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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 3 (July 1, 1932)

Dragonfly Days

page 60

Dragonfly Days

A Real glorious New Zealand day! Sunshine and flawless sky … green and gold, with pale lilac distances of gossamer … heat-waves flickering and dancing in gay riot of abandon through veils of bluey haze.

At foot, a lazy and shallow stream purling delight; crooning a centuries old song to ears wishful of hearing; splashing amongst and over mossland and lichened stones; cascading in miniature waterfalls flecked with diamonds; meandering between banks of emerald dotted with gold-chaliced buttercups and sprinkled with pale-pink daisies, a gleaming riband of silver.

A tui yodels delirious ecstasy from a giant totara, thrushes break into a divine whisper song; a burnished kingfisher scintillates across a sun-gold space like a living meteorite; a telescopic-eyed kestrel spirals on soundless, planing wing in the sky, a brown speck floating in an azurean sea. Gentle, perfumed puffs of air sibilantly rustle and wave the purpling grass that forms a coverlet beneath which the vanished centuries sleep at the tireless feet of ever youthful Time.

A tiny mote materialises and becomes invisibly suspended in the balmy ether; a mere atom of life—one of Nature's micro-cosmic wonders, carnate of living and perpetuation. A passing air-current reaches, sways and irisates the atomic body with prismatic gleams of gold, crimson and bronze where the sun-rays strike at different angles.

A slender flame-arrow of glowing scarlet shoots into sight and poises a single second on wings vibrating so swiftly as to almost produce invisibility—it is gone! Almost immediately after it is followed by a chitined electric flash that banks gracefully and is seemingly motionless—a slender, gleaming javelin of radiant blue. Still another javelin of blue follows—no other colour blurs its azure blazonry—it flings in the direction of the other, which immediately streaks into dizzy motion.

Round and round in graceful circles; upwards and downwards; spiralling, banking so swiftly the eye can scarcely follow. Then, suddenly, as it were, full speed ahead out of vision's range!

A dancing pair of Vanessa—New Zealand's most beautiful butterfly—appear and flutter charmingly in mid-air a few moments ere they dash, in amorous whorl, into the purple shadows, and are lost. A fantail flycatcher flits on to a bare twig to sit there bowing and scraping, fluttering its beautiful tail as of vanity; a few little chirps and the feathered flirt drops off the twig where it was perched, and has gone!

Meantime the first arrival, the mote, has moved barely a couple of feet and is still suspended in the air.

Comes another navigator of the vast airways! A rich brown and bright yellow-banded body borne upon wings of transparent, coruscant gauze that gleam and glisten in rainbow tints. This is “Uropetala,” the mammoth dragonfly of New Zealand! A giant indeed amongst our dragonflies, the body three inches in length supported upon wings with a spread of full four inches.

An instant's pause; then the resplendent newcomer passes directly over the suspended atom. Quicker than sight the “mask” is shot forth from the mouth, “Uropetala” and the “atom” are both gone—one life instantaneously absorbed within another!

Did you notice the two leaf-like objects at the end of “Uropetala's” tail? This was a male of that species; in the female these are replaced by a pair of sickle-like hooks.

There are only four varieties of these beautiful, elegant and fascinating insects found in New Zealand. They are with us from September till May in each year, and consequently, one of the last insect forms to vanish. Apart from “Uropetala” are three smaller varieties, each of great and distinct beauty.

“Cordulia Smithii,” about two-thirds the size of “Uropetala,” gaily bedight with green eyes, head and thorax surmounting an orange and reddish brown striped body.

“Lestes Colensonis,” smaller and more slender than “Cordulia S.,” arrayed in bright page 61 metallic blue. The females are easily distinguishable in that the abdomen is of a dull bronze colour.

The last, “Telebasis Zealandica”—found around Wellington—of a brilliant metallic scarlet, very slender, and about half the size of “Colensonis.” Here the females might easily be taken for another and distinct variety, as these are bronze-green in coloration.

Dragonflies, together with Mayflies and “Perlidæ,” belong to the aquatic group of the order “Orthoptera.” They also appear to bear a close relationship to the “Neuroptera,” an order furnishing the exquisite, though rare “Stenosmylus” of the New Zealand bush, and the slow-flying “Chauliodes” whose larvæ are of an intensely savage nature and armed with a formidable pair of pincers capable of biting severely if interfered with. They are purely aquatic, carnivorous, and taking a year to mature, slow indeed in developing. They have still another peculiarity: on each side of the body are unique attachments, the gills of the larvæ.

The terrestrial group of “Orthoptera” embraces the well-known and odoriferous, blackish insect commonly found under the bark of many large trees; the wingless and nightmarish giant cricket of New Zealand; the remarkable “stick insect,” the “praying mantis,” and many others.

A Centre Of Farming Activity. (Rly. Publicity photo.) Taihape station, North Island Main Trunk Line, New Zealand.

A Centre Of Farming Activity.
(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Taihape station, North Island Main Trunk Line, New Zealand.

The female dragonfly deposits her eggs in water, the process accomplished by violently threshing the abdomen against the surface. At first, in the larval stage, the wing-cases are barely noticeable, but with each moult become more and more distinct. There appear to be only really two stages in the metamorphosis of these insects, the chrysalid stage not being entered upon at all—just “larva” to “imago” in transition.

In the case of “Uropetala” the females are either in a remarkable minority or of very shy or retiring habit, for they are seldom met with even where there is an abundance of the male insect. In the other three forms such is not the case, and passing by green hedges, the males and females of “Colensonis” are to be seen sticking out horizontally from twigs, upon which they are resting, like tiny and burnished blue javelins that flash out and away in chase of prey; then dash back again as bronze-blue vivid streaks of light, and settle once more.

Dragonfly days!

Days of sunshine, colour and perfume…of delirious delight … of beauty … of joy in being alive! Days when these bright jewels of Nature flash and flame, irridescent living meteors, across our enraptured gaze filling us with deep wonderment, mesmerising us to a rapt admiration of Nature's transcendent marvel.

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