Fatal injuries?

After several years of dragonfly hunting, I’ve seen two dragonflies with three wings rather than four: in one case, I can only speculate how the injury occurred; in the other case, I witnessed the injury firsthand.

Can dragonflies survive with three wings? The answer is yes and no: if they can fly, they can survive; if they can’t fly, they can’t survive.

If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying. Source Credit: 14 Fun Facts About Dragonflies, by Sarah Zielinski, Smithsonian.com.

On the same day I discovered a male Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) at Huntley Meadows Park, I heard a loud splash in a pool of water behind me. I turned around quickly and noticed a dragonfly struggling to free itself from the surface of the water. After a few seconds, the dragonfly escaped from the water and flew briefly before landing on the ground near the place where I was standing. I was able to shoot four photos before the dragonlfy flew away.

Turns out that individual was an old, injured female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans). One of her wings was broken near its base; I don’t know how the injury occurred. She was able to fly, but flight was labored at best.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an old, injured female.

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (old female, injured)

Two years earlier, I was photographing dragonflies along the boardwalk in the central wetland area. One male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly in particular caught my attention: he repeatedly engaged one or more Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) in brief aerial dogfights. I vividly remember thinking, “Dude, you must have a death wish — those darners can be vicious predators!” Almost immediately afterward, a darner sheared off one of the male Great Blue Skimmer’s wings just like a buzzsaw and looped around for the kill shot. The skimmer dove for cover in vegetation overhanging the boardwalk (shown below) and his life was spared. I shot one poor-quality photo of the injured male Great Blue Skimmer; he flew away when I tried to move closer.

An injured dragonfly, possibly a male Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans), spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual lost a wing during a fight with a male Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius).

04 SEP 2013 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (male, injured)

Did the female Great Blue Skimmer meet the same fate as the male? Who knows? I know there were lots of Common Green Darners hawking invisible airborne insects over a meadow near the location where I spotted the injured female. And I know Common Green Darners feed voraciously in order to store energy for migration. Perhaps both skimmers were attacked as a potential food source.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Fatal injuries?”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Fascinating narrative, Walter, with lots of unanswered questions. There is a lot that happens in the dragonfly that we don’t see or can’t fully understand.

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