The hidden world of cute damselflies enchanted this photographer

Hatched in local ponds and living among garden plantings, these cousins of the dragonfly captured the photographer’s attention and imagination.

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Left: A damselfly—one of photographer Remus Tiplea’s favorite summer subjects—obligingly pauses in front of a blue inflatable kiddie pool. Right: When the weather is warm, Tiplea spends hours in his garden in Romania, looking at damselflies. Occasionally he catches their eyes staring back.

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.

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Often territorial, male damselflies will battle over the same leaf or flower. After extensive observation of the insects, Tiplea says he can tell when a battle is imminent.

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.

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When his garden population is low, Tiplea captures damselflies at a neighboring pond.

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.”