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The doorbell went on Sunday afternoon and on the doorstep was a friend wearing some unusual ornamentation on his jumper – a living broach. He and his family had been walking down the road, when they discovered a huge dragonfly struggling on the pavement. There was only one possible course of action available: bring it round to my house for an expert opinion and a photo shoot.
It was a female emperor dragonfly, Anax imperator, our largest and most colourful species, with a wingspan reaching 107mm, solid bright apple green thorax and broad strong tail stripes (green in female, blue in male). This is a bit early for one of the large hawker dragonflies, which normally start to fly from mid-June onwards. I’m guessing it came from a small garden pond, and its early emergence was triggered by water warmed in the hot weather we’ve had recently.
The nymphs of these large dragonflies start to crawl up out of the water at sunset, heaving themselves up a reed or rush stem. The adults then spend the night pumping up their curled wings, ready for the first flight early next morning. This one was missing a front leg, and was rather unsteady. Its wings were fully expanded, but did not quite have that crinkly stiffness that makes these magnificent creatures rattle when they fly.
We let it go in the sedges of our pond and it clung on in the wind. An hour later it was gone, so I assume it reached take-off capability and was away.
We have various damselflies and the broad-bodied chaser, Libellua depressa, breeding in our small pool. I always associate the imperial aeronautics of the emperor with much larger water bodies like lakes, canals and flooded gravel pits. None of those exist in East Dulwich… so who knows?
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