Monday, May 25, 2009


Dragonfly: Common Baskettail (Male)
(Epitheca cynosura)

At some time after sunset on Saturday evening, the adolescent dragonflies of Lanark began to emerge from their watery childhood homes. Under the cover of velvet darkness, the nymphs climbed hopefully out of their streams and ponds and affixed themselves carefully to nearby saplings and twigs. Clinging to their new perches as though to lifelines, they breathed in the cool night air, and their spontaneous transformation into iridescent winged jewels of the summer highlands began.

The nymphs breathed in and out slowly (and mindfully) in their chosen places, and as they did so, their larval skins began to split under the pressure of their resonant breathing, newly fledged dragonflies climbing out of the old life forms into the clear night air like pale and fragile wraiths. For a while, the new adults (or tenerals) continued to cling to their chosen twigs and breathe deeply with their wings folded meditatively along their backs, their legs hardening slowly and their new wings becoming glossy and iridescent. Then, toward the end of the transformation, their wings unfolded and moved outward into the classic extended dragonfly posture which we know so well, and which distinguishes them from their exquisite damselfly kin.

At sunrise or a little later, the newborn dragonflies arose from their twigs and branches in glistening clouds and launched themselves skyward on their maiden flight. I wish I had been there - it is an event to be treasured and one to be remembered forever, this daybreak uprising which always seems to me like a song of praise or a doxology right from the heart, a ballad of unfettered freedom, transcendent joy and grace.

Most of the dragonflies filling the air over the Two Hundred Acre Wood yesterday were newly hatched clubtails of various sorts, and they did not pause in their airborne spirals long enough to be identified or photographed. This obliging creature, a male Common Baskettail, perched for just a moment among the wind-tossed brilliant green chokecherry leaves. Whatever the name, no dragonfly could ever be called common in my book.

There are miracles beyond counting in the Old Wild Mother's bag, and I often think She reserves her finest wonders for springtime and early summer. Here's to you Mama!

Note: It is always tempting to go into a complete description of a dragonfly's life cycle, but others have done it far better than I ever could, and they are certainly more qualified to do so than an elderly female with insatiable curiosity, notebook and camera. For a remarkable look at this dazzling creature, read: A Dazzle of Dragonflies by Forrest Lee Mitchell and James Lasswell. It's all there - prehistory, biology, life cycles, natural history, watching and collecting, creating dragonfly gardens and photography.


Cathy said...

Thank you for this!

I was just noticing that the dragonflys have appeared here in North Central MA, USA over the past few days. I love to watch them! They symbolize the start of summer for me.

I was not aware of their life cycle - I will read your suggested reference.

I would love to witness the emergence you described - someday...

Michele said...

Love this post, I, too, knew nothing about the life cycle of a dragonfly.