Although people often see dragonflies in gardens or near ponds, most know little about the ancient insect, which can be traced back to the time when dinosaurs roamed the world.
“There are in fact 114 dragonfly species in Taiwan,” insect photographer and painter Chiu Cheng-tsung (邱承宗) said in an interview on Saturday, his eyes sparkling as he discussed the insect that has become his passion.
One of the species found in Taiwan is the Nannophya pygmaea (also known as the scarlet dwarf or tiny dragonfly), which is the smallest species in the world, Chiu said. This compares with the Anotogaster Sieboldii (or Oniyanma in Japanese), he said, which is the largest genus of dragonfly with a wing span of up to 13cm and is native to Japan.
A skilled photographer and artist, Chiu has had his works featured by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, an annual international fair held in Bologna, Italy, in the non-fiction category.
“I hope I can bring children into the vibrant world of dragonflies through the camera lens and paint brush,” Chiu said.
Born in Greater Taichung, Chiu’s love of painting began when he was a child. However, his passion was curbed by his father, who described painting as “unprofitable business,” Chiu said, and had his painting materials thrown away.
Under pressure from his family, Chiu said he decided to major in electronics at college and went on to work at a factory in bid to “clear his debts” to his father.
When he had repaid his father, Chiu said became aware of an emptiness in his life and decided to resume his childhood passion for painting. He picked up his camera and paint brush and headed to Tokyo to study commercial photography.
“Many years have gone by, but now I am able to make a living from my hobby,” the 58-year-old Chiu said.
However, it’s not always easy to take photographs of dragonflies, Chiu said, recalling one of his more difficult dragonfly shoots.
Chiu was standing on a rock that jutted out into a stream close to Shihding (石碇) in New Taipei City (新北市) when he lost his balance and fell into the water.
At that moment, Chiu saw a pair of mating dragonflies dancing in the air before him, bathed in golden rays of sunshine, a scene Chiu described as “breathtaking.”
To avoid startling the pair, “I had to stay as still as possible for half an hour so I could capture the moment with my camera,” Chiu said.
Such is Chiu’s passion for dragonflies that he has even had one of his bathrooms converted into a breeding room for the insect. In this room, Chiu can often be found squatting on a stool, muttering to each one of his water-filled plastic bottles, which contain aquatic dragonfly larvae.
“Have you eaten yet? Hurry, eat up!” Chiu said, as he fed the dragonfly larvae (commonly known as nymphs) “wrigglers,” or mosquito larvae.
Nymphs need a lot of care, Chiu said, adding that the water in the plastic bottles needs to be changed two or three times a day. Each week Chiu also has to trek into the mountains to find wrigglers for his dragonfly larvae.
However, he said he has been forced to find a substitute for wrigglers because his wife, his children and himself had fallen victim to the nymphs’ “leftovers” after the wrigglers left uneaten by the dragonfly larvae developed into adult mosquitoes, which then fed on Chiu’s family and sparked a row in the family.