Best part of the day for me was sitting on the riverbank beside the new butterfly bridge. Families of grey and pied wagtails foraged the rocks in front of us, coming very close seemingly oblivious to us as we sat sketching the scene. They accompanied us for most of the hour-plus we were there, and we also had the pleasure of watching a dipper taking beakfulls of 'stuff' to its nest, and a kingfisher flying downstream then up again, perching on an overhanging tree just up from our station. Great session that, and just shows the benefits of just setting up somewhere and waiting for the wildlife to come, rather than seeking it out.
Anyhow by mid-afternoon our painting session was over and I had time to pop along to Thornley woods pond before heading home, and pleased I did as at last the large reds were out in numbers, with a few azures as well.
But on reviewing my photographs back at home I discovered something sinister, and a bit of research tells me that below the surface of the water, all sorts of evil lurks in the murky waters . . .
|Large Red damsel (m) at Thornley woods pond.|
Nothing unusual you might say . . . .
|. . . . But look at this side-on view.|
What's that attached to the underside of the thorax?
EAT ME ALIVE!
Water Mites; I'd heard of them but this is the first time I've witnessed them in action. They start life under the water, swimming freely 'til they find a host dragon/damselfly nymph to attach themselves to, and at this point they do nothing but sit and wait. For what? For transformation time. When the last instar of the dragonfly larva leaves the pond and splits open the larval casing, the mites scramble on to the soft body of the emerging dragon, pierce the 'skin' with their mouthparts and insert a tube which begins draining the juices from inside the host. Nasty!
The mites gorge themselves on the teneral and immature host, then when the fully mature dragon/damsel returns to the pond to mate, the mites detach themselves and do their own reproducing back under the water and the cycle begins again.
|Another male with mites attached . . .|
|. . . . and you can see one of them has detached itself|
A bit creepy but the good news is that only in extreme cases of massive infestation will the dragonfly succumb to this invasion, and usually no real harm is done to the host as can be seen in my photos, they are still able to fly freely and reproduce.
|A right pair this, the female has a twisted abdomen . . . .|
|. . . . and the male is covered in mites . . . .|
|. . . . as you can see from this close-up.|
Just shows how nature seems to come up with a creature to suit every possibility. Still freaks me out a bit though!