Glories of the streams

I am sitting by the side of a stream in the Western Ghats. It is my favourite stream. A small Ficus tree on the bank leans over it. Ferns and Impatiens adorn the bank. The sun is up, its rays dancing on the water. Schools of little fishes are busy feeding at the bottom of the stream. Running water slaps the rocks, making chattering sounds.

I was waiting to see the glitter from the wings of a damselfly — Stream Glory. This is one of the more common damselfly species found in the forested streams of India.  Males of this damselfly are are shimmering green colour, exceptionally beautiful, especially while flying when its shimmering hindwing shows up. The female is also beautiful in green but lacks those distinctive iridescent wings.

The Stream Glory species occurs in running streams that have nearby plants and trees whose roots have got submerged, and where there are aquatic plants and dead vegetation. The female lays eggs in the submerged vegetation. Hence to attract her, the male has to protect this part of the stream from other competing males. Once he finds such a place along the stream and if the place is well-lit by sun the male Stream Glory marks it as his territory with a continuous circling flight around that area. He also has a favourite spot or two to perch on, within his territory. After regular patrolling flights he perches at the tip of the fern growing along the bank, or on a leaf of the floating plant or on an exposed rock within the stream or on a stick protruding from the water. He always sits facing the stream and is very vigilant. If another male tries to intrude, he will be immediately chased and driven off. Watching two male Stream Glories fluttering their shiny green wings and chasing one another over the rippling water is a most amazing sight.

If the perched male is really powerful or if he doesn’t feel like a chase, he simply flashes or claps his hindwings and warns the other male. The eye-catching colour warns the intruder and also impresses the female Stream Glory!

It is fascinating just to sit beside the forest stream of Western Ghats watching the cascades and ripples, the moss covered rocks, underwater plants swaying in the current, fishes, tadpoles, frogs going about their lives, a Grey Wagtail strutting along the bank, with the song of the Malabar Whistling Thrush for background music, and the smell of a Small-clawed Otter. These are indeed the many glories of the stream. But I would still say the forest stream is incomplete without the Stream Glory.

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 6 February 2013.

Picture: A male Stream Glory dragonfly perched on a rock beside a stream in the Western Ghats.
Credit: P. Jeganathan