Animals, Korea, Urban Walking
Comments 14

The Dragonfly Boneyard

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:


Another reason jeans suck for walking

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
  • beggar-ticks
  • hairy beggar-ticks
  • black-jack
  • 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:


The First Victim

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:



Rescued — but at a price

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…


The Demon Weed, Dusk

..rescuing or at least retrieving several unfortunate insects that reminded me of downed fighter planes hanging from trees:


Moon Through Dragonfly Wings. You write the haiku — I’m busy.


Never to Fly Again

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:

dragonfly trapped in burrs sunset korea

And still more the following evening:

b & w dragonfly in burr plant evening korea

colour dragonfly in burr plant night korea

trapped dragonfly in burr plant night lights korea


This shot almost destroyed me

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.


A Victim at the Crossroads

Pretty soon, mine would be, too.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote


    • It’s a jungle out there! It really surprises me that I can find barely a mention or shot of this phenomenon online. It’s quite dramatic and visual, as you can see!

  1. Darius Russell says

    Dragonfly greetings, Goat!

    Very much enjoying your “Korean Exodus” inspired posts. And while it’s almost “Time For This Dragon To Fly”(Love Moves A Mountain For Goat ) I think I will miss most your piercingly humorous posts on the maddening dealings with the Korean school where you teach. So hilariously funny, every once-in-a-while I find myself thinking about your high school hijinx and it just gives me a good laugh and a chuckle .

    My best to Kate The Great! —And in the meantime don’t get caught on any trichromatic hairs or sundew eating plants: Stateside Romance Ahead!

    Happy 2014 & Enjoy,


    • Thanks, Darius! Hope you had a great Xmas. Mine was awful. Awful! I am sucking in as many details in my surroundings here every day as I can manage. I have a longer, “deeper” project about my time here — there’ll be plenty of schoolboy/girl humour in that, to be sure.

  2. Darius Russell says

    Oops! Meant to sign the end of that reply post w/my name—that’s what I get for trying be Mr. Swift/Too Fancy!

  3. Good for you trying to free them.
    Your shots are a bit overwhelming. I mean that as a compliment. But seeing so many of those beautiful creatures pinnioned or staked, is all a bit much!
    Brilliant stuff, as ever.

    • Thanks again! It was really, really weird. Most passersby wouldn’t even notice them, but as soon as I started looking, I kept seeing more and more. Another little touch of Korean strangeness for me to store away.

  4. In all my life, it never occurred to me that dragonflies could be so vulnerable to a plant. I remember walking through a grove of Redwood trees (my spirit tree) in Northern California and becoming acutely aware that although they were gigantic and could survive everything for thousands of years, including fire, they had no defense against puny human beings with saws.

    No Bidens pilosa in Washington State. Whew!! Dragonflies are safe from Bidens pilosa in New York State, too.

    • Wow. Glad I won’t have to spend any more time extracting prickles from clothes and predators from prickles. Yes, it was extra-disturbing to me as dragonflies seem so impervious to danger, and they get themselves so easily snared in a measly weed.

      And “hairy beggarticks” — nice how they managed to fit three perjoratives into one name!

  5. Wow, that’s a weird one. It says something about an invasive species, doesn’t it? They tend to always wipe out the good native stuff! I guess in time, the dragon flies will have worked out a way to avoid the plant?

    I guess they’ll have to, as I haven’t seen anything in your posts to suggest some sort of landcare program is going to start up soon!

    • Haha, more on that topic in my latest post! My hope is that if I ever do return, the dragonflies will have learned how to actually rule the country!

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