Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography – Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.


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Black and White Dragons

 

A recently emerged Dragonfly opens it's wings for the first time. It' will never close them again.

A recently emerged Dragonfly opens it’s wings for the first time. It will never close them again.

In the last few months I have mainly been photographing Dragonflies and at some point I started thinking about getting good B&W images as something a bit different to the standard colour images. I love making B&W images because you can really push the editing and manipulate the image in a way that just looks very unnatural in colour. This is due to the fact we don’t naturally see in B&W therefore we are not expecting to see a natural scene.

There have been loads of dragonflies emerging from the pond in my garden. I have probably photographed about 15 individuals in various stages of emergence and there are many many more exuviae (the larval cases left after the dragonfly emerges) of the ones I have missed. I wouldn’t have thought that my smallish garden pond could hold anywhere near that many larvae at one time. Interestingly there was no frogspawn in the pond this year (lots of frogs though) however there are tons of smooth newt tadpoles for the dragonfly larvae to prey on.

Preparing for the maiden voyage.

Preparing for the maiden voyage.

The wings are open and have hardened but the veins are still slightly translucent.

The wings are open and have hardened but the veins are still slightly translucent.

In previous years I have seen a few common darters in the garden but the ones emerging from the pond are southern hawkers, a much bigger species. They seem to sit at the bottom of a stem for a few days before climbing out, apparently to start getting used to breathing air however I’m not sure how true that is as insects breathe through holes in their thorax and abdomen called spiracles. After crawling up an appropriate stem the dragonfly bursts out of the larval case and pumps haemolymph (insect blood) into its wings and abdomen to expand them. The newly emerged dragonfly then hangs off the stem for a while whilst its exoskeleton and wings harden, during this time they are pale and translucent. When it has hardened enough the wings open and the dragonfly vibrates the flight muscles to prepare for its maiden voyage. the whole process can take up to a couple of hours. Unfortunately I haven’t yet caught one in time to get the very start of the process but I have plenty of shots before the wings open.

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When the weather is bad Dragonflies seem to disappear.  In fact they are resting in trees, hidden away from predators so are difficult to find.

When the weather is bad Dragonflies seem to disappear. In fact they are resting in trees, hidden away from predators so are difficult to find.

Here’s a couple in colour as well to show them emerging:

Recently emerged from the pond.

Recently emerged from the pond.

Back-lit to show the translucency of the body and wings before they open.

Back-lit to show the translucency of the body and wings before they open.

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