[White faced darter]

[White faced darter]

Photo credit: Vicky Nall

Written by Lou Steggals

Onna-bugeisha and the [white-faced darter]

She slips beneath the surface.

The warrior, who should be setting her stall.

An assassin of rare quality,

Primed to impale and consume disease-ridden enemies.

The [   ]                                                         

An Onna-bugeisha, jetting below the waterline.

She searches for her mossy sanctuary,

To lay down future armies in two-year slumber,

The nymph’s creamy white face and jet-black eyes

Leaving no corner ignored.

And the earth waits,

Watching for the dancing spectrums of lacy wings to emerge

But they do not rise.

Sanctuary was not there.

The biters freed to feast instead.

And the [   ] does not return.

Silent waters,

After she slips beneath.

More about the white faced darter…

My main sources of information were the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s article regarding efforts to reintroduce the Darter in the Delamere Forest area[1], the British Dragonfly society website[2] and Sciencing.com’s article on why Dragonflies are important[3].

One of the first things that struck me was the lifecycle. I found it very fitting to the theme of disappearance that the female Darter would lay her eggs in underwater Sphagnum moss in freshwater lakes, and that the resulting offspring would then remain underwater for two years, to develop and feed on mosquito larvae.

This latter fact, eating the larvae, gave me a hook to reference the Darter’s role in our ecology in my centena and the potential impact of their disappearance – the emergence of more irritating mosquitos. According to the Dragonfly society, Darters also serve other uses, such as being a good indicator of the presence of a freshwater source and the health of water ecosystems. However, I decided to focus on its role of a useful form of pest control within my centena.

From a creative perspective, on the British Dragonfly society’s page for the darter, there was a front-facing photograph of a (male) Darter, by Tim Colshaw and, for me, there was a striking resemblance to a Geisha – with the dragonfly’s eyes becoming the jet-black hair, on top of its creamy white face.

This took me on a bit of a tangent as, whilst looking at images of Geishas as my centena started to take shape, I found (via good old Wikipedia) the term Onna Bugeisha[4] – a Japanese female warrior who was trained in weaponry and martial arts to protect her home and family. This really created the ‘character’ of the dragonfly for me.

My research highlighted how big the destruction of its habitat is – a reduction of 90% in lowland peat bogs, resulting in less Sphagnum Moss, in which the dragonfly larvae grow and live. This, combined with introduction of fish, which eat the larvae, has led to a decline over the last 35 years and only three stable populations in the UK[5]. Their apparent habit of not staying in specific areas has made accurate observation of their numbers difficult. However, Cheshire Wildlife Trust has written how there are promising signs that the species is returning, having seen new Darters in the area without having first introduced mature larvae.[6]

[1] https://www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/news/home-sweet-home-white-faced-darter (last accessed 21/05/2020)

[2] https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/species/white-faced-darter/ (last accessed 21/05/2020)

[3] https://sciencing.com/dragonflies-important-10068965.html (last accessed 30/06/2020)

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onna-bugeisha (last accessed 21/05/2020)

[5] https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/349936v1.full.pdf (last accessed 30/06/2020)

[6] See footnote 1

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