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  • Taufiq Anwar

Dragonflies face survival threats


Taufiq Anwar

Key to ecosystem balance and health, dragonflies provide various ecological services. However, their survival is at stake due to various threats which include rampant water and air pollution in the country.

Every being on this planet serves an ecological purpose, including the tiniest of organisms to largest of species.  The dragonfly is one such species, and it serves key roles in wetland ecosystem health and balance. Pakistan has more than 225 natural and manmade wetlands, and dragonflies have played prominent roles there.

They have sharp teeth and are hence classified under the “Odonata” order of insect species. Purely carnivorous, a key service provided by dragonflies is keeping populations of various insects in check by actively consuming them. This includes disease carrying mosquitoes and biting flies. While they do not attack humans, they are observed as ferocious predators which actively monitor wetlands and get rid of insects whose numbers can easily bypass critical levels, had Nature not kept these unique creatures in place.

Agility and speed are hallmarks of the dragonfly, which is presented by the fact that not only can they fly up to 18 miles per hour in a forward direction, but they can also fly sideways and backward! Not only are these qualities incredible, but they have species which holds the record for the largest miles logged for migration by an insect. The dragonfly species, “Pantala flavescens” crosses the ocean and travels 11,000 miles in the process. No wonder this amazing species of endurance is also known as the “global skimmer” holding the world record of the longest insect migration.

Another amazing quality of these remarkable species is that they have near 360-degree vision, with the head featuring 30,000 units which provide the insect with near absolute visual information from its surroundings. As such, its only blind spot happens to be the visual field directly behind its back. With this marvelous equipment, it is no wonder that they prey has but a bare chance to survive. Scientists have observed that typically dragonflies attack the legs of their victims, and have one of the highest rates of success, which is quantified at about 95%.

While the global count of species is 500, there are about 120 species that are classified for Pakistan by dedicated researchers. However, there are rising threats and rapid decreases in their populations are being observed.

Recently, in a study conducted by Jehangir Khan, Saifullah and Ahmed Zia, expert scientist, have trends for dragonflies explicated for wetland regions in the Khyber Pakhtun province. Titled, “Biodiversity of Dragonflies and their Life Threatening Factors in Tehsil Chamla and Daggar of District Buner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan”, this research work not only identifies the species in the regions of the study, but also reveals the various threats to dragonflies.

It was found in the study that the neighboring marble industries in the region were releasing harmful pollutants, including those in the air and water which have led to a drastic decrease in the numbers of the species. While this is no surprise as environmental degradation is rife across Pakistan, it is indeed an avoidable tragedy, especially for the biodiversity of our country. Dragonflies provide a defense against all the dangerous insects such as mosquitoes and pests, while also taking care of the ecosystem health overall.

The threats to our dragonfly populations require proper attention, and as the study points out, our authorities can begin by actively monitoring and if required, implement the relevant environmental laws, even if it may mean fines and shutting down against violators. They can begin by looking into the marble industries in the Tehsil Chamla and Daggar of District Buner and extend their efforts across Pakistan towards minimizing dragonfly and biodiversity losses. 

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