Bugwoman is scuttling off to the West Country this weekend so this post is a day early.
Is it just me, or does this year seem to be powering past? No sooner have the flowers turned brown on the mountain ash than I notice the first red sparks flying above the pond. Large Red Damselflies are the first to breed, and on Sunday there were eight of them jousting above the water, their wings describing infinity signs in the warm air. I put down my tea and sat on the steps to watch. Things that seem simple are often complicated when I pay attention.
In the water, two damselflies were linked together. Once mating has taken place, the male grasps the female behind the head with the claspers at the end of his abdomen. He accompanies her everywhere, to prevent any other males from getting in on the act. This means that he sticks up from her thorax like a periscope. The female was bent almost double, her long abdomen probing below the leaves for the perfect spot to deposit each egg individually. She seemed intent on her task, focussed. There is a lot at stake – each damselfly nymph will take two whole years to grow to adulthood, and will face many dangers on the way. Making sure that the egg is placed so that it can at least avoid being eaten by water boatmen or pond skaters is the first challenge.
Around the pond, on the reeds and the Pendulous Sedge, other males were perched. Close up, I could see that they have red eyes, and their wings are folded alongside their body rather than at right angles like dragonflies. Every so often there was a great flurry of activity, with wings clashing and glinting in the sunlight. When a female appears, all the males try to grab her, but it seemed to me that any damselfly entering or leaving the fray was fair game, with some being released almost instantly. Whether females have a way of indicating that they’ve already been mated, I have no idea.
I looked again at my mating pair. They were still together. A breeze moved the leaf that the female was trying to use to provide cover for her egg, and she used her abdomen to draw it back again. There was a precision about the process, a kind of perfectionism. This was the damselfly’s only chance to get it right, and she seemed determined not to waste it.
After about half an hour, the female flew up to one of the reeds, with the male still attached. He stuck up from the leaf like a nail that needs to be knocked in. Then, he bent his body forwards onto the leaf, and gently released the female. The two of them rested for a few minutes, giving me a chance to see the difference between the sexes – a slightly plumper abdomen of the female is the main indicator. And then, the male flew up to join another mating foray, and I lost sight of him amidst all the bumping and diving.
Damselflies look so delicate, and yet they turned up at the pond within months of it being created. I know of no other large water bodies within half a mile of here, yet somehow they found my little watering hole. To anyone who is thinking about creating a pond, I would say, don’t hesitate – there is nothing in my garden that has attracted a greater variety of wildlife. I gave up my lawn to put in the pond, and have never regretted it.