Encounter with a dragonfly

Here in Northern Ireland there aren’t many exotic bugs going around, so it was with surprise that I noticed this little critter sitting on the pavement during a Saturday morning walk. It is, of course, a dragonfly. I haven’t seen many in my lifetime, and never one this big (take a look at my thumb for an idea of scale). At first I thought it was dead, but on closer inspection I spotted the occasional tiny movement on its head.

I decided to go home and return with a camera. Five minutes later I was back on the scene, expecting the bug to be gone. It was still there; something must have been very wrong with it. My only other experience with bugs was encountering a bumble bee that had run out of steam; it was walking along the pavement, unable to fly. I fed it a bit of half-chewed apple, and watched with fascination as its little proboscis came out and sucked up the fuel, after which it took off. I tried the same tactic with the dragonfly, not knowing anything about its diet. Although the photo shows it on the apple, it is merely sitting there, completely disinterested. On closer inspection, I noticed it had mandibles similar to a caterpillar, so I went home a second time and came back with a spinach leaf from my fridge. Again, I found the dragonfly exactly where I had deposited it. It showed no interest in the leaf whatsoever.

At one one point, when I was on my knees on the pavement, with my head close to the ground and my butt in the air, and my bike lying next to me, two older women stopped their car next to me. I thought they were looking for directions, but when I approached, one of them said (with a look of grave concern), “Are you all right? Did you fall off your bicycle?”

I had a brainwave. I remembered witnessing massive dragonflies on a holiday to Majorca when I was eleven; so they thrive in the heat, I supposed. Maybe this guy was just plain cold. So, after getting the fly to crawl onto the leaf, I carried it over to a nearby copse of trees. It was much warmer in there, and sheltered from the wind. No sooner had I put the bug down than it started walking about and flexing its wings, clearly much more comfortable. And that was that. Diagnosis correct.

Afterwards, I did a little research on dragonflies. This from Wikipedia: “The life cycle of the dragonfly, from egg to death of adult, varies from six months to as much as six or seven years. Female dragonflies lay eggs in or near water, often in or on floating or emergent plants. Most of the life cycle is spent in the larval (nymph) form, beneath the water surface, using internal gills to breathe, and catching other invertebrates or even vertebrates such as tadpoles and fish. In the adult (flying) stage, larger species of dragonfly can live as long as four months.” (Read full article.) What a cool creature! Reminds me a bit of TV’s Invasion. The species I found is called the Libellula quadrimaculata or Four-spotted Chaser. Turns out it’s one of the commonest dragonflies in Ireland after all. Still, it’s new to me, and it was a great photo opportunity.

Maybe you think it’s weird that I should invest so much time in a tiny insect. Well, if you’ll permit me to go a little spiritual on you: the whole animal kingdom, large and small, is wonderfully diverse and complex and beautiful. And it’s a reflection of God’s creative power. I love it. Think about that the next time you’re about to put your foot on a spider.

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