Nature at Green Art

 

Dragonflies and Damselflies

 

(Odonata)

 

Creating a refuge for native plants and animals

There are approximately 300 species of dragonflies and 130 species of damselflies in North America north of Mexico. These are predatory insects whose larvae live in the water of rivers and ponds.

As a child I had a few dragonfly larvae in an aquarium and was fascinated to watch them hunt, using their labium folded out flat in front of their face like a trap, which would snap closed once a prey passed by. Their color is usually brown or grey, an excellent camouflage that blends with mud and decaying vegetation. Once they hatch, the animal changes from a creeping, grey underwater creature to a colorful flight-artist controlling the air space around their water habitat - what an amazing transformation!

Images can be enlarged by clicking on them. These photos were taken in the Kittery and York area, and many of them in my sculpture garden.

For me, dragonflies and damselflies are just as beautiful as butterflies, and equally interesting in behavior.

Dragonflies and Damselflies are both excellent fliers, and with their large composite eyes have very good sight.

Dragonfly behavior is different from one species to another. Some hunt their prey by constantly being in flight, others like to perch and wait for prey to move by. There are also great differences in mating behavior, preference for different habitats, the season when the adults are active, etc. There are also migratory species.

The reddish colored male meadowhawk on the left was eager to perch on my hand. I guess he wanted to have his picture taken! (Photo taken in a Kittery wetland)

 

       

Dragonflies (left) usually hold their wings spread away from their body in approximately 90 degree angles, while damselflies (right) usually hold their wings folded above their abdomen.

Many dragonflies have whitish or bluish powdery coatings over their body, which looks similar to the waxy coating on prunes, and is therefore called 'pruinosity'. The species on the left is a Blue Dasher.

 

       

The couple on the left is perched on a plant for mating, but many species mate in flight.

The male Autumn Meadowhawk is grasping the female with special appendages. The couple flies in tandem for copulation and stays like that even while the female deposits eggs in vegetation including wet moss.

In some species, many males and females gather in one spot for mating (called a 'rendezvous site').

 

Male Meadowhawk hanging on to females head with his appendages

       

Photo: A damselfly depositing eggs in plants with help of ovipositor

The adult dragonfly deposits eggs among vegetation at the shore of a pond (right), or sometimes into the tissue of plants, as seen on the left. Some species drop their eggs over the water surface, which I was able to catch in the photo below.

The larvae that hatch from these eggs are aquatic predators.

Photos like these depend on good observation and luck. It took me one and a half hours standing in the water without moving before I was really lucky and one of the passing Darners went down 6 inches in front of my foot to deposit eggs (right). 

The damselfy on the left was at work for a long time and I was able to film her while she was depositing her eggs into the plant stems

When I took the photo below I did not know the female was dropping eggs, I only realized it when looking at the photos.

 

Green-striped Darner (Aeschna verticalis) depositing eggs

 

   

When they reach maturity the larvae climb out of the water, their exoskeleton splits open and the adult dragonfly exits her old skin. After emerging from their old skin they sit quiet for a while to pump blood into their body and unfold their wings (photo on the right).

The empty skins can often be found on stalks of plants that grow out of the water. In this photo on the left there are two different skins stacked on each other, the second one from a much smaller species.

 

 

 

       

Males and females of most dragonfly species have different colorations. Like with birds. Often the males are colored brightly, while the females are more dull.

The male of the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) has large dark patches on the wings and the abdomen is powdery white with a hint of pale blue.

The female of the Common Whitetail has a dark brown abdomen with a row of whitish patches on each side. The wing pattern is different from the males too, with three small dark patches on each wing

 

       

Similar to the above species is the White Caporal, which is found along the coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Nova Scotia., Although different from the Blue Corporal, males of both species fight each other over territory.

Females look very similar to the males, but usually the pruinosity is less intense and there is a dark stripe over the center of the abdomen.

   
       

The colors of male and female dragonflies of the same species are often so different that for the beginner they seem to belong to different species.

The Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) is a common species that I frequently encounter in my garden. The male is powdery blue, the female grass-green fading into pale yellow on the abdomen, interrupted by dark patches.

 

       

The Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) can be recongnized on the distinct dark patch at the base of the hind wing, and the yellow stripes along the sides of the abdomen and a pale stripe over the middle of thge thorax.  

       

Slaty Skimmer

This beautiful powdery-black dragonfly is fairly large, and quite abundant in early summer around the ponds of Southern Maine.

 

       

The Four-spotted Skimmer is widely distributed over North America, Europe and Asia. Males of this highly territorial species will defend their hunting grounds against other males. Mating takes place in flight and females deposit eggs on water surface immediately after kopulation.  

       

The Dot-tailed Whiteface is unique in coloration, being almost black with a distinct white face and one rounded white spot on the abdomen. This species likes to perch on water lilies.  

       

The genus of the Meadowhawks (Sympetrum) is a group of small dragonflies and the most frequent group in my garden.

Most Meadowhawks are difficult to identify. One of the easier ones is the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum costiferum) (right), which has a zone of brown coloration along the front of the wings and entirely black legs.

On the left, a male Meadowhawk is taking up the pose called 'obelisk', which purpose might be to help to cool down on hot days.

 

       

The White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtusum) has a whitish face, as several other species of Meadowhawks do, and the legs are partially black.

Males are reddish while females are usaually tan-colored.

 

       

he legs of the Autumn Meadowhawk are beige or pale brown but not black, the faces reddish or brownish but not white

 

Link to a video of a meadowhawk perching in my garden 

 

       

 

Damselflies:

 

 

       

I haven't yet studied the damselflies so that I don't dare to identify the species.

However, I can tell you that these are extremely fascinating creatures. I will proof this by making some video clips of their flight and behavior. Several species I observed move like battle-helicopters, flying low under the canopy of plants, standing still in mid air, dashing down on their prey with incredible speed and precision, and then perching on a leaf to devour their victim.

 

And one should mention that Dragonflies and Damselflies are generally recognized as an efficient Mosquito control.  

       

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