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Dragonfly, or Not?

In Dragonflies and The Twisties, Austin Kleon writes about dragonflies.1 He links to a Washington Post article from 1989 by Henry Mitchell. It’s about gardening, and it contains the wonderful line (of the insects in question), ‘They are nothing but good and fair, a sufficient reason for summer to exist.’

Coincidentally, I was in the sitting room with the window open the other day, and one flew in. I’ve only seen them very occasionally in the wild, skimming along above a river or pond. I’ve always found them slightly disturbing, because they’re so big for an insect. It’s an echo of the utter revulsion I remember feeling in a biology lab back in my schooldays, where there were stick insects. Some people were happy to take them out and hold them, but I could barely stay in the room.

It’s borderline phobic, I realise: stick insects don’t even do anything, they just sit there being camouflaged and inoffensive. But there’s nothing we can do about that kind of gut reaction.

Except maybe allow time to pass. Back in the sitting room with the visiting dragonfly, I was surprised, but felt more fascination than revulsion. I closed the door so it wouldn’t go further into the house, opened the window wide, and waited to see if it would go out. There wasn’t much else I could do: even if it settled, it was much too big to catch under a glass to release outside, as I would a spider.

The pattern of its flight was strange and erratic-seeming. Very different from the flies, wasps, and moths that much more commonly come into houses. Something to do with those double wings and that long tail, maybe. It pootled around, approached the window a couple of times, without going for the open part, but didn’t bang itself against the glass as the smaller visitors do.

Once it rested up on the plaster moulding near the ceiling.

Eventually it flew towards the window again, found the opening, and was gone. It’s a short walk, and a shorter flight, down to the River Lea, its likely habitat round these parts. But I wonder what brought it all the way up here.

And now looking at the Wikipedia article, I wonder if it was actually a damselfly:

Dragonflies can be mistaken for the related group, damselflies (Zygoptera), which are similar in structure, though usually lighter in build; however, the wings of most dragonflies are held flat and away from the body, while damselflies hold their wings folded at rest, along or above the abdomen. Dragonflies are agile fliers, while damselflies have a weaker, fluttery flight.

I’m not sure how it held its wings when it rested, but that ‘weaker, fluttery flight’ does sound more like my interesting summer visitor.


  1. And also about the incredible Simone Biles. 

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