SANBI brings Nomads, Emperors, Hawkers and Widows together in new checklist

12 December 2011

Dancing Jewel (Male)

On 7 December 2011, a brand new illustrated checklist on the recorded dragonflies and Damselflies was launched at an event held at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Generously sponsored by Sappi, this captivating publication is aptly titled "Water Dancers of South Africa's National Botanical Gardens". 'Water dancer' is a literal translation of the Zulu word 'jigamanzi' that has been used to describe dragonflies.

Emperors, Nomads, Hawkers, Widows, Gliders and Cruisers

Something that Emperors, Nomads, Hawkers, Widows, Gliders and Cruisers have in common is that they are all common names for South African dragonflies found in the nine National Botanical Gardens, managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

SANBI Biodiversity Series 21

Darting Cruiser (Male)

The checklist, Number 21 in the SANBI Biodiversity Series, was compiled by Christopher Willis, the Chief Director: Conservation Gardens & Tourism at SANBI, and Prof. Michael Samways, a world renowned entomologist and international specialist on insect conservation (at Stellenbosch University's Department of Conservation Ecology & Entomology). It includes information on the 61 dragonflies and damselflies recorded in the nine NBGs (38% of the 159 known dragonfly species in South Africa).

Vast diversity of dragonflies recorded

Julia Skimmer

This diversity recorded so far in the nine gardens combined is greater than many country dragonfly totals, including Great Britain (with 56), and is roughly equivalent to dragonfly diversity recorded in some entire countries such as Sweden, Serbia, Niger and Somalia. The new publication incorporates over 150 photographs of dragonflies taken in the wild, many photographs depicting the sexual variations between dragonflies listed. This user-friendly publication provides an excellent introduction to the classification, anatomy, ecology and life cycle of South Africa's dragonflies and damselflies, and provides easy-to-use tips on differentiating between dragonflies and the daintier damselflies. The publication also lists both English and Afrikaans common names for these fascinating insects.

Important role of dragonflies

Common Citril

Dragonflies are among the oldest and most primitive of the world's insects, dating back some 300 million years ago, before dinosaurs and flowering plants. They are an important component of the biodiversity of our country and are visible to visitors to the gardens. South Africa's largest dragonfly is the Black Emperor (Anax tristis) with a wingspan reaching 130 mm.

"These charismatic insects serve not only as good indicators of environmental health and ecological integrity, but also act as flagship species for other aquatic invertebrates in the biodiversity debate. This user-friendly publication, which is essentially a checklist of South Africa's most common dragonflies and damselflies, provides us with the opportunity to showcase these important insects, the valuable role they play in the environment, and the threats several of them face through habitat transformation, particularly shading of natural habitats by invasive alien trees growing along river and stream banks. The good news is that research conducted by staff attached to the Stellenbosch University has shown that this threat can be reversed by removal of these trees from river banks. This new book will assist tourists, teachers, learners and 'citizen scientists' wanting to know more about these beautiful creatures, and their place in South Africa's unique natural heritage" said co-author, Christopher Willis.

Greatest diversity of dragonflies found at KwaZulu-Natal NBG

Orange Emperor (Male)

Interesting information emanating during the research and compilation of this checklist shows that the greatest diversity of dragonflies in South Africa's national botanical gardens (NBGs) has so far been recorded in the KwaZulu-Natal NBG (Pietermaritzburg; 41 taxa), followed by the Lowveld NBG (Nelspruit) and Harold Porter NBG (Betty's Bay), with 25 and 15 different dragonflies respectively. Both Harold Porter NBG and Kirstenbosch NBG are notable too in that they have several endemic species with very limited distributions, which is also reminiscent of the situation with plants.

Availabitlity of Checklist

The checklist will be available for sale to the public at the National Botanical Gardens and through SANBI's online bookshop at: www.sanbi.org.
Download .pdf version of SANBI Biodiversity Series 21.

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