The ‘Ona Thumbis’ reach Kerala from Sub-Saharan Africa in a daunting transcontinental migration.
Every year, the ‘dragons’ arrive with the rains, borne on swift winds that barrel out of the Arabian Sea and crash into the Western Ghats.
When C.G. Kiran talks about dragons, the 35-year-old amateur natural historian is not dwelling on the fantastical fire-breathing creatures that inhabit myths. In fact, he is referring to the largely unnoticed global migration of a particular family of dragonflies, which, unbeknownst to many, descend on Kerala from Somalia in sub-Saharan Africa with the southwest monsoon and spread across the Indian subcontinent as the rains run its natural course.
Locally known as ‘Ona Thumpi,’ the migratory dragonflies (global wanderer) hold a central place in Kerala’s folklore and its fast-waning agrarian tradition.
For Keralites, the arrival of the dragonflies is indicative of the change of seasons.
They are also deemed the auspicious harbingers of Onam, Kerala’s harvest festival.
What is largely unknown about the famed ‘Ona Thumbikal’ is that they cross the Arabian Sea in infinite numbers, borne on a narrow low-level monsoon current known as the ‘Somali jet’ to swoop down on Kerala, the Southwest’s gateway to the subcontinent. For natural historians, the daunting transcontinental migration of the dragonfly often seems to blur the line between science and fiction.
The hardy insects lay their eggs in rainwater puddles and the emergence of young dragonflies, after an estimated 45 days, coincides with Onam.
Kiran is an odonatologist who studies dragonflies and documents its life. Annually, Kiran dusts off his camera to chase the ‘dragons’ as they arrive with the southwest monsoon in June.
Even slight changes in the migratory patterns of dragonflies are indicative of the impact of climate change on the subcontinent’s monsoon-dependent ecology.
This year around, Kiran is set to document the ‘dragons’ as they ride the Somali jet back to their sub-Saharan homeland when the northeast monsoon causes the atmospheric current to reverse course in December.