|Lesser emperor dragonfly (Anax partenope)|
The lesser emperor is a large dragonfly, slightly smaller than the emperor dragonfly from which it is easily distinguished by its colour and markings. It lives close to freshwater pools but can sometimes even be found in the vicinity of brackish water. Although the adults do move around they generally tend to remain in the vicinity of aquatic habitats.
The lesser emperor dragonfly is found in mid and southern Europe, the near East and Asia as well as in North Africa. The emperor dragonfly is more widespread and common and can often be seen away from water but in some spots the lesser emperor can be much more common.
Dragonflies are very interesting creatures and one can spend a long time observing their behaviour. They are very energetic insects that spend a lot of time flying around to defend their territory chasing away intruders of the same and often of other dragonfly species. They also spend a lot of time hunting small insects.
Dragonflies have very interesting courtship and mating behaviour, which varies from one species to another. Courtship takes place to ensure that the couple belong to the same species and that the female is ready for mating. The female may also reject the male if the site is not suitable for her to lay the eggs in. The male then grasps the female by the head or thorax and bends his abdomen to mate forming a ‘tandem position’. This might last from a few seconds to several minutes. The female then bends her abdomen underneath the male so that their genital areas touch thus forming a heart-shaped wheel known as the ‘wheel position’. After copulation the pair may separate or remain in tandem depending on the species.
The lesser emperor, unlike most other members of the Aeshnidae family to which it belongs, remains in tandem after mating. The male accompanies the female while she inserts the eggs in living or dead plants and sometimes even in damp mud. The eggs hatch after about three months.
In many parts of Europe dragonflies are seen as evil creatures. In some countries they were believed to come from hell. In Romania it was believed the dragonfly was once a horse possessed by the devil. In Malta dragonflies are known as mazzarell, which is a quill for knitting needles, ċikku ġwiebi and ħelikopter. They where apparently also called debba ta’ l-infern.
This article was published in The Times on 5 August 2009.