Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Confusing Species...

There was this one afternoon when I came across so many differently coloured damselflies in the padi fields that I was just feeling surprised!

Are there really so many different species of damselflies here that I did not see till now?  Even if I eliminated the possibility of the male and female of a species having different colour forms, I still would have counted more than one species if they were different species at all?

These damselflies were so tiny.  And as it happened, it was rather breezy that afternoon that every blade of grass swayed in the hushest of breezes.  It made photographing them slightly difficult but not impossible.  What it needed was a bit more skills and definitely plenty of patience!

And as I have found out now, all those damselflies turned out to be of one single species after all...

What I have been talking about is the Agriocnemis femina of the family Coenagrionidae, which is one of the smallest species of damselflies that exist.  The hindwing length measures only 10mm and even the girth of its abdomen is just a fraction of that of the grass stem!



Never mind that it is the smallest species and you almost get cross-eyed trying to examine every feature with the naked eye, it is probably also one of the most confusing species for having so many different colour forms or colour changes with maturity and females being polymorphic as well.

Shown above is the mature male damselfly of this species with white pruinosity covering on its thorax, while captured below is a half-mature male of the same species.  You can see that the white pruinescence has not completely developed over its thorax and it has faint orange-reddish marking on the tip of the abdomen, similar to the full-grown adult male.



The next image shows an immature male having olive green markings on its thorax and with bright orange at the tip of its abdomen.  Besides it's small size, this orange marking is the only distinctive feature to differentiate it from the Ishnura senegalensis..



This damselfly that is almost all red is an immature female of the same species.  Its small size is a good differenting feature from other species.



And here's an adult female of the Agriocnemis femina.  Again, it is very similar to the Ischnura senegalensis, except for its tiny size.



All these photos were taken at a pond next to the padi fields.  This damselfly species breed in stagnant and slow-flowing water and is widespread in the Indo-Australian tropics.

What a day for Odonata identification!  For me, at least...



Sunday, 26 July 2009

A Tiny Visitor

On one of the days when I thought I would be stuck 'indoors' with work and would not have the chance for any jaunts in the outdoors, I had a visitor instead.  I was tending to some potted plants in the morning when this tiny dragonfly came by and perched on a basil leave right next to me.

You can imagine my surprise!  This is like, "Wow!"
I have only just ventured into the world of dragonflies and damselflies and as yet, have not seen such a tiny dragonfly before.  Damselflies, yes.  But a dragonfly this small?  The basil leave gives you a good comparison for size!

I stared at him and he stared back at me!  He seemed totally unfazed by me being so close to him.  After having had a good look to commit it to memory in case he flies off, I ran in, grabbed my camera and was certainly glad he was still resting there now that I am ready for his poses.

It looks like he had just had a morning meal, maybe?  And there is some leftover grub on his white face?  Or maybe it is just some dirt?  Still, he looked totally grand!  Later, he did clean up and did some grooming...

This is an immature male of the Diplacodes trivialis.  The hindwing length of the Diplacodes trivialis is 23mm.  It is of the family Libellulidae and is common in tropical Asia.  The adult male is a pruinose blue while the immature male has pale yellow markings.  The female is similar in markings to the immature male. 
The only way to tell the difference in gender is by looking at the abdomen.  The male bears accessory genitalia on the underside of the second segment (S2) and from the last segment (S10) would emerge anal appendages that differ from the female.

I remained there for a while, fascinated by this unexpected visitor.  After some time, I went back to my own work giving him the chance to stare at me for a change.

Little things do make big impacts!  And this tiny dragonfly has certainly made my day!

Friday, 24 July 2009


I had planned to go walking on a forest trail, which runs alongside a stream.  And I had hoped to find different species of dragonflies to add to the checklist.  As it turned out, these plans were meant to be changed!
After parking the car, I walked along the road that would lead me to the trail.  When I neared a tree, I could hear the familiar chirping of birds... of either the sunbirds or flowerpeckers?  I could never tell the difference as they both sound very similar to me, but I had always liked to watch them, so I stopped for a look. 
There were quite a number of birds on that tree.  Instead of dragonflies, I ended up with photos of these birds...

A Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker with a cherry in its grasp...

Another Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker feeding on a cherry...

An Orange-bellied Flowerpecker feeding away...

Another Orange-bellied Flowerpecker... decisions, decisions... which cherry is sweeter?

A female Orange-bellied Flowerpecker eyeing a juicy cherry...

This tree, the Muntingia calabura, or Cherry Tree, is named for its sweet fruit that is full of tiny seeds, which is a favourite for birds, bats, kids... and me!  And there were lots of these sweet, delicious, red, ripe, juicy cherries on that tree waiting to be picked.  I would have helped myself to some but I did not want to disturb the birds and scare them away.
Those birds were initially a bit restless with me standing there and they kept flying back and forth to another tree and then back again.  After a while, sensing that I am just standing there and not doing any harm to them, the birds happily went back to their feeding frenzy.
Yummy cherries!

Ischnura senegalensis

This is one of the first damselflies I came across in the padi fields. 

It is the Ischnura senegalensis, of the family Coenagrionidae, and is sometimes referred to as the Senegal Bluetail or Common Bluetail because of the bright blue marking at the tip of its abdomen.

This species is common and often found in disturbed, open habitats including still and slowly flowing water.
It is very small in size.  And certainly tiny compared to the robust-looking dragonflies you usually see zapping around. 

To give you an idea, the hindwing length is 15mm for this damselfly.  The wings seem so delicate and the venation simply intricate.  Yes, it is hard to imagine something can be so tiny and yet have so many patterns and colours on it.

Female damselflies of this species are polymorphic in that they have different colour forms from the male, specifically olive and orange forms.  In addition, there is also an andromorph form like the male.
Mother Nature is truly amazing with her creations!

Ischnura senegalensis, female, olive form

Ischnura senegalensis, female, orange form

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A Plea for Nature...

Every time I am in the outdoors, nature would always amaze me and energize me and heal me.

And yet, humans have caused so much destruction to nature.  Forests are cut down and with it carbon sinks disappear, habitats are destroyed, species become lost forever.  Earth is defaced!  All in the name of development and all because of greed. 

Why do humans keep wanting more and more of everything we already have?

We need to protect and save what is left of the forests in the world.  We need to act now.  We need to be aware of our impact on nature and make the effort to reduce our carbon footprint.  Say 'no' to plastic bags and styrofoam packs, reduce our consumption of electricity, of water and paper, of unnecessary consumer items, reduce wastage, especially of food.  Become an advocate for the environment!

Nature is so beautiful and splendid.  But in the human race to want more and have more, we have taken it for granted and are destroying the one thing on earth that we should appreciate and protect the most.

This is a plea to you to make the effort to 'go green' for the environment and for yourself.  Even a little effort goes a long way.

Just think about this...  With nature destroyed and with all the carbon emissions we create, there will come a day when the air is so badly polluted that we can't breathe it in anymore.  Water sources will be gone and streams so contaminated we can't drink from it anymore.

And we would have to live in a bubble.

Where, then, would all the dragonflies go?


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

At The Jetty

Several days ago, instead of heading towards the Laman Padi again, I thought I should check out a different place instead.  As usual, I went with how I feel whether to take a right turn or a left somewhere.

This time, it led me to where a small river flows into the sea.  I decided to stop at a fishing jetty, which I have driven past many times before but had never once stopped for a look.

I parked on the road shoulder and started walking along the road to check the place out.  Even if I did not see any dragonflies, I would have ended up with a few photos showing how scenic this island can be.  And wooden jetties are so very much a part of Langkawi.

I spotted a male Crocothemis servilia almost immediately.  The males of this species are such bright red, they are almost always the first thing you see almost everywhere because they are also quite common.
I saw a few females of the same species flying around too.  And after that, I noticed there were lots and lots of dragonflies up in the sky ahead of me.  There must be a lot of insects in the air that afternoon?

Now I am excited.  Will I find something new today?

And even if I don't, I could still get a few good photos of the red dragonflies.  At least then the background won't be padi grass again like in so many of the photos that I already have.  Yes, it is funny!
Once I got closer, the few dragonflies that are perched on the bushes confirmed it to be the same species as before, probably all of them.  But, wait, when I looked up again, there is this dragonfly that's practically fluttering around like a butterfly among all the other dragonflies that are zapping around!

I followed it for a while and it finally came to perch on the Chromolaena bush.

A Rhyothemis phyllis of the Libellulidae family.  It is very distinctive with the brown and yellow bars at the base of its hindwings.  And the hindwings are also very broad.  Both wings have beautiful markings on them.  Among other places, this species breeds in slightly brackish water.  And it is widespread throughout tropical Asia.

So here is another dragonfly added to the checklist!

This must be my lucky day!  I have seen photos of this exotic looking dragonfly before but had never thought I would actually see one and, actually, even photograph it!

This is certainly a beautiful day!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Another Red Dragonfly!

The Orthetrum chrysis that started me off on this quest to compile the checklist of dragonflies of Langkawi is not the only species of red dragonfly that exist.  There are many, many more!

And as I had mentioned before, the male of the Crocothemis servilia is red.  Now, I do mean really, really red.  Not just the thorax and abdomen, but the eyes and face too.  Here's looking at one of the good looking males of the Crocothemis servilia...

In the beginning, all red dragonflies were exactly that.  Red dragonflies.  They had all looked pretty much the same to me too.  And especially when what you could see with the naked eye is only a red dragonfly zapping past you.  How do you tell them apart?  How do you differentiate between the species?  I did not know any better then.

And to tell you the truth, when I first looked into the Pocket Guide and attempted to identify that first red dragonfly, I was stumped!  Totally stumped!

I had to put in an order for the book and have not had the chance to browse through it at the bookstore to know what to expect.  When I finally got the little book, I got home, turned the pages and, being as naive as I could be, had thought that I would be able to pick out and identify that red dragonfly just like that.  Yes, it seems funny now!  But, over that first hour of poring through the pages of the Pocket Guide, I became even more confused.  I was overwhelmed by it all.

Now I really am lost!  Which species is that red dragonfly?  It could be this and it could even be that!
So I had to go right back to the beginning and start all over again.  I read the chapter on "Introduction", slowly and thoroughly.  Then I looked into structures and features and kept going back again and again to the first chapter for references.

I had not studied biology.  Or botany, zoology, ecology or anything like that.  And I had never ever dissected anything at Science class in school.  So you can imagine all the new anatomical terms I had to digest.  But I am not giving up on this project!  I looked for more stuff online.  I went through anything and everything I could find and I devoured them.  Initially, it was all mumbo jumbo but it is all making more sense to me now.

These days, I am intent on taking a good look at every dragonfly I come across.  And, mind you, not just the red ones!  I am slowly learning to see the few differences between the species.  Although it often requires some close scrutiny to identify them, it is now sometimes possible to pick out some of the common species almost immediately.  Particularly when I keep going back to the same places and seeing the same species of dragonflies over and over again.  It is all a learning process.  It is a journey.

And, without fail, these dragonflies still have me looking at them in awe...

Friday, 17 July 2009

A Favourite Haunt

Laman Padi, or Rice Museum, is actually quite a fascinating place.

Here, you will find a museum showcasing traditional methods, tools and equipment used for padi planting, harvesting and processing of padi into rice, which is what we see sold in shops.  The museum itself is surrounded by "mini" padi fields with different varieties of rice being grown and in different stages of planting from freshly ploughed fields to newly sown seedlings to full grown padi stalks, waiting to be harvested.

This place is of interest to me because there are lots of ponds and large water areas.  A habitat for many species of dragonflies!  To add to that, it is only 5 minutes from home.  Sweet! 

As soon as you get to the edge of the ponds and padi fields, you will be greeted by many dragonflies zapping to the left and right of you all the time.  I have made many visits here and captured many images of different dragonfly species in this place.  These are mainly species common in open, degraded, disturbed habitats, agricultural lands and padi fields. 

Still, they are dragonflies.  

As with butterflies, birds and even fishes, dragonflies are also indicators of the state or health of the environment.  You see only certain species in disturbed areas.  You see other, sometimes rare, species in areas still in pristine conditions, still untouched and undisturbed.  That tells us a lot, isn't it?

This is the Crocothemis servilia of the family Libellulidae.  It is a common dragonfly species in this region.  There are lots of them at the Laman Padi.  A.G. Orr's Pocket Guide explains that this species is "...common in disturbed open habitats and agricultural land, especially padi."
The female of this species is differentiated by its light brown colour.  The male is red.  When this image was captured, it was midday.  And it certainly was a very hot day.
This female is in an obelisk position to avoid over-heating.  She is trying to cool down.

Here I am, looking at all these dragonflies from up close for the first time, through my "camera lens".  Even the most common dragonfly is a thing of beauty!
It gives me an adrenaline rush each time.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

A Damselfly Instead

Yesterday, I went to the Seven Wells Waterfalls.

Not to take a dip in the nice, cold water and get drenched in the waterfalls but to just sit there and be mesmerized by the thunderous falls and, just maybe, find a dragonfly or two.

I live in Langkawi.  Yet, it has been almost two years since I last visited this place. 

I know... it is insane, isn't it? 

It is barely a 30-minute drive from home and then only a 5-minute walk uphill from the parking area and another 5 minutes along the walkpath to the waterfalls.  To think that a lot of people actually drive longer distances and take more time to get anywhere. 

Anyway, there has been a lot of rain the last two days and I knew there would be a lot of water and it would be really beautiful.  So I did want to see the waterfalls... again!

There were quite a number of people there, which didn't please me much because it means there would also be quite some rubbish thrown around and there would always be somebody wanting to feed the monkeys.  There should be a signboard to tell people not to litter and not to feed the wildlife and that a fine will be imposed.  And there should be somebody posted there from the City Council or the Wildlife Department just to sit there and seriously impose a huge fine on these people so we could have a cleaner place, the monkeys don't get to eat junk food and at the same time, these local councils and departments would have more money in their coffers!  But, no, they don't want to pay somebody to do that.  They would rather have people just throw rubbish everywhere and let the monkeys have a field day.  To all those people who leave rubbish around... shame on you!

Anyway, I soon found myself a nice spot away from the crowd and sat down. 

And I let myself be absorbed by nature... by the sounds of the thunderous waterfalls, the winds from the rushing, crashing waters and the mists of tiny droplets brushing my face.

It is truly great to be close to nature.

Research has actually shown that people who are into nature are generally healthier in the mind, body and spirit.  And I, for one, know that I need to be with nature every so often to keep my sanity.  So, perhaps, I'm not insane after all?

I sat there for a while, enjoying the moment and at the same time looking out for any dragonflies or insects that would come my way.

None did.

Time passes quickly when you're all absorbed in another world.  Over an hour later, I finally got up to go and that was when I noticed a tiny movement among the rocks and bushes, on the banks next to the waterfalls... near where I had been sitting.

A damselfly had decided to flitter by.

This damselfly is beautiful! 

The Heliocypha biforata is from the Chlorocyphidae family and is found where there is clear, running water.  The Chlorocyphidae family of damselflies are often very colourful and they are small stout species with wings usually longer than the abdomen.  According to the Pocket Guide, this damselfly is widespread in mainland tropical Asia and identification is obvious due to the magenta marks on the thorax.

I must point out here, though, that I am a bit confused with the identification of this species.  When I cross-referenced this species from the Pocket Guide to the Asia Dragonfly website, it is identified there as the Rhinocypha biforata.  I haven't dug deeper into this yet but if anyone can tell me why, it would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, this is the first time I am seeing this damselfly.  I am happy!

P/S: Thanks to C.Y. Choong.  He explained that this species was initially classified in the genus Rhinocypha but has since been reclassified in the genus Heliocypha.  Currently, this species is accepted as Heliocypha biforata.  (Updated: 17-Aug-2009)

That Red Dragonfly

It all started with that red dragonfly; and here's the story...

On a nice day in early March, I had just finished work and was going home for lunch. As I was about to drive off, out of the blue, a few red dragonflies flew over and were zapping around near the front of my car.  I sat there and just watched them.  After a bit, I killed the engine, grabbed my camera and got out.

And they all scattered away...

There I was, standing there with my camera in hand, all ready to shoot, and my subjects are gone!  I was getting hungry, but food can wait.  All I wanted to do was to photograph these amazing creatures.  And so I waited.

Gradually, the dragonflies started coming back, they hovered around me, sometimes even quite close to me.  To check me out, I suppose?

I waited and I waited and I waited.  I stood there and waited, I squatted over the shallow drain and waited.  They zapped in front of me, they perched on some twigs, on the ground... literally flying everywhere around me.  You could just imagine the big smile on my face.

After a while, the dragonflies got used to me being there and started resting closer to me.  That's when I started snapping.  My first attempt at dragonfly photos! 

This went on for about 40 minutes before I finally decided I am satisfied with what I have and I am also really hungry now.  In that span of time, I took only about twelve shots.  I think it was a habit with an SLR; always wanting to save an exposure for that special shot such that I was not trigger happy even with the digital camera.  This is still quite new to me.  Anyway, from that dozen, I junked a few shots and was really stumped by one particular image.

By the beauty of the dragonfly staring right back at me.

This dragonfly is an Orthethrum species of the Libellulidae family.

Libellulidae has the largest dragonfly family in the world and comprise mostly of skimmers or perchers, as they are called.  They are common in many places and are easily identified by the distinctly broadened abdomen.  They also spend more time resting, which makes it easier to capture them "on film". 
The species is commonly found on lakes, ponds and marshes in open situations and is widespread in tropical Asia.

Anyway, for the whole day after that and for the next several days, all I could think of was "Wow!  That's it!  I want to photograph and list all the dragonfly species in Langkawi!"

Monday, 13 July 2009

Odonata of Langkawi

It has been over three months since I took that first dragonfly photo.

Since then, I have taken many more photos of dragonflies and damselflies and learned lots, lots more about them.  And I am still learning.

During this time, I came across C.Y. Choong's blog, "Odonata of Peninsular Malaysia", and started reading and learning from him through his blog.  From here, I found the link to Asia Dragonfly and later, also bought "A Pocket Guide: Dragonflies of Peninsular Malaysia & Singapore" by A.G. Orr, and have since found many other links for references.

I am now ready for more.

The term dragonfly is often used generally to refer to both dragonflies and damselflies.  These insects belong to the order Odonata.  There are two main suborders in Odonata: Zygoptera (damselflies) and Anisoptera (dragonflies), and a third suborder, a very small group which is almost extinct, called Anisozygoptera
The name Odonata actually refers to the large teeth-like mandibles of both the larva and adult of these creatures.

To differentiate between the two, damselflies are generally very slender while dragonflies are stouter, stronger-flying insects.  As for their forewings and hindwings, they are similar in shape and venation for the damselflies and commonly held closed above the body.  With the dragonflies, however, these wings are more or less dissimilar and commonly held spread out when they are at rest.

To date, I have managed to put a few names to the dragonfly and damselfly species I have captured on digital images.  If you are an odonatist and you do see an error in the identification of species, I sincerely hope you would point it out to me so I could correct it.  I would be happy to learn from you.

I hope to start compiling the checklist for "Odonata of Langkawi" soon.  And I have a few months of catching up to do on what I've got thus far...

Wish me luck!

How it all started...

I have always been fascinated by dragonflies... for as long as I can remember.  

I do not really know why.  Maybe, as a child, watching the dragonflies zap around in high speed had me in awe.  And I could never get close enough to take a real good look at it or to be able to pick one up.  So that added to the amazement of it all.  And, for some reason, whenever I see dragonflies, I would feel happy. 
These dragonflies never fail to bring a smile to my face.

Anyway, I started taking a few nature photos in the late 1990's.  Back then, I had only an SLR camera, one of the Canon EOS models.  But in recent years, I have not been taking too many pictures of anything because it was inconvenient.

The inconvenience of buying the films and later, getting them developed.  When I moved to Langkawi several years ago, there were a limited number of print shops in town. 

And each time you go get the films, you had to decide whether 24 exp or 36 exp?  Or maybe 12 exp?  Who is to know how many photos I am going to take?  And whenever I don't finish the whole roll of film in one go, I never know when I'll be taking more photos and when will I get them developed?  I did not want to waste the unused films.  So it sometimes sits there for months and months before I finally get it to the shop.
By then, you could never remember exactly what photos you have taken.  Sometimes you get a few disappointments because you thought you had taken a good photo of some insect or the sunset or something and it didn't turn out as good.  And sometimes, you get a few surprises, which is always great!

Those compact "point and shoot" digital cameras that are easily affordable, had never appealed to me.  They may have more standard features than the Canon EOS 300 but...  And I had always liked the shutter sound you get when you took a shot.  So I stuck to my SLR and took less and less photos of anything.

One day, I got tired of lugging around the SLR and lens whenever you're travelling.  It can be quite a bulky load when the amount of space in your hand luggage is precious.  So I started thinking maybe I should get a compact digital camera after all.

And yet...  I love my 100-300mm zoom and wouldn't be willing to spend a huge sum of money on a good DSLR and a set of zoom to go.  I did not consider myself a serious enough photographer to want to spend all that money on the whole set up and then maybe leaving it to rot.

Later, I started talking to a few photographers I'd met.  An acquaintance mentioned the Panasonic Lumix with 18x zoom.  He does wildlife photography and still has his SLR but seldom use it these days.  As he says, he has "converted", unless he is on a "photography expedition".

That started me on a quest to look for a digital camera that would have the zoom capabilities I wanted and not burn a big hole in my pockets.  It took me a few months of searching and checking things out.  I thought I had decided on the Panasonic Lumix; and then I was being fickle and thought maybe, just maybe, I should just spend a bomb on a complete set of DSLR and lens and be done with.  But this would mean I am back to square one with lugging them everywhere! 

Anyway, I finally bought one of the newer Canons early this year.  A Powershot.  Finally.

Took me a bit of time figuring things out.  Yes, I am a late starter when it comes to digital camera technology!  But I now carry my camera with me almost everywhere.

So there was this one day when I was sitting in my car and was about to drive off when I saw...  dragonflies!

Out came the camera.

Of the dozen or so shots I took of the dragonflies, three turned out great!  And one particular shot was just amazing... to me!

So... now I am really hooked!
...on dragonflies!