Swarm Sunday – 7/24/11 – 7/30/11

dragonfly swarm banner

Welcome to the last Sunday in July!  It’s looking like this year is not going to have as many swarms as last year, though I do wonder if people are scared off by how long my report form looks.  Still, I got several new swarm reports this week.  Swarms occurred in the following locations, all in the US:

Florissant, MO
St. Louis, MO
Ottawa Lake, MI
La Coste, TX
Rock Port, MO
Lebanon, OH
Boulder, CO
Festus, MO
Marco Island, FL
Sugar Grove, IL
Ft. Meyers Beach, FL
Lakeville, MA
Sanibel Island, FL
Valparaiso, IN

Looks like Florida and the Midwest still have the most reports, but Colorado has had an awful lot of activity this summer, especially along about a 30 mile corridor along either side of I-25, right down the middle of the state.  Fun!

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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 © TheDragonflyWoman.com

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Friday 5: My Favorite Dragonfly Watching Areas

Sympetrum corruptum male

Variegated skimmer

I’ve been so wrapped up in family and work related things recently that I’ve barely had any time to get into nature and experience the world outside.  But I’ve been dreaming about going oding too.  Oding, or odonate watching, has become a popular pastime for a wide variety of people  over the last few years.  Similar to birding, people who participate in oding (calling them “oders” just doesn’t sound right…) visit wild or man-made water bodies, usually toting binoculars or cameras, and see how many different types of odonates they can find.  Many people are keeping life lists of dragonfly species they’ve seen, just like birders.  If the wealth of recently published odonate field guides is any indication, more and more people are joining in on the fun and I expect that the activity will become increasingly popular over the next several years.

Because I have not been able to go oding myself, I thought I would highlight the places I would go if I had the time.  The following are my 5 favorite oding spots in or around Tucson, AZ:

Sweetwater

Sweetwater Wetlands

Sweetwater Wetlands

The Sweetwater Wetlands is a huge constructed wetland on the west side of Tucson.  Wetlands are phenomenally good at filtering nasty stuff out of water and many constructed wetlands are built with the intention of improving water quality.  The Sweetwater Wetlands are no exception and was designed to filter some of the wastewater from the nearby wastewater treatment plant.  While the water smells a little funky (as you might expect in a wetland designed to treat wastewater), the wetlands support a ton of wildlife!  As you can see in the photo, there is a lot of green stuff around the ponds.  There are also a ton of dragonflies and damselflies!  While the diversity of the odonates at Sweetwater is not as high as in some other locations in my area, the sheer number of them at this site is astounding.  I love going to Sweetwater to take photos of odonates because you are bound to get many good shots.  I rarely get to check anything off my life list when I visit, but who can resist seeing thousands upon thousands of dragonflies during a 20-30 minute visit?

Las Cienegas

Las Cienegas

Las Cienegas

Las Cienegas is one of my favorite places to visit in southern Arizona.  It’s always about 10-15 degrees cooler than it is in Tucson, it’s got a lovely spring-fed stream that has water year-round (it’s under the green stuff in the photo – that’s watercress on top!), it’s got the best ancient old cottonwood, and there is hardly ever anyone else there.  Plus, there are dragonflies!  There might not be tons of them and there might not be all that many different species on most visits, but you see some really spectacular ones there.  Besides, few things beat getting out of town and watching dragonflies in the shade of old cottonwoods while trodding on the mint growing along the banks of the creek.  Heaven!

Sabino

Me in Sabino Canyon. Photo by Laura Goforth.

Sabino Canyon

I’ve been going to Sabino Canyon as long as I can remember.  Even when my family lived in Colorado and we only visited Tucson once a year, we always made a trip to Sabino.  It’s a gorgeous place to visit on the northeast side of Tucson and has a cool, clear creek that tumbles down off the Santa Catalina Mountains.  It’s chock full of fabulous aquatic insects (and a whole lot of invasive, awful crayfish) and there are always a lot of dragonflies flying around.  Sabino is where I saw my first giant darner (Anax walsinghami) and my first filigree skimmer (Psuedoleon superbus).  I was blown away by the beauty of each.  It’s also home to the Sabino dancer (Argia sabino), a damselfly listed on the IUCN Red list as a vulnerable species.  Sabino is nearly always crowded, but it’s such a nostalgic place for me and so pretty that I love it anyway.

Madera

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon

Like Sabino, I’ve been visiting Madera Canyon for as long as I can remember.  It too has a lovely, clear creek flowing down the middle of it.  It too is full of aquatic insects and attracts many odonates.  Madera is a little less crowded though and has some different odonates that you don’t see in Sabino, so it’s still really exciting to go there.  It’s nice to take a camera, a soup strainer, and a lunch.  That way, you can have a picnic by the creek, snap a few photos of any odonates you see, and collect some aquatic insects.  And, you can do this all on one perfect 3 hour trip!  What a great place!

Agua Caliente

Agua Caliente

Agua Caliente

Agua Caliente is another nostalgic place I’ve visited since I was a kid, but it is different from every other place I’ve mentioned so far.  Like Las Cienegas, it is a spring-fed system, but here it fuels a natural oasis in the desert valley east of the city.  The property used to be a cattle ranch and has been significantly modified to create more cattle ponds with a little stream that runs between them, but the whole system still depends on the spring for its water.  Now it’s a county park and is known as a great place to bird (it’s got wood ducks!), but I keep going back for the odonates.  The diversity of habitats within Aqua Caliente Park results in a high diversity of species within a small area, which makes this a great place to go with a pair of binoculars and a camera and knock off several species on your life list in only an hour or two.  It’s really gorgeous too!  I love Agua Caliente!

Man, now I’m itching to get out and do some oding!  Maybe I can cram in a quick trip to Madera this weekend…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright TheDragonflyWoman.com

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Beetle Aggregation

We stopped alongside a road to collect insects from a small stream during one of my aquatic entomology classes and came across hundreds, maybe thousands, of these beetles:

aggregation of beetles

Lots of beetles!

Aren’t they beautiful?!  According to the lovely, fabulous, wonderful people at bugguide.net (did I’m mention that they’re fantastic?), the stripey beetles are Paranaemia vittigera, a member of the family Coccinellidae.  Striped ladybugs!  Super cool beetles, especially in such huge numbers.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

My War Against Fire Ants

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I woke up covered in stinging ants a few weeks ago.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a great way to start the day.  I sought out and massacred every ant I could find the moment I was conscious enough to do so.  Then I wondered what kind of ant they had been and IDed them.  Fire ants!  In my house!  In my bed!  But one day of waking up with ants in my bed seemed to be the extent of the problem.  They had disappeared, so I didn’t think much more of it.

vacuum

My favorite non-toxic ant control device! Just suck 'em up with the hose and repeat as needed.

Over 4th of July weekend I went away to visit family.  The day before I drove back home, I received a text from my husband: “Ants have invaded the bathroom.  Thousands of them.  They’re on every f*****g surface.  Please come home tomorrow and save me from the ants.”  I thought my husband was overreacting.  We’ve had winged ants invade our home after the first monsoon rain of every summer for the past 3 years and they’ve never caused any real problems.  I told my husband to suck them up with the vacuum (that’s what I do) and didn’t hear anything more about it, so I figured he’d taken care of it.

But then I got home and saw the ants myself.  It wasn’t the usual post-monsoon home invasion of harmless winged ants.  No, it was a massive invasion of fire ants!  I tried to vacuum them up, but our vacuum had broken.  I didn’t have any bug killers (I don’t use them because we have pets), so I spent 2 hours picking ants up with a paintbrush laced with rubbing alcohol because it was all I had on hand.  I killed several thousand of them.  Then I did it again an hour later.  Then again.  There were too many for me to handle alone and I had been stung many times, so I finally caved and called Terminix (my landlord unfortunately has a contract with them).   That went absolutely nowhere, as usual – no call back, no appointment scheduled.  Nothing.  Meanwhile I still had thousands of mean, stinging ants in my bathroom.

The next morning, things got even worse.  I opened my eyes to the most beautiful, enormous spider hunting wasp I’d ever seen sitting on the screen door in my bedroom, so I prepared to catch and photograph it.  I scared the wasp opening the door, but I ran after it.  15 seconds later, I ran back into the house as fast as I could.  I was COVERED in fire ants and being stung repeatedly.  I squished them all, but I couldn’t believe how many ants were in the yard!  I ended up with about 20 big red welts on my feet and legs where I’d been stung.  My dog Monkey went out later.  He ran back in the same way I had a few seconds later.  I brushed the ants off his legs and officially declared war.  Ants stinging me is annoying.  Ants stinging my dogs means war!

ant control

Fire ant control agents

Because Teminix wasn’t going to solve my ant problem, I turned to the internet for information on how to do it myself.  My department’s integrated pest management people recommended using a poisoned ant bait called Amdro to control fire ants.  Because I have dogs, I am very reluctant to use poisons, but I put it on my list anyway.  I was desperate!  The ants supposedly gather the bait and carry it back to their nests so that all the ants, including the queen, eat the poisoned bait and die.  I looked into natural products and lots of people recommended diatomaceous earth.  I’m still not exactly sure how this kills ants (there are several competing ideas), but it was worth a try.  Breathing in diatomaceous earth is rather like breathing in powdered glass, and it can severely dry your skin/mucous membranes if you touch or inhale it.  Still, I figured it was safer than poison and added it to my list.   Many people also recommended baby powder and swore by the results.  I didn’t think there was a chance that it would work (why should it?), but baby powder is cheap and relatively harmless, so onto the list it went!  I bought everything on my list, the Amdro and diatomaceous earth from Home Depot and talc-based baby powder from the grocery store.  It cost about $20 for all of it.

diatomaceous earth

A diatomaceous earth barrier. Ants had to walk across this line of diatomaceous earth to enter my home.

My attack was simple.  First, with the help of the most wonderful friend ever (how many friends are willing to risk being stung by fire ants to help you?), I raked up the leaves in my yard so I could find the nests.  Many of the nests were under rocks, so I waited until the ants were less active and dumped ant bait under them.  I wanted the poisoned bait out of reach of the dogs, so I only put it under rocks.  I then spread a thick line of diatomaceous earth along the base of the house to act as a barrier for ants that were coming in from the yard.  Indoors, I thickly sprinkled baby powder all over the shower head and along the loose caulking around the base of the shower, the two areas where most of the ants were coming in.  For good measure,  I also baby powdered the base of the toilet and sink.

The following day, I went into the bathroom and was surprised to see that there were only about 30 ants running around.  I used my paintbrush on them and that was pretty much that!  I’ve only seen a total of 4 ants in the two weeks since!  I don’t know how or why it worked, but the baby powder seems to have actually worked.  I’m leaving it down a few more days, then I’ll just vacuum it up (with the new, working vacuum).  Easy!

There were also far fewer ants in the yard, but there was one line of them stretching all the way across the yard still.  When I looked closer, I noticed that the ants were all carrying larvae with them.  I had them on the run!  I ran inside and grabbed the baby powder and heavily powdered the entire line.   The next day, my yard was virtually fire ant free!  There are a few other species of ants in the yard still, but they’re not problem ants and I’m going to leave them alone.  But the fire ants are gone!

dog in yard

My dog Monkey sleeping in the fire ant-free yard!

I can once again use my bathroom without being stung.  I can chase bugs in my flip flops to my heart’s content.  My dogs can spend hours each day lying in the dirt, basking in the hot sun.  It’s glorious!  And if you’re wondering just how happy I am with the results, the very existence of this blog post should be a good indication.  Never though I would EVER write a pest control post!  But these ants…  They were awful!  They stung without provocation and there were SO many of them I just couldn’t ignore them.  I am not sorry to see them go either.

I think the method I used will work for others.  My friend who helped rake leaves had fire ants invade her house shortly after mine and my method worked well for her.  I also baby powdered the larger black ants (no idea what kind) my sister recently discovered in her pantry at the Grand Canyon.  They left immediately, though they might come back because we didn’t figure out where they were coming in and create a barrier there.  I’m not convinced that any of the methods I used will work in humid areas either (I do, after all, live in a desert), but if you live in a dry area and have fire ants, it might be worth trying a combination of the control agents I used.  They worked very quickly and very cheaply for me!

Today’s post was a little later than usual, but I should be back to my normal posting schedule now.  Check out Wordless Wednesday this week!  It features a group of amazingly beautiful ladybugs.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Swarm Sunday – 7/17/11 – 7/23/11

dragonfly swarm banner

Like my Friday post, today’s Swarm Sunday is going to be brief.  Dragonfly swarms occurred in the following locations in the past week:

USA

Abilene, TX
Mount Dora, FL
Alpena, AR
Siloam Springs, AR
Oklahoma City, OK
Choctaw, OK
Indianapolis, IN
Newton, KS
Boyertown, PA
Salt Lake City, UT
Brick, NJ
Toms River, NJ

Canada

Stettler, AB
Drumheller, AB

Also, the blog post I wrote for SciStarter.com about The Dragonfly Swarm Project appeared on the Talking Science website this week.  Follow the link if you want to check it out!

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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 © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: Recent Bug Photos (Briefly)

Due to a death in my family a few days ago, today’s Friday 5 is going to be short.  I’m out of town and don’t have access to my main hard drive, so it’s a little tough to do a good post anyway.  However, I have taken a ton of bug photos recently, largely as a way to stop thinking about sad things for a little while, and I have my cameras with me.  These are 5 of my recent favorites.

This beetle (the ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata) has been out in force in Flagstaff, AZ the last few nights.  Hundreds of them have come to the porch light each night.  They squeak when you pick them up too!  Pretty fun distraction.  This isn’t the most technically precise photo of the bunch I took, but I love the look of his (or her – don’t know why but I call all animals “he” until I know better) face:

ten-lined June beetle

Ten-lined June beetle, Polyphylla decemlineata

Okay, so you’ve seen several photos of palo verde beetles recently, but photographing them was a joy for me.  Hence, another Derobrachus hovorei:

palo verde beetle

Palo verde beetle, Derobrachus hovorei

A damselfly from Flagstaff, AZ.  It’s probably a plains forktail (Ischnura damula) or pacific forktail (I. cervula), but I honestly haven’t put much effort into IDing it yet.  Identifying a random damselfly hasn’t even come close to the top of my list of priorities lately, and I’m not great at IDing adult damselflies anyway:

Forktail damselfly, Ischnura sp.

This beetle (along with palo verde beetles) always makes me think of summer in Tucson, AZ.  This is a fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis, aka my June bug:

fig beetle

Fig beetle, Cotinis mutabilis

Finally, I have no idea what this long-horned beetle is and haven’t even begun to try to ID it, but I thought he was just lovely.  And look at those long hairs on the abdomen!  He was sitting under the porch light at my house in Tucson earlier this week:

Longhorn beetle

Long-horned beetle

This may be my shortest Friday 5 yet, but it’s the best I can do.  Hope you enjoyed the pretty bugs!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Monsoon

Welcome to the Arizona monsoon season! We get some really impressive storms at this time of year:

Lakeside Lake storm

Storm rolling in at Lakeside Lake

Of course, you also don’t want to see this headed toward you while you’re sitting on a metal boat sampling water at a local lake, but sometimes that’s just what happens.  Those dark clouds often generate some fierce lighting, strong winds, and a lot of rain.  Awfully pretty though!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com