A rare variety of dragonfly known to exist only in the Travancore hills of Kerala has made a dramatic reappearance 83 years after it was last sighted, sending waves of ecstasy through ecologists and officials, and making a powerful statement on the good health of forest streams, the insects’ core habitat.
The Indian Emerald dragonfly was sighted in the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) near Thekkady during an odonata survey conducted by the Reserve authorities in collaboration with the Indian Dragonfly Society between October 27 and 29 across 15 camps in the eastern and western divisions of the Reserve. Odonata is an order of carnivorous insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies.
“Obviously, we are very, very happy. When we discover anything that is unique to PTR, we are quite happy. This dragonfly species is glossy green in colour. Its discovery is an indicator of the health of mountain streams,” J Patrick David, an ecologist at PTR, told The Indian Express.
The last reported sighting of the Indian Emerald was in 1934. David said the Indian Emerald lives around forest streams; their sighting, therefore, is an indicator of the health of water bodies inside sanctuaries and reserves. “Species distribution scientifically depends on the geological timescale. The Indian Emerald species needs a particular habitat to procreate,” he said.
Kiran CG, secretary of the Indian Dragonfly Society and a member of the survey team, was present when the Emerald’s sighting was confirmed. It was found in Sathram, which lies on the traditional route through dense forests to the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala. Decades ago, this was the only route to the temple — and even now, despite new roads and routes having been developed, many pilgrims continue to take this way to the shrine.
“The Indian Emerald lives in a micro-habitat near high-altitude areas. We found one near a hillside in the Shola forests. It is easy to spot because it flies irregularly over the water body for nearly an hour. Plus, it is emerald green in colour from head to toe. Its body glistens in sunlight,” Kiran said. The Emerald, he said, is a high flier. “We don’t know much about its lifespan and breeding process.” However, if a particular habitat is disturbed by pollution, the species won’t be able to survive, Kiran, who has written a book on the dragonflies of Kerala in Malayalam, as well as several papers, said.
The odonata survey found 77 species of dragonflies and damselflies over three days, Kiran said. It also noted the north-south migration of the Wandering Glider Dragonfly, which is said to fly at this time to the Maldives, and across the Indian Ocean up to Africa. They return to India with the onset of the southwest monsoon.
The PTR is spread across three central districts of Kerala, and is home to elephant, sambar, barking deer, otter, hornbill and wild dog. During summer, a lucky visitor may even spot a tiger near the Periyar lake.