While I was photographing it, a slightly smaller dragonfly dashed in and disturbed the peace of my focal individual and vanished. I wondered whether it is one of those elusive females that I am hunting for. I will keep searching.

Further reading.

Big Wellington Boots Lankabootis wellingtoneus Var. verylongensis

My Wellies
Monotypic endemic genus. Not threatened but you could be a threatened species if you don't use them in my neck of the woods because of the presence of two deadly poisnous snakes: Spectacled Cobra Naja naja and Russell’s Viper Daboia russelii—which jointly are responsible for large number of human mortalities in Sri Lanka. If any Sri Lankans reading this are keen to buy wellies do not go anywhere but to Malwatte Road opposite the Fort Railway Station. That road should be renamed as Wellington Road. Seriously!

Guess how much I paid for this?


Patrick B. said...

I guess the ability to walk barefoot through your yard doesn't apply in all parts of the world! Inquiring minds want to know how much you paid!

chrome3d said...

That dragonfly is looking straight at me! Great capture.

Tom said...

A fantasticpost, most informative and great captures of the Dragonfly... those eyes are stunning.

Amila Suwa said...
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Sandpiper (Lin) said...

A great post, as always! I love the dragonfly pictures.

Amila Suwa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amila Suwa said...

Hi Patrick,
You are absolutely right! I thought I will hear from you with the answers to my IATB quiz. I guess you may have been busy with your corporate life. The price that I paid for mine was US $8.5, which was a real bargain!

Hi chrome3d,
Thanks! I am glad I didn't spook it before I took that shot.

Hi Tom,
Thanks a lot! I am glad you enjoyed it. I have some breaking news too...

Hi Lin,
Thanks a lot! Some of these dragonflies can give you a good work out and I enjoy that.

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