Dear Readers, the blue damselflies are still flitting about the pond, but yesterday they were joined by these two large red damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). At first glimpse one might wonder what on earth they think they’re doing? However, as usual it all comes down to reproduction. The one on top is the male, and he is holding onto the female around the neck with some claspers at his tail end. He has mated with her, and she is trying to lay her eggs. Unfortunately, if another male comes along and muscles in on the act, the eggs that she lays will be fertilised by the interloper, not by the original partner. And so, he hangs on for grim death while she’s going about the business of launching the next generation.
The large red damselfly lays its eggs on floating vegetation, and the nymphs can take up to two years to reach maturity. They are not as large and ferocious as dragonfly larvae, so my tadpoles should be fine, but any little invertebrate critters had better watch out!
At one point a massive water skater approached the damselflies, no doubt aroused by all the commotion, and it looked to me as if the male yanked the female out of the water to safety. However, as she’s the same size as he is, I’m sure she had to cooperate.
It takes a lot of energy to stay in this position for any length of time, and I’m sure that it makes both male and female more vulnerable to predation, but I’m sure that it’s a worthwhile enterprise. They will only live for another day or so, but at least they will hopefully have surviving offspring to emerge on a spring morning in a couple of years’ time.
In other dragonfly-related news, a friend of mine found this beauty on her birdbath – she lives right beside Muswell Hill Playing Fields. This is a female broad-bodied chaser (Libellula depressa) – the males are bright blue, so it’s easy to tell the sexes.
The behaviour of this species rather reminds me of bird like the flycatcher – it will find a favourite, sunlit perch and return to it time and again, hawking for insects or, if it’s a male, flying out to chase off any rivals. The female is a bit too beefy to be clasped around the neck and so the male defends her when she’s laying her eggs by hovering near her. However, it could also be that this particular female has recently emerged, and is undergoing a period of maturation: newly emerged broad-bodied chasers can apparently spend 10-14 days away from the water, presumably learning how to hunt and avoiding the attention of males until they are mature enough to start egg-laying.
And, if there was ever an advert for having some water in your garden, the broad-bodied chaser is surely a good example. When my pond was first dug and filled in February 2010, I had no idea that in May I would be sitting beside it when a female of the species zipped into the garden and landed on my pendulous sedge. I could not believe that a creature that I had rarely seen in the wild had flown down the alley at the side of the house to find some water, and was now basking in the sun like some kind of tiny metallic goddess. Never was the phrase ‘if you build it, they will come’ more true. And the photograph of the female above shows that even a birdbath will do the trick!
And finally, today, I just wanted to see how we were all doing. Personally, I am still very up and down – I am frustrated that I still have no idea when we will be able to have a memorial service for Dad, I am missing my friends, and although the palaver of social distancing has become second nature to me, I fear that it is becoming a bit of an old story around these parts. What I don’t miss is the 6.30 a.m. commute, the sense of busy-ness for the sake of it, the crowds and the noise. Since the lockdown, I have walked out in nature pretty much every day. I have really noticed the comings and goings in the garden on a daily basis, and I have been around more to see the ephemeral visitors, like the damselflies and the blackcap on the playing fields. I am relaxing into the rhythm of the everyday, and it is good for my poor, battered old heart.
But how are you doing? What’s the state of the lockdown where you are? Have you been able to get what you need? What have been the good things, and what has caused you stress? I have been able to work, so I haven’t needed to worry about money, but I appreciate how lucky I am to be in that situation. My neighbours are lovely, but in other places that I’ve lived that hasn’t always been the case, and I can just imagine how disputes and problems can escalate when everyone is around, all the time, with no escape. We are all in the middle of a massive social experiment at the moment, and who knows what will have changed when we come out the other side?