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Let us know our Dragonflies & Damselflies”

Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Qureshi, PhD, FLS
Research Officer/Principal Investigator
Mantaqi Centre for Science & Society,
Islamic University of Science & Technology,
Awantipora, Kashmir-192122 (India)
[Commission Member, Species Survival Commission (SSC),
Butterfly Specialist Group, IUCN, Switzerland]


Biodiversity is variety of life which includes all life forms from bacteria, fungi and protozoa to higher plants, insects, fishes, birds, countless millions of races, sub-species and local varieties of species and the ecological processes and cycles that link organisms into population, communities, ecosystems and ultimately the entire ecosystem. It provides innumerable services and goods like food; industrial products; medicines; clean air; water; fertile soils; opportunities for recreation, tourism, scientific research and education; and is a source of cultural identity as well. Insects comprise over 80% of terrestrial species on Earth and are important components of global biodiversity. They are keystone species that provide invaluable ecosystem services that extend beyond pollination, by providing biological control of pests, and acting as bio-indicators of healthy streams and soils. Insects form the base of complex ecological food webs in agricultural, natural, and urban areas, shaping the appearance, beauty and complexity of these diverse landscapes. Insects are important because of their diversity, ecological role, and influence on agriculture, human health, and natural resources. They create the biological foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems. They cycle nutrients, pollinate plants, disperse seeds, maintain soil structure and fertility, control populations of other organisms, and provide a major food source for other taxa. Among Insects, Dragonflies & Damselflies which belong to order Odonata are very important and are regarded as indicator taxa. The order Odonata is one of the most popular insect groups. Odonates are popular with both the amateurs and professionals because they are large, colorful, easily observable and have exceptionally charismatic behaviors. Odonates lay their eggs in fresh water and the larger part of their lives as larvae is spent in the aquatic habitats such as rivers, lakes, ponds or even water-filled tree holes. The metamorphosis of Odonata has only three stages (incomplete metamorphosis), egg, larva and adult. The larval life span varies from a few weeks to several years d uring which period they grow in size by shedding their exoskeletons. The fully grown larvae emerges from water and the aerial stage of life begins. The life-expectancy of adults is short, typically no more than a week or two, but sometimes they can last 6–8 weeks. Adult dragonflies have voracious appetites, and can be observed hunting other flying insects, particularly small flies, on sunny days. Tenerals are newly emerged adult dragonflies that are weak in flight and pale in colouration. As the body and wings harden off, they begin hunting for food whenever fine weather permits. They spend about a week feeding away from water and gradually acquire adult colouration and sexual maturity. When mature, adults move back to the water to breed.
Dragonflies and Damselflies are key components of wetland ecosystem. They are primarily aquatic insects, which are relatively easy to identify; very sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, including climate; different species have different distributions, with a sufficient number of species to provide a rich source of data; reproduce relatively quickly, so changes over generations are revealed in a timely manner and their studies are not capital-or equipment-intensive activities. In addition, studies have indicated that the distribution of dragonflies is very sensitive to climate change. All of these advantages indicate that dragonflies, which play many important ecological roles in aquatic ecosystems and are a good indicator of health of aquatic ecosystems and can become most important allies in documenting the effects of climate change. They can help provide early warning, detailed evidence, rapid indication of changing climate patterns, and future climate crisis. In addition, adult odonates feed on mosquitoes, blackflies and other blood-sucking flies and act as an important biocontrol agent of these harmful insects. Regardless of their fearsome appearance, dragonflies do not sting, and they are completely harmless to people. 
The insect order Odonata is divided into three suborders namely Anisoptera (Damselflies) Zygoptera (Dragonflies) and Anisozygoptera. At global level, a total of 5,680 species of Odonata are known, 2,739 belonging to the suborder Zygoptera (19 families) and 2,941 to the suborder Anisoptera (12 families). Odonata of India is represented by 488 species and 27 subspecies in 154 genera and 18 families. The Suborder Zygoptera comprise of 211 species under 59 genera and 9 families; Anisozygoptera one species under one genus and one family; Anisoptera 276 species under 94 genera and 8 families. However, Odonata of Kashmir Himalayan Region is not fully known and explored yet and around 80 species have been reported from here.

Dragonflies and damselflies can be differentiated by following few characters:

Eyes together
Fore wings & hind wings unequal in size; hind wings broader at the base.
Strong & robust body
Wings spread out at rest
Strong agile fliers
Eyes wide apart
Fore wings & hind wings approximately of the same size and shape
Slender & fragile body
Wings usually held together dorsally over abdomen
Comparatively weak fliers

The Kashmir Himalayan Region (KHR) which forms an important position in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), due to its considerable topographical, altitudinal and climatic variation depicts great habitat diversity and harbours a rich flora and fauna including odonate wealth. The region is rightly called as “Biomass State” and has always been famous for the various components of its biodiversity, namely fruits, timber, furniture, wood carving, medicinal plants, flowers, carpets, silk, honey, wool, game animals, fishes, dragonflies, bees, butterflies, birds, etc. The people living here have always remained in close association with and dependent on its biodiversity. In Kashmir, dragonflies are locally known as Jahaaz/Helicopter and in the past people particularly children would play with them especially in villages. However, such activities are not found now.
Although, Kashmir Himalayan Region with its unique geography and diverse bioclimatic regions, support a rich odonate fauna, however as compared to other parts of the IHR, the Odonata of Kashmir Himalayan Region is still poorly documented, and no comprehensive study has been conducted on these insects. Despite being an important aspect of socio-economic factors, the biodiversity including Odonate wealth of Kashmir Himalayan Region has suffered greatly due to varied anthropogenic pressures, more so in recent past. According to a rough estimate about 40% of the endemic plant species in Kashmir Himalaya are currently threatened and just like other floral and faunal elements, dragonflies & damselflies are facing survival problems. Some of the identified threats and challenges include fragmentation, degradation and loss of habitats; urban congestion; global warming and climate change; invasive species; desertification; shrinking of genetic diversity; pollution; deterioration of landscape quality; overexploitation & depletion of resources; lack of research interventions & policy, etc. At global level, the harmful effects of climate change on biological diversity, its goods and services, have already been recognized. The issue is more important for the mountain ecosystems which are more prone to global warming. According to some studies, over the years the climate change trends will have substantial impacts on biodiversity (which includes Odonates as well), and as many as 30% of species will be lost as a consequence of such changes. Climate change is causing many species to shift their geographical ranges, distributions, and phenologies at faster rates than previously thought. Changes in terrestrial plant and animal species ranges are shifting the location and extent of biomes and altering ecosystem structure and functioning. Thus, there is urgent need to conduct long-term surveys and continuous monitoring for proper identification, documentation, and conservation of these ecologically important and magnificent creatures.
In order to study the Odonate biodiversity of Kashmir Himalayan Region, Ministry of Science & Technology, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India under the mission National Mission for Sustainable Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE), HICAB-Climate Change Programme, has sanctioned major research project to Mantaqi Centre for Science & Society, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora, Kashmir. The project among others is focusing on long-term surveys and continuous monitoring for proper identification, documentation, and conservation of Odonata through, education, awareness, capacity building, collaborations, outreach, research, surveys, technology, citizen science, etc. We are running a capacity building, awareness and outreach programme on Biodiversity, Biosystematics and Climate Change Studies in Kashmir Himalayan Region.
Since biodiversity belongs to all of us and dragonflies and damselflies are part of biodiversity, let us join hands to study and save these fascinating and important species so as to live in the harmony with nature. Anyone interested is to know more or get connected through our citizen science initiate is most welcome and may please feel free to contact us. Our motto is TOGETHER WE CAN.
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