This story appears in the January 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.
First they were looking at him—and then he started looking back. Photographer Remus Tiplea noticed the damselflies perched on foliage in his garden in Negrești-Oaș, Romania. Staring with bulging eyes, the delicate insects looked inquisitive, Tiplea thought, and a little imposing. Long afternoons photographing damselflies became his summertime ritual.
Through hours of watching, Tiplea learned the behaviors of the damselflies, a close relative of dragonflies but with slimmer bodies and narrower wings. He observed when they got hungry, when they reproduced (see why female dragonflies fake death to avoid sex), and what caused them to suddenly take flight. He saw how they behaved in rain and how they chose where to sleep. With time, he could tell their gender and the dominant qualities in mate selection. If he saw multiple damselflies in one frame, he’d have a few seconds to shoot before they’d show themselves as territorial rivals (by starting to fight) or lovers. “They would ignore me completely,” he says.
As years have passed and summers have grown warmer, Tiplea has noticed fewer damselflies at his garden pond. “Their number is inconsistent,” he says—but “the important thing is that we are together in the same backyard.”