Seeing the bigger picture

March 2, 2015

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) mate quickly.

Copulation brief (averages 20 sec) and aerial, may be followed by resting period. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 10228). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Last fall, I was a man on a mission to photograph this fleeting event.

What I saw.

In my experience, some species of dragonflies are creatures of habit that return to the same location day-after-day. I noticed a couple of adult male Eastern Pondhawks that returned to two nearby spots alongside the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park for several weeks. Both males successfully hooked up with females on average two- to three times a day. I “camped out” near one male or the other — sometimes for hours a day — and waited for an opportunity to get a shot of a mating pair in wheel. I followed the exploits of the dynamic duo until they disappeared a few weeks after I spotted them for the first time.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in wheel)

10 September 2014 | Mating pair (in wheel)

The female, shown below, rested for a while at the same spot where she had mated.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (female, resting after copulation)

10 September 2014 | Female member, mating pair

What I didn’t see/what you don’t see (in the preceding photo).

I was so focused on the mating pair of dragonflies that I never noticed the fishing spider, possibly a Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton), lurking in the lower-left corner of the photo! The spider is probably the same individual featured in a recent post (see “Spider exoskeleton“). If I had seen the spider, then I would have composed the photograph without “clipping” one of its legs.

Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (female, resting after copulation)

10 September 2014 | Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (female)/fishing spider

So what’s the take-away from this pleasant “post-processing surprise?” It’s important — although admittedly challenging when shooting dynamic subjects — to try to see the bigger picture when looking through the viewfinder of a camera.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies

February 28, 2015

Several Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies (Argia tibialis) were spotted at two nearby places with similar habitat: both locations are densely forested; one location is a small sandy stream with slow-to-medium current.

Blue-tipped Dancers are members of the Pond Damsels Family of damselflies. Male Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies look similar to male Orange Bluet damselflies, another species of Pond Damsel. A key field marker may be used to differentiate males of the two species: Blue-tipped Dancer is so-named because the tip of its abdomen is bluish-white; Orange Bluet has an orange-tipped abdomen.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (young male)

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Young male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (young male)

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Young male

All photos in this post were taken using my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera (superseded by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200). The preceding photos were shot using the built-in pop-up flash; flash was off for the following photos.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Female Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies are polymorphic: a brown form (shown below); and a blue form (same pattern of markings).

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

It’s possible the following individual may be a blue form female Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly. Although pop-up flash was used to take these photos, more power was necessary for good exposures in the dark shadows of the forest.

Unknown damselfly

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Female

I consulted a couple of experts for confirmation of my tentative identification.

This one’s tough but I don’t think it’s a male Dusky [Dancer damselfly (Argia translata)]. Male Dusky can show a pale shoulder stripe when immature but I’ve not seen one with wide frontal ones. It could be a female, but the shape of the dark shoulder stripes and its coloration is not typical. I guess I lean towards a blue form female Blue-tipped although it’s tough to say if abdominal segment 10 is pale or not. The shape of the dark shoulder stripes aren’t perfect for Blue-tipped but not out of the realm of possibility. Source Credit: Mr. Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

That’s a tough one. If I had to guess I would say Blue-tipped Dancer. Lighting and angle are difficult, but sure looks like an Argia in any case. Source Credit: Mr. Chris Hobson, Natural Areas Zoologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Unknown damselfly

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies love timberlands and Timberlands!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Orange Bluet damselflies (males)

February 26, 2015

What’s orange and black but actually called a “bluet?” The Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum), of course!

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

The word “bluet” refers to a type of damselfly rather than the color blue, specifically species of damselflies in the Genus Enallagma (American Bluets). Most bluets are primarily blue in color, as you might expect; three other smaller groups of bluets are mostly black, yellow-to-red, and mostly violet.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

There are five families of damselflies in the United States of America. Three of five damselfly families occur in the mid-Atlantic region: Broad-wings; Spreadwings; and Pond Damsels. Pond Damsels is the largest family, including bluets, dancers, forktails, sprites, etc.

An Orange Bluet, shown above, was spotted alongside the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 12 September 2014. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Females are green, adding to the color conundrum that is Orange Bluet!

Another male was spotted on 15 August 2014. The photo was taken using my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera and 55-200mm zoom lens (88-320mm, 35mm equivalent).

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eye contact

February 24, 2015

I like shots of dragonflies in which the subject strikes an unusual pose. I’m especially fond of head-tilts in which the individual seems to make direct eye contact. I wonder what the dragonfly is thinking when it looks at me through its compound eyes. On one hand, the amateur scientist in me guesses the dragonfly’s only thought is a simple decision tree: Is this thing predator or prey? On the other hand, the romantic in me thinks the two of us make a connection sometimes, and the dragonfly senses I’m a friend rather than a foe. Like the connection between this guy and me …

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (male)

The preceding photograph shows an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) perching on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 10 September 2014. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Eastern Pondhawk is a species of dragonfly with prominent pseudopupils, giving the face a cartoon-like appearance sometimes. In this one-panel cartoon, the speech bubble would read …

Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (male)

Tech Tip: Apple “Preview” application was used to annotate the preceding photograph.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (young male)

February 22, 2015

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (young male)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) was photographed along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 10 September 2014. This individual is a young adult male, as indicated by its partial pruinescence, distinctive pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages. As a mature adult male dragonfly, its abdomen will be completely covered by white pruinescence.

Among dragonflies that exhibit sexual dimorphism, such as Twelve-spotted Skimmers, immature/young males and females are similar in appearance. The pattern of wing spots is a key field marker for identification of Twelve-spotted Skimmer males and females, in addition to differences in their terminal appendages.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (young male)

The red berries, shown in the background, are the fruit of Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris); the green globes are the fruit of buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.).

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (young male)

I love a good shot of a head-tilt!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Year of the Frog

February 20, 2015

2015 is officially Virginia’s Year of the Frog!

… did you know that frogs are considered by many conservationists to be the most imperiled group of animals in the world? … Frogs are important natural resources that deserve our attention. Because of their aquatic and terrestrial life stages, frogs are excellent indicators of environmental health and water quality. Source Credit: Virginia is for Frogs.

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus)

The preceding American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) is the unofficial poster girl for the year-long celebration. This frog is probably female, as indicated by the size of her tympanum: the eardrum is about the same size as the eye in females; it is larger than the eye in males.

It’s easy to tell males from females in both the Green Frog and the [American] Bullfrog. Males have a yellow throat, and the tympanum, the visible round external eardrum located behind the eye, is much larger than the eye. Females lack the yellow throat and the tympanum is about the same size as the eye. Source Credit: Ask a Naturalist.

Mid-February is too early for frog-spotting in the mid-Atlantic USA, so I used an image from my archive of unpublished photographs. This individual was observed alongside the boardwalk in the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park on 12 September 2014.

Editor’s Note: A Tweet by regular reader Charlie Bale inspired me to add a pull quote from Virginia is for Frogs, the featured Web site in this post. Feel free to add comments to my blog anytime, Charlie!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies (males)

February 18, 2015

The following photos show two Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula pulchella) perching alongside the boardwalk in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 12 September 2014. These individuals are adult males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

Male 1

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (adult male)

Male 2

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (adult male)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (adult male)

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

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula pulchella | Twelve-spotted Skimmer | male | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula pulchella | Twelve-spotted Skimmer | male | side view

Eight-spotted Skimmer (Libellula forensis) is a similar looking species of dragonfly found in the western United States, but as I said in a recent post, similar is not the same. Contrast the wing spots nearest the wing tips for males of both species: notice those spots are white for Eight-spotted Skimmers; black for Twelve-spotted Skimmers.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Florida Predatory Stink Bug

February 16, 2015

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Field Guide to Stink Bugs lists Florida Predatory Stink Bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus) as a “beneficial species.”

The predatory stink bug, Euthyrhynchus floridanus (Linnaeus), is considered a beneficial insect because most of its prey consists of plant-damaging bugs, beetles, and caterpillars. It seldom plays more than a minor role in the natural control of insects in Florida, but its prey includes a number of economically important species. Source Credit: Florida Predatory Stink Bug, University of Florida.

Well, what do you know? Not all stink bugs are pests!

Florida Predatory Stink Bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus)

The Florida Predatory Stink Bug shown in the preceding photo was spotted on 04 November 2014 at Huntley Meadows Park. This is the only one I’ve seen at the park. I hope to see more — “beneficial species” are a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say!

Editor’s Notes: Thanks to BugGuide Facebook group members Scott Szafran Jr. and Roudolph Poodaluski for help in identifying this insect. See Roudolph’s excellent scientific illustration of a Florida Predatory Stink Bug.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

February 14, 2015

Sharing some love for the Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) on Valentine’s Day — one look at those deep blue eyes and you’ll know why it was love at first sight!

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

17 October 2014

This individual — spotted near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park — is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Notice the male flexing his appendages in the following photo.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

17 October 2014

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Spider exoskeleton

February 12, 2015

A spider exoskeleton (after molting) was spotted during a photowalk along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. The exoskeleton is probably from a species of fishing spider, possibly a Six-spotted Fishing Spider (Dolomedes triton). The smaller insects are water striders, possibly in the Family Veliidae.

Spider exoskeleton (after molting)

26 September 2014

The following fishing spider was spotted for several days in the same location as the exoskeleton. It’s possible, perhaps probable, the exoskeleton formerly belonged to this individual.

Fishing spider

15 September 2014

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Ashley Bradford, amateur naturalist/photographer extraordinaire, for identifying the spider exoskeleton and water striders.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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