Sunday, 22 January 2012

Thailand Odonata

When life gives you winter doldrums, take a mental vacation.  That's what I'm doing this evening.  The sideways rain and westerly winds have forced me to retreat deep into the recesses of my brain where the dragonflies and damselflies of Thailand are dashing about.  This little reality break also serves to show you that I'm no one-trick pony, luring you in with the term "naturalist" and then inundating solely with birding adventures.  If you think this is a blog of some naked guy (ie. Janean typing in "naturalest naturist" in Google), you'll be disappointed, but read on anyways and you might enjoy it all the same.

Around five years ago, I decided to seriously attempt to learn the Odonata - the order that contains suborder Zygoptera (damselflies) and infraorder Anisoptera (dragonflies) - of British Columbia.  I had attempted to learn them several times over in years before that, but those efforts were fairly lackluster.  I would see a bluet or a darner and think it was impossible to identify.  On my serious attempt, however, I realized the process was just as calculated as birds but the diagnostic features were just significantly less "macro".  After that, all the pieces fell together and I was hooked!  It is now standard practice for me to attempt to photograph any odonates that cross my path on my travels.

I had never been out of the Americas before landing in Thailand in February last year, so I was completely unprepared for how different the odonates were going to be and I was absolutely floored by the different colours, patterns, and morphologies.  The first two days were definitely geared towards birds, but that all changed when I got to Kaeng Krachan National Park and wandered down a stream near the campground where I was staying.  Sitting on a rock surrounded by slow-moving water was a damselfly with its wings held together above its body, similar to dancers (genus Argia) in the New World, except it was bulkier and had a short abdomen.  To top it off, the thorax had brilliant violet and blue markings, the latter extending onto the abdomen.  Fractured sunlight trickling through the canopy reflected off cells in the dark-tipped wings of hovering males, creating a shimmering display for the females.  I think my knees wobbled at the sight.  The photo below doesn't do these little gems justice.

Rhinocypha biforata

I realized then that I needed to make time for the country's Odonata and I made a point of keeping my head down around water bodies and my camera at the ready.  I am quite pleased with the collection covering more than 30 species that I managed over the course of my trip.  Once again, all of these were more exciting in nature but I hope the photos give you an appreciation of Thailand's dragonflies and damselflies.

Coeliccia chromothroax

Coeliccia didyma

Ischnura senegalensis

Neurobasis chinensis

Prodasineura autumnalis

Prodasineura laidlawii

Pseudagrion rubriceps

Rhinagrion mima

Rhinocypha fenestrella

Copera vittata

Copera marginipes

Vestalis gracilis

Acisoma panorpoides

Neurothemis fulvia

Orthetrum glaucum

Orthetrum sabina

Pantala flavescens

Paragomphus capricornis

Rhyothemis phyllis

Rhyothemis variegata

Tholymis tillarga

Trithemis aurora

Trithemis festiva

Agrionoptera insignis

Brachythemis contaminata

Trithemis pallidinervis

Neurothemis tullia

That was way more amazing than I was anticipating!  When I first started this little flashback, I thought it would be refreshing to review the exotic odonates from my three weeks in Thailand.  I now realize, however, it will be nearly three months before I see the first dragonfly here in Victoria, which will likely be a California Darner (Rhionaeschna californica).  That's almost depressing!  Luckily that trip to Panama is lurking in the not-too-distant future.  Since I've seen a decent cross-section of the country's birds, I'll be able to shift some of the focus over to odonates and the herpetofauna.

I am by no means an expert on Thailand's dragonflies and damselflies so if any Asian odonatologists randomly come across this and see some glaring errors, please let me know.  To everyone else, I hope you enjoyed the eye candy!


  1. Very impressive Jeremy. Great blog!

  2. Great photos. I have a few questions: What camera equipment did you use? Did you use a tripod? They are all in such great focus. And what source did you use to identify the odanata? I am in Thailand but they have no good books that I have found. Thanks.

    1. Hi John,

      Believe it or not, my equipment was just a Panasonic Lumix FZ-35. It's a point-and-shoot that I found to have good macro and I occasionally used the flash to "freeze" the subject. I know colours can be altered by this, but I think the low light shots turned out good with the flash.

      As for resources, it was actually a time-consuming process of searching and occasionally I would post a photo there looking for identification help. I also searched on photo sites like Flickr and PBase for galleries with identified dragonflies and scanned through matches to the ones I had photographed. I am not sure there is a photographic guide to the dragonflies of Thailand - I know there is a dragonfly atlas book that you might be able to get from the Siam Insect Zoo. You might want to contact the insect zoo - actually very good publications put out through them - and see if they have anything that will help.