Here there be dragons

Dragonflies, that is.  And what do you suppose dragonflies eat?  Mosquitoes?  Flies?  Other types of insects?  In this particular case, they eat other dragonflies.

I stepped outside one day and puzzled over a quiet yet distinct “crunch crunch crunch” taking place somewhere in my immediate vicinity.  It took but a few seconds to locate the source of the noise: two dragonflies locked together on the patio floor.  One, green and enormous as dragonflies go, was on its back.  The other, black and only a wee bit smaller, was atop the first.  Their legs were intertwined in what must have been a struggle as they faced each other.

Slowly making my way toward them, I finally realized what was happening.  The one on the bottom apparently caught the other one in flight, and together they crashed on the patio with the prey held on top of the predator.  But that sound…

I tried not to disturb them as I approached close enough to get a good look.  Only then did I understand both the noise and the embrace.

The large green dragonfly was slowly beheading his captured cousin.  The crunching noise was the sound of exoskeleton being chewed apart.  There appeared to be little life in the black insect as its head was by then only attached by a small bit of hard shell, and the large eater was making short work of it.  Yet there was still movement in both the dangling head and the nearly detached body.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have my camera with me.  I surreptitiously moved by them and back inside, grabbed it, and then rushed back outside hoping to grab a few photos.

When I returned to the patio, the crunching stopped.  I noticed as I tinkered with the camera to prepare it for work that the black dragonfly was now completely headless.  A short distance away from the still writhing mass of the two bodies locked in combat was the head.

It was still moving.  A very bizarre thing, that head.  Without any body to support it, the antennae still twitched, the mandibles still opened and closed, and the whole picture of it was a wonderfully creepy sight indeed.  This postmortem gesticulating lasted only a few seconds before it became still and lifeless.

At that point, I turned my attention back to the rest of the carnage.  Still on its back and now beginning to chew on the rest of the body, the large green dragonfly must finally have taken special note of me and my proximity.  Its wings began fluttering despite lying on its back, and with the carcass in tow it took flight and clumsily lifted into the bushes with its lunch.

The whole clump of predator and prey landed between the branches of one of the bushes, although landing seems less appropriate than does crashing given its position when it took flight (upside-down on the concrete) and the extra weight of the decapitated carcass to which it was clinging.

Although the whole of the scene was not easily visible to me given where they landed, I tried to snap a few shots anyway.  Below is the best one I was able to capture.  What you see is the large green dragonfly horizontal (it was resting partially behind a leaf and holding to the branch in front of it) while the headless body of the black dragonfly dangles vertically parallel to the branch.  If you look closely enough behind and below the green monster, you can see part of its body hanging down between the leaves.

After snapping a few photos, I stood and watched as the predator removed one by one the wings of its meal, each dropping silently through the leaves and branches, after which it was all crunching all the time.  Fascinating.

A large green dragonfly sitting in the bushes chewing on the decapitated body of slightly smaller black dragonfly (141_4129)

[I was never able to identify either species]

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