Let’s play a quick game of word association. What’s the first color you think of when I say “Carolina?” If you’re like me, then you’re thinking “Carolina blue.” And so I was puzzled by the origin of “Carolina Saddlebags,” the common name for Tramea carolina — a remarkably red dragonfly. I consulted the experts of the Southeastern Odes Facebook group.
It was probably first known from [the work of English naturalist Mark Catesby in] Charleston, the source of many specimens that made their way across the Atlantic to European taxonomists, so I suppose we should have named it South Carolina Saddlebags. Source Credit: Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides).
Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area
Mason Neck West Park
The next photo — showing a male Carolina Saddlebags in flight over a small water retention pond at Mason Neck West Park (MNWP) — features a better view of the red saddlebags.
The following composite image — created by Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast — clearly shows the difference in the shape of the saddlebags for Carolina- versus Red Saddlebags. Look closely at the saddlebags in the full-size version of the preceding photo and you can see the pattern perfectly matches the Carolina Saddlebags in Ed’s image, shown below.
Dragonflies are classified as either “fliers” or “perchers,” based upon their feeding habits. Carolina Saddlebags dragonflies are fliers; it is more common to see them flying than perching. I saw several Carolina Saddlebags at Mason Neck West Park, including both males and females, but I never saw one land during several hours of observation. Based upon this experience, the male I spotted perching at Hidden Pond (shown above) was an unexpected surprise!
Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.