|Male Broad Scarlet
The ponds are full of life at the nature reserves. Flashes of deep scarlet, emerald greens and dazzling blues glimmer in the mid-morning sun. They aren’t tiny helicopters (as some visiting kids labelled them), but the buzz of frittering wings can mean only one thing; the dragonflies have emerged. The showiest are the Broad Scarlets, whose squat, thick bodies dart about tirelessly. They are bright red all over, from the narrowest tip of the tail up to bulbous alien-like eyes. Even the base of the delicate clear wings is orange, as if the red has over spilled and dyed them.
There are others species also present. The medium sized Black tailed Skimmer also visits Simar Nature reserve, with their thick blue abdomen with black tip. When this dragonfly rests whilst perching on a stick or piece of reed, you can observe a black point to each of the two pairs of wings, as if the skimmer has flown too low over ink and brushed them. My favourite species at Simar is the Island Bluetail. These dainty damselflies are much smaller and more delicate than the aforementioned dragonflies. In fact, they are so slender that they can appear almost invisible in flight, but they are revealed by a bright blue tail spot that seems to glow in the sun. It is though you are watching levitating orbs of dazzling blue, but look carefully at the body and you see fine greens and blacks.
When the dragonflies and damselflies zoom around, many can be observed flying low over the water, curling their bodies downwards and dipping the tip of their abdomen in the water; they are actually laying eggs. When the larva hatches, they will spend time exclusively in water feeding on small invertebrates. Many species are mating at this time of year; with both male and females locked to each other via the neck and thorax. They indulge in aerial acrobatics flying in this formation!
The ponds may be beautiful, and brimming with life to come, but danger is also here; danger from the skies in the shadow of the Emperor Dragonfly. One of the largest in Europe, its sheer size is impressive enough, but its azure colour and huge green eyes make it a spectacular insect. This formidable hunter preys on smaller dragonflies. When one appears at the pond, aerial warfare is commenced, as the Emperor chases down the others in a breathless display. One by one, the small Scarlets and Skimmers will hide away by perching, until the Emperor loses interest and trieshis luck elsewhere. Danger also lurks from the ground, as Chameleons sit in camouflage at the water’s edge, watching and waiting. They tend to visit water sources in summer, where dragonflies can be relied upon for a nutritious snack. At Simar, we were alerted to sound of soft crunch, only to find a chameleon with a Broad Scarlet in its mouth. Clutching the reeds, the chameleon dropped the dead dragonfly by mistake in the fresh water below. Realising its error, the reptile climbed down with great care towards the floating insect. Within several inches, it slowly opened its mouth, extended its long elastic tongue, and retrieved it in a flash. Bon appetite!
With damsels, dragons and Emperors at Simar, you might assume you’d stumbled on a fairytale. In actual fact, it’s just another day at the pond…
Tom Hendry is the Assistant Warden for BirdLife Malta
Photos by Ray Vella