It is great to see wildlife in the garden, but to see them actually doing things is even better, and dragonflies over a garden pond allow you to observe all sorts of fascinating behaviour at close range.
Of late, it is the Common Darters that have been providing much of the entertainment over my pond as they dance in pairs, and so I set myself the challenge of recording some of their moves.
Up to six or seven males have been hanging out there each day, mainly from about 10am to 3pm, each choosing favourite perches on the beach areas or on prominent perches at the water's edge. Should they spot another male zooming out over the water, they dash off for a quick ‘contra temps’ in a flash of aerial sparring.
But what they're really waiting for is a mature female to make her entrance, all fired up and ready to lay eggs.
It takes very little time for a lucky male to spot her, and he leaps in, grabbing her in flight and claiming her by holding her with his tail claspers just behind her head.
The pair then retire to a bush or stem a little way back from the pond in order to mate. But there's a problem - male dragonflies produce their sperm in reproductive organs near the tip of their tail, but there is no way he can now release sperm from there and hold onto his female at the same time. Fortunately, he has come prepared! He has already transferred a little packet of sperm into a special cavity on his stomach, and so the female bends her tail around to allow him to transfer it. It is called the wheel position.
This takes a couple of minutes, and once the package is safely passed over and the eggs are fertilised, it's Show Dance time!
Unwound from their wheel position, they head out over the pond, and begin to pogo, bouncing up and down so that the tip of the female's abdomen just touches the water.
Each time, she releases a little mass of eggs.
You'll be interested to know in fine Strictly fashion that it is thought the male leads the female through this dance, swaying her beneath him so she can expertly tickle the surface.
With that, the dance is done, and all parental duties are over. Eggs laid at this time of year won't hatch until Spring, turning into underwater nymphs and emerging as adults next Autumn. It will be another year before we see this new batch of dragonfly dancers in time for Strictly 2019!
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