My view of the mating dragonflies

October 25, 2014

waltersanford:

Here is Mike Powell‘s side of the story featured in my blog post entitled, “Two sides to every story.”

Originally posted on Mike Powell:

Do you ever shoot the same subject at the same time with another photographer and compare the results afterwards? It is fascinating to see how the choice of equipment, individual shooting styles, and angle of view affect the results.

Recently I was walking at Huntley Meadows Park, the local marshland park where I take a lot of my nature photos, with fellow blogger and photographer Walter Sanford when he spotted a mating pair of Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum). Eventually they landed on the ground and Walter and I took up our shooting positions. He was standing, facing the sun and I was crouching (and eventually sprawling flat on the ground) on the other side of the mating dragonflies, trying desperately not to cast a shadow on the action.

The dragonflies were surprisingly tolerant of us or were so caught up in the moment that there were…

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Two sides to every story

October 25, 2014

I spotted a mating pair of Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) during a photowalk with Mike Powell at Huntley Meadows Park on 20 October 2014. I took a step or two toward the pair and they flew away. I followed the dragonflies to a nearby location where they stayed for quite a while.

I positioned myself so my line of sight was perpendicular to the dragonflies, with the pair back-lighted by the late-afternoon Sun; Mike took the other side. I was shooting photos with my superzoom camera and an external flash; Mike was shooting close-up photos with a DSLR and macro lens. The situation reminded of a familiar expression, “There are two sides to every story.” The following photos tell my side of this story.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

The mating pair is shown “in wheel.”

The copulatory, or wheel, position is unique to the Odonata, as is the distant separation of the male’s genital opening and copulatory organs. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19).Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 377-378). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

All dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen: male dragonfly secondary genitalia are located in segments two and three (2 and 3); female genitalia in segment eight (8). Therefore, the male dragonfly is on top; the female is on the bottom.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

October 23, 2014

Nothing says “Autumn!” quite like the Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum). This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. I spotted this specimen near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 October 2014.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

I love a good head-tilt!

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (female, predator/prey)

October 21, 2014

The following Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) was spotted toward the end of a long photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 17 September 2014. This individual is a female, as indicated by its green coloration and white terminal appendages.

Like many species of dragonflies in the Skimmer family, the Eastern Pondhawk usually perches on four of six legs, with the two front legs curled around its head. I noticed the pondhawk’s front legs moving in front of its face and guessed correctly the dragonfly was eating some type of prey.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (female, eating prey)

Voracious predator, especially females, eating odonates of all kinds their own size and smaller, … Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 10223-10224). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Dragonflies use their front legs like a “basket” to catch prey in mid-air. Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo, showing the female eating a winged insect cradled in her front legs, possibly either a bumble bee or carpenter bee.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (female, eating prey)

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Arboreal dragonflies like timberlands

October 19, 2014

Arboreal dragonflies — dragonflies that live in or among trees — like timberlands. Timberland Boots, that is. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Hey, I see what you did there!” But seriously folks, Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) is a habitat-specific species of odonate that prefers forested locations.

Habitat: Temporary pools with sedges, wetland grasses, and often mosses, including sphagnum. Usually in woods. Source Credit: Blue-faced MeadowhawkDragonflies of Northern Virginia by Kevin Munroe, Manager, Huntley Meadows Park.

The following Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies were spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park on 14 October 2014. Both individuals are males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages. The dragonflies are shown perching on my boots.

Left Foot

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Right Foot

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male, perching on my Timberland Boot)

Editor’s Note: Odonate research is an area where amateurs, like me, can contribute to what is known about dragonflies and damselflies. Although the flight period for some meadowhawk dragonflies, including Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) and Blue-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum), is from June to October-November in Northern Virginia, large numbers of meadowhawks don’t appear until fall in the mid-Atlantic United States. I wonder where meadowhawks are during the summer months. My theory is meadowhawk dragonflies are arboreal. They live in trees for months and burst on the scene at ground/water level when it’s time to mate. I asked Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, for his opinion regarding my theory.

Walter, I don’t know if [meadowhawks] are up in the trees, but for sure they are at some distance from their breeding grounds. In Japan, a very common species of meadowhawk emerges from the rice fields in summer, migrates up into the nearby mountains for up to two months, I think, then returns to the rice fields in autumn, many of them already in tandem. We don’t know if any North American meadowhawk (except Variegated) does anything that extreme, but some people have speculated that at least Autumns spend quite a long time away from the water before returning.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slender Spreadwing damselflies (females, oviposition)

October 17, 2014

The following photo galleries, shown in reverse-chronological order, feature four female Slender Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes rectangularis) spotted photowalking at Huntley Meadows Park on two days during September 2014: Gallery 1-2 (26/09/2014); Gallery 3-4 (23/09/2014). All four individuals are shown laying eggs (oviposition).

…females oviposit solo, unusual in spreadwings, and about a foot above water. Eggs commonly laid in cattails, one (1) egg per incision. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 1682-1683). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Gallery 1

Gallery 2

Gallery 3

Gallery 4

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

October 15, 2014

The following photos show a Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted on 17 September 2014 alongside the boardwalk in the central wetland area hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park.

This individual is a female as indicated by its terminal appendages and the ovipositor located on the underside of the posterior abdomen.

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Cleared for take-off …

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

October 13, 2014

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (male)

One look at the full-size version of the preceding photo and I’m sure you’ll understand why the Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) is one of my favorite species of dragonfly!

This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. I spotted this handsome devil near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 October 2014. The dragonfly is perching on a tree limb that looks like a wooden bird nest.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another discovery!

October 11, 2014

On 09 October 2014, I discovered another new species of odonate for Huntley Meadows Park: Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis). The individual shown in the following photo is a male, as indicated by its coloration and and terminal appendages.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

The Backstory: This damselfly “found me” while I was sitting in a drainage ditch near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park, photographing Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies. I took two shots of the same pose, one of which is shown above, before the damselfly simply vanished. Poof, gone!

I thought it was a Swamp Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes vigilax), one of two spreadwing damselflies on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Species List for Dragonflies and Damselflies. I have never seen a Swamp Spreadwing, so this sighting would have been an exciting first for me.

When I shared my spotting with the Northeast Odonata Facebook group, Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, kindly corrected my misidentification.

Sorry, Walter, that’s not a Swamp Spreadwing. It’s a male Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis). Note the yellow stripe on the side of the thorax where it would be pruinose white on a Swamp. The paraprocts are very short on Great; longer but very thin on Swamp.

I replied to Ed, “In this case I’m happy to be wrong, Ed — Great Spreadwing is a NEW SPECIES of damselfly for HMP! Woo-hoo!!!”

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Swarm!

October 9, 2014

On 06 October 2014, I spotted what I would call a small swarm of Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) at a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. There were at least 25-30 individuals, maybe more. They alternated between hawking flying insects, then perching/resting briefly in vegetation near the ground. The activity lasted all day, until dusk. I’m guessing the swarm stopped to refuel at the park while migrating southward.

Common Green Darner dragonfly (male)

The dragonfly shown in the preceding photo is a male, as indicated by its blue abdomen and terminal appendages.

Common Green Darner is one of at least five major species of dragonflies known to be migratory in North America. See interactive three-dimensional (3-D) virtual imagery of the five migratory dragonflies, including Common Green Darner, provided by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership. Very cool!

Related Resources: Digital Dragonflies, presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Anax | Anax junius | Common Green Darner | male | top view
  • Genus Anax | Anax junius | Common Green Darner | male | side view

Editor’s Note: Small swarms of Common Green Darner dragonflies were reported recently by spotters in other parts of Huntley Meadows Park.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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