It’s that time of the year now when the dragonfly flies in formation. But, why now?
This is the time the ecological balance goes askew and the dragonfly appears to set it right. In a few weeks, the northeast monsoon will set. We are already seeing signs – hot, humid air. Such air is best for insects, too. As insects multiply, the ecological balance goes off.
We human beings contribute to this imbalance, too. We let drains fill up and allow water to stagnate. As the economy returns and construction begins, stagnant pools provide fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, too, which find happy hunting grounds in houses. As mosquitoes feast on human blood, they carry diseases like malaria and dengue, too.
Before the rains, civic workers do maintenance on rainwater drains, clean up the surroundings. They spray mosquito repellents on open water, spread lime on the streets. Dragonflies assist them, even if only unwittingly.
Dragonflies are our friendly predators. They feed on the insects that terrorize us. They live where mosquitoes live except that dragonflies roam around during the night whereas mosquitoes are night birds, er insects. When they rise and fly in formation, the transparent feathers on the dragonflies filter the light and add colour everywhere.
The dragonfly’s body has three parts: head, chest and tail that is also the stomach. Two protruding compound eyes, mouth and two antennae are prominent on the head. They help to detect food as the insects fly.
The dragonfly has six legs and four wings. The hairy legs spread out and form a basket during flight. The basket serves as a trap, entangling mosquitoes, houseflies, butterflies and so on. The legs provide its feast.
The dragonfly may look like a lowly insect but can beat the human automobile. It can fly at a speed of 70 km/hour to 90 km/hour and accelerate when it sees prey. The dragonfly can fly long distances, covering thousands of kilometers in its lifetime.
It’s for a reason that children call them helicopter. While airborne, the dragonfly can remain stationary, recceing the area for food. Just like the helicopter, it can swiftly turn around, too. But its flight mechanism is different from the helicopter that has a rotor rotating above its body. The dragonfly’s wings are narrow at the body and spread out in the periphery.
The dragonfly has been around forever, apparently. Nature has some 6,000 species of them, more than 500 in India.
The female dragonfly lays mosquitoes on water or on the sand near water. It also finds plants on water suited for carrying its eggs that hatch in a month in hot areas. In colder areas, the eggs hatch in some two to seven months.
The young dragonfly can’t fly. It has no wings.
The flightless dragonfly lives in water for five years. Then it takes wings, though for only a short time.
It’s time is getting over so nature gives the dragonfly one last hurrah. The dragonfly flies around, lays eggs and dies in two months.
The dragonfly’s life reminds us that nature has given us a purpose, a natural purpose. Our lifespan is limited, so are our flights of fancy. We remain on ground but rise up at times, perhaps not for long, and will soon go back to the ground. In its life, the dragonfly is remarkably useful. They are friends of humans.
For a reason the dragonfly is celebrated in Tamil Nadu. Our ancestors may have known their true value, it seems. A week before Deepavali, the dragonfly is celebrated in Murugan temples in villages during the Sooran festival.