Falling under the spell of a mighty emperor

PUBLISHED: 08:22 21 March 2018

An emperor dragonfly lays an egg to start the life cycle all over again... Picture: Brian Shreeve/

An emperor dragonfly lays an egg to start the life cycle all over again... Picture: Brian Shreeve/

(c) copyright

Pam Taylor hears how a child’s curiosity led to a fascination with emperor dragonflies.

It’s amazing what one person with a passion and a little dedication can achieve. And he says it was all his daughter’s fault!

The British Dragonfly Society Spring Meeting was just over a week ago and one of the speakers was Steve White from Tyntesfield, a National Trust estate in Somerset. A few years ago now, Steve was left in charge of his young daughter, so he took her out to explore the kitchen garden at the estate. In the centre of this garden is a small pond no more than ten feet across and six feet deep. With steep concrete sides, no fish and little vegetation, most visitors just glance at it and walk straight by. Steve’s daughter however, spotted a dragonfly larva just below the surface and so the story begins.

Steve initially knew little about dragonflies, but he and his daughter started to make regular visits to the pond. They were soon rewarded by witnessing an emperor dragonfly emerging into the adult form. Steve began to take photographs, but emergence for that year was almost over.

The following spring found Steve at the pond once more. As Steve waited patiently with his camera, other visitors began stopping to look as well, so Steve started to explain the insects to them. Before long Steve wanted to tell the whole emergence story on film, so ready for the following season he added underwater cameras to his other equipment.

It was at this point he realised most emergence actually happens at night, so his next move was to set up some lamps and await the dragonfly larvae after dark. Sure enough, late on a warm evening, larvae started climbing through the water’s surface. In the black of night he filmed new bodies bursting from larval cases, wings pumping up and abdomens expanding. At first light the new dragonflies took their maiden flights.

Steve’s filming attracted the attention of BBC’s The One Show and he was joined on one memorable night by Mike Dilger to film for the programme and thereby tell millions of viewers the story of his emperors.

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