New dragonfly spotted in UAE indicates country has more rain, greenery

The biggest challenge for the Dubai Natural History Group was documenting their discovery

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Sun 21 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 21 Jan 2024, 11:44 PM

A species of dragonfly that has never been seen in the UAE before was discovered in the country. The Ground Skimmer, a small, low-flying Australasian dragonfly was discovered in the country by a local naturalist in the mountainous region of Sharjah.

“I was doing some research in the Hajar mountains in December for my upcoming book Dragonflies and Damselflies of UAE when I noticed the Ground Skimmer,” said author and Dubai-based naturalist Binish Roobas. “I was totally surprised because the species was never reported here and there were no chances for it to come here.”

Binish immediately got in touch with his research partner and Chairman of the Dubai Natural History Group Gary Feulner. The pair then travelled to every emirate, took photos and videos and studied about it for at least 4 weeks. During this time, they found several more Ground Skimmer dragonflies.

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According to Binish, this is a significant discovery for the UAE. “These dragonflies prefer tropical and green habitats with permanent water,” he said. “So, by finding these species here, we can conclude that water and greenery has increased in UAE recently. Rain and freshwater resources have improved in the country.”

He said the biggest challenge for the group was documenting their discovery. “This dragonfly is hard to approach so photographing is a little tricky,” he said. “I used long lenses to get the photos of it.”

History

It is generally found across the Indian Subcontinent, East and Southeast Asia to the Indonesian islands and Australia. The Ground Skimmer was previously spotted only once in the Arabian region when a single individual was seen on Masirah Island, Oman, in November 2019, shortly after a tropical cyclone that is likely to have transported it there.

Unlike most common dragonflies, the Ground Skimmer is not closely associated with water and often perches inconspicuously on open ground beside roads, trails, agriculture or disturbed areas.

Gary, who is the lead author of the latest checklist of UAE dragonflies, has previously studied the Ground Skimmer in Nepal, said he was excited regarding the finding. “This small 'discovery' is just the latest example of the long history of significant contributions to knowledge of the flora and fauna of the UAE made by resident amateur researchers, working mostly at their own expense and generally with minimal institutional support," he said.

More research

The pair are now preparing to do more research on the species. “We have to investigate the numbers and distribution of the Ground Skimmer in the UAE, partly to assess how and when it may have reached the country,” said Binish.

According to him, unlike butterflies, dragonflies are not likely to have arrived passively with foreign plants or soil. The possibilities include an exceptional weather event, gradual migration in response to regional climatic factors, or inadvertent transport by commercial shipping between the UAE and the Subcontinent.

Roobas and Feulner are confident that the Ground Skimmer has a reasonable chance to survive and proliferate in the UAE environment, assisted by a combination of quarrying, construction, irrigation and dam-building. They agree it could possibly follow the trajectory of the colourful Pixie Dartlet damselfly (Ischnura nursei), which was first reported in the UAE in 2013 and is today found around many mountain-front dams and other vegetated ponds in the country.

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