The Order Odonata – the dragonflies - have been poorly studied in Iraq. No definitive list has been published, nor any surveys undertaken. This is surprising as these large insects are very good indicators of water quality and Iraq is a country globally famous for its extensive wetlands, as well as the mighty Tigris and Euphrates.
A search of the literature, correspondence with Mohammed Al-Saffar and examination of the Odonata collected in Iraq in UK's Natural History Museum indicated that prior to 2013 a total of 47 species had been recorded in Iraq. Whilst the Nature Iraq/Darwin programme focuses mainly on plants and birds, brief surveys of dragonflies in the Sulimaniye Governorate of northern Iraq recorded 17 species.
Remarkably, four had never been recorded in Iraq, thus bringing the total number of species for the country to 51.
Most of the 17 species discovered by the Nature Iraq/Darwin team were at or near the mountain of Peremagroon, where three of the four new Iraq species were found along the well-vegetated river and neighbouring irrigation ditches near to the past Nature Iraq eco-camp at Mergapan. In addition to the four new species one found was of conservation significance. Although previously recorded, little is known about it and IUCN have classified it as Data Deficient.
Nature Iraq would like to thank David Chelmick and Jean-Pierre Boudot for their help with the identification of dragonflies during the Darwin surveys; and David for helpful additions to this account.
Goblet-marked Damselfly Erythromma lindenii
Found along a river at De Lezha, near Peremagroon in May. Its range includes much of the Western Palearctic north as far as Belgium.
The specimen photographed in Iraq looks much like E. lindenii ssp. zernyi (Dumont 1991). The black markings being greatly reduced compared to the typical European specimens.
E.l.zernyi was thought to be endemic to the Jordan valley (Dumont 1991). This Iraq specimens shows that this is not the case.
What are dragonflies?
They are placed in the order ‘Odonata’ which means ‘tooth jaws’. The adults have the largest eyes of any insect and two pairs of large wings. There are almost 6,000 species in the world.
Their Life History has three distinct stages: egg, larva and adult. Eggs are laid directly into the water or into plant tissue to protect them. The larvae hatch after 2-5 weeks, depending on temperature. The larva is an 'eating machine' which grows through a number of stages (instars) at the end of which it splits its skin to grow into the next instar.
Depending upon the species, dragonflies can remain in the larval form for anything from a few weeks up to 20 years; but the length of time for those species occurring in Iraq has not been studied.
As the larvae completes it life so the adult insect develops within the final larval skin; there is no pupal stage. When conditions are right the larvae leave the water on plant stems and the adults emerge from the final larval skin which is known as the exuvia. This exuvia should always be collected and identified as it proves breeding of the species.
Adults are mainly short-lived (a few weeks) and after mating and egg-laying soon die. Although one of the newly discovered species, the Siberian Winter damsel emerges in the summer months and over winters as an adult becoming sexually mature in the following Spring.
Dragonflies are carnivores: the larva are aggressive predators, hunting by ambushing their prey underwater, particularly insect larvae, fleas, snails and small fish. The adults prey on flying insects.
The Nature Iraq Darwin team
For more information click here