Color conundrum

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

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.

In the mid-Atlantic [USA] and for most of the United States, there are only three families of damselflies: Broad-winged (Calopterygidae), Spreadwings (Lestidae), and Pond Damsels (Coenagrionidae). Only out west along the extreme southern border you might encounter something from the two other recorded families. Everyone should start by learning the families.

Broad-wings include the showy and relatively large jewelwings and rubyspots who indeed have broad, densely-veined wings that are often obviously marked with black, brown, amber, or red.
Spreadwings perch with their wings slightly spread, the bases of the wings are narrow and look stalk-like and spreadwing stigmas are longer than they are wide.
Pond Damsels are our largest family and include the bluets [American Bluets], dancers, forktails, sprites, etc., in other words, practically everything else. They also have wings that are narrowly stalked at the base but the stigmas are short, about equal in width and length.

Source Credit: Personal communication from Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

The following photo shows an Orange Bluet damselfly spotted during a photowalk around Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA on 23 August 2013. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

I visited the bay side of Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge on 16 August 2013. There were zillions of damselflies on the wing but almost no dragonflies. Very odd.

Thanks to Mr. Chris Hobson, Natural Areas Zoologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, for identifying the following orange-form female Orange Bluet damselfly that I spotted along the shore of Accotink Bay.

Orange Bluet damselfly (female)

I read somewhere that it’s possible to catch damselflies without a net, using only your thumb and index finger to grab them by their wings. Louisa Craven, my good friend and photowalking buddy, and I decided to test the technique during a photowalk at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge on 24 September 2012. After a few misses, Louisa proved it can be done by catching a male Orange Bluet damselfly!

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

The following photos show the same individual perching on Louisa’s hand and my index finger, respectively.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to “Color conundrum”

  1. naturesnippets Says:

    You must be the damselfly whisperer.

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