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Ancient insects over the Alouette

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Our long, wet winter is only just showing signs of leaving us and the spring flowers are beginning to colour the ground.

Sadly, we have a while to wait before it is warm enough to walk along the river banks without a sweater on.

But, when the lazy days of summer are truly here, one of the most lovely creatures fluttering over the water are the dragonflies.

These ancient insects have changed little, except in size, over millions of years and you can see fossils from all parts of the world with the impression of a dragonfly left behind in the mud and ash of a volatile earth.

The dragonfly is an accomplished hunter. Its two eyes have 20,000 to 25,000 smaller eyes enclosed, which enable it to hone in on lunch.

This usually comprises of mosquitoes and other small flying insects, which it scoops up from the surface of the water with its six hair legs.

The young dragonfly is called a nymph and lives on the river bottom amongst the water plant roots and under stones. Here it stays for approximately four years, where it hunts for small fish and  beetles, then emerges up a tall reed stem to dry its wings in the sun and find a mate to start the cycle all over again.

The dragonfly lives for a four months, by which time eggs have been laid and its job done.

The double winged dragonfly comes in many colours, from beautiful blue-green  to  black and white. But if you find an injured one, take care as it may sting you. So please, just look – don’t touch.

Dragonflies have been part of the world’s culture for so long that many wives tales have been passed on. One is, if you see a swarm of dragonflies over the doorway, there will be rain.

In days past, when the world was not so cynical, they have been mistaken for fairies. Dipping and diving over the sun-dappled water, it is easy to see how such a mistake can be made, with their speed and almost transparent appearance against the light.

If you want to watch these delightful insects in action, the best time is to visit the Alouette River paths during the evening, when the mosquito population is active.

These annoying pests are the favourite food of the dragonfly and they help keep them under control.

Liz Hancock is a member of the Alouette River Management Society (ARMS).

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