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Namibia


Dragonflies

wildlife of Namibia

A dragonfly is a wonderful, beautiful flying insect, belonging to the insect order Odonata. Amazingly over 6,000 species occur worldwide. So how do around 128 species of dragonfly occur in Namibia, all be it mostly in the more humid, tropical north? The secret lies with water and more importantly, the subsequent wetland habitat structure that it creates. It is vital to larvae development. The quality of a wetland habitat can be determined by the presence and identification of dragonflies. A Namibian dragonfly phenomena are the swarms of millions of Wandering Gliders (Pantala flavescens) that enter the Namib Desert annually on the onset of the rainy season.

Male and female adult dragonflies often fly together and sometimes mate in flight. As the female deposits her eggs in the water or places them inside the stem of a water plant, the importance of an aquatic habitat cannot be understated. The young dragonfly, or nymph, hatches within 1 to 3 weeks. Whereas insect larvae usually differ widely from adults in body shape, larvae dragonfly are similar to adults, less for wings and a more compact body. The head supports the eyes, mouthparts and antennae; the thorax has 3 pairs of legs and wing sheets are developed later. The nymph breath through gills and has a folding lower lip, called a mask with jaw-like hooks at the end which move out to capture victims. Importantly, the 10 abdominal segments are present.

Dragonflies have 4 large, fragile wings which glean and shimmer in the sunlight when the insect is in flight. The beauty of their long, slender bodies is enhanced by bead-like eyes which cover their heads. Body colours range from green, red, or blue, complimented with black, yellow or white markings. Another unmistakeable feature is the pterostigma, a pigmented cell near the tip of the wing. Perhaps their most distinguishing characteristic though are the short and inconspicuous antennae, often observed when on a daytime sortie.

Foraging for food is an opportunistic pastime. Flying insects are grasped with all of their 6 legs. Each leg has bristles which stick out sidewards. This projection forms a basket, perfect when shopping for unsuspecting flying insects. Around sunset mosquitoes and other small insects are preparing for their night-time activities. Dragonflies will congregate in numbers on the leeward side of trees or above swamps. Many insect contests for survival commence as that marvellous Namibian sunset is admired.

The constant battle is not just one way. Adult odonates attract their own fair share of predators. Ants, orb-web spiders and wasps take advantage of emerging dragonflies. Their skin is soft and their flying skills would give Biggles a heart attack. Nesting birds are on the lookout as well; many an offspring is waiting open-mouthed for breakfast. Praying mantids and lizards are waiting on twigs and branches but one other flying insect often becomes its worst enemy. That is other dragonflies. The very water that dragonflies rely on for life can also be their downfall. Frogs, fish, water scorpions and a host of other aquatic animals all lie-in-wait.

Most dragonflies will settle on almost any kind of inland water, as long as it is fresh water. A small number of species can adapt to waters with higher saline concentrations. Most wetlands in the drier parts of Namibia are temporary, depending on local rains or groundwater. Namibia's rainy season can best be described as erratic. The aquatic habitats of dragonflies include:
  • Temporary waters
  • Spring-fed springs
  • Stagnant spring-fed pools
  • Artificial waters
  • Wetlands associated with large perennial rivers
  • Rapids and waterfalls
  • Slow flowing sections of rivers
  • Riverine forests and deforestation
  • Oshanas
There are 10 families of dragonflies found in Namibia. They are:
  • FAMILY CALYOPTERYGIDAE: Demoiselles
  • FAMILY CHLOROCYPHIDAE: Jewels
  • FAMILY LESTIDAE: Spreadwings
  • SUPERFAMILY COENAGRIONOIDAE
  • FAMILY PLATYCNEMIDIDAE: Stream Damsels
  • FAMILY PROTONEURIDAE: Threadtails
  • FAMILY COENAGRIONIDAE: Narrow-winged Damselflies
  • FAMILY GOMPHIDAE: Clubtails
  • FAMILY AESHNIDAE: Hawkers
  • FAMILY MACROMIDAE: Cruisers
  • FAMILY LIBELLULIDAE: Libellulids

FAMILY CALYOPTERYGIDAE

Demoiselles are the largest damselflies in southern Africa. Typically, they are forest dwellers and have also been recorded in the country's northern rivers, rapids and waterfalls. Shade-loving and wing display to attract females is common. The pterostigma is absent in most cases. There is only 1 species found in Namibia. It is:

FAMILY CHLOROCYPHIDAE

Apart from having beautifully coloured bodies, Jewels perform noticeable courtship and territorial displays. They have short and stout bodies, observed mainly in fast-flowing tropical forest rivers and streams. Driftwood is favoured territory for males wanting to attract females. He then takes off to face a rival by displaying his red and blue abdomen in flight. Females land and an elaborate courtship performance begins. There is only 1 species of Jewel found in Namibia. It is:

FAMILY LESTIDAE

Spreadwings can differ in colour from species to species. In drier conditions the green colour and black markings fade. Temporary waters are the preferred habitat with a tendency to to be found in dry bush away from water. Females lay their eggs which are then guarded by the male, depositing them in reed type plants and in stems of rushes. Lestes is a Greek word for 'robber' the original meaning is unclear. Four species of this family can be found in Namibia. They are:

SUPERFAMILY COENAGRIONOIDAEFAMILY PLATYCNEMIDIDAE

Riverjacks have robust bodies covered in a pale blue coating in adult males. Open rivers and lake shores are their preferred habitat, preferring to sit on warm rocks and watch the world go by. Mesos is Greek for 'middle' and cnemis 'greave, legging'. There is just the 1 species of this family found in Namibia. It is:

FAMILY PROTONEURIDAE

Threadtails prefer shaded places along streams. They have a head much wider than the thorax, otherwise they are slender in appearance. All species are pale brown with black markings at emergence. Elatton is Greek for 'smaller' and neuron is an entomology term for 'vein in the wing', referring toe the reduced length of vein. There are 2 species of this family found in Namibia. They are:

FAMILY COENAGRIONIDAE

This is a large group of Narrow-winged Damselflies usually split into 3 groups and referred to as separate families: Coenagrionidae, Platycenemididae and Protoneuridae. The information used to distinguish them has not been confirmed or is unreliable to class them into individual groups, so they are combined into the Superfamily Coenagrionoidea. There are 29 members of the Family Coenagrionidae found in Namibia. They are:

Slims

Bluets

Whisps

Oranges

Bluetails

Sprites

FAMILY GOMPHIDAE

This large family is widespread in Namibia. Their most common feature is the gap in between the eyes, a useful characteristic when identifying them from other species of dragonfly. Colours are typically green or yellow with black to brownish spots or stripes, with blue or green eyes. They are mainly a riverine species, although lakes and temporary ponds are also visited. Little is known of their reproductive behaviour. Gomphos is Greek for 'bolt for shipbuilding' a reference to the shape of the male abdomen in most species. There are 19 species of this family found in Namibia. They are:

Tigertails

Fingertails Fairytails Thorntails Leaftails Siphontails Longlegs Hooktails

 

FAMILY AESHNIDAE

Characteristics of this family are large compound eyes, crepuscular activities and they are amongst the largest dragonflies in the world. Another feature is that their fore and hindwings do not change with respect to position and shape. Aeshnidaes spend most of their time in flight. There are 3 genera of this family found in Namibia. They are:

  • Dust-hawker (Gynacantha)
  • Emperors (Anax)
  • Hawkers (Aeshna)

DUST-HAWKERS (Gynacantha)

All species of Dust-hawkers have characteristic large eyes, fly at dusk and when it's raining and emerge mostly at night. Other features include resting in dense vegetation during the day and seasonal reproduction habits in dense forest swamps or pools. Gyne is a Greek word for 'woman' and akantha for 'thorn or prickle'. It refers to the 2-4 spines on the ventral side of S10 of the genus's females. There are 2 species of Dust-hawker found in Namibia. They are:

HAWKERS (Aeshna)

Hawkers have characteristic black markings and frequent highlands because they dislike the sun. There is just the 1 species of Hawker found in Namibia. It is:

EMPERORS (Anax

)Emperors can be from 60 to 120mm in length with wingspans of up to 130mm. Hunting flying termites at dusk or flying around in heavily wooded areas far from water during the dry season is not uncommon. Anax is a Greek meaning for 'Lord of the House'. There are 5 species of Emperor found in Namibia. They are:

CRUISERS (Macromidae)

The main features of the attractive looking Cruisers are bright green eyes, spiderly legs, a long clubbed abdomen and all members coloured bronzy-brown to black. Other characteristics include resting in a hanging position in the branches of trees and being fast fliers with long-range capabilities. The name Macromidae means 'large-shouldered. There are 3 members Cruisers found in Namibia. They are:

FAMILY LIBELLULIDAE

Many species of this family have adapted well to Namibia's generally really dry conditions. Some 50% of Namibia's dragonflies are from the Family Libellulidae. The name Libellulidae comes from the genus title Libellula, an ancient reference to a carpenter's tool, the spirit level, which in medieval times was T-shaped. The hammerhead shark (Libella marina) also has similarities to the same tool. Female dragonflies from this family are usually brownish whereas males are brightly coloured, often red, yellow and black and yellow. A blue layer of wax often covers their bodies, a sort of 'permanent dragonfly sunscreen' which protects them from solar radiation. There are a number of reasons for them being the largest family of odonates in the country:

  • They have short development periods.
  • Vegetation is not required to deposit eggs.
  • More than adequate flying abilities enables them to reach isolated water bodies in the desert.
  • Some species are true migrants.
  • Inhabit and dominate all types of freshwater bodies.
  • Males show territorial tendencies.

There are 22 genera found in the Family Libellulidae. They are:

Inspectors

Groundlings Pied-Spots Widows Flutterers Gliders Baskers Pygmy Baskers Gorgeous Skimmers Dancing Skimmers Skimmers Pintails Rock-dwellers Wanderers Twisters Perchers Darters

Dropwings

BLUE GROUP

RED GROUP Scarlets Bottletails Spectaculars Cascader

 

Wildlife Namibia

Auas Safari Lodge

A privately owned game farm, with a good variety of wildlife just a short distance south of Windhoek.

Daan Viljoen Game Park

Newly built lodge in a small well stocked game reserve west of Windhoek

Dusternbrook Guest Farm

This lodge is very popular amongst those seeking leopard and cheetah viewing close to Windhoek. Regular feedings guarantee great sightings and photographic opportunities

Elisenheim Guest Farm

A relaxing lodge in the Eros Mountains (named after a local fruit and not the goddess of love) around 30km north of the city

Etango Ranch Guest Farm

Opposite the Windhoek International Airport, close enough to be extremely convenient but far enough away that planes are not a distraction. Great for those arriving late or leaving early, as cuts out the 45km drive from Windhoek/

Gocheganas Nature Reserve

One of Namibia's most popular spas with the added bonus of top game viewing.

Hohewarte Guest Farm

Between Windhoek and the International Airport lies this interesting cattle & game farm

Immanuel Wilderness Lodge

family friendly, mid range lodge in rural location

Naankuse Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary

a wildlife sanctuary offering quality accommodation in a tranquil environment

Okapuka Lodge

large lodge on a large well stocked game farm, lion feeding included

Ondekaremba

On a large private game farm close to the Windhoek International Airport, ideal for those not wanting to travel into Windhoek before or after their arrival in Namibia

Onjala Lodge

Offering horse riding, spa treatments and two swimming pools, this is a good family lodge

Out of Nature Country Lodge

Close to the B1 road around 30 kilometers south of the city this lodge offers a good one night stopover for wary travellers

River Crossing Lodge

a few kilometers east of Windhoek this lodge offers unsurpassed views of the city from a setting in the Auas Mountains

Windhoek Game Camp

20km north of the city, this tented lodge offers a quality self catering experience surrounded by the veld and wildlife

Self Catering Accommodation in Namibia