OtherPix: 21: Guarding

Of the four Anax species in Europe, two (the Vagrant Emperor (A. ephippiger) and the Lesser Emperor (A. parthenope)) engage in 'contact-guarding' - after copulation the male and female stay in tandem and he continues to hold on to her while she lays her eggs. The third species, the Magnificent Emperor (A. immaculifrons), employs 'non-contact guarding' - the male doesn't physically hold on to the ovipositing female but he does stay very close to her and tries to make sure no other males can grab her and fly off with her. The fourth and by far commonest species, the Blue Emperor (A. imperator), employs neither of these two techniques - the male simply leaves the ovipositing female to her own devices while he goes off to do other things (e.g. to look for other females). This photograph, made in Italy in August 2007, shows an ovipositing pair of Lesser Emperors (Anax parthenope) sitting down on a floating bit of dead reed. But the male's contact guarding is no guarantee for peace and quiet; as you can see, a second male is launching aerial attacks against the couple in an attempt to break them up. Our diary notes for the day include the following observations: ' ... The highlight of the afternoon, which again I didn't manage to photograph from up close, occurred when I saw that same male flying frantically over a corner of the lake with lots of dead reeds floating on the water. It took me a while to figure out why he was so interested in that precise spot, but then I saw the reason: there was a tandem of the same species sitting on a floating reed stalk at, alas, some twenty yards from the bank. The female was laying her eggs and the male, at the front, was holding on to her for dear life, it seemed. Now whenever the single male got near the tandem, he'd make a rather half-hearted-looking attempt to break them up, and at every such attack the second male raised himself up into the air (while still holding on to the female) and clawed his legs threateningly at his opponent. He looked like a horse rearing up while still harnessed to its cart! Quite a sight and what a great pity it happened so far away from the lens.'

Lesser Emperor (Anax parthenope), ovipositing tandem

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