The Way I See Things

By JDO

In flagrante

You sometimes read that Odonata copulation is non-consensual - and it's true that it begins with the male grabbing hold of the scruff of the female's neck (or in dragonflies, the back of her head) by his claspers - an act which can be quite violent. But if she's not in the mood to bend her abdomen around like this to meet the secondary genitalia under his abdomen and receive a transfer of sperm, she won't - and there's nothing he can do other than keep hold of her and hope she changes her mind. I've sometimes seen clasped females shake off a male with some force, and on other occasions tandem pairs flying around for a long time, with no sign at all of the female forming the mating wheel, so it doesn't seem to me that the males hold all the power.

What is more interesting, I think, is that female dragonflies and damselflies are promiscuous, copulating with any male that appeals to them, and in species like these Azure Damselflies, where mating goes on for a long time, the first stage of the process involves the male cleaning out any leftover sperm from the female's previous partner. So that we don't both get embarrassed by me becoming any more informative here than I've already been, I'll leave it to you to decide whether you want to know how they do this; if you do, there's a short film here with some nice graphics that illustrate the process quite well.

Once the male's sperm is mixed with the female's eggs, she will lay, or oviposit, immediately. In this species the female lays onto vegetation at or just below the water surface, with the male keeping a firm hold of her to prevent her from copulating with a rival male until the batch of eggs he has fertilised is laid. When I took this photo about ten days ago, courtship and ovipositing among the Azures at this pond was only just getting under way, but in the past few days there have been a dozen or more pairs laying at any given time, and by today the pond weed was littered with their tiny elongated eggs.

Away from consideration of the sex lives of damselflies, I've been seeing more and more Silver Y moths over the past few days, and this afternoon this one turned up in our garden and spent a couple of hours flying around and nectaring on the geraniums. I posted this photo to the Facebook page of the West Midlands branch of Butterfly Conservation, and the administrator commented that a large influx of this immigrant moth tends to coincide with a mass arrival of Painted Lady butterflies. As it's a couple of years since I last saw a Painted Lady, I'm very much hoping that this turns out to be the case.

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