Lifer (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

Many people keep life lists of the species they’ve encountered.  Getting to add a new species to that list, whether the species is uncommon or not, is always a thrill.  This painted skimmer was a lifer for me:

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

Painted skimmer, Libellula semifasciata

I was headed to the back gate as I was closing up at the field station and slammed on the brakes when I saw a flutter of orange over the prairie.  We’ve had a lot of similarly colored Halloween pennants around recently, but this was much too big and flew differently.  Was absolutely thrilled to discover that the dragonfly I caught out of the corner of my eye was a painted skimmer, a new species for me!  I rushed back to see if it was already on the species list for the site and was mildly disappointed that I was not the first to see one on the grounds, but checking that species off in my field guide more than made up for it.  :)

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

I’ve been sick the last several days and I’m not up to writing a whole Friday 5 blog post today, but I still wanted to get SOMETHING up today.  So, I’m going to tell you a story.  It’s a story about this dragonfly:

blue dasher

Blue dasher

That’s a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) and it is a largely unremarkable dragonfly inasmuch as it’s incredibly common in the US.  However, the particular blue dasher in the photo was a part of something exciting and stands out in my memory as being wonderfully interesting.  Allow me to elaborate.

Last summer, I attended Bug Shot 2014 on Sapelo Island in Georgia.  It was, as on past trips, a great weekend full of insect nerdery, endless photography, and a lot of great conversations with good people.  I really love attending Bug Shot as the people there are my kind of people and we have this one huge thing in common: a deep and pervasive love for photographing insects.  However, because I’d been twice already and was attending after a rather brutal week at work, I was exhausted and skipped a few of the sessions on the last day to get a little time to myself.  I wandered over to the pond to look for dragonflies and attempt to get some photos of the many whirligig beetles on the surface.

Now, Sapelo Island has some dangerous things you need to look out for, and alligators are among them.  I adore alligators.  They scare me and I give them a ton of respect when I see them – I have zero desire to get close to them! – but I really love them.  They are just so ancient and powerful that it’s hard not to love them.  When I heard there were several alligators in the pond on Sapelo, I had to go looking for them.  I failed to see them most of the second day, but I finally saw the two adults out in the pond on that last day and was thrilled.  So, imagine my excitement when I was photographing that unremarkable dragonfly at a different area of the pond 10 minutes later and noticed a small, juvenile alligator swimming by, just a few feet from where I was standing on shore.

I grinned as I watched the alligator swimming.  I pointed it out to my friend Suzanne from Buglady Consulting, who had wandered over to see what I was doing, and we watched it swimming in the clear water together.  Then, all of a sudden, it burst out of the water…

and…

ate the dragonfly in the photo above!  One moment the dragonfly was there and the next it was in the belly of an alligator!  Suzanne and I both yelled, “Whoa!!!” and started excitedly asking one another if we’d seen really just seen what we thought we did.  If I had been alone, I wouldn’t have been convinced that the alligator had actually swallowed the dragonfly, that it had just scared it off, but Suzanne confirmed that we had, in fact, just seen a 3 foot long alligator launch itself out of the water, snag a dragonfly from a perch two feet above the water line, and swim quickly away, hidden by a plume of mud the quick motion had stirred up. Coolest. Thing. EVER!

As much as I love about and learn at Bug Shot every time I’ve attended, I suspect that one observation is going to stand out in my mind as the very best thing I’ll ever experience at Bug Shot.  It represented new information for me: that alligators will occasionally eat dragonflies, even if they’re a couple of feet above the water line, which means that dragonflies are a significant enough food source to merit the speed and power it requires for an alligator to catch one.  It was fascinating to watch two ancient creatures interact, alligator and dragonfly, and see just how fast and powerful alligators really are.

I just wish I’d gotten a photo of it…

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

Friday 5: Good Week

This last week was a great one for me bug-wise!  I did several insect themed citizen science programs and presentations with a variety of groups, from leading lessons for a summer camp for middle school boys to teaching a training workshop for environmental educators and teachers.  It’s always fun to spend time teaching people who are genuinely interested about bugs and want to learn something, so it was fun even though it was terribly hot.  Here are some cool things I saw this past week!

Owl fly

Owl fly, Ululodes quadripunctatus

One of my coworkers came in a few days ago and told me that she’s seen a dragonfly on a tree branch outside our offices and wanted to know what it was because it was a really weird one.  Apparently I haven’t exposed her to my “dragonflies don’t have long antennae” mantra as she explained that the dragonfly she’d seen was odd because it was holding its wings in a funny way and had long antennae.  I followed her out to see what she’d spotted, expecting to see an adult antlion.  Instead, it was the insect above!  That’s an owl fly, a really cool insect in the net-winged insect group, and a relative of the antlions though they belong to their own family.  I think this one is Ululodes quadripunctatus in particular, and two things struck me about this insect.  First, it was crazy beautiful with those yellow patches down the abdomen and the divided eyes.  I was thrilled to be able to see it.  Second, how the heck did she even see this thing?  I am so impressed that she spotted it!

Another beauty:

Golden-winged skimmer

Golden-winged skimmer, Libellula auripennis

I got to visit a new-to-me state park near the Carolina coast yesterday to teach a group of 5th grade teachers about citizen science.  Part of the activity I had planned involved sending them outside with cameras to document the biodiversity around the environmental education center for a project we host at the museum where I work called Natural North Carolina.  I arrived early so I could scout before my presentation, but I made it as far as the parking lot before I stopped.  There were dozens of these golden-winged skimmers flying around the parking lot and resting in the trees around the edges.  They were gorgeous, so I stopped and stood in the hot sun watching them for about 15 minutes before I went inside to present.  We saw a few other dragonflies too, including some great blue skimmed females and some eastern pond hawk females.  It was great!

Speaking of dragonflies…

Blue dasher

Blue dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

One of the activities I did with summer campers involved recording the dragonfly species we observed at the pond for three different citizen science projects.  I had them watch for the species the Dragonfly Pond Watch is interested in and count the number of common whitetails they saw for Nature’s Notebook.  Then I let them loose with nets to catch as many different species as they could so we could photograph them for our Natural North Carolina project.  These were 5th grade boys, and they got bored watching dragonflies fairly quickly.  I wouldn’t let them use the nets until we filled out the whole data sheet and we counted the whitetails, but then I let them loose.  They were THRILLED to be out catching dragonflies!  And they caught 12 species too.  Not bad for a group of nerdy 11 year olds!

I got to work with the same group of boys last night when I helped out one of my coworkers, the curator of our Arthropod Zoo, as he led a blacklighting activity for them:

Blacklighting

Blacklighting

About half of the dozen boys got REALLY into the blacklighting and would have happily stayed up all night watching bugs with us if their camp leaders would have let them.  It was great watching them stalking the sheets looking for cool things coming in to the lights.  My favorite insect of the night was this massive mayfly:

Mayfly

Mayfly, likely Hexagenia limbata

I haven’t ever seen one this big before, so I had to look it up.  I am 95% sure it’s Hexagenia limbata, a very large mayfly that is common in the eastern US.  It was nearly 4 inches long if you included the tails!!

That was my week.  What cool things did you all see?  I’d love to hear your stories, so I welcome comments below!

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

Friday 5 Coming Tomorrow

Well, here it is, the end of Friday, and I still haven’t gotten my Friday 5 post up for the week yet.  Instead, it’s coming tomorrow!  In the meantime, here’s a photo of the back-end of a dragonfly that I rather like.  It’s not perfect by any means, but I draw your attention to the wingbuds:

Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymph

Look how you can see the tiny little wings developing in there!  And you can even tell this is going to be a skimmer because you can see the tell-tale “boot” shape in the hindwing.  So cool that you can see those things developing right before your eyes!

Until tomorrow!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Impossible

Check out this photo I snapped with my phone recently:

Blue corporal

Blue corporal

We had a fancy picnic at work and offered activities for the attendees to keep them occupied until they ate.  After I arrived back from the pond, a child ran up to me with a plastic bug jar and asked if I could tell him what was inside.  It was this dragonfly.  The kid kept saying, “It’s alive!  It’s alive!” but you would have been hard pressed to tell that it was, in fact, alive as it sat there perfectly motionless, lying at an odd, not-terribly-alive angle.  I realized why he was so still when the kid picked up the jar and shook the heck out of it, rattling the dragonfly around inside!  Horrified, I convinced the child to focus his attention on an identification book and once he discovered that it was a blue corporal, he dumped it out on the ground and ran inside for dinner.  I couldn’t resist taking a photo of something I never thought possible – a live dragonfly that let me pick it up – as I moved the poor little guy out of harm’s way.  I ran to get a better camera, but by the time I got back he was gone.  I hope he has a good life out there.  He deserves it after the trashing he got!

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

Friday 5: From the Pond

Last Friday was incredibly hot in North Carolina, so it wasn’t the best day to be outside.  I spent most of it indoors, but I didn’t get to stay inside the whole day.  Thankfully, the things I had to do outdoors were either brief or fun, and I finally got a chance to spend a few moments rooting around in the pond down the hill from my office.  There was some great stuff in there too!  I scooped a few choice things into a little bucket and brought them back up to the office to look at more closely, then I brought it all home to photograph.  The big things were exciting, including…

SKIMMER NYMPH

Skimmer

Skimmer dragonfly nymph

Shallows ponds like the one where I work are pretty amazing places!  They’ve got a huge variation in habitats, from the mucky bottom to the sides of emergent vegetation (like cattails) to the algae floating on the surface.  If you scoop a sample from the cattails, you’ll get different things than you will from the bottom or at the surface or in the open water.  This lovely dragonfly nymph came from the mucky bottom.  Look at all those hairs on the legs!  Pretty cool nymph.  Sadly, it was eaten by the…

PREDACEOUS DIVING BEETLE LARVA

Predaceous diving beetle larva

Predaceous diving beetle larva

This has got to be a Dytiscus species because it was absolutely gigantic, over 2 inches long!  It walked around and around the bucket with those enormous jaws held wide open.  Every now and then it would try to sneak up on the dragonfly and grab it, but the latter kept getting away.  Apparently the beetle eventually succeeded because I woke up a dead dragonfly nymph held fast in the jaws of the beetle.  What an impressive beetle larva!  It did not succeed in grabbing this nymph though…

CREEPING WATER BUG NYMPH

creeping water bug

Creeping water bug

We had a lot of naucorids in Arizona, so these seem like a perfectly normal thing to find in a pond to me.  What I’m not used to seeing is a pale green bug with crazy red demon eyes!  When the light hit the eyes just right, they even glowed a little, which made them downright creepy.  This insect is, I’m told, also one of the most painful of the aquatic insects you can be bitten by, which adds to the creepy factor of the red eyes.

Another green thing was very abundant in the pond…

DUCKWEED

duckweed roots

Duckweed roots

I figured I should include at least one thing that wasn’t an insect here because so many other things belong to the pond’s ecosystem.  Duckweed is one productive little plant!  A few tiny little plants is all it takes to start forming a dense mat that can eventually cover the entire surface of a pond. There’s not that much duckweed on the Prairie Ridge pond yet, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much of the surface is eventually covered this summer.  I can’t help but love duckweed though!  It’s one of the smallest flowering plants in the world, just a little cluster of tiny bright green leaves attached to a root system.  The whole plant floats on the surface of the water with the roots dangling below in the water, as you see in the photo above.  It’s an adorable little plant.

The best thing I found in the pond though, was something that I only saw because I caught a tiny motion out of the corner of my eye:

PHANTOM MIDGE LARVA

phantom midge

Phantom midge larva

I can only imagine that these are called phantom midges because they are so darned hard to see in the water!  This larva was absolutely transparent except for the big air bubbles you can see inside the larva in the photo and the tiny black marks.  It was nearly impossible to see in the bucket and every time I lost track of it I had to spend several minutes staring into the water to see it again.  Phantom midges are cool looking insects, but they’re also one of the few insects that live out in the open water of ponds and lakes.  Most aquatic insects in ponds are found on the bottom or close to the shoreline (in the littoral zone) , but these are often found swimming about right out in the open water.  They move up and down in the water column by adjusting the air in those little air sacs and avoid predation by hiding near the bottom during the day and coming up to the surface to hunt with their prehensile antennae at night.  If that’s not the coolest aquatic insect, I’m not sure what is!  And this was the very first one I’ve ever seen.  I couldn’t have been happier to find it!

That’s a tiny taste of what’s living in the pond down the hill.  I’ll be down there doing programs throughout the year, so it will be interesting to see how the populations change over time and how shifts in the dominant species occur.  And, it’s only a 3 minute walk!  I had to drive at least 30 minutes to get to any sort of habitable water in Arizona, so having a pond so close is a dream come true.  And someday I’ll get down into the creek too.  I’ll let you know what I find when I do!

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

Ode to an Odonate on Valentine’s Day

I’m stepping WAY outside my usual comfort zone for this post and trying my hand at a little poetry!  To the dragonfly Pantala flavescens (the wandering glider) on Valentine’s Day:

Pantala flavescens flying

Pantala flavescens (wandering glider) flying

Ode to an Odonate

Oh Pantala flavescens!
How your mighty wings
carry you on the wind,
taking you further than
most of your kind
can only dream,
wandering
and gliding
across continents
and vast oceans
and the field behind
the farmer’s house.
Your titanic eyes see
the tiny animals
on which you feast,
the air a veritable smorgasbord
of delicious delicacies
that you sample voraciously
until you’ve had your fill.

And, oh!
How happy
your circular unions,
living depictions of
the circle of life
to which you owe your existence,
as do we all.

Oh, Pantala flavescens,
scourge of biting insects,
our unsung and unappreciated
defender of humanity,
plucking us from the grips
of cold death
at the hands of pathogens,
expecting nothing
in return but satiety.
We salute you!

Long live Pantala flavescens!
Your beauty unsurpassed,
your habits alarming and pure,
your grandeur supreme
and everlasting.
Fly forever at
the edges of cool pools
across the lands,
and into the future.

Pantala flavescens

A wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)

This poem was inspired by a fabulous Valentine’s-themed Twitter campaign promoting biodiversity and conservation called Love Species.  If you wish to participate in their campaign too, it’s easy!  Visit the link above, find your favorite of the animals listed in the ARKive collection of images, and tell everyone on Twitter which is your favorite and why.  Makes sure to include the hashtag #lovespecies so that others will be able to find your favorites.  And if you don’t know what ARKive is, it’s worth browsing their site even if you don’t want to participate in Love Species!  The goal of ARKive is to document life on Earth by collecting the best wildlife photography and movies and archiving them.  They then publicly share these brilliant images in hope of inspiring people to appreciate and conserve the organisms that share our planet.  The organization has some really big names in biology, photography, film making, education, etc. supporting their efforts and the results are stunning.  ARKive is definitely worth a look!

I wanted to take Love Species a step further and declare my undying love for one of the species represented on ARKive for my Valentine’s Day post!  Valentine’s scream poetry to me, so it seemed appropriate to make my declaration in poetic form.  I used to write a lot of poems when I was a teenager (LOTS of poems – I needed something to do in all those study halls I was forced to sit through!), but I haven’t done it for a long time.  I also never shared my poems because, well, I don’t know why exactly.  I guess it made me nervous to think that someone else might read one and hate it.  To that end, to any of you sticklers who read my poem: please note that I am fully aware that my poem is not truly an ode because it doesn’t have the proper structure nor the correct (i.e. any!) rhyming scheme.  But how can anyone possibly pass up the chance to name their poem Ode to an Odonate?!  :)

I encourage everyone to publicly declare their love for a species!  There are so many ways you could do this too and you don’t certainly need to use Valentine’s as an excuse.  Write a blog post, buy a t-shirt with your favorite organism and wear it proudly, or post a fabulous photo you’ve taken to Flikr.  Just get it out there!   Love a species and share it with the world and maybe you’ll inspire others to do the same.

Happy Valentine’s to everyone!

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