Lestid Laying Eggs

A few weeks back, I was relaxing after a big science event I had hosted at the museum field station where I work and was taking some photos.  I was sitting on the platforms we have near the pond and watching green darners flying around, looking for some common whitetails and other early spring dragonflies.  I noticed a large spreadwing damselfly on a plant in a strange position and slowly approached so I could get a photo.  This is what I saw:

Spreadwing damselfly laying eggs

Spreadwing damselfly laying eggs

She was laying eggs!  You can see her egg laying tube, her ovipositor, protruding from her abdomen and stuck down into the plant in the photo.  It’s the black pointy bit just to the right of her abdomen just above the plant.  I watched for a little while and saw her pull her ovipositor out of the plant, move down a half a centimeter or so, and stick it back in several times.

Eventually I got distracted by a freshly emerged common whitetail and went over to take some photos of it.  When I went back over to the pond, the damselfly was gone. However, you could clearly see the evidence that she had been laying eggs inside the plant:

Punctures in the plant after the damselfly flew away

Punctures in the plant after the damselfly flew away

I’ve read about spreadwings laying their eggs in plants before, but hadn’t ever seen it. So exciting!  The nymphs that hatch inside plants eventually make their way to the water where they will spend the rest of their childhoods as long, relatively large and robust damselfly nymphs with funky mouthparts.  In this particular pond, few things get much bigger than the spreadwing nymphs, just the frogs, yellow-bellied sliders, and the three monster snapping turtles I saw sunning themselves last weekend.  Always good to know that a pond you regularly get into has multiple gigantic snapping turtles lurking in it…

I’ve got a long list of things I want to share, so hopefully I’ll be able to get another post up soon!

_______________

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

Double

Today is the next to last day of my Photography 101 course, and the theme is “double.” Because I’ve been excited about photographing aquatic insects recently, I’ve got another photo from my aquatic setup for you:

lestid gills

Those are gills of a juvenile southern spreadwing damselfly.  A lot of people don’t know that dragonflies and damselflies actually spend most of their lives underwater as nymphs.  In fact, some dragonflies spend up to three years as nymphs, and then 4-5 weeks as adults on land.

As nymphs, damselflies get everything they need from their aquatic habitat, a pond in this case.  They eat small animals as prey, use cattails and other vegetation as shelter, and they get the oxygen they need from dissolved oxygen in the water.  The gills of damselflies help them breathe by improving their ability to absorb oxygen through their exoskeletons.  The gills massively expand the surface area of their exoskeleton, essentially adding another quarter or third of an exoskeleton to their bodies through which they can breathe.  The gills also improve their swimming, the way wearing flippers while snorkeling can help people swim.

However, damselflies lose gills all the time too.  The one in the photo above only had two of the three it should have when I saw it in the water.  Damselfly nymphs will sometimes fight each other and lose a gills.  Sometimes a predator will try to eat a nymph and get a mouthful of loose gills while the damselfly swims away.  While the gills do improve the lives of the damselflies and one missing its gills has a harder time getting oxygen or avoiding predators, they can survive with no gills at all.

I love the way damselfly gills look!  Another fascinating textured surface, compliments of insects.

_______________

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

Scale

Today’s Photography 101 topic is “scale” and I decided to take a trip to the pond after work today to take this shot:

 
The front half of what you can see in the photo represents about 50% of the territory of the strongest green darner dragonfly at this pond. It will fly back and forth across this area hundreds of times each day that it manages to keep control of the territory. It’s quite a large area for a 3 inch long insect to patrol and maintain control over. In fact, there’s a dragonfly in the photo to give you a sense of how big the space is relative to the insect. Can you find it? Trust me, it’s there, right there:

 
I’m always impressed by how huge the territory for some of the large dragonflies are. Insects never cease to amaze me.

_______________

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

Warmth

It has been unusually warm in North Carolina this week.  Things are blooming – in March – and several damselfly and one dragonfly species are out – in March – and I’ve seen several snakes and frogs – in March.  Some of these things are happening a full month early this year, so biological events I might never expect to see in March have been surprisingly visible.  The dragonflies and damselflies are making me particularly happy, so I’ve got another damselfly photo to share for today’s Photography 101 topic, warmth:

Spreadwing damselfly

Spreadwing damselfly

Dragonflies are warm weather insects by and large, so you really only see them when it’s warm enough to boost the water temps a bit and encourage the nymphs to emerge. It’s been sufficiently warm just long enough, in spite of how early it is, that damselflies are starting to make an appearance for the year.  I also like the warmer colors of the background of this photo, which I think contrasts nicely with the cooler colors of the damselfly and the cattail.

I am not 100% sure on the ID for the spreadwing damselfly above, but I believe it is a southern spreadwing.  They’re very common and smaller than most of the other spreadwings you might find in my county in North Carolina.  Unlike the damselfly I shared yesterday that is very easy to identify, the spreadwings, at least in the southeastern US, all look about the same and can be hard to identify without catching one and taking a close look at its undercarriage.  You can see in the photo where the spreadwings get their name though!  Most damselflies hold their wings pressed together over their backs at rest, but spreadwings hold them slightly apart.  These are also quite large damselflies and the family includes many of the largest species in the US.

It’s going to cool down a bit this weekend before the temperatures soar next week, so it will be interesting to see what impact the cooler weather has on the early spring!

_______________

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

Natural World

The Photography 101 topic for today is “natural world,” which is perfect for me!  I went wandering today to find interesting things and this is my favorite shot:

fragile forktail

Fragile forktail

This is a fragile forktail, the first I’ve seen for the year.  They’ve been the first damselfly species I see in North Carolina each spring since I moved here, though they’re my second species this year.  El Nino at work most likely!

It’s easy to tell fragile forktails from other species.  See the exclamation point marking on the sides of the thorax?  That’s a good indication that you’re looking at a fragile forktail.  The males and females look very different too, so it’s very easy to tell them apart at a quick glance.  The males look like the one above, bright lime green and black, while the females are blue with black markings.  Damselflies can be hard to identify because so many look so similar, so it’s nice to come across the easy ones in the field!

_______________

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

Bliss

“Bliss” is today’s Photography 101 topic, so this is my bliss:

damselfly

Dancer damselfly in Pima County, AZ

 
That’s my first odonate (dragonfly or damselfly) of 2016! Saw it recently in Arizona at the Desert Museum, so was at a place I loved when I saw it too. :)

Tomorrow’s my travel day, so we’ll see if I can manage to get a post up. If not, I’ll post again on Friday!

_______________

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

Dragonflies in December

It has been incredibly warm along the east coast of the US until just a few days ago. My birthday is in mid-December and I spent part of that day outside collecting insects in the pond with a group of high schoolers who are doing a research project with me.  We had been worried it was going to be very cold, but it was a gorgeous 75 degrees!  And, I saw DRAGONFLIES on my birthday.  Not just one dragonfly, either.  No, I saw more than one individual and TWO species!  That’s never happened before, so I was thrilled beyond belief.  Thank you  El Niño!

I saw 6 of these dragonflies on my birthday:

Autumn meadowhawk female

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) female

That’s an autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum), a dragonfly species that flies at the very tail end of the season.  If someone told me they’d seen a dragonfly in December, this is the one I’d think they saw because they fly later than most other dragonflies in the US. Though they’re not commonly reported so late, people do occasionally see them in December, even January in some years.  I saw dozens of them throughout November and up until the 18th of December.  There were so many out this year!

I saw most of the autumn meadowhawks resting on the wooden platforms we use for teaching classes near the pond or on bare patches of dirt on the ground:

Autumn meadowhawk  (Sympetrum vicinum) male

Autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) male

This particular species is not as inclined to spend all their time around the water as other species, preferring to perch away from the shore.  I did see a few fly out over the water briefly while I watched, but most were sitting on the platforms or the ground. Not surprisingly, they were all sitting in the full sun and with their bodies positioned so that they could soak up as much sun as possible. While it was very warm on my birthday and a few other days on either side, there were some cooler days mixed in too. The autumn meadowhawks were flying even on those days, but tended to make short flights from a warm sunny patch to another warm sunny patch rather than taking longer flights. They also let me get really close before they flew away.  They apparently didn’t want to fly more than necessary on the chilly days.

I’ll write more about the biology of this species at a future date because this is very interesting.  Autumn meadowhawks are rather strange dragonflies!  However, it was not the only species I saw on my birthday this year.  I also saw one of these:

Darner on big leaf magnolia

Common green darner (Anax junius)

A December sighting of a common green darner is definitely abnormal!  In the past four falls, the latest I’ve seen a green darner at the pond was September 26.  Seeing one in December was therefore shocking.  I have to wonder where it came from.  Was it passing through, a hugely late migrant that was headed south for the winter? Or did the warm weather trick a nymph in the pond into thinking it was spring so it emerged? Either way, I was very surprised to see this dragonfly in December.  It unfortunately whizzed past me at speed and I got just enough of a look at it to identify it.  It didn’t stick around to pose for photos…

North Carolina is certainly not the only place that has been seeing dragonflies far later in the year than normal this year.  I’ve heard reports and seen photos of autumn meadowhawks from places like Massachusetts and Maryland from December and a few from Canada in late November.  The warm weather seems to be prolonging their season so that people all up and down the east coast have made unusual spottings.  For this dragonfly lover, it makes me happy to see dragonflies so late in the year.  And, it’s only 4 months until the dragonflies start to come back in the spring in my area.  That’s not too bad of a wait.  Not too bad at all.

_______________

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