Do I have to apologise for hitting you with another dragonfly post? Has it come to that?
Well, I hope not, because — “sorry” — there’s one more coming after this, and I can guarantee there’ll be more post-Korea. I took many hundreds of D.F. shots here that I’ll probably work on some more, and without giving anything away, I’ve been assured by a certain someone that there are going to be a lot more of these enigmatic critters in my future…
I felt a certain affinity with dragonflies over here, insofar as you can feel a connection with a bug. They were always there, a constant presence in the landscape; coolly detached, guarded but intimately in tune with their surroundings. Always circling the same routes. Always watching, ever ready to make tracks…
There’s another connection. As the weather started cooling off, I used to watch, every day while I walked, for the last dragonfly in my neighbourhood. I knew they’d be gone with the really cold weather, and I knew I wouldn’t be far behind them. And every time I thought I’d seen the last one, I’d escape from school at lunchtime and see one more survivor hanging tough in one of the vegetable patches or overgrown lots. Sometimes I’d say out loud, “Hey, buddy. Hang in there.”
They seldom replied. Other things on their mind.
November came round and the dragons didn’t. But even before that, this happened:
It was mid-October and I’d been drinking beer on a bench near the creek. Yeah, it had come to that. And the bottle empty, I found myself walking the rubble-littered banks of the Daecheong hunting for something vaguely interesting. There were these nasty bushes, the dominant vegetation along that stretch, with faded flowers highly attractive to butterflies…
..but covered with nasty burs — or burrs, if you prefer — that made them a nightmare for everybody else:
And I now know this wretched weed is Bidens pilosa, a member of the daisy family with a litany of common names attesting to its, er, “character”:
- beggar’s tick
- hairy beggar-ticks
- broom stick
- broom stuff
- cobbler’s pegs
- devil’s needles
- hairy bidens
- Spanish needle
It’s an American native that has colonised/invaded (as ever, what’s the difference?) many far-flung lands and even has a role in Chinese herbalism. It’s also partial to disturbed land, and the Daecheong’s banks are so disturbed, they’re downright deranged.
I know this now. At the time I just knew it was a drag to pull all those needles from shoes, socks, pants and sleeves — I’m still finding them in clothing and on my floor. Oh, and that afternoon, stumbling down the excavator spillage, I knew this:
My beloved totem animal, impaled on thorns! It was almost Biblical! Then I found another, and another:
I think I found six or seven in the next half-hour, all within a hundred metres or so. About half of them were too far gone to help, but I managed to free a few:
Of course, the delicate parchment of their wings had taken a beating. And it was impossible to extract them from their snare without doing them further damage. But at least a couple were able to fly off — whether they could have managed to hunt in that compromised state, who knows?
It was, to use the cliche, surreal. I’d never heard of this phenomenon. But now I had a mission — I like missions. I continued patrolling the banks into dusk…
..rescuing or at least retrieving several unfortunate insects that reminded me of downed fighter planes hanging from trees:
Well, this whole business intrigued me so much that I formulated a theory about the plant evolving the burs to defend the butterflies it needs for pollination — the same butterflies that seem immune to those deadly barbs. Just a theory.
I also investigated online and found but a single reference to the phenomenon, in a Google Books version of Jill Silsby’s Dragonflies of the World:
Finally, smaller dragonflies and many damselflies get trapped or entangled in such insect-eating plants as sundew or, as reported by Michael Samways of Natal University, on the hundreds of minute hooked trichomes (hairs) on the seed heads of Desmodium repandum and Bidens pilosa.
Well, I went back the next day after another bench beer — more victims:
And still more the following evening:
I didn’t return after that. Then in late October, in the closing stages of the dragonfly’s seasonal dominance of the banks and edges, I went out for another dawn ramble at Yulha, a couple of miles from those first killing fields, and found a few more victims:
They were too far gone to help. Their struggle was over.
Pretty soon, mine would be, too.
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote