Here's an interesting group of insects that you could observe. They are dragonflies and damselflies. They can be found in plenty around any water body...

A fascinating hobby is gaining ground among naturalists around the world in recent times. It is all about watching dragonflies and damselflies. These insects are collectively called ‘Odonates' by scientists. So, like butterfly watching and birding, a new interest is catching up: odonate watching, or ‘oding'.

Odonates are an interesting group of ancient insects. Many children catch these insects and play with them. Unknowingly being cruel. But instead of torturing them, if we respect and closely observe these fascinating insects, without catching them, we can enjoy their striking colours, acrobatic flight, and peculiar lifestyle.

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Observing odonates

Where can we watch them? Look carefully, and you will be surprised to find them all over the place. City dwellers need to just visit nearby playgrounds, parks with water sources, or even a drainage or stream. We can easily spot common species such as Ground Skimmers and Wandering Gliders. Paddy fields, ponds and streams are repository of dragonflies and damselflies. Clear, sunny days are the best time to watch them.

If we wear dull-coloured clothes and move slowly when we are near them, we can get close enough to observe their beauty. With an ordinary digital camera we can get marvellous pictures of these gorgeous insects.

How do we identify them? Earlier, identifying odonates was difficult as there were no user friendly books. But now there is a field guide — Dragonflies of India by K. A. Subramanian. It provides field keys to identify the odonates with a brief description about their habits and habitat.

Peculiar lifestyles

Odonates lay their eggs in the water, damp soil and aquatic plants. The larvae live under water stalking aquatic prey, whereas the winged adults are skilled predators catching insects in the air. Dragonflies tend to prefer open areas as well as near water and perch with wings held open, whereas damselflies are frequently seen along streams sitting with wings held over their backs.The author is with the

Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore

(e-mail: jegan@ncf-india.org)

Useful insects

Odonates are not only beautiful they are very useful insects. For instance, they can control mosquito larvae during their larval stage as well as when they become adults. They act as bio-control agents and devour many harmful insects in the paddy fields and are hence useful to farmers.

So hereafter let us go oding and watch them without catching them.

Dragonflies of India - A Field Guide by K.A. Subramanian is the first photographic guide to the Indian Odonates. Of the 536 species and subspecies of Indian odonates, 111 of them were described with English common names of the Indian dragonflies and damselflies for the first time. This book is published by Vigyan Prasar, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India and is available as an e-book from their website (http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/digilib/Showmetaxml.aspx?BookID=364).