Damsels and dragons… but no prince

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She (Or maybe he. This is a modern fairly tale.) explored the lovely little pond from which s/he had recently emerged after having spent most of life underwater as a nymph.

Who would have guessed during that awkward adolescence, when growth spurts had him/her (speaking of awkward… let’s just stick with “her” from here on out for the same of simplicity, shall we?) literally jumping out of her skin a dozen times or so, that she would transform from an ugly duckling into a swan?

So… today was her debut. A coming out, of sorts, and the damsel flitted here and there, enjoying the warm sun shimmering and gleaming on her iridescent wings as she dipped down to the water now and again to daintily snack on mosquito larvae.

Once upon a time there was a damsel(fly). [Imagine, if you will, a bucolic Disneyesque soundtrack of flutes and piccolos in the background.]
 

nymph by Photo Munki, CCL

Not a care in the world.  Completely oblivious to…  [Cue the ominous bassoon music] …the looming presence of a dragon(fly) on the other shore.

Not that it mattered, really. [Can I have the flutes and piccolos back, please?]  Sure, the dragon(fly) was part of the Epiprocta clan, the damsel a Zygoptera, but they were both members of the Order . No family feuds that she knew of, and so closely related were they that many folks had trouble telling one from the other without assistance in the form of a handy reference table.

They were cousins, but not kissing cousins. True, their kind were known as having an unusual approach to romance, in which the male clasps the female behind her head with a special appendage on the tip of his abdomen and she loops her abdomen forward to pick up the spermatophore from a structure on his abdomen.

damselflies mating by Clifton Beard, CCL

I know, I know… it sounds kind of weird and kinky but trust me, it’s just hard to describe. When it’s right it’s a beautiful thing, especially when the couple forms a kind of heart with their entwined bodies [Everyone say “awwwww”].

But damsel(flies) and dragon(flies) aren’t the marrying kind. They’re independent and self-sufficient to a fault—a characteristic that starts in infancy. Good thing, too, because, to be perfectly honest, the adults are neglectful parents. Dad flies off with hardly a backward glance at the new mom-to-be, and she deposits her eggs in floating plants or directly into the water and then washes her (metaphorical) hands of the responsibilities of child-rearing.

The nymphs (aka naiads) hatch and, being carnivorous little monsters, begin feeding on mosquito larvae, daphnia, tadpoles, small fish, and sometimes each other. That happens among adults as well, although the jury’s still out on the subject of postcoital cannibalism, a not-uncommon behavior in the insect world. It’s enough to give a girl pause (although, for most insect species it’s the guy who needs to worry about fatal attractions).

odonata eyes

Whatever. Who needs a prince anyway? This is the 21st century and females of every stripe and species are all about DIY.  Locked up in a tower? Any modern, self-respecting damsel knows you simply pull out your smartphone, Google instructions for making a rope out of sheets, and then shimmy down to freedom.

Evil stepmother? Please. Dial the Child Abuse Hotline and tell that witch you’ll see her in court!

Face to face with a dragon? Reach for your trusty catch-pole or tranquilizer dart gun.

And live happily ever after.

© 2012 Next-Door Nature—no reprints without written permission from the author (I’d love for you to share my work; all you have to do is ask). Thanks to these photographers for making their work available through a Creative Commons license: [starting from the top]: Tomquah (cover damselfly); Photo munki (nymph… not the same species); Clifton Beard (mating damselflies); Ben McLeod (dragonfly eyes); and Charles Lam (damselfly eyes).

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey loves looking for wild things in all the wrong places... so she became an urban biologist. Her quest to entice others to share this passion led to flirtations with (gasp!) the media—as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle; as host of KUNM-FM’s Wild Things; as producer of an Emmy® winning wildlife documentary; and at her Next-Door Nature blog. Kieran has way too much fun as official Animal-Vehicle Biologist for NPR's Car Talk, and she isn’t ashamed to admit it.

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey loves looking for wild things in all the wrong places... so she became an urban biologist. Her quest to entice others to share this passion led to flirtations with (gasp!) the media—as a columnist for the Houston Chronicle; as host of KUNM-FM’s Wild Things; as producer of an Emmy® winning wildlife documentary; and at her Next-Door Nature blog. Kieran has way too much fun as official Animal-Vehicle Biologist for NPR's Car Talk, and she isn’t ashamed to admit it.

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Maria

Amazing, the “heart” shape, great detail on all the images.