Black-tailed Skimmers at lunchtime

Written by Lucy Brzoska

With parallel worlds evolving in the park, it’s amazing what can be happening by your elbow, unnoticed.

I’ve seen squirrels hanging upside down on the tree trunks, looking down at oblivious heads only inches away.  Or Black rats bursting out of the hedge, flying straight into a litter bin, while people chat or have lunch nearby, none the wiser. And the other day it was the Black-tailed Skimmers.

A pair were trying to mate in the wide expanse of the palace forecourt, getting pestered by a lone marauding male.   The couple finally found some peace and quiet on the stone balustrade that runs behind the semi circle of benches.

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You could clearly see the way the male folds the darkened tip of his flexible abdomen over the head of the female, to secure her in position.  Or the way the female uses four legs to hold onto her partner, while the third pair gets tucked right back, neatly out of the way.

Perhaps I disturbed them, because the Skimmers flew over to a flowering bush, next to a woman absorbed in her newspaper. The dragonflies, their green eyes like aviator goggles, held on tight, as the twig swung in the breeze.

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After separating, the female rested on the ground for a while.  Female Black-tailed Skimmers emerge into the world bright yellow, but with age can change colour.  This one had an indeterminate grey green shimmer.

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I saw her zipping over the ornamental fountain, dropping off eggs at a terrific speed.  The only pity is it wasn’t the pond, where chances of hatching are significantly higher.

A new generation of damselflies

Written by Lucy Brzoska

All round the pond, firmly stuck to the low concrete wall, were quantities of papery husks.  I immediately suspected what they might be, remembering the concentration of mating Western Willow Spreadwings (Lestes viridis) in the park last autumn.  It must have been a spectacular sight to see the nymphs emerge from the pond in such numbers and burst out of their unravelling skins.

One damselfly was still clinging to an exuvia, much smaller than itself. How could it fit inside?  Reading up, I found that once half out, they pause and inflate their wings and abdomen into shape with hemolymph, the insect equivalent of blood.

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Looking closely at one of the exuvia, it appears like a Mutoid Waste sculpture. The long “snout” is the labial mask, or lower lip, which the nymph flips open to grab passing prey.

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The nymphs do their work well. The two biology students who volunteer to keep algae levels at a  level acceptable for park authorities found no mosquito larvae in the pond at all.

After the mass metamorphosis, the damselflies had dispersed, but I did find one pristine young female clinging to a leaf.  Her wings had a pink shimmer and were still held close together, not at the 45 degree angle that gives the species its name.  With any luck, in a few weeks she would be laying eggs in the bamboo grove by the water’s edge.

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