Saturday, September 02, 2006

A few more thoughts on dragonflies

Since I posted yesterday, I found the name of the dragonfly photographer: Charmaine K. I hope she will not mind me using her wonderful photos here.

Glittering blues and greens. Opal. Blood red. Ultramarine. No wonder dragonflies are talismans of summer, one of the few insects we welcome unreservedly to the season of exposed skin.

Greybacks, clubtails, darners, biddies, and skimmers. Their names are poetry. Popular names are even more evocative. Water maidens. Demoiselles. Horse stingers. Mosquito hawks. Devil's darning needles. Snake doctors.

Forwards, backwards, straight up or down. Zip. Spin. Stop on a dime. The center of gravity lies just below the base of the wings, with helicopter balance. Opposite wings are connected by strong flight muscles, as far as I know an exclusive among insects. The two pairs of wings operate independently. A big dragonfly can reach an air speed of 60 miles per hour.

Silverfish are the most ancient insects that survive more or less unchanged into the present. Cockroaches and dragonflies are almost as old. Of these living fossils only the dragonflies are an unmitigated boon to humans. They use their netted legs like shopping carts and can gather up a hundred mosquitoes at a time. Iridescent exterminators.