Around 60 million years ago, something pretty amazing happened in the Cape: dragonflies started making themselves at home in our fynbos and our wetlands.
In the lifespan of dragonfly species, this is a pretty recent occurrence, given that many of these species are some 300 million years old.
In the Nuwejaars wetlands, dragonflies play the crucial role they’re supposed to play – catching and eating pesky mosquitos, doing their part to keep these and other insect numbers in check.
But dragonflies can only thrive where wetlands and waterscapes can support them. Wetlands should ideally be healthy, or at least be resilient, to provide a sanctuary for dragonflies. Bear in mind that dragonflies spend up to two years underwater in larval state (some even longer). And during this time, are likely to eat tadpoles and even fish. Healthy waters therefore ensure their survival from a young age.
So when wetlands are polluted or degraded, where invasive alien species have taken over, or where sedimentation has occurred, it impacts not only on the quality of the water, but also on a healthy population of dragonflies.
Above: Jaunty Dropwing female. Image: Corrie du Toit
That’s why dragonflies and damselflies (and other sensitive species) are considered an indicator species for good water quality.
In January 2021, dragonfly and damselfly expert, Corrie du Toit, visited some of the wetlands of the Nuwejaars – in particular those wetlands to be expanded and rehabilitated in a project supported by WWF South Africa. During the dragonfly and damselfly pursuit, the team found 15 species, 11 of which were first-time records in our district.
Above: Cape Skimmer. Image: Heather D’Alton
Here are six of the most striking finds
(the photos are provided by Corrie du Toit):
Sooty Threadtail (Ellatoneura frenulata, known as Roetswartdraadstertjie in Afrikaans)
This damselfly is endemic to the Southern Cape, found from Table Mountain along the coast to the Groot River close to Port Elizabeth. It’s listed as a species of Least Concern.
Cape Skimmer (Orthetrum capicola, also known as Kaapse skepper in Afrikaans)
It’s found in the Cape province, particularly the south and south western Cape. This dragonfly species has not yet been assessed.
Mountain Sprite (Pseudagrion draconis, also known as Berggesie in Afrikaans)
This damselfly species only occurs in South Africa and Lesotho, mostly along the fynbos-covered coast, but also along the northern borders of the Eastern Cape, and into Lesotho.
Blue Emperor (Anax imperator, also known as Bloukeiser in Afrikaans)
This dragonfly is common throughout South Africa, extending beyond SA’s borders. It’s a species of Least Concern.
Broad Scarlet (Crocothemis erythraea, also known as Breë blosie in Afrikaans)
This striking red dragonfly is abundant and widespread across Africa, and even into Southern Europe. It’s not threatened.
Common Thorntail (Ceratogomphus pictus, also known as the Gewone doringstert in Afrikaans)
This species is actually more prolific in the eastern half of South Africa, although it is well represented around the southernmost tip too. It’s a species of Least Concern.
Working with WWF South Africa
The NWSMA is working with WWF South Africa to rehabilitate this Palmiet and Berzilia wetland along the Nuwejaars River. Through the project, we are removing invasive alien vegetation and where appropriate, planting indigenous trees. Agricultural areas are fenced off, to keep livestock out while the wetlands recover. WWF South Africa’s support allows us to employ a team of six people, led by Gerty Holtzhausen, on a permanent basis. During the next phase of the project, the NWSMA team is developing an interpretive walking tour, leading people to a bird hide that overlooks a secret waterbird stronghold.
Above: Broad Scarlet. Image: Heather D’Alton