Damsel in Distress

Although I was slightly disappointed at not having been able to track any of the more sought-out fauna of the reserve, I was content with the numerous photographs of a wide variety of bizarre and alien-like insects I was able to take during the Cloud Walk. I know that I am one of few who appreciate the seemingly unpretentious and trivial organisms of the class Insecta, and it is my hope and objective to arouse both interest and awareness of the mind-boggling diversity that reside not only in protected areas, but literally in our backyards.

Insects compose well over three quarters of all animal species – there are well over a million species, and the number of new species discovered each year isn’t decreasing despite rapid deforestation. The numbers are staggering; ants alone make up 15-20 percent of all terrestrial animal biomass, and up to 25 percent or more in tropical ecosystems. In other words, there are not only more ants than humans (which should be plain as day), but all the ants in the world weigh more than all the humans in the world – and the estimated biomass of all humans (dry) is over 100 million tons. These astronomical figures are clearly indicative of success that we, as creatures that strive to maintain some modicum of social interaction, should take as an example. Because I might sound like a socialist by saying we should learn from ants (or as a monarchist, since there is only one truly decision-making ant in a colony – the queen), who work selflessly and ceaselessly for the good of their colony, I will include a video of the man considered to be the leading ‘sociobiologist’ in the world – E. O. Wilson.

Although I am currently unfamiliar with the taxonomical classification of the vast majority of insects, I plan on learning more as I observe and photographically document different species both in the wild and in an urban environment. For now I will include photographs from previous experiences, and label them to the best of my ability.

Back to the story: the Sunday we went on the Cloud Walk was the same day we returned to Cochin, having decided before we set out for home base that we would be making multiple stops during the scenic drive upon the winding mountain roads. The first stop we made was at a flower garden/nursery in the small town of Karady Kuzhy, an area made up mostly of various plantations including tea and peppercorn. The nursery was a pleasant mélange of flowers and shrubs, mostly what Indians would consider ‘exotic’ (but quite run-of-the-mill in the Americas).

In the back of the nursery was a border – presumably not of a property line, but where the owner had decided he would draw the line between business and pleasure – the flower garden abruptly morphed into a cardamom plantation. I did not venture within the tunnel between the tight rows of cardamom plants not because of the feeling of claustrophobia it seemed to guarantee, but because I had seen a concrete structure which looked like it contained a pond on the other side of the garden.

As I wandered over to the pond, I saw over the concrete edge that it was filled with aquatic plants, including several beautiful bright pink and yellow water lilies (with two foot lily pads; I was expecting to see huge frogs lazing about upon them). As I was leaning over the barrier to photograph the alluring angiosperms, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a damsel in distress; a teneral male Yellow Bush Dart (or Copera marginipes to those of you who are more taxonomically inclined) approaching maturity struggling to free itself from a spider’s web (so maybe it wasn’t a damsel in distress, but it was worth trying to make a joke).

Calculating the distance I would have to reach down, I looked on the web to determine why the web’s creator hadn’t closed in for the kill. Not knowing much about arachnid behavior, I have three guesses: first, that the spider was too full to move (there were other bits and pieces of insects in the web), that the damselfly was too strong and could have overpowered the spider if it approached before its victim was fatigued, and finally, that the spider just had no interest in the damselfly as a nutritional asset. Not feeling guilty about robbing the spider of its meal (but only because I had already seen its web was stocked), I leaned down and plucked the damselfly out of the web.

Expecting the odonate to fly off as soon as it was freed from the sticky death trap, I was extremely surprised when it stayed on my finger as I came back to ground level. Barely believing my luck, I switched my camera back onto autofocus and began taking photographs. I was startled when the damselfly began to take flight, but remained anchored to my index finger by its head. Confused, I struggled for my eyes to focus on the tiny creature’s face – and moving my finger, saw the reflection of a tiny strand of spider’s web stuck in between its head and my skin. Seeing that the insect was only flustered, and not hurt, I took advantage of the situation by photographing it from every angle imaginable.

My insatiable appetite for photographs of small things filled, I put my camera down, gently grabbed the damselfly by the wings, and threw him into the breeze.

6 thoughts on “Damsel in Distress

  1. Great photos! We often have dragonflies land on our heads and toes by the pool. The kids love looking into their eyes. Enjoy your adventures in India!

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