New field guide on S'pore's dragonflies and damselflies records beauty of 136 species

The insect assumes this tower-like position on sunny days to avoid overheating. PHOTO: MARCUS NG

SINGAPORE - As the clouds part at Windsor Park, a lone pink dragonfly raises its long body skywards, sticking its "butt" up.

The insect assumes this tower-like position on sunny days to avoid overheating, said ecologist Robin Ngiam, 47.

"Dragonflies are cold-blooded creatures that require the energy of the sun for key metabolic activities. However, too much sun can be harmful, so lifting their bodies into this position can help reduce the surface area exposed to heat," he added.

While this "handstand" is unique to dragonflies, Mr Ngiam said these insects are very diverse as a group behaviourally and visually.

For instance, the blue dasher is a cyanide-blue dragonfly that skims along the pond surface in the day, while the spear-tailed duskhawker, a green dragonfly active in the dusk, rests in the dense and dark forest undergrowth in the day.

Mr Ngiam said: "I think for a typical Singaporean, there is a wrong perception that insects as a whole are bad, that when you see a bug, you have to kill it.

"But that's not true, especially in a more natural environment where dragonflies can be beneficial predators of insects like mosquitoes, while also being very attractive and colourful."

In the 75ha Windsor Park alone, the ecologist estimates that around 50 species of dragonflies reside there.

This is more than a third of the 136 species of dragonflies and damselflies recorded in Singapore as at 2022.

Mr Ngiam said: "My hope is that Singaporeans can view dragonfly watching as a way of experiencing nature and use dragonflies as a gateway to begin appreciating the insect world."

In the 75ha Windsor Park alone, the ecologist estimates that around 50 species of dragonflies reside there. PHOTO: MARCUS NG

With freelance writer Marcus Ng, the pair launched Singapore's latest field guide of all 136 of the critters titled A Photographic Field Guide To The Dragonflies And Damselflies Of Singapore at the Geylang East Public Library on Sept 10.

The 340-page book has colourful photos of each species taken by dragonfly enthusiasts here and comes with accompanying notes on the identifying characteristics.

The last published field guide of dragonflies and damselflies in Singapore was by Mr Tang Hung Bun in 2010, when only 124 species were recorded.

Dragonfly enthusiast Marcus Ng acknowledged that dragonfly watching can be daunting for newcomers. PHOTO: ROBIN NGIAM

Mr Ng, who is a dragonfly enthusiast, said more recent newly recorded dragonflies in Singapore were not recorded by experts but by citizen enthusiasts like himself.

The 48-year-old said: "Dragonfly spotting has become much more accessible these days. All you need is a mobile phone camera with a macro lens and a pair of binoculars."

He added that citizen enthusiasts have been able to identify new species by referring to field guides and with help from dragonfly interest groups on Facebook.

Mr Robin Ngiam (left) and Mr Marcus Ng are the authors of A Photographic Field Guide to The Dragonflies and Damselflies Of Singapore. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

However, Mr Ng acknowledged that dragonfly watching can be daunting for newcomers, where bright colours are easy to spot but getting down to the specifics can be difficult.

Urging novices not to give up, Mr Ngiam, who has been spotting dragonflies and damselflies since 2005, said: "The challenges can be easily overcome with patience, an eye for detail and most importantly, a passion for the natural world.

"It can be very rewarding... with new species waiting to be discovered by intrepid dragonfly watchers who may begin to appreciate the need for wetlands conservation."

  • A Photographic Field Guide To The Dragonflies And Damselflies Of Singapore is available at $69.30, inclusive of GST, at Kinokuniya.

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