Before I inadvertently start the equivalent of a Gold Rush I should point out that the jewels in question are, in fact, Damselflies, of the Genus Platycypha. Dancing Jewels or Platycypha caligata to be precise. I am trying to put together Species lists, with accompanying photographic images, of several Genera of relatively under recorded groups of Wildlife found at Chengeta and Pamuzinda, and Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies), is one of them. Hopefully all these groups will be incorporated in our future blog entries. Unfortunately I know of no-one locally that I can tie in with on these subjects so I am bumbling through alone. I have a library of reference books which I managed to obtain in the UK but they are normally specific to South Africa (although many of the species covered occur in Zimbabwe as well) and it is, of course, easy to make mistakes. I would therefore ask that if any reader notices a misidentification in any of my blog entries they point it out to me so that I can correct the error.
However, in the case of the Dancing Jewel, I don’t think there is any question as to its identification. It is far too distinctive for that. My Dragonfly searching is done along the banks of the Serui and Chimbo Rivers at Pamuzinda and Chengeta together with associated waterholes. Of the 30/40 species I am seeing at the moment some are common throughout but others occur only at specific sites. Fortunately my memory is still functional enough to be able to remember which species I have photographed before so I don’t have to waste time taking the same thing over and over again. I must confess to still getting a little excited at seeing something new and I was delighted one evening on the Serui to see a damselfly I had never seen before. It looked like a neon light and, of course, flew away just as I levelled the camera for what would have been a somewhat distant shot. Most Odonata are territorial to a degree so I hung around hoping it would return. Fortunately it did, but to a boulder in the middle of a pool. Very few obstacles can deter me once Photographers Urge sets in (this is a derivation from Berserkers Rage of old and refers, not to a form of anger, but to a state of mind oblivious to few outside influences) and water is not one of them. I headed for the middle of the pool hoping I was not sharing it with one of our resident crocs and the accompanying shot was the result.
These delightful insects are officially listed as of “least concern” leading one to suppose that they would be plentiful. Certainly I could not claim that to be the case here although I have since seen one at Chengeta as well. It may well be a seasonal thing whereby there are times of plenty and this is not one of them. Until I have been conducting my surveys for a full 12month period I cannot say. It may also be a regional thing and that there are places where they are abundant. Watch this space – as they say! In the meantime I am thankful to have seen the ones that I have discovered to date, and even more thankful to have obtained some very satisfactory images. The species occurs in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (which, of course, takes in Zimbabwe) and Wickipedia lists 10 species in the Genus (5 of them with English names). How many of those occur in this area I have no idea but, rest assured, having seen one I am anxious to see more and so my vigilance has been turned up to Red Alert.
Seen in closeup I am sure you will agree that it is a stunning creature. The electric blue of its upper abdomen is distinctive, even from some distance, and this is accompanied by a striking red underside in places, and legs that are shockingly red on the outside and white on the inside.
I have come to realise over the years that every feature of living things has developed over the millennia for a purpose and, where those features are of a visual impact, they are almost invariably integral to the courtship and mate selection part of the life cycle. This is certainly the case with this Dancing Jewel which derives its name from a courtship dance by the males where they hover in front of the female with their gaudily coloured legs hanging down whilst they wiggle, presumably provocatively, their electric blue abdomens in the air.
The hunt is now on for a female. One would suppose that males and females would co-exist side by side, but with most of the Odonata this does not seem to be the case. The males of most species tend to be distinctively coloured and territorial to some degree or other. They can usually be seen close to their chosen water sources where they parade about ostentatiously in an effort to attract females and perch out in the open where they can be seen from some distance. The females on the other hand are fairly shy and retiring, demurely coloured, and only visit the waterside area to check out the posturing males or to lay eggs. If you are looking to photograph females as well as males you have to check the vegetation often some way (up to a 100 metres or so) from the water. Due to their inconspicuous colouring they are difficult to spot and I have found the best way is to plough through the vegetation hoping to “put one up” and then freezing and watching where it lands as they often do not travel far.
For anyone so interested we, subject to demand, will be offering Photographic Workshop weekends. Please check with reception.