Dragonfly: the lips undertake a rhythmic and smooth dance in four steps when pronounced. This word comes etymologically from the Latin libellula, a word that already designated this insect at the time and which, in turn, is a diminutive of libella, which corresponds to the level of a scale.
Let's say that, as it is able to keep itself balanced in the air, the Romans called this little animal something like "balancilla".
In Italian it is called libellula, in French it is called libellule and in English its name is dragonfly, something like fly-dragon, a name a little stronger and less poetic.
Dragonflies are insects that belong to the order Odonta and suborder Epiprocta. They are also paleoptera, insects that cannot fold their wings on the abdomen. They have multifaceted eyes capable of providing great vision, two pairs of strong transparent wings, and an elongated abdomen. They feed on other small insects such as flies, bees, butterflies, and moths.
Dragonflies have been on this planet for a long time. Some fossil specimens of the Carboniferous, when the oxygen levels were higher than the current ones, have almost a meter of wingspan. It must have been quite a spectacle to see these insects fly among the trees of the swampy forests of an incredible green Earth in which there were still no flowers, no humans destroying everything.
Due to these vagaries of evolutionary history, there are still dragonflies today, they have even diversified into many species that still survive in places where pollution and insecticides have not yet reached.
They usually live near rivers, streams or lagoons, among other things because part of their life cycle takes place under water. But they are also the sentries of water quality. If it is contaminated then there are no dragonflies.
Therefore, these insects are a good indicator of the health of ecosystems. If you, dear reader, wonder if you live in a biologically healthy place, try to remember when was the last time you saw a dragonfly.
So it is not surprising that many of the species have disappeared from their natural habitats in the first world and there are still many species in less "advanced" sites.
These cute little animals have their own scientific journal: Odonatologica.
A copy of this magazine has just been published, exclusively describing the 60 new species of African dragonflies discovered by a team of biologists. This required the use of 230 pages.
Why talk about dragonflies and not something more spectacular like dark matter, the latest battery, or the latest graphene device? In addition to reminding us of the fragility of the ecosystems on which we depend and indicating that there is something beyond the panda to protect, this topic allows us to notice the quiet and not always appreciated, almost philatelic, work of the few biologists who dedicate themselves to Taxonomy under the eternal threat of stupid utilitarianism and ignorant politicians.
Long-term scientific work is also worth supporting in these times of demand for immediate results.
Dragonflies are also beautiful and you don't need any other reason or excuse to talk about them. Therefore, this post is outside the usual line and style and has a greater dose of opinion than the others, as can already be seen.
Catalogs already listed about 700 African dragonfly species, but a group of researchers suspected that there must be at least 100 more to be discovered. So these bionauts, as they like to call themselves, have spent the last 15 years trying to find new species of African dragonflies. They have managed to discover 60 new species that they have named and described. Each photos that appear in this text belong to one of these 60 species.
In these times in which genetic analysis makes it possible to quickly distinguish some species from others at a low cost, this type of methodical work is welcome. However, many of these new species are anatomically very well distinguishable thanks to their unique sizes, shapes and colors, as you can see.
The names these researchers have given to some of these new species are interesting and even funny. For example, one has been named Notogomphus gorilla, because it was found in Uganda and it is large and dark. Another case is that of Umma gumma, whose name comes from the Pink Floyd album of the same name (header photo). And another is called Porpax mezierei in homage to the Gabonese high school teacher who in his spare time helped this team of bionauts (there are good people everywhere).
This copy of Odonatologica has been posted for free in low resolution for all who want to download it. These new (to science) animals and the work of those who describe them are well worth taking a look and admiring.
Just add the envy that a work of this type can awaken in restless minds: it is still possible to travel to certain parts of the world and discover living beings not previously described by science, like the ancient adventurers, as Darwin, Bates or Wallace did in the XIX.
Under this poetic perspective it is much easier for us to unmask the cretins: those who say that "and what is this for?". Like the one who a few years ago wrote in the comments of a newspaper that "and what is the use of counting the legs of a beetle if people are in need?" (in the original there were more spelling mistakes), in order to justify the cuts to science due to the crisis in Spain that the political caste had imposed. Possibly someone who is also licensed to procreate for some strange and arbitrary legal reason.
Yes, there is nothing worse than ignorance, and nothing that hurts more than the happiness of others.
Lastly, it should be noted that as African countries are developing very rapidly in recent times, the quality of the water there is resisting, which affects dragonflies. So conservation efforts need to be made to protect these creatures. Because, at this rate, to contemplate many of the dragonflies that once existed and are already with their Carboniferous companions we will have to be forced to read old copies of Odonatologica.
Copyleft: attribute with link to http://neofronteras.com/?p=4838
Sources and references:
Original article (pdf).
Photo: Klaas-Douwe B. Dijkstra, Jens Kipping2 and Nicolas Mézière.