A damsel in distress

A damsel in distress

This blog relates a remarkable natural drama which we saw unfold recently, at Ladyfield Farm in Argyll (about which you can read more here).  

We were watching the delightful and delicate Emerald Damselflies on the pond.  Unlike the darters and chasers, which profligately scatter their eggs over the surface of the pond, damselflies take great care when laying their eggs.  Once they have paired-up, the male and female fly around in tandem, the male holding the female firmly behind the head with his clasper. They alight on a stem and slowly reverse to the water’s surface.  There the female lowers her abdomen into the water to lay her eggs. On her ovipositor, she has a small blade-like device for cutting slits in the plant stems, into which she inserts the eggs.  I had read that she will sometimes immerse herself completely in order to access the lower stems, while the male continues to hold onto her.  

The male and female in tandem reversing down the plant stem until she is entirely submerged while egg-laying © WildSmiths

Three’s a crowd
It was this interesting behaviour that we were watching when the most astonishing thing happened.  With the female fully immersed, and her partner with only his head and wings on the surface, the latter suddenly rushed up the stem pulling the female out behind him. And there, clinging onto the female for all it was worth, was a water boatman.  

I am sure that you will be familiar with the water boatman: they are a species of water bug, frequently to be seen swimming around upside down on the undersurface of a pond. Well, what you may not have known is that the water boatman is a voracious predator and this one had spotted a meal and was not going to let it go lightly.  

Three’s a crowd! © WildSmiths

here followed a colossal tug-of-war: with male damselfly reluctant to give up his bride, water boatman desperate for his lunch, and the poor female stuck between the two.  The damselflies were both flapping their wings frantically, but couldn’t fly off under the weight, however they did scoot up the stem, further discomfiting the water bug.  But the stem then bowed over under the combined weight of the three insects, lowering the water boatman back into his natural element, where he was able to paddle hard. By this stage all three creatures were now submerged. After some further struggles, the male damselfly was forced to release his prize.  We watched as the water boatman swam down into the depths with the frantic damselfly’s wings still flapping furiously, while her former suitor flew off in search of a new bride…

The sole survivor… © WildSmiths

We managed to video the three minutes of action and will try to get it edited and uploaded at some stage.  In the meantime, I hope the pictures give a sense of the drama. Don’t have nightmares!

August 2020


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