Friday, September 25, 2015

Hilo Days: Nature’s Water Pistols

When you were a kid, did you ever roam around the neighborhood, feet unencumbered by shoes or slippers or sandals? Did you ever play barefoot in the grass and rain puddles, slop around in mud, and kick dirt and gravel into piles?

We did. Have you ever discovered something that captured your attention for a long, long time, only to have it disappear from your life, never to be found again?

In my now-defunct website, “Hilo Days,” I wrote about such an adventure … I’ll re-share it with you here.

Dragonfly Nymphs

Sixth grade – that was the year I saw my first and only dragonfly nymphs. There was a blacktop area between the swings and the ballfield [at Riverside School]; it apparently was the base of the old Hilo College that used to stand on the site.

Anyway, a huge puddle about 20-feet across used to form in one corner whenever it rained. And seeing how it rained almost every single day in Hilo, the puddle never dried up. One day, we were walking in the puddle after a hot session of marbles, feeling the mud ooze up between our toes, when I spotted something zooting along in the water.

I bent down to investigate and discovered a number of strange-looking things that looked like underwater crickets. Soon the bunch of us were splashing around trying to catch the little buggers.

What we had found were dragonfly nymphs. Holding one in your hand is like holding a miniature prehistoric beast — those things were ugly! They were brown like the mud, and had this huge, articulated lower lip that they used to catch food (including black little toad tadpoles), sucking the life out of their victims.

If you squeeze them ever-so-slightly, they'll shoot out a jet of water from their butt-side. In the water, the jet propels them to wherever they wanted to go. Out of the water, it's a good, gross way to shoot your friends.

We were chasing around all over the place, squirting each other. And like most kids do, we continued to the point of excess, and used up all the nymphs in the puddle. Nobody ever thought that these were living things we were playing with. Of course, we had killed them all.

That was the only time I ever saw a dragonfly nymph. I've never seen another real-live one since. There aren't that many chances to look for them. I went on a few "nymph safaris" in the weeks that followed, but you they blend in so well with the water bottom that they're practically invisible unless they move.

These apparently should be quite plentiful, since I've seen them advertised as bait in national fishing magazines. But no more in that blacktop puddle.

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