The Owlfly, Not What You Think It Might Be!

2012_05_18 PIC - Owlfly (Libelloides baeticus) 03
Owlfly (Libelloides baeticus)

I’ve been feeling like I am getting lazy about my trips to the country so despite the heat, or because of it, I have been getting out of the car some more recently. I went cycling the other day amongst bee-eaters and stone curlews and then Friday I went for a walk up the hills behind our future village. And it was most pleasant. It started off on a dirt road to some isolated casas rurales (houses you can rent) in amongst an oak forest below the rocky outcrops where the Eagle Owls live. 
2012_05_18 PIC - Oak Woods  02
Oak Woods near Picón
The woods were full of the sounds of birds, White Asphodel (Asphodelus albus), an onionweed, and Loose-flowered Orchids (Anacamptis laxiflora).
2012_05_17 PIC - White Asphodel  (Asphodelus albus)
White Asphodel (Asphodelus albus)

2012_05_18 PIC - Loose-flowered Orchid  (Anacamptis laxiflora)
Loose-flowered Orchid (Anacamptis laxiflora)
The lane wound up the side of a hill to a pass between two large outcrops of rock where a very refreshing breeze helped cool me off. 
On the way I was entertained by Small Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas), Spanish Marbled White (Melanargia ines) and Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) butterflies, Jays, Magpies, both European and Azure-winged, and Cuckoos making great noise in the trees, Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala), Tits and a myriad of other warblers bringing the bush alive. It was just after I sat down for a short while to admire the view that I came across an insect I had never seen before. I couldn’t figure out what it was at first. It had the wings of a moth…but it wasn’t one…it had the antennae of a butterfly…but it wasn’t one…and it had the appendages and body of a dragonfly…but it wasn’t one. Excellent!! Something new to figure out. But it wasn’t in any of my books. So I did what I usually do when I come across something unusual here in la Mancha…I went to my friend Angel Zamoras blog. I use it as a reference for wildlife here in la Mancha as much as any book or web search. And sure enough, there was an entry about my mystery insect.

2012_05_18 PIC - Owlfly (Libelloides baeticus) 06
Owlfly (Libelloides baeticus)

It turns out that this creature, Libelloides baeticus, is a member of the Owlfly family. These are an ancient family of insects dating back to fossil remains, generally found in amber, from at least mid-Mesozoic times, that is to say 130-150 million years ago around the time of the Jurrassic/Cretaceous. So what are they? Well, they are not butterflies, moths or dragonflies even though they do have characteristics similar to all these. Their habitat is areas of grassland that go dry in the summer and rocky soil with loose stones. They will sit, like dragonflies, in the sun to warm up and can spend a great deal of time doing this until prey comes near. They are aerial predators, like dragonflies, and even mimic dragonflies sometimes so as not to become prey to them. They wait on grass stems 30-50cm above the ground with wings closed in to present a smaller profile and seemingly have excellent eyesight making an approach difficult. However it would appear that this chap hadn’t warmed up enough and allow me to get some great shots of it.
What a great time of year with so much going on out of our sight. You really do need to be on the lookout for anything.
Go birding and find insects you’ve never seen before in La Mancha, Spain with Oretani Wildlife.
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