Thursday 4 June 2009

Dawn of a Dropwing

The front covers of the only two books dedicated to the dragonflies and damselflies of Sri Lanka has one thing in common. They both feature a widespread Oriental dragonfly Dawn Droping Trithemis aurora. Sri Lanka is home to 117 species of dragonflies and damselflies out of which a whopping 53 54 are endemic. Some of these endemics too are strikingly coloured. How then can you explain this species of dragonfly being chosen to adorn the front covers of the said books? They say not to judge a book from its cover. But, on this, it is hard not to.

I am happy to announce that my dragonfly pond has produced the desired results—attracting more dragonflies, getting them to breed in the pond, and photographing them.

Of the numerous dragonflies that have shown interest at my pond, the Dawn Dropwing has shown a remarkable breeding success during April and May. Its emergence, as most other dragonflies, happen at night, in the cover of darkness—typically at around 8.00 p.m—when I do not like anything to come between me and prime time news.

Dragonflies and Damselflies lay their eggs in fresh water where their larva (aka. nymph/naid) grow. To transform into a dragonfly, the nymph should to leave the aquatic world, and attach itself to a leaf, rock or twig near the water. In my pond, the cradle often takes the form of the outer wall of the raised rectangular rim.

This is how the nymph of Dawn Dropwing looks like when it has surfaced out to the open.

Dawn Dropwing Nymph
Would it ever make to a front cover of a popular natural history book on dragonflies?
Sorry, I am being mean.

Most of these photographs were taken in April, which is the hottest month here. Even working at night made no difference as it was very humid. This was made worse by the mosquitoes, which forced me to be fully clothed in outdoor wear to prevent them from causing havoc. From the moment the dragonfly nymph surfaces out of the water to the time it ends its metamorphosis as a teneral or a young dragonfly can take several hours. So I can tell you that these pictures were obtained in pretty sweaty circumstances.

Anyway, this is how it looks when the teneral dragonfly begins to emerge breaking the larval skin during the early stages of its final metamorphosis.

Dawn Dropwing emerging
The sand particles sticking on the nymph's moist body give it a good camouflague by disguising its real profile against potential predators. But, the ghostly teneral that emerges is pale in comparison, and could be easily spotted by predators. This is a critical stage of its metamorphosis. As the helpless teneral emerge, it becomes easy prey for predators lurking near the water. Look how the ants gang up against one sorry teneral Dawn Dropwing—which never saw the light of the dawn. (Kim, it was too late when I found this!)

Dawn Dropwing emerging
Post-mortem: the ants have punctured a hole the young dragonfly's body in the thorax as its blood (hemolymph) was being pumped during the process of metamorphosis. This drained vital supplies needed for its body to expand and halted the process of growth. Click on the image below to view a large image to see a drop of its blood in the back of its thorax.

Dawn Dropwing
Eventually, the ants succeeded in inflicting a slow death on the teneral through this fatal bite. They marched away with their prized catch soon after.

Coming back to regular cases of metamorphosis, as the nymph works its way out of the exoskeleton the end of the abdomen remains inside the exoskeleton. The dragonfly then flips itself upward by a move that is similar to an upside down sit-up. It then grabs onto the lifeless exoskeleton, and pulls out the remainder of its abdomen. After a while it looks like this.

Dawn Dropwing emerging
The wings, when the dragonfly first emerges, are shriveled and opaque. The wings are pumped full of fluid to expand them, and when fully expanded, they harden and finally become transparent.

Dawn Dropwing emerging
Here's a different angle of the above.

Dawn Dropwing emerging
The young male Dawn Dropwing obelisking below looks similar to the female in colours. It takes several days before it assumes the guady colours of the adult males as in the very first picture.

Dawn Dropwing juvenile male

By the way, this water lily species (?a hybrid of Nymphaea nouchali) is doing very well in my pond. Here's a close up of its anthers.

Blue Water-lily
I conclude this post with an abstract of a male Dawn Dropwing that I photographed sometime ago. It doesn't show its real life colour though, which is why it is an abstract! I am looking forward for more captures of the adult showing its real life colours. The one shown at the very top was taken way back in the ancient history using a Nikon Coolpix 4500—my first digital camera that I got for digiscoping birds.

Dawn Dropwing


spookydragonfly said...

Amila...I thoroughly enjoyed your interpretation of the metamorphosis of the dragonfly, maybe you should consider writing a book?! Photos outstanding as usual. I know you try to let nature takes its(sometimes cruel)course, but I think even you would've saved that little life if possible! This bleeding heart of mine has to toughen up...thanks for thinking of me.

合田學 (上坂眞信)  said...


Good evening.
I admired your splendid photograph.
I felt the relationship of you and the dragonfly.
It is happiness of seeing splendid things.
I thank you.

Sunita Mohan said...

I got one of these ! I actually got one of these! No, not in my garden , but when I went gallivanting around Kerala, I visited this plantation home which had a big pond. Dragonfly heaven! I got a few photos of dragonflies which look exactly like this Dropwing. Lovely! Now I know what its called... thanks!

Kirigalpoththa said...

Brilliant post mate! I too consider you write a book and publish with your fascinating photos.. I have no doubt that some of your photos are good enough to be included in a front cover of a popular natural history book on any day...

ST said...

Ha, and here was me going to ask how the pond was doing!
No need now.
Fantastic series of emergence shots.

Sunita Mohan said...

And the water lily is lovely. Reminds me of some very fattening Bengali sweet:D

Larry said...

Congratulations on the success of your dragonfly pond. Great series of terrific photos.You would make a good science teacher.

Chrissy said...

I just love your photos, expecially that lovely pink dragonfly. What a beauty!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for reminding me about doing a book. Yes, I would surely do a book on dragonflies one day.

It is annoying when ants gang up to attack nymphs. I relocate them to safer spot when they are at the risk of being attacked and so far, it has worked. If they use the sticks that I have placed in the water, there’d be no encounters with ants. But they select the outer wall of the pond for emergence most of the time!

Hi PZ,
Thanks! It is always nice to hear from Japan. I see you are having a very good dragonfly season over there. Happy hunting!

Hi Sunita,
Thanks for your comments. Dawn Dropwing is quite unmistakable and I am sure that is what you saw at Kerala. I wasn’t so much hooked on dragonflies when I visited Kerala in 2002, so, I don’t remember seeing them there. I’d love to try that Begali Sweet!

Hi Ocean,
Good to have you back!
I look forward for your beautiful photos and posts from BC.
Thanks for remembering me on your come back.

Hi K,
I started photographing dragonflies in this manner in Sep, 2008 after getting my first dSLR – Canon 40D. I think I need some time before I accumulate a good enough collection of pics worthy of publication in print. Much of my early captures (I started chasing dragons in 2004) are ordinary. I think I will stick to calling you as ‘K’!

Hi ST,
Thanks! I have plenty of blogging fodder of dragonfly emergence captures. You will see the rest in due course.

Hi Larry,
Thanks! Nice to hear those comments.
I have deleted over 15 GB of dragonfly images to finally keep a few like these.

Hi Chriss,
Dawn dropwings are spectacular insects. I am not surprised you like that pink male. It is good at luring females.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Wonderful, wonderful! I'm sorry you had to experience the discomfort of swarms of mosquitos to get these photos, but THANK YOU! They are fascinating! Nature certainly makes a lot of changes in this insect from emergence to glorious adult specimen. I continue to find life simply amazing! Thanks for assisting me in seeing things I would never otherwise see. -- Best wishes, Pat in Arkansas

Redzlan aka Tabib said...

I enjoyed your beautiful Trithemis aurora, and the story of metamorphosis.
I feel like watching the National Geography documentary TV shows.
Thanks for sharing your incredible world of dragonfly.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks a lot!
Since I do not use a tripod, I had to hold the camera (with lens+ flash) PLUS a torch to illuminate the scene (headlamps simply won't work). Then of couse I had to compose the shot, get the focussing right and do the camera setting adjustments, (all done manually, btw) and press the shutter release while taking maximum measures to minimise camera shake. Imagine doing all this while swarms of mosquitoes are constantly at you taking advantage of your still nature? And sticky conditions did not help the course one bit!

I am happy to see your comments.

Hi Tabib,
Thank you!
The news of my dragonfly pond has spread in the dragonfly and damselfly circles. It is great fun to see new species arriving to check my pond. I had one Indian Rockdweller stopping by briefly the other day.

Unknown said...

This is an impressive series!! Love it!

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Lisa,
Thanks! Glad you think so.

oldcrow61 said...

Great information about the dragonflies. It seems that I'm always learning things from you. So happy to hear that your pond is doing well.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Amila: Love that red dragonfly and the rebirth is amazing.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi OC,
I am always happy to share the little that I know! I am quite pleased that my dragonfly pond worked.

Hi Tom,
Thanks! Watching their emergence is so interesting although photography is a pain.

Vickie said...

Gorgeous images and so interesting. I love dragonflies too and that first one is a true beauty. I am fascinated with your hard work on your pond and all the indepth study you are able to do with your observations and your lens. (You should start sketching in your spare time!)

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Vickie,
Thanks! Dragonflies are a very interesting group of insects to study. They make good photo subjects which is what got me interested in them at the first place.

I am hopeless at sketching. I always wanted to learn it! Your work is unbelievably good. Are you available in Skype? I'd love to speak to you to get some tips.

Doug Taron said...

Loves me some dawn dropwing (but you knew that). Thanks for a great series of photos.

Matt Latham said...

Stunning images and great narration - a very enjoyable read.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Doug,
Dawn Dropwings are conspicuous in my yard by their absence these days. I knew you'd like these pics.

Hi Matt,
Thank you!
Very good to hear from you! I had a brief look at your photostream and was blown away by the beauty of your images. Fantastic macro work!

I just added you to my burdgeoning blogroll and promise to be back.

flowergirl said...

Thanks Amila, this series is amazing. I didnt know thanks for the hard work and in similar climatic conditions, its very easy for me to empathise!!

Robby said...

My kids and I consider your blog to be the ultimate nature blog. We have been attempting to get some of dragonflies like the ones you have.

Amila Salgado said...

My pleasure, flowergirl!
I am sorry I got delayed to respond.

Dragonflies are 'good' distractions for us birders. I know you will pay more attention to dragonflies when you go wetland birding next.

Thanks a lot Robby!
Draonfly photography is so absorbing (literally too). I am pleased to know that you and the kids have been at it. Say hello to your budding naturalists!

Texas Travelers said...

I don't comment a lot, but this is also a great post and terrific photos.


Amila Salgado said...

Thank you, Texas Travelers!

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