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malaeng poh (แมลงปอ)

Thai. Generic name for ‘dragonfly’, as well as ‘damselfly’, though the latter is officially known as malaeng poh khem (แมลงปอเข็ม), literally ‘needle dragonfly’. These two types of insects have elongated bodies, two pairs of strong, usually transparent wings, and large multifaceted eyes, and both belong to the order Odonata. Dragonflies are similar to damselflies, but in resting adults the wings of the latter are held along and parallel to the abdomen (fig.), whereas those of dragonflies are held away from and perpendicular to the body (fig.). Dragonflies have a life span of more than a year and up to several years, but very little of that life is actually as an adult dragonfly. Most of their life cycle is lived out in the nymph stage, underwater, in still and calm waters. At the end of the nymph stage, it will crawl out of the water to complete its metamorphosis into a dragonfly. It does so by shedding its skin, which is left behind as an empty shell, known as the exuvia (fig.). These empty shells can often be found sticking on the spot where the dragonfly emerged, even long after the actual event. Dragonflies are among the greatest flyers in nature: they can hover, fly backwards, and even upside-down, as it is able to move all four wings in different directions at the same time. There are more than 5,000 species worldwide, of which 295 are found in Thailand and with over 190 species, Chiang Mai is reported to have more dragonflies and damselflies than any other province in the country. Both dragonflies and damselflies have a unique mating process in which the male grips the female behind its head with pincers at the end of its abdomen while the female bends her lower body forward to unite with the male genitalia on the frontal underside of its abdomen. This unusual position is known as a mating wheel. The male's grip can last for anything between a few seconds to an hour, while many damselflies usually stay connected while the female lays her eggs, usually on water, though some species hide them in moss cushions or in between stones, where rain shower will eventually flush tier eggs into the water. The damselfly couple will fly in tandem to a location on the water, where the female will either poke her abdomen under the surface to deposit her eggs on the underside of an aquatic plant or leaf, all the time with the male still attached on the back of her head, or she will dive underneath the surface to attach her eggs to a plant underwater, being able to stay down up to 90 minutes. While in some species of dragonfly, the female lays her eggs alone, other species of dragonfly also fly united in tandem while the female individually taps her eggs onto water plants with out ever landing. Commonly found species in Thailand include the Crimson Marsh Glider (Trithemis aurora - fig.), the Indigo Dropwing (Trithemis festiva - fig.), the Scarlet Skimmer or Crimson Darter (Crocothemis servilia servilia), etc. In Japan dragonflies symbolize martial success, due to the similarity of sound in the Japanese words for dragonfly and victory.