Helpful ghosts on pavement stones

These dragonflies can help you keep chikungunya and dengue at bay.

Granite is the one of the most commonly used stones in Bangalore. You find it everywhere and you walk on it every time you step on to a sidewalk in Bangalore. But beware! There is a ghost lurking in the granite, not only a ghost but a dragon to boot! It’s true!

Female dragonfly. Vikram Nanjappa.

Did you know? The British, as usual, were the first to document this diversity in the famous work – The Fauna of British India – Odonata (1933 – 1936). It runs into three volumes and records a total of 536 species and sub species! There are about six thousand species worldwide. They are among the ancient group of insects and were among the first to develop wings and take to the air.

The Granite Ghost Bradinopyga geminata belongs to the family of dragonflies called Libellulidae or Skimmers. Skimmers are usually brightly coloured and found in diverse habitats. They have a worldwide distribution consisting of 1139 species out of which 95 are found in India.

I often chance upon them perched on my neighbour’s compound wall or sitting on the road where they blend in so well that at times I only see them when they fly away.

This is a species of Dragonfly called – you guessed it – The Granite Ghost! They are members of the family of insects that young boys catch and tie to a string, and call it helicopters. However the Granite Ghost is very alert and almost impossible to catch with bare hands.They live in water, and found in many places in India.

A medium sized grey male dragonfly with black and white markings. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa.

This insect species, called Odonates by scientists, includes Dragonflies and Damselflies Both can be found in similar habitats but on the superficial level Damselflies are much thinner and when at rest most species hold their wings folded back over their body and thus do not look ‘ helicopter’ like.

The Granite Ghost is very common in urban landscapes including Bangalore. Different species of Dragonflies have varying flight seasons (time of the year when they can be seen flying) For example, Stellate River Hawk from April – June , Blue Hawklet from May – November , and Blue Marsh Hawk from May – October however the Granite Ghost can be found flying all year round.

Description: The Granite Ghost has a wing span of 32 to 36 mm and is a medium sized Dragonfly. They have black and white markings which makes for excellent camouflage among boulders and stone walls. They can be usually found perched on these features.
Commonly found: They favour small water bodies like rock pools etc and in the urban areas breed in overhead tanks and garden ponds.
Characteristics: The larvae are aquatic and have a tendency to destroy fish hatchlings. After sunset they come to roost in the same area day after day. Odonates are predators OF WHAT? – mosquitoes, butterflies, moths,bees and various blood sucking flies and insects both at the larval and adult stages and thus play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Yummy mosquitoes

Both young and old dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and other bloodsucking flies. And provide a valuable service to us city dwellers in controlling diseases. In fact the Thai have used dragonflies in their cities to control the Aedes mosquito, which is responsible for the spread of Dengue and Chikungunya fevers!

We don’t know much more about the lives of these lovely insects. The first comprehensive work – The Fauna of British India – Odonata (1933 – 1936) is also the last! Considering the direct benefits we humans derive from just one species in an urban environment, they merit much more detailed study, at least on purely selfish grounds. Another species, at our doorstep, waiting to be studied.

Comments:

  1. Vineith says:

    Wonderful note on an un-noticed flying machine.

  2. Deepa Mohan says:

    It’s fascinating to see how the Granite Ghost just sort of “melts” into the stone as it lands, and is hardly visible any more. I’d strongly recommend readers to watch this beauty!

    Thank you, Vikram.

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