Few species receive less respect and less conservation attention than insects. This is despite the fact that they are some of the most diverse species on the planet.

Insects provide a number of essential services to humankind, including pollination, pest control, production, for example, honey and silk, waste recycling, and indications of habitat health.

Scientists are not only unsure just how many species of insects are threatened in the world; they are equally uncertain how many insects exist.

Currently, there are nearly a million insect species described by science, but millions more likely exist. It is probable that innumerable insect species have vanished before even being catalogued by entomologists. Fortunately, the beautiful emerald dragonfly, Maathai’s Longleg Notogomphus maathaiae, avoided this fate.

Discovered only in 2000 in the forested mountains of Kenya, the dragonfly is named after Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. Dragonfly expert and one of the discoverers of Maathai’s Longleg, Viola Clausnitzer, said what caught her attention was the unusual bright green sides of the thorax of the male Dragonfly.

She thought immediately that this might be a new species to science. Her thought turned out to be correct. Later Clausnitzer discovered a specimen in the Nairobi Museum that no one had realised was an undescribed species!

Clausnitzer decided to name the emerald dragonfly after Kenyan activist and conservationist, Wangari Maathai, to honour the Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her life’s work. Incidentally, Wangari received the coveted award the same time the new shimmering dragonfly was discovered.

Like Maathai, dragonflies are environmental guardians according to Clausnitzer. “With their amphibious habits, dragonflies have proved to be useful indicators of habitat quality above and below the water surface,” she said.

“Industrial effluent, agricultural pesticides, siltation, eutrophication and the clearing of forests in watershed areas affect not only dragonflies but also our well-being,” Clausnitzer added. Water quality is an important issue for large parts of Kenya, since the highlands, where most streams and rivers originate, are densely populated.

“Some species, which were once common in the highlands disappeared already from large areas due to the changes in water quality,” she lamented. The dragonfly is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Currently, being listed is a rarity for insects, but Claunitzer says that more will need to be done to save Maathai’s Longleg than simply acknowledging it is imperilled. She recommends, “protection of the remaining forests and reforestation,” along with, “general awareness to keep and restore forests in the highlands, especially along waters.”