Saturday, August 15, 2015


The sky is full of dragonflies, darting and hunting between the house and the lake, all through the morning and then later on up until the full moon rises out of the water in the evening. But, right now, out the grand, long windows of our lake house, I can't see a single one of them. It is mid afternoon and, as near as I can tell, the dragonflies are all Italians. At two in the afternoon they all close up shop and go sleep somewhere for three hours.

And why not Italians? Surely dragonflies are the sort of thing da Vinci would have designed with copious notes in one of his idiosyncratic little journals. Or better yet, Bernini would have come up with them to festoon all over some Roman fountain, all diaphanous and yet made of stone. Such a contrast would suit them well. They are half like fairyland creature and half machine purposed biplanes. They are creatures of fancy and ferocious hunters.

I have heard that a single dragonfly eats a pound of mosquitoes a day. That may not sound like much until you start thinking about what a bag of mosquitoes that weighs a pound might be like. I mean, besides really disgusting. Going from that full pound of eating one has to figure that your average dragonfly must weigh something like five pounds on its own. The way they dart about, weightless, electric, they sure don't seem to weigh five pounds, so I may have some of my facts wrong. But I am thrillingly disconnected from the Internet at this house, and though they have a prodigious number of books here I have found no copies of The Weights and Measures of All Things, which is a handy reference book someone might want to just sort of mention to the owners.

But either way dragonflies eat a surprising number of mosquitoes every day. Your standard magazine article, brochure, documentary, or book of popular natural history loves to trot out the mosquito hunting prowess of the dragonfly to impress upon us how the dragonfly is our friend, our friend because of all their mosquito eating.

I'm not so sure.

I have read a lot of these natural histories, and one common theme is always how the hunter strengthens the prey it feeds on. Wolves prey on the weak, slow, and sick moose so only the strong ones survive to pass along their healthy genes. 

So doesn't it stand to reason that the dragonflies pick off all the pokey, unalert mosquitoes, leaving the quick, savvy, and agile ones to reproduce? Doesn't it stand to reason that if not for the dragonfly there might be a good deal more mosquitoes, but they'd all be so sluggish and torpid that we could scoop them up in fine nets and see what it takes for there to be a pound of them? Wouldn't it stand to reason that if not for the dragonfly the mosquito would be far too slow and feeble to ever manage to take a bite from a human being like you or me, I mean, unless we were weak, or sick, and were getting weeded out of the gene pool?

But this doesn't mean I don't love all these Italian designed dragonflies, little WWI planes flying straight from fairyland, making wild designs in the sky, hunting our hunters and teaching us a thing or two about napping.

They are wonderful little animals, just, there's no point in getting carried away.


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