Photo: A Meadowhawk. Note the tiny bumps covering his eyes—‘facets’, I believe.
Dennis Paulsen, my dragonfly mentor, once told me that the more he learns about dragonflies the more enchanted the world becomes. Experimentation, testing, analysis of natural phenomenon does not lead to ‘disenchantment’. We cannot explain away all the magic, no matter how much we learn. Knowing how the sun sets does not make a sunset any less ‘enchanting’. Today, for me, it’s dragonfly eyes. If our eyes were proportionally the same size as theirs, we would have the equivalence of cantaloupes on the sides of our head. I’d been reading descriptions and looking at diagrams when I found myself inside the eye of a meadowhawk bathing in gauze-filtered light. The gauze was actually rhabdoms, thousands of impossibly tiny filaments vibrating with energy. These connect the lens which sits beneath the facet on the eye’s surface, and the crystalline cone to the fiber optic nerves in the center. This ‘system’ is known as the “ommatidium” (l love saying that outloud). There are 30,000 of these systems in a meadowhawk’s eye, each acting independently of the others.
A tiny gnat passes.
Since the surface of the dragonfly’s eye is curved, each facet ‘sees’ the gnat from a slightly different perspective, and each ommatidium system carries a unique minuscule atom of information—color, speed, direction, context, and more—through the rhabdom filament to the fiber optic nerve. The information accumulates in the dragonfly’s brain where multi-dimensional, 360-degree reality is formed. The dragonfly responds. There’s so much more I want to learn about this, so stay tuned.