Swarm Sunday: 3/29/2015 – 4/4/2015

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

 

Not surprisingly, given how early in the year it still is, there weren’t very many swarms reported last week:

USA:

Daytona Beach, FL
Lakeland, FL

And here is the US map:

 

3.29.15 to 4.4.15

Red pins are static swarms, yellow pins are migratory. Click the map to enlarge.

I am not used to getting US reports this early in the year, so it’s exciting to see something different!  I hope I will keep getting reports of dragonflies over the next few months, though this little flurry of activity may stop before the main season resumes in June as usual.  Regardless, this is a great way to start the season and I can’t wait to see what else happens this year!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

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Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

First Dragonflies and Damselflies of 2015 (Friday 5)

I’ve been looking forward to starting dragonfly programs at work again this year, so I’ve been trekking down to the pond occasionally to check on the dragonfly situation there.  I saw my first common green darner on March 24, which is pretty early.  When I went to check up on them yesterday, I saw 5 species!!  And you know what that means: it’s time for Friday 5!  Here’s what I saw:

Common Green Darner

darner in cattails

Now this photo is truly terrible, but I couldn’t get my camera to respond as quickly as I’d like.  I challenge you to find the dragonfly in this photo at all!  However, there IS a common green darner in the photo, and it was one of six at the pond.  I saw two pairs mating, so 4 males and two females.  I suspect these are migrant green darners.  The nymphs in the pond are all still too small to be emerging and it’s been too cold for too long for me to expect them to be coming from our pond this early.  Between that and the fact that I’ve been hearing reports of big migratory and static darner swarms in Florida, I think that these are green darners stopping over on their way north for the summer.

Blue Corporal

blue corporal

 

These dragonflies come out very early relative to other dragonflies and I tend to see very, very young individuals on the rare occasions that I see them at all.  This is a photo from last year as the photo I took yesterday didn’t turn out at all, but it was nearly identical in appearance.  I find these when they fly, almost drunkenly, from an area near the pond to the grassy hill beside the pond and crash into the grass.  For whatever reason, nearly every blue corporal I’ve ever seen has been freshly emerged and its wings have hardened just enough for it to fly badly a very short distance.  The wings will darken a bit more and become a little less glossy once they finish hardening.  The body will also change colors and the abdomen will expand some as well.  This dragonfly had probably been an adult for an hour, so brand spanking new!

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

This photo is from last year too because I only caught a quick glimpse of a pair of common whitetails in tandem, zooming off over the prairie and they never came back.  I got just enough of a look at them to know that they were whitetails for sure, but definitely didn’t have time to get the camera pointed at them before they disappeared.  These are some of our earliest dragonflies each year, and one of the last to disappear in the fall.  If I had to pick a dragonfly to represent Prairie Ridge, it would be the whitetails as they are far and away the most commonly spotted dragonflies throughout the season.

Fragile Forktail

fragile forktail

This has been the earliest damselfly I’ve seen the last few years, and it was the first I saw this year too.  They are easy to tell from other forktails at the pond by the exclamation mark shaped pattern on the thorax, clearly visible in this photo.  They also tend to be smaller than a lot of the other damselflies you might see flying with them, though this one was quite a bit larger than the average fragile forktail I’ve encountered.  If you look closely, you’ll see that this one was in the process of eating a small insect when I snapped this photo.

Unknown Damselfly

No photo at all for this one!  I saw one blue and black damselfly fly past and then promptly lost sight of it against the grass.  I’d bet it was an Enallagma species of some sort, knowing what we have on the grounds and the coloration of the insect, but who knows which one.  Definitely didn’t get a good look at this one…

Dragonflies are back out!!  After what was a long and cold winter (at least by North Carolina standards), it’s lovely to see the dragonflies out and about again.  Who else out there is seeing dragonflies?  Anyone want to share the things they’ve seen recently?

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Dirty (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Ah, spring!  Warm weather, insects starting to come back out, and lots of new things to photograph.  And there’s nothing like a photo like this…

Dirty windows

… to let you know that you need to clean your windows!  Yuck…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Swarm Sunday: 1/1/2015 – 3/28/2015

Dragonfly Swarm Project logo

 

Well, it’s that time of year again!  Swarms have already started popping up in the US, even though it’s still pretty early to have them.  Here’s the swarms that have been reported since the beginning of the year:

USA:

San Diego, CA
Boynton Beach, FL
Brandon, FL
Fort Lauderdale, FL

Brazil:

Florianopolis, Santa Catarina

South Africa:

Secunda, Mpumalanga

And here is the US map for the first three months of 2015:

1.1.15 to 3.28.15

 

Red pins are static swarms, yellow pins are migratory. Click the map to enlarge!

Though there haven’t been a huge number of swarms reported yet, there was a little flurry of activity this week in Florida with two static swarms and one migratory swarm reported.  I also heard about another Florida swarm on Facebook.  The migratory swarm in San Diego was exciting (at least if you’re me!) as it’s fairly unusual to get those sorts of mass migrations in the western US outside of the variegated meadowhawk migration in Washington and Oregon each fall.  I was very excited about the reports from Brazil and South Africa as they add two new countries to the list of countries where swarms have been reported and bring the total up close to 30 now.  All in all, 2015 is already shaping up to be an interesting year!

I have started seeing a few green darners in North Carolina so far, but nothing else yet.  Here’s hoping there will be a lot more dragonflies out and about soon!

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Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

_______________

Want more information? Visit my dragonfly swarm information page for my entire collection of posts about dragonfly swarms!

_______________

Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Pond Dwellers (Friday Five)

I’ve been spending a lot of time photographing aquatic insects recently.  I’ve been very busy at work, so I find it relaxing to sit and watch my little tank full of insects in the evenings, observing their behaviors and photographing them.  Next week I’ll share another developmental series like the snail series I posted last week, but in the interest of time as the day is almost over, today I’m going to simply share some photos that I’ve been taking.  Here are some of my favorites this week:

Backswimmer

Notonecta

Backswimmer, Notonecta sp. (likely indica)

I’ve had these guys in the tank for a couple of weeks now and they are really fun to watch!  They have all sorts of cool behaviors and they’re absolutely stunning.  I’ve been trying to track down exactly which species these are and I think they’re Notonecta indica, but I really need to get a species key and run them through to be sure. In the meantime, I just enjoy watching them and admiring their gorgeous eyes and the pearlescent blue-white patch on their foreheads.

Creeping Water Bug Nymph

Ambrysus

Creeping water bug, Pelocoris sp.

This particular creeping water bug lives up to its common name in more ways than one.  Not only does it creep along the rocks and the pieces of wood in the tank, but it also peers out at you from hidden nooks and crannies in the tank.  It’s watching you, even if you don’t see it – it’s a creeper!  They’re quite beautiful creatures though, and he crawled out of his hiding spot just long enough for me to get this shot before he dove back under the log.

Damselfly Nymph

Ischnura

Damselfly nymph

This isn’t the best photo ever as I had accidentally dialed my aperture WAY down without noticing and the depth of field isn’t that great.  However, you can see a lot of cool structures inside this damselfly, and that’s why I like the shot.  Judging from their prominent connection to the tracheae (= air tubes that transport oxygen throughout an insect’s body) in the gills, I suspect those brown squiggly lines are large respiratory organs that bring oxygen from the gills to the head.  Pretty darned cool!  (At least it is if you’re me!)

Mayfly

Batidae

Mayfly nymph, family Baetidae

I have very few photos of mayflies in my collection and it’s due in large part to their fragility.  They get eaten by everything (indeed, this particular individual was snagged by a backswimmer just a few minutes after I got this shot) and they do not transport well at all.  Sloshing around in a container of water is really hard on them and they rarely make the trip.  I was thrilled that this one was still alive when I got it home so I could get some photos of it, though it was missing a couple of legs on this side.  I still really want a good, closeup shot of a mayfly’s gills.  They’re really interesting!  That’s going on my photographic bucket list.

Water Strider

Gerris

Water strider, Gerris sp.

This is technically not a true aquatic insect as it lives on the surface of the water and not in the water, but who can resist a good water strider?  These suckers are hard to catch thanks to their amazing vision, and I managed to catch TWO of them at once!  Granted, they were mating, so they may have been otherwise occupied and perhaps paying a little less attention to their surroundings than usual?  I think these are gorgeous animals, well worth the effort of chasing them down in the pond and then again with the camera as they skip frantically around the tank…  It’s always a treat when they slow down long enough for you to get a shot!

And with that, I’m off to sleep.  Lots to do at work tomorrow!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

A Spring in His Step (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Yesterday was an absolutely perfect day outside and I spent a half hour after work looking for cool bugs in the pond to photograph.  I found a great diversity of pond critters, but one of the things I was most excited to try my hand at photographically were the springtails I found hopping about on the surface.  Those little buggers are SO small that they’re really terrible to photograph in the tank! EVERY flaw in the glass shows up, every smudge, and the springtails get sort of trapped in the surface tension near the walls of the tank. This is my favorite shot so far:

Springtail

Less crisp than I’d like for sure, but it only makes me more determined to get a better shot next time!  It’s always good to have new photographic goals.  Besides, it gives me a good excuse to watch these little guys some more.  :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Birth of a Snail (Friday 5)

On March 4th, I was in the midst of an all out race to prep curriculum for an insect-themed afterschool citizen science program I’m developing.  One of the things we wanted to provide to the state park rangers who will be implementing the bulk of the program was a couple of vials containing examples of hand sanitizer preserved dragonfly and damselfly nymphs.  That meant getting into the pond to look for nymphs.  I had spent four straight weeks in front of my computer working non-stop on the afterschool program and was thrilled to get outside, even though it was cold in the water and we found only a single dragonfly and a couple of snails.  One of my coworkers needed photos of the snails for our pond field guide, so I promised to take them home and photograph them.  I set up my tank and put the snails in and left them overnight so the bubbles would dissipate.  The next day, I realized that one of the snails had laid eggs.  A LOT of eggs.  There were only two snails in the tank, so it had to be this one:

Physid snail

Pouch snail (family Physidae)

… or this one:

Planorbid snail

Ram’s horn snail (family Planorbidae)

 

And I have to say: those snails and their eggs enthralled me!  I was exhausted and overworked, so nothing gave me more satisfaction than watching my two snails, one of which was going to be a mother of several hundred baby snails, gliding around the tank every evening after work.  I took the photos we needed for the pond guide the day after I set everything up, but I kept watching and kept photographing over a few weeks.  Today I am going to show you what happened.  Let’s start at the beginning…

March 6, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 1

Snail eggs, Day 1

I added the snails to the tank on March 5 and left them overnight, so these eggs were less than 24 hours old when I first saw them.  I love that you can see a little dot in the center of the mostly clear eggs!  Nutritious yolk perhaps?  A little cluster of cells that would become the snails?  I really have no idea as I know little about snails, but I thought they were rather beautiful.  There were lots of clusters like this in the tank.

March 11, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 7

Snail eggs, Day 6

After 6 days, the shape of the little embryos inside the eggs were becoming much more snail-like.  You could see some little curved snail bodies and the very beginnings of their shells.  The color comes from the light hitting a piece of wood in the tank under the leaf these were laid on – they were largely transparent.

March 16, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 12

Snail eggs, Day 11

The snails were now 11 days old and you could definitely tell they were snails!  Most of the developing snails inside the egg cluster had mostly to fully developed shells, though still tiny, and had taken on a distinctively spiraled shape.  A few had already broken free of their eggs and left the cluster, including the one in the lower right of the egg cluster who is making a break for it in this photo.

March 18, 2015

Snail eggs, Day 14

Snail eggs, Day 13

By this point, most of the snails had escaped the egg cluster, though a few late bloomers were left.  You can still see the leftover egg compartments and the jelly that held the cluster together if you look hard.  Looks like there may have been a couple of dud eggs in the lot too that probably won’t ever hatch.

March 19, 2015

Baby snails

Baby snails

Baby snails!  There are now about 50 of these on the loose in the tank, each about 2-3 mm long.  They’re absolutely tiny – small enough you’d mistake them for shmutz on the glass if you didn’t know what you were looking for – but they move pretty darned fast for such tiny little animals!  They’ve spread out across the entire tank in just a couple of days.  For some reason, I feel like this is an impressive feat for a 2mm long snail.

And, now that the baby snails have hatched, I can look at their shells and tell that they are pouch snails and not the ram’s horn snails.  That meant that possible baby mama number one above was the parent of dozens and dozens of eggs that are still developing and many more than have already hatched.  She was rather prolific in her laying and I just found another clutch today.  I’m going to have SO many snails in a couple more weeks!  In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy watching these grow.

While all of this epic snail drama was going on, I had a similar situation happening with a bunch of backswimmers.  I’ll share my baby photos of those guys soon.  In the meantime, have a GREAT weekend everyone!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth