For several days in December, 2022, Adelaide and surrounding areas swarmed with large dragonflies, that have bred in the very wet spring we’ve had this year. In this video, I’ve used a frame echo process to track and digitally illuminate the flight paths of the dragonflies as they fly around our garden in Belair, South Australia.
The soundtrack includes some of our native birds that were calling at the time: rainbow lorikeets, eastern shrike-thrush, magpies, red wattlebirds, New Holland honeyeaters, and kookaburras, as well as passing human traffic. The flower in the final sequence is a kangaroo paw, native to Western Australia.
Dragonflies have some of the most accomplished aerial abilities of any animal, with both high speed and high manoeuvrability. Associated with this, they have an advanced visual system, capable of seeing a wide range of colours as well as polarised light with very high resolution. Moreover, the part of the eyes that look up towards the sky have different optical properties compared with areas that look down, as befits the different environments in each visual domain. All this makes them extremely effective predators of other flying insects. Their larvae are fully aquatic and are also fierce predators, living mostly on aquatic invertebrates, such as mosquito larvae, but they are also capable of catching and eating tadpoles. It’s a very successful strategy: dragonflies evolved this basic body plan about 250 million years ago!