Sunday, 31 January 2010

Catch Of The Day!

Everything was still and quiet at the pond when I got there this morning but as soon as the sun breaks through over the hills, the surroundings came alive.

A sudden movement among the grasses caught my attention. 

It was a dragonfly that had gotten itself caught in a spider's web and was struggling frantically to get away.  The spider was very quick to start spinning its silk rapidly around one of the dragonfly's wings to subdue it.



At first, the dragonfly struggled and tried to fly and it kept trying to break free, but the spider's hold on it was strong.  The spider held on to the wing and kept spinning its silk around it relentlessly until it was certain the dragonfly would not be going anywhere.  After a while, having expended its energy, the dragonfly gave up and accepted its fate. 



It was a young, immature Diplacodes trivialis that had fallen prey to the spider.  It will not see the next day-break but the spider is now assured of a meal and its continued existence.



Saturday, 30 January 2010

Libellulidae - Acisoma panorpoides

Platycnemididae - Copera ciliata

White Legs

I decided to do a bit of exploring early this morning before getting to work and did not come back disappointed.

Spotted the Copera ciliata of the family Platycnemididae today. 

Initially, what I noticed was a small blurry whitish blob that was moving around rather stealthily, almost like a ghostly shadow, and I could vaguely see the tail or abdomen to realise it was a damselfly but I couldn't figure out what it was.  So I followed it.  When it finally perched and I zoomed in and saw it close-up for the first time, it was a nice surprise to see another species of damselfly that is new to me. 

This damselfly is dainty, it is beautiful and it looks rather unique because of the white legs.



The Pocket Guide describes this species as having clear white bands on the thorax but I thought what I saw was more of a blueish tint on this damselfly.



This species is widespread in tropical Asia.



Thursday, 28 January 2010

Calopterygidae - Vestalis gracilis

January 2010: Am still on the big debate whether it is the V. gracilis, V. amoena or the V. amethystina?
Having taken more recent photos, I'm thinking more towards V. amoena...
But until I can confirm it for sure, I guess the species identification for this damselfly is still pending.

12 APRIL 2011: ID confirmed to be the Vestalis gracilis thanks to our Odonatologist in Malaysia, C.Y. Choong.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Three Damselflies

Don't you just love them!

Sometimes these dragonflies and damselflies do test your patience as they flutter about and buzz around and won't even let you get near, much less stay still for you to take a photograph.  And sometimes they would just pose so sweetly for you!

Came across this trio of Heliocypha biforata, a male and two females, perched on a twig.



Although they did not just sit there the whole time and pose for me and one or the other would fly away and come back to the same perch, they did give me this photo opportunity and I did manage to get this one shot of all three damselflies in a row.

How often would this happen?



Monday, 25 January 2010

Libellulidae - Orthetrum testaceum

Orthetrum testaceum In Wheel And Ovipositing

I am at a lost.....  well, actually, I am lost for choice!

And that is because even as I start writing this, I have not decided as yet on which odonate species to write about.  There are so many different species I could write about and so many thoughts and observations that I would like to put down in writing.

I guess I will start with the last things I captured yesterday so that brings us to the Orthetrum testaceum of the family Libellulidae, which is one of the species of red dragonflies that are common and widespread in this region and usually found in abundance in most places.

I was lucky to chance upon a pair of Orthetrum testaceum in wheel, sat around to observe their behaviour and got a few shots in the process.

Here's the first shot I got of this pair...



From this angle, it would have been easy to miss the second set of wings belonging to the female that's just dangling there as it had looked like just the male dragonfly perched as usual on a twig.  The pair flew off after that when I tried to get closer for a second photo but I managed to get more photos of them later at another perch.



Based on observation, I have noted a pair of Orthetrum testaceum being in copula or wheel position for about ten minutes.  So I waited.  This next photo shows the male letting go of his hold on the female...



He then flies off while the female remain perched on the twig to compose herself.  After that, she takes off to oviposit her eggs by plunging the tip of her abdomen in the water, rapidly making several dips and splashes in the water at various different spots.  The male hovered close to her all the time to guard her and prevent other males from capturing her while she completes laying all her fertilised eggs.












I have always said that it would not be easy to photograph these dragonflies in wheel as they usually take off at speed while in tandem.  Perhaps the hot weather increased my chances of observing them on this day.  I would never know.  And perhaps it would have been impossible for some other species.  But probably just being at the right place at the right time would make a huge difference to everything too!

That was quite a great day! 



Sunday, 24 January 2010

Close Encounters

I had an interesting start today to my foray into a forest trail early in the morning.  

I was walking at a slow and easy pace towards the start of a trail and as usual was keeping an eye out for dragonflies and damselflies along the way.  As I turned a corner, out of the blue, I decided to stop suddenly to check for my handphone - perhaps to check the service coverage, perhaps the time, or just to make sure I've got my phone with me and am not low on battery?  

I am not sure why.

Anyway, at about the same time as I stopped and looked at my phone, I heard a loud screeching sound just overhead and my natural reaction was to look up to see what is going on.  There were two Dusky Leaf Langgurs scrambling away on a tree just a few meters above me and one of them was screaming away making the screeching noises but they were not looking at me.  At that same split second, I saw a movement at the corner of my eye and turned to look down towards my right and discovered what the Langgurs were looking at and the cause of their screeching warning, distress calls.

A snake! 

I must admit I froze on instinct.  Whoa!  And in that instant, my mind went "Wow!"  

Then it was one of those moments when I felt I didn't have enough hands to not drop the phone and still get the camera to shoot and I couldn't be quick enough to juggle everything on my hands, and I was scrambling to get all that done while trying not to make too much movements so... as you can guess, I didn't get any photos!  All I have are the "Kodak moments" in my mind's eye.

The snake slithered away rather swiftly and really smoothly.

I did not see the head of the snake to start with but it was moving away from me into the edge of the forest and it was certainly a long snake.  Perhaps 2.2m in length, at least?  And beautiful too!  The colour was like a sandy, light brown colour, no markings or any patterns at all.  

My guess?  Quite likely a cobra!

With most wildlife, including snakes, they will usually move or slither away when they hear people approaching in the forest.  Unless threatened, cornered, sprung upon in surprise or you have stumbled into a nesting area, then that is when they may get aggressive or even attack as that is their instinct for survival!  

Or if you were the targeted meal!

Anyway, that was my close encounter with wildlife this morning though not my first encounter with cobras.  My walk in the forest after that turned out great with more close encounters with dragonflies and damselflies!

Green And Graceful


The Pocket Guide lists three different species of Vestalis damselflies to be found in Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.  All three species look very similar and are best differentiated by studying their appendages. 

The Vestalis species from the family Calopterygidae are large damselflies with metallic green body, long legs and broad wings, which actually give them a rather graceful gait when they fly. 



Both the above photos show the male damselfly of one of the Vestalis damselflies.

The correct species id can be confirmed based on certain markings on the thorax (specifically for the Vestalis gracilis) and by studying the appendages of the damselfly, as shown below.



Anyway, the males and females of the Vestalis species have similar markings and their colours give them a good camouflage whether they are perched among leaves in the forest or fluttering away to hide.  The female can be differentiated by their less brilliant colours and the different appendages.  The following photo shows a female Vestalis damselfly.



Here's a photo of the abdomen of the female damselfly:



This species of damselfly fascinates me.  Frankly, I have always thought dragonflies to be more captivating than the tiny damselflies, perhaps due to the plasticky faces of the Ischnura species that one often encounters everywhere.  But these Vestalis species are large damselflies yet they are graceful, look almost as fragile as the tiny damselflies and they do have nice looking faces too!

I had also come across the male of this species a few months ago at a different location.

UPDATE 12 APRIL 2011:  This species is confirmed as the Vestalis gracilis by dragonflyman, C.Y. Choong.  Thanks a million!


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Libellulidae - Zygonyx iris

The Dark One


I have often seen this rather large, dark, mystic-looking dragonfly buzzing tirelessly at speed to and fro guarding its territory over an area of the stream.

Once in a while, another similar-looking dragonfly will enter this well-guarded space and a chase will ensue to get the intruder off the area before it returns to resume patrolling tirelessly over its territory again. Or perhaps it was a short, futile pursuit for a female dragonfly?

Anyway, once in a while this dragonfly will then stop to perch somewhere on a twig up high over the stream near the area it had been patrolling.

All those times, I could never get the chance at all to have a good look at the dragonfly to even look at any markings or features to enable its identification, much less get a photo.

And then, I had my lucky day! 

Well, I had plenty of time to spare!  So I sat down near its territory and just waited.  The first few times, when it stopped to perch, I couldn't even get close before it took off again.  But after some time, the "comfort distance" got closer and closer until it was enough to get a few good shots.



This dragonfly is the Zygonyx iris of the family Libellulidae.  It can be recognised by the yellow mid-dorsal stripes on its abdomen.  The male has hindwing length of 40-42mm and this species is widespread in tropical Asia.  In a sunlit spot, it looks dark and metallic with a bluish tint to it.



I also had the chance to observe a pair of the Zygonyx iris in tandem the other day and watch the practice of contact guarding during the oviposition process for this species.

The male and female dragonflies remain in tandem and the male maintains his clasp on the female even while she oviposits.  They will fly around at speed in tandem, then hover over an area and make rapid swoops down onto the submerged tree roots in the fast flowing stream, allowing the female to flip its abdomen in the water.  This is repeated over several different spots at intervals and then, just as suddenly, the pair breaks off and fly away on their own.




Beautiful white fungi growing on fallen tree trunk.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Calopterygidae - Neurobasis chinensis

Glimmering Green Wings

This past week, I have been out scouting for dragonflies and damselflies whenever I can.  And I must say that being in the forests and near streams listening to insect choruses and the sounds of flowing water have been most peaceful and just sweet! 

It is certainly the best music for the ears; not to mention the mind and soul.

My explorations have also been fruitful.

I have found the mature male of the Neurobasis chinensis and this is what it looks like:



I sat down to observe this male damselfly and when it had landed on a perch, it will initially flutter its wings several times, repeated at intervals, displaying the brilliant colours of its hindwings.  After a while, it will then remain quite still and motionless for a long time unless disturbed.  Sometimes, it would be grooming. 

When disturbed, it will then take off from its perch, find another place or fly back to the same perch and repeat the fluttering displays of its bright glimmering green hindwings again.  I took the chance in keeping the camera focused on it and patience and perseverence did pay off!



It is a good looking male damselfly, isn't it?

Also observed the female of this species fluttering its wings and giving a display while it was perched on a rock nearby.



That got me to wonder if these fluttering displays are signals and do they mean anything?

When I came across the female Neurobasis chinensis for the first time some time ago, I did not find the male damselfly then and I also did not observe any wing display by the female.  Click here to read the earlier article.



Libellulidae - Neurothemis fluctuans

This species is often referred to by the common name "Red Grasshawk".

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Musings On A Dragonfly In The Mangroves

Yesterday, when I was out kayaking in the mangroves, I spotted a dragonfly buzzing around overhead.  After some time, it flew low over the water and it dipped its abdomen into the brackish water and repeated that several times at various spots before finally zapping away.

I wonder which species can this be? 

There are several species of dragonflies that are salt-tolerant or can be found in mangrove areas or in brackish water conditions, and the Orthetrum sabina is one of the salt-tolerant species but it was certainly not one of these that I saw.  From the flashes of colours, it could possibly be the Macrodiplax cora for all I know but I really do not know for sure.  At all.  And I am really just making a guess here.

The trouble is that it is not easy to track these dragonflies in the mangroves when I am on a kayak.  And the trouble with yesterday was that I did not have the binoculars on hand nor did I have the camera with me.  Anyway, it was buzzing around and it would have been difficult if not impossible to take a shot.

One of these days, I hope to be able to do that.

Meantime, I'll just keep pondering... again!


Monday, 18 January 2010

Lizards & Skinks

More Species!

I had a field day exploring in the outdoors!  Again!

It was really great to just take my time walking along trails through the woods, scouring the forest floor, canopy, streams... looking at everything I can lay my eyes upon in nature!  More particularly for dragonflies and damselflies but also for birds, butterflies, flowers, insects, toads, lizards... you name it!

And I did find a few species of dragonflies and damselflies that I have not come across before so it has been a fruitful day!

There is this species of damselfly of the family Calopterygidae that I have not managed to identify as yet.  To make matters worse, I did not manage to get good shots of this damselfly.



These photos are the best that I have and I had managed only a few shots before this damselfly flittered away into the shrubs out of reach and out of sight!




Anyway, I have updated the Checklist and there are now 30 odonate species recorded for Langkawi, hopefully I did get them all correct, plus another two unidentified including the damselfly above.  Can anyone help identify this damselfly species?


Updated 20 Jan 2010:

ID confirmed by Ian to be the Echo modesta of the family Calopterygidae.  According to the Pocket Guide, this species is the largest of the broad-winged Zygoptera, the males having hindwing length of 34-38mm.  Wow! 

Also, this one that I found is a young adult so it is lacking in certain identification features such as the white patch on the head for the male and dark wing tips for the female.



Monday, 11 January 2010

Libellulidae - Orthetrum sabina

Orthetrum sabina


I see them all the time.  In fact, I have seen them almost everywhere I choose to look, including in my backyard. 

This dragonfly is a common species.  And yet, for some reason, I have taken so many photos of them and put them away and not done anything about them at all so far.  I guess, it just didn't hit a chord with me till now, so I am finally writing about the Orthetrum sabina of the family Libellulidae.



As you can see, this species is easily recognised by its pale yellowish green pattern and swollen abdomen and according the the Pocket Guide, the male has hindwing length of 32-34mm while it measures 33-36mm for the female.

Anyway, I had a field day with them this morning.

They were just getting warmed up for activity in the early morning sun when I got there.  Soon after that, these dragonflies were buzzing everywhere and were chasing one another all over the place. 

I even caught sight of one feeding on a prey it had caught.  The Orthethrum sabina is seen here feeding on another dragonfly, probably of the Crocothemis species.



And I finally managed to take a few photos of these dragonflies in wheel.  It is usually not easy to observe or take photos of dragonflies in wheel as they will take flight while in tandem and when you are still quite a distance away.  Besides, they would be zapping all over the place at speed anyway.  Although some species of damselflies may remain in wheel for hours on end, the same can't be said for most dragonflies.  I have, on many occasions, seen dragonflies flying off in tandem but have never had the chance to actually observe them for more than even a second.  In fact, there are still no account of mating behaviour on record for many dragonfly species.

I was lucky this morning.

This next photo is of a pair of Orthetrum sabina in wheel.



Soon after that, the pair breaks off and almost immediately the female starts ovipositing on her own by hovering just over the water and splashing the tip of her abdomen in the water, repeated at short, rapid intervals at various spots before finally flying away to rest.

Like I said, I had a field day this morning!



Libellulidae - Rhyothemis phyllis

Friday, 8 January 2010

Coenagrionidae - Ischnura senegalensis

Damselfly in Pastels


This damselfly is so tiny that you could easily have missed it if you don't keep an eye out for these little creatures.  And though it looks rather colourful close-up, it can also quite easily blend into its surroundings just as well with its colours.  This damselfly that I found has a rather pretty pastel yellow thorax, green compound eyes and an orangey-reddish abdomen.  The abdomen would be rather red in mature males.

This damselfly is the Ceriagrion auranticum of the family Coenagrionidae.  According to the Pocket Guide, the male has hindwing length of 17mm and it is widespread in mainland tropical Asia.



I have only seen this species of damselflies on two separate occasions in all these months and so far only one single individual each time.  That's how infrequent the sightings can be for some of these species though it is listed as widespread in the Pocket Guide.  So you can imagine it is quite a pleasant surprise to stumble upon them once in a while.

I must admit I have not been out looking for dragonflies for a while.  Lately, it has been so hot that after a day's work out kayaking in the sun, all I want to do after that is to rest in my cool, shady nest at home.  But I think I will be needing another dose of dazzling dragonflies and damselflies again one of these days to put a smile on my face...


Updated 20 Jan 2010:

Ian has kindly pointed out that the adult Ceriagrion chaoi has red eyes while the C. auranticum has green eyes.  So, there you go..... the mature C. chaoi has yellow thorax, red abdomen and red eyes while the C. auranticum has green thorax, orange abdomen and green eyes...  And what have I got here?  Green eyes, yellow abdomen and yellowish-orangey abdomen.  How confusing can these creatures be?



At Low Tide

Local ladies digging for clams

Exploring the sandbank, mudflats and limestone outcrop

Friday, 1 January 2010