Stemming from a spontaneous fascination while living in India, I have photographed and written extensively about dragonflies in the past, and as an untrained naturalist, my interest has been mainly focused on dragonflies’ aesthetics rather than their physiology or ecological significance. However, as my interest in holistic ecology and the natural world grows, my thoughts have wandered from dragonflies and mushrooms to a bigger-picture ideology focusing on the connectedness and relationships between organisms within an ecosystem. Those relationships are present across the globe, year-round – regardless of how lifeless a place may seem. Being used to tropical climates unfortunately gives me a predisposition to fear the painful cold of Colorado mountain winters, and I retreat to a less hands-on approach to my research.
While seeking food for thought online, I stumbled upon a TED Talk given in 2009 on dragonflies – which in itself would interest me. But this talk concerns an exceptionally interesting species of dragonfly (though I didn’t realize it when I noticed its swarms in Gavi) – and one that aligns more with my current biological interests than those I held in the past few years (skimming the surface, some might say).
To summarize Dr. Anderson’s talk, what was once considered merely a wide-spread (if not pervasive) species of Odonata has been found to be the longest-migrating insect on the planet, with a route double in length than that of North America’s world-famous Monarch Butterfly. Not only do the Wandering Gliders (or Globe Skimmers) follow India’s northeast monsoon across the subcontinent – they follow it over the Indian ocean and onto the African continent, a distance which to a two-inch insect is proportionally.. well, to me, incalculable, let alone realistically navigable. But for thousands of years, swarms of millions of these dragonflies have apparently made the journey, hopped the pond, and followed the southwestern monsoon back into India to continue the cycle.
What’s more, Dr. Anderson explains, some previously misunderstood (or at least not fully understood) migratory patterns of Asian birds, including but not limited to the Eurasian Roller (a close relative of the Indian Roller ), Bee-Eaters , and Pied Cuckoo, can be partly explained by the great migration of the Globe Skimmer. As predators of large insects, many Asian birds are wise to follow the untold millions of meals that are accessible to them within the swarms of these dragonflies as they follow their trajectory across the Indian Ocean, making use of the thermals and wind currents that ease the passage of their prey.
This recent discovery is, to me, a beautiful reminder of the great unknown factors of our planet’s biology that I feel many scientists in the past have written off for the sake of easy (or profitable) ‘science’ [for example…]. It is also a clear display of the connectedness of various natural phenomena, and the magically complex web of what we call cause-and-effect, which has no visible beginning or end. Though the Indian Ocean circuit is presently the only documented migratory route of the Wandering Glider, they exist in their millions not only throughout South Asia, but throughout the Australian continent, most of Africa and South America, and a healthy portion of eastern North America. Where does that make your mind wander?