Saffron reedtail damselfly spotted near Mundakkayam

Saffron reedtail damselfly photographed at Urumbikkara   | Photo Credit: Praveen Muraleedharan

The saffron reedtail damselfly is as dainty as its name. Less than two inches long, with a cinnamon-coloured thorax and diaphanous wings, it is not easy to spot unless by a trained eye. Naturalist, photographer and ecopreneur Praveen Muraleedharan recently spotted this rather uncommon damselfly at Urumbikkara, near Mundakkayam, about 80 km from Kochi.

He spent almost 15 to 20 minutes getting some photographs without startling the damselfly. “They are so delicate, even a small breeze could make them fly away,” says Praveen.

Considered rare, this odonate (belonging to the family Odonata, an order of flying insects including dragonflies and damselflies) is only found in non-polluted small forest streams. Known to be extremely sensitive to changes in the environment, the presence of the saffron reedtail damselfy indicates that the place is pristine, says Praveen.

First described by British biologist and entomologist Frank Fortescue Laidlaw from the Kingdom of Kochi, the saffron reedtail damselfly is not found in urban areas. They are usually found during the monsoon months — between June and November.

Endemic to Western Ghats

“Endemic to the Western Ghats of Kerala, the saffron reedtail damselfly flies low and is usually spotted on boulders and wet rocks near clear streams, on shrubs and undergrowth, which is why they can easily be missed” says naturalist, conservationist and author C Susanth, who has been studying odonates since 2006.

Damselflies are smaller and slimmer than their cousins, the dragonflies. While dragonflies spread their wings while resting, the damselflies fold their wings in. However, there are a few species that can open their wings partially, known as spreadwings, Susanth adds. Known as ‘kumkuma nizhal thumbi’ in Malayalam, it flies slow.

Saffron reedtail damselfly

Saffron reedtail damselfly   | Photo Credit: Praveen Muraleedharan

“The world of odonates is extremely fascinating. Though they are being studied in an organised manner now, there is still so much to understand and learn,” says Susanth, who is on the advisory board of the Society for Odonate Studies (SOS). According to the SOS, of the 196 species of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) identified in the Western Ghats, 175 species have been reported in Kerala.

Odonates respond to even minor changes in the environment and their numbers have gone up during COVID lockdown months in urban areas, observes Susanth. Over the past year, he observed over 45 different species of dragonflies in his backyard at Thiruvananthapuram.

Praveen, who has been photographing animals and birds, says he would be observing odonates more closely. “This damselfly has inspired me to explore the world of macro photography,” he says. “It takes a lot of practice, patience and genuine interest to be able to identify, appreciate and understand these delicate creatures,” Praveen adds.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 10:23:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/saffron-reedtail-damselfly-spotted-near-urumbikkara/article36628274.ece

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