My Favourite Animal

People sometimes ask what my favourite animal is - and I used to try and answer them. The problem was that no sooner had I picked one and the conversation had continued on to other subjects that I would start to re-consider, second guess and generally get trapped inside my head missing the rest of the discussion while ruminatingly chewing an ashtray.

So these days I tend to say that my favourite animal is like my favourite beer - it's the one that's right in front of me ...

I take pics using much the same philosophy. Oh sure, it's a thrill to snap a new critter - getting a new 'spot' for the garden is brilliant - but it's not the be all and end all. Building a large body of work and gleaning small insights into animal behaviour is for me, just as important.

Okay, so it's doubtful that I'll ever add much to science (except perhaps in the field of mixology, I've invented some mean cocktails in my day ... but as they're more likely to cause brain damage than any sort of eureka moment the point stands).

Still, never one to let such trifling realities stand in the way, I'll keep snapping, observing and generally making a nuisance of myself ... here are a few photo's of some of the creatures I've been lucky enough to see over the last while ... click to enlarge the pics.

Trapezostigma loewii

Trapezostigma loewii

Trapezostigma loewii

... Look down, change setting, look up - re-focus ... Dragonflies rate very highly on my favourite animal list :) and I'm not alone:

To the Japanese, they symbolise summer and autumn and are admired and respected all over, so much so that the Samurai use it as a symbol of power, agility and best of all, Victory.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity. Purity because the dragonfly eats from the wind itself ...^ (For the Navajo they symbolise pure water) edited

Orthetrum villosovittatum

Throughout history though, not all cultures have been quite so kind ...

In Europe, dragonflies were often seen as sinister. Some English vernacular names, such as "horse-stinger", "devil's darning needle" and "ear cutter", link them with evil or injury.

Swedish folklore holds that the devil uses dragonflies to weigh people's souls. The Norwegian name for dragonflies is Øyenstikker ("eye-poker"), and in Portugal they are sometimes called tira-olhos ("eye-snatcher"). They are often associated with snakes, as in the Welsh name gwas-y-neidr, "adder's servant".

The Southern United States term "snake doctor" refers to a folk belief that dragonflies follow snakes around and stitch them back together if they are injured ... ^

Although if the jewellery of the time is anything to go by, during the Victorian period in England (1837-1901). The people took quite a shine to dragonflies. Even Tennyson got in on the act with his poem "The Two Voices" (1842).

"An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail

He was of course waxing all lyrical like about the the animal transforming from nymph to adult ... The Japanese too used dragonflies in poetry - esp in haiku. The poet Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) wrote haiku such as:

"Crimson pepper pod
add two pairs of wings, and look
darting dragonfly

... errr that's probably enough high culture for one day eh?

Butterflies are of course synonymous for many with the act of transformation. According to one site, native American peoples, (at least some) held or still do hold these beliefs:

The meaning of the Butterfly symbol signifies transformation as the ugly caterpillar changes into the beautiful butterfly. The butterfly is also believed to be a messenger from the spirit world. The message the butterfly brings depends their color. A black butterfly indicates bad news or illness, yellow brings hope and guidance, brown signifies important news, red signifies an important event and white signifies good luck.

To tribes such as the Blackfoot, the butterfly symbol is associated with sleep and dreams. They believe that dreams are brought to us in sleep by a butterfly. Women embroider the sign of a butterfly on a small piece of buckskin and tie it to a baby’s hair or on the baby's clothes to encourage the child to go to sleep ...^

In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together symbolise love, with Butterfly Lovers being a famous Chinese folktale.

The Taoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, once had a dream about being a butterfly that flew without care about humanity; however, when he awoke and realized that it was just a dream, he thought to himself, "Was I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams of being a man?" ...

Cool eh?. Anyway, here are a few butterflies for you to add whatever meaning you'd like to ...


Grass Yellow Eurema hecabe

Blue Tiger Tirumala hamata 

There are of course those animals that very few poems have been written about and that even today are generally shunned, or splattered, squished, sprayed and spoken badly about behind their backs, even in polite company.

The wasps.

Now I think this is a little unfair - certainly a wasp sting isn't enjoyable for anyone, (except perhaps the wasp ...SEE! even I'm doing it!). But here in Australia we have so many interesting species and while they may not produce honey, they are in many cases beneficial to ourselves and the general environment (they kill and feed their young with other critters many people find just as distasteful - spiders, and for gardeners - caterpillars).

Many also make excellent pollinators - such as this Yellow Hairy Flower Wasp Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Campsomeris tasmaniensis

Note the flecks of pollen 

This industrious young lady below is busy making a nest - and she is quite communal. Familiar to everyone in Australia, the paper wasps build nests with cells (much like the far more cuddly honey bee). These nests can grow quite large, quite quickly with the Queen 'suppressing' other females from becoming queens themselves (probably with pheromones).

These sisters, tend the young, find food and construct the nest. Many wasp adults feed on nectar, (or jam, coca-cola and in the Southern states of America - mint julips on the lawn HA! ... I kid ...) but the young are given protein rich meals in the form of other insects (hence no honey). And even if there was honey to be had from a wasp hive - you'd have to be bloody hungry or at the very least a conservative to get any ... ahem.

Polistes stigma

So I guess we still don't know what my favourite animal is - hey, could be it's a work in progress ... probably, it's too close to call ...

A word on 'culture'. This is NOT an anthropology blog (thank god). I try my best to be sensitive to peoples beliefs and I personally find the historical, pre-historical oral traditions of other cultures as they relate to 'nature' both interesting and often eye-opening. So you know, this blog is not intended to offend any one ... except the rich, powerful, political elite and the media that panders to them.

Oh, and Rupert Murdoch ... but I repeat myself.

'Till next time, take care:

Paul :)