An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Dragonflies

Common Green Darners Migrating

9-16-13 common green darner 249The Common Green Darner, Anax junius, is one of our largest dragonflies, measuring three inches long, with a four-inch wingspread. It is strikingly colored, with a green thorax and a bright blue (male) or reddish (female) abdomen. As if that weren’t enough to set this dragonfly apart, it is also migratory. Common Green Darners migrate south from August to November, stopping over (like migrating birds) occasionally along the way, resuming flight after resting and refueling. Thanks to radio telemetry, we now know that over a two-month migration, Common Green Darners, each weighing about one gram, can migrate over 400 miles. (Photograph is of a Common Green Darner perched on Bottle Gentian.)

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Eastern Kingbird Nestling With A Mouthful

kingbird feeding young female widow skimmer dragonfly 1090If you look very closely you will see that the adult Eastern Kingbird has just stuffed a female Widow Skimmer dragonfly (that it has caught and killed) down the throat of one of its nestlings whose beak is pointed skyward. Eventually, after much hard work, the young kingbird succeeded in swallowing the insect, wings and all. The parents will continue feeding their nestlings for at least three weeks after they have fledged.


Dragonfly Eyes

7-8-13 dragonfly eyes2 381Dragonflies (and bees) have the largest compound eyes of any insect, each containing up to 30,000 facets, or ommatidia (house flies have 6,000). Each facet points in a slightly different direction and creates its own image, and the dragonfly’s brain compiles these thousands of images into one picture. This eye structure enables dragonflies to be extremely sensitive to motion. Because a dragonfly’s eyes wrap around its head, it can see in all directions at the same time (though its forward-looking vision is the sharpest). When capturing prey, a dragonfly doesn’t chase it – it intercepts it in mid-air, and it’s successful nearly 95% of the time. This hunting technique entails calculating the distance of its prey, the direction it’s moving and the speed that it’s flying – an impressive feat any tennis, baseball or football player would especially appreciate!

(Photo is looking down on the eyes of a Common Green Darner. Three simple eyes, or ocelli, are located in the black section below (above in the photo) its two tan compound eyes. The short, thin black lines are its antennae, which can detect wind direction and speed. The yellow section is part of the upper half of its face, or frons.)


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

In a recent email to me a parent wrote, “Naturally Curious is our five year old’s unqualified f-a-v-o-r-I-t-e  book. He spends hours regularly returning to it to study it’s vivid pictures and have us read to him about all the different creatures. It is a ‘must have’ for any family with children living in New England…or for anyone that simply shares a love of the outdoors.”

I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Autumn Meadowhawks Mating

Meadowhawks are the only small red dragonflies seen in New England (most males are red, most females are brown).The latest species of dragonfly flying in the fall in this area is the Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), which doesn’t emerge until mid-summer. It seems a bit incongruous to observe these dragonflies not only flying, but mating and laying eggs in late October, but that is exactly when you can expect to see them. Until there have been several hard frosts, these winged masters of the air are able to keep active by basking in the sun and warming their flight muscles. The two pictured Autumn Meadowhawks are copulating in the typical “mating wheel” fashion, with the male grasping the female behind her head while the female places the tip of her abdomen at the spot on his abdomen (the seminal vesicle) where he stores his sperm. The female Autumn Meadowhawk lays her eggs in tandem with the male (his presence prevents other male meadowhawks from replacing his sperm with their own).


Twelve-spotted Skimmers

Twelve-spotted Skimmers are classified as “King Skimmers,” all members of which are large and conspicuous, often with distinctive wing patterns.   Male Twelve-spotted Skimmers (pictured) have a grayish bloom on their abdomens and each wing has three dark spots with white spots in between them.  Females have brown abdomens and no white spots on their wings.  All summer you can see males flying back and forth short distances along the shores of ponds and over water, hovering as well as perching.  They are territorial and patrol over water, loop-de-looping with competing males.  A small number of Twelve-spotted Skimmers occasionally take part in Atlantic Coast migrations.


Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail dragonflies have an early flight season, first appearing in May in the Northeast.  The males (pictured) cruise over the water (often beaver ponds, hence their name) as well as the shore in sexual patrol flight, flying back and forth over the same area repeatedly.  After mating, the female accumulates a large egg cluster at the tip of her abdomen, and as she drags it along the surface of the water, a long string of eggs is draped over plants.  Once these strings expand, they can be several feet in length and an inch or more in diameter.


Naturally Curious wins National Outdoor Book Award

I am delighted to be able to tell you that this morning I learned that NATURALLY CURIOUS won the Nature Guidebook category of the 2011 National Outdoor Book Awards.  I’m honored and humbled by this recognition.   http://www.noba-web.org/books11.htm


Black-tipped Darner

I thought some people might like to see what the newly-emerged Black-tipped Darner dragonfly whose picture was posted three days ago  eventually looked like.


Dragonfly Eclosion – Emergence of Adult

8-4-11 Dragonfly  Eclosion – Emergence of Adult

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At the end of its larval stage, a dragonfly larva crawls out of the water where it’s been living and climbs up onto emergent vegetation, or a nearby rock, where it clings as its skin splits along its back and head.  The adult winged dragonfly pulls itself out of its larval skin through this hole, and grasps the skin (or vegetation or rock) while it pumps its body full of air and sends fluid into its wing veins.  This fluid causes the wings to enlarge — the wing expansion that is evident in these two photographs took place in less than ten minutes.  When it first emerges from its skin, a dragonfly is pale and soft, and the wings have a characteristic pearlescent sheen, as in these photographs.  Within a day or so the wings lose this sheen, the body hardens and colors start to develop.


Dragonflies and Temperature Control

Often on hot, sunny days you will see dragonflies perched facing away from the sun, with their abdomens raised high in the air above them.  This position actually has a name – the obelisk posture – and some dragonflies and damselflies assume this position to prevent overheating.  They raise their abdomen  until its tip points at the sun, minimizing the surface area exposed to it.  The name given this posture comes from the fact that when the sun is directly overhead, the vertical alignment of the insect’s body suggests an obelisk. The meadowhawk dragonfly in the photograph  assumed  the obelisk posture several seconds after the sun came out from behind  the clouds.  As soon as the sun was obscured by clouds again, the dragonfly would lower its abdomen to a horizontal position. It continued doing this for a considerable amount of time.  Sometimes abdomens are raised for reasons other than temperature control, including threat displays during conflicts.


Dragonflies Mating

7-19-11  Mating Dragonflies

Dragonflies (and damselflies) form what is called a “mating wheel” when they mate.  The male (top) grasps the female at the back of her head with the appendages at the tip of his abdomen. The female then curls her abdomen forward so that its tip reaches his sex organs and receives his sperm.  After mating, the male may continue to grasp the female and accompany her while she lays her eggs, to prevent another male from removing his sperm from the female and then mating with her.

 


Common Whitetail Dragonfly

The Common Whitetail dragonfly (Libellula lydia) is just that – very common at this time of year. Its name also refers to the male’s white abdomen (lacking in the female), which he displays to other males as a territorial threat. Female dragonflies choose mates based on the quality of the males’ habitat for laying eggs. The male who inhabits a prime egg-laying area, or territory, on a pond or marsh stands the best chance of being chosen by a female; thus, it behooves him to drive off other males.


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