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Friday, August 14, 2015

Interacting with Distant Relations

Yesterday, I spotted both a dragonfly and a damselfly in  about the same place. The dragonfly was delicately balanced on the barbed wire that separates my land from the neighbors. The beautiful backdrop to the dragonfly was a landscape I do not own, but am lucky enough to enjoy anyway, from a distance.

The damselfly was less than a foot away, on a poison ivy leaf.

Now I have written about the difference between dragonflies and damselflies before. In that post, we established that the damselfly is as distantly related to a dragonfly as a human is to a rhinoceros,

But at the time, I only spotted a damselfly, and had no dragonfly to compare it with. Yesterday, I was given an opportunity to observe them both closely in a very similar environment.

At first, I noticed only the dragonfly, which was bigger and more active than the damselfly. It kept taking off from the barbed wire, only to return over and over again to the same spot.

Dragonfly in flight

It would get so small in the distance, then grow back in size as it came in for a landing, making its final approach.

Dragonfly coming in for a landing
This happened over and over again, and meanwhile, the damselfly was so quiet and demure and still, that I hardly noticed it.

But it was in almost the same place.

Nobody thinks that because dragonflies and damselflies are so distantly related, they should be kept apart for the purity of their races or cultures. They can hang out side by side, and there is no problem.

You might argue that it is because the two species occupy a different ecological niche -- one preferring barbed wire to perch on and the other poison ivy -- they pose no threat to each other.

But I have seen animals as distantly related as the great spangled fritillary butterfly and the common honey bee feeding side by side on the same flower.

A bumblebee, a honey bee and a great spangled fritilalry 

And I have also seen animals as closely related as bumblebees and honeybees share the same flowers with the great spangled fritillary butterfly, and there was peace and harmony, and all went well.

And yet if someone suggests that bonobos and chimpanzees might be able to live together if they knew each other well and agreed to the arrangement, some experts frown. And for humans to live in the same environment as either species is verboten. It would be unnatural, they say. Why? Don't you think we evolved in pretty much the same environment? Don't you think we occupy the same niche? Don't you think there are also humans in Africa in a more or less natural setting? You might as well segregate the honey bees from the bumblebees and the damselflies from the dragonflies.

Of course, there are conflicts between similar animals occupying the same niche. But most of the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos are cultural. And if we are raised in a similar culture, we can get along with others who are not exactly the same as we are. At least we can, if we choose to.


  1. I enjoy your nature walks and photos posted here. I was also thinking about how zebras and giraffes tend to wander together, even though they are different species.

    1. Thanks, Julia. Your example of how zebras and giraffes wander together is a good one. Very much on point! I think it is also interesting how many different animals can be found around a watering hole.

  2. i admire your appreciation of nature, Aya. Damselflies and Dragonflies are fascinating, beautiful insects and I hope that humans put in more effort to preserve their environment.

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Dragonflies and damselflies are really something!

      I think that to preserve our environment we need to put in less effort, not more. Less effort to build things, less effort to change things and certainly less effort to tax things.