Sitting quietly on my deck one recent, sunny afternoon, I noticed a very small movement along the edge of the railing. Upon close inspection, I saw that it was some type of dragonfly with what seemed to be purple wings and a purple head. Its size made it impossible to see clearly from where I was sitting, so not wanting to scare it away, I went inside quietly to get my field glasses. Magnified, I saw that the tiny creature was indeed purple, from its wee head and gossamer wings to its filament-sized, segmented body.

I watched it for awhile and noticed others of its kind alighting elsewhere along the railing and on the deck floor. On a whim, I crept inside again and this time grabbed my camera, doubtful at this point that I’d be able to get a clear enough shot of those wondrous insects that are a boon to anyone who likes spending time outdoors and who has an aversion to mosquitoes and other pesky bugs. For it’s a well-known fact that dragonflies are quite fond of mosquitoes as well as ants and whatever else they can manage to consume during their short lives.

This was not, as it turned out, a dragonfly, but a damselfly. And if my research and assessment are correct, it was a male violet dancer damselfly, a diminutive member of that insect family, called Odonata, that appeared to measure no more than one and a half inches at best. The female is roughly the same size, but duller in color, while the male’s coloring is brighter and more pronounced. Unlike their close relatives, damselflies keep their wings close to their bodies when not in flight.

Aside from its mesmerizing color, its most striking features were its large, protruding eyes and the metallic sheen of its long, segmented thorax and abdomen and the delicately transparent quality of its wings. Had this insect been larger, it might have been imposing; but as such, its size enabled me to appreciate it for what it was ”“ an intricately complex living thing that seemed to enjoy basking in the sunlight on my deck.

Sitting quietly for its own sake provides so many opportunities to see things that I’d otherwise miss in my day-to-day comings and goings, and I’m never prepared for what my vigilance and patience will reward me with, such as the very small creature making its way one afternoon in a slow, undulating motion along the edge of a plant pot. It was a tiny inch worm, probably no more than one-eighth of an inch long and bright green. Or sometimes, I am so focused on the words spanning a particularly interesting page of text that I don’t immediately notice a fly no larger than a pinhead land along the margin and sit there until I move and it flies away. Even with my reading glasses on, I have all I can do to distinguish its body parts one from the other and am always amazed at the intricacy present in so small a living organism.

My question when I see such tiny creatures is always the same: If they are themselves so small, then how much smaller must the food they eat be?

In the case of inch worms, the answer is simple. As the larvae of adult moths, most consume vegetation, eating their way through leaves and often doing quite a bit of damage in the process. But the damselfly? It seems that it eats the larvae of mosquitoes and other tiny aquatic organisms. As for the tiny flies that sometimes distract me from my reading, they tend to prefer decaying substances like most others of their kind. In short, the answer is simple though not at all discernible with the naked eye: They eat whatever they can overpower or can physically consume.

For me, this adds just one more layer of mystery to the goings-on in a world that literally has no room for one of my kind. A Gulliver of sorts, I approach their world unbidden and content myself with being a casual observer of their small lives ”“ not such a bad thing to be after all.

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman, who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected].



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