Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Can insects learn to trust humans?

Blue Dasher -Pachydiplax longipennis, a dragonfly, is a very curious and smart insect. Generally, when you go close to them they take off. But if you go slower and watch them while walking closer then they become amazingly tame and trust you for whatever worth you are. I was in New Hampshire attending the Northeast dragonfly meet past week (July 30 to August 2 2009). Everyone in this group is armed with an insect net, some with very long handles of 8 to 10 feet. Dragonflies and Damselflies are very finicky and fast insects and some fly very high. Even when you turn your head in their direction they take off, so if you need to identify an insect you have to net them and look at them up close. But they also have the habit of coming back and sitting on the same perch or another nearby perch. But by being patient and doing slow movements you can teach them to ignore your presence. Some of them can be so very curious of you they can watch (actually stare at you) you with intensity, while keeping an actual eye on a passing insect. You can see this in one of the youtube videos. We were in a field near Little Massabeic lake where hundreds of both male and female Blue Dashers were hanging out feeding on variety of insects. Initially, several beginner odophiles (those who love Odonates or dragonflies and damselflies) were going after them and when odophiles learnt what they are, dashers were left alone.

I was interested in getting some videos of behaviors. I found one nice cooperative male and I could go close to him inch by inch and finally I was fairly close. I started taking pictures at 10.30 am. First time I went close enough he moved to another nearby spot. I kept going closer and closer, then he became more and more confident of me, but before finally feeling comfortable, he once hit me on my brows and once on my lens cap and that convinced him that I or my camera will not eat him up. So then slowly he would pick insects that were bothering me around my head and sit on a perch in front of my camera. While eating the insects he kept an eye for any other passing insects by quickly changing his glance sideways and looking up at the sky. I kept taking videos and still pictures and once, while I was taking pictures and trying to keep the lens cap wide open for some reason my left hand index finger was sticking out and at 10.38 am he landed on that. I felt thrilled and took some pictures of him on my index finger.

It was hard to focus as my hand was shaking. Then he sallied out and came back and I offered my finger again he sat on the finger. Some more pictures while he was eating the insect, then went out for few more sallies.

In these incidences all index finger pointings were not too far from the bush where he was sitting earlier. Third time he sat from 10.38.30 to 10.39.14 am i.e would be 44 sec on finger. Next time I was facing away from the bush watching him sally for insects around my face, I offered him my finger, he came and settled on it. I looked at him closely then turned around to take him in front of the camera, which was still facing the bush for some more pics. Turned him around in various angles to get pictures and he sat and watched me while he ate. In my opinion he trusted me and knew I was not a threat. But why sit on my fingers? Was my finger a very easily viewable perch as it was different from surrounding bushes? I know they like to sit on perch from where surroundings are easily visible, but that does not mean he need to land on my finger as there were equally good perches. This time he sat on my finger from 10.41.00 to 10.42.34 am, i.e. 1 min 34 seconds while I moved him around to take pictures at different angles. He chose my fingers not for it was best perch, but something else was going on his mind.

As I was doing this phone in my pocket rang. I had to take the phone and I was being called away by Sheila with whom I was riding to get back to the car as they are going elsewhere. So I had to let my pet Blue Dasher live on his own, while I moved away reluctantly.

A similar incidence occurred a few years ago. I was photographing a female Blue Dasher who was sunning herself with her body facing sun. I took several pictures and light was not right on her. So I put my finger underneath her and picked her up and rotated her the way I wanted and put her back on the perch she was sitting and photographed her a few times. After I finished photographing, she quickly turned back to the earlier position she was sitting. After this incidence I took a walk around Sapsucker Woods trail for about half an hour. On my return, I checked out to see if the female was still at the same place and there she was blissfully perching on her favorite perch and not bothered by anybody else passing nearby!

A few years ago, in Henri Pitteir Biological Station in Venezuela, hummingbirds had become tame and were trained to land on people’s fingers. I did not know this earlier, I found hummers flying around me and was wondering why. Then I learnt about their landing on your fingers. So I put out my index finger for them to land. A beautiful male Sylph with long trailing tail landed on my finger. I was admiring him, but he had a quizzical look on his face, he looked at me and looked at the feeder as if to ask me “are you stupid why are you looking at me, take me the feeder”. So I took him to the feeder. While perched on my fingers he drank deeply till he was satisfied and then flew away.

You can watch some video clips of Blue Dasher on Youtube at following links

Who does not belive that insects think?


1 comment:

SasamiKen said...

Just so you know, that was a wonderful story. I came across this website when I googled that a moth landed on my finger. It was so fascinating! I think that insects can learn to trust humans though =) It's just sad that alot of humans want to kill them.