Sunday, January 29, 2017

Species Spotlight: Black Setwing

We conclude our tour of species with "black" in their name with the Black Setwing.

I've only seen this dragonfly twice so far, once at Tortilla Creek and once at the Gilbert Water Ranch, both in Arizona. It's a distinctive little dark bluish dragonfly that looks a bit like the Plateau Dragonlet, but is thinner and rather spindly.

Here's a look at one at the Gilbert Water Ranch:

I hope I get to see more of them this year.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Species Spotlight: Black Saddlebags

Next up in our Spotlight series is the Black Saddlebags. This species is named for the large black patches ("saddlebags") in its hindwings. You can see the saddlebags in the following photos:

Notice how the saddlebags are confined to the hindwings—the forewings are clear.

What is the purpose of the saddlebags? Well, one purpose in hot climates is to cast a nice shadow for the abdomen to bask in as a way of cooling the body. This is what's going on in the next photo, which was taken in Arizona on a 102˚ F day.

Take a look at the long, thin appendages in the above photo. Perhaps these appendages help with the unique egg-laying process in saddlebag species, in which the male and female detach and then reattach many times in succession.

To be specific, saddlebags lay eggs in a way that is similar to the Apollo lunar landing missions—on those missions the command module remained in orbit while the lunar lander descended to the surface, the astronauts did their exploring, and then the lander returned to orbit to reattach to the command module. In saddlebag species, the male and female hover in tandem over an egg-laying site. When the male is satisfied the coast is clear, and no fish are lurking nearby, he quickly droops his hindwings to signal the female that he is releasing her. She then descends to the water's surface and lays an egg. As she rises from the water the male descends and intercepts her. He then reattaches, and the pair flies off in search of another egg-laying location.

Look for this behavior the next time you see Black Saddlebags while dragonflying. You have to watch carefully, though—the entire process takes only about a second.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Species Spotlight: Black Meadowhawk

A Black Meadowhawk sounds a bit like an oxymoron. After all, the other meadowhawks in our area are red. In fact, being red is almost a defining characteristic of the meadowhawks—with the exception of the Black Meadowhawk.

The Black Meadowhawk is quite small and dainty, and is easy to miss. It often perches on the damp, dark ground near the shore, where it blends in splendidly. It can also be a bit fidgety and hard to approach.

Here's a male showing off from a prominent perch above the ground.

Notice that the body of the Black Meadowhawk isn't a deep, dark black, as in an American Emerald or a Dot-tailed Whiteface. The body of this species is a dull black, with a number of dark yellow spots as well.

Here's a side view, showing the hamules quite clearly.

The next photo shows the yellow spots and clear wings.

Females are more yellowish in overall color, and even more difficult to spot when perched.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Species Spotlight: Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail. What an interesting, alliterative name for a dragonfly. The beaverpond part of it makes sense, given it's habitat, but the last part of the name is a bit odd—especially with those two ts together.

In any case, this is a dragonfly that isn't seen that often in my home area, so it's always a treat when I get to see one. A member of the emerald family, it has beautiful eyes—as you can see in the older male (notice the scuffed wings) shown below:

This male shows the basic features of the species, including the small dark patch in the wings, near the base, and the "pistol-shaped" appendages that distinguish this species from the similar Spiny Baskettail, whose appendages have a simple shape. Some people say the upper appendages (cerci) look like the head of a dog. To me they look like a pistol pointing forward, with the handle coming down at a right angle to the barrel. Also, notice that its front two legs are "tucked up" behind its head—a common resting position.

As mentioned, the eyes of Beaverpond Basketballs are their most striking feature. Here is young male showing off his lavender eyes:

What beautiful eyes you have. Here's a closer look:

If you get a chance to see this species, be sure to get a good look at its eyes!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Species Spotlight: Band-winged Meadowhawk

Our next species is another meadowhawk—the Band-winged Meadowhawk. This is a species that is distinguished by extensive amber wing patches.

Here's a male Band-winged Meadowhawk, giving a good view of the wing patches:

Notice that the patches are darker on the hindwings than the forewings, but even there they are transparent. The patches extend out to the nodus of the wing—the little "bend" on the leading edge. Here's another view of this individual:

Other distinctive field marks of this species are the black side stripe on the abdomen, the yellow at the base of the abdomen, and additional yellow on the sides of the thorax.

The female is generally yellowish in color, which is typical in females and young males:

The female also has amber wing patches, like the male, which makes for easy identification.

Band-winged Meadowhawks have noticeable dorsal fovea—the red areas on the top of the eyes.

As can be seen, the eyes are red on top, and yellowish below. The red dorsal fovea are the areas of best vision. When the meadowhawk wants a good view of a prey item or a potential mate flying by, it points the dorsal fovea in that direction.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Species Spotlight: Autumn Meadowhawk

Next up in our series of Species Spotlights is the Autumn Meadowhawk, the friendliest dragonfly in our area. It is also the subject of a delightful haiku:

Red dragonfly on my shoulder
calls me his friend.
Autumn has arrived.

In general, if a red dragonfly lands on you – especially in the Fall – you can be pretty sure it's an Autumn Meadowhawk.

Here's a photo of a female Autumn Meadowhawk:

She seems to be busy eating something she caught on the wing.  Also, note her yellow legs.  Formerly, this dragonfly was known as the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk, but the legs turn dark with age, and so the name was changed to Autumn Meadowhawk to recognize their late-flying proclivity.

That this individual is a female is clear by the lack of hamules on the underside of the second segment of the abdomen.  This is indicated in the photo below:

You can also see the prominent "egg scoop" near the tip of the abdomen.  The female dips the tip of her abdomen into the water, and collects a droplet of water that is held in place by the scoop – almost like a scoop of ice cream held in place by a cone.  She then lays eggs into the droplet, and finally slams into the shoreline vegetation to dislodge the droplet.  Another view of the egg scoop is shown below:

Here's an illustration of the egg-laying process:

Here are a few photos showing how easy it is to interact with Autumn Meadowhawks:

This is a wonderful dragonfly. I hope you can find them in your area.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Species Spotlight: Amethyst Dancer

For our next species, we consider another damselfly—this one distinguished by its overall body color.

The Amethyst Dancer can be found in the southwest on small streams and creeks. We often see them at Tortilla Creek near the town of Tortilla Flat in Arizona. They are readily recognized by their distinctive color.

Here's a male Amethyst Dancer:

Notice the hamules visible under segment 2 of the abdomen, making it clear that this individual is a male. Also note that it holds its wings above the abdomen when perched—a characteristic of the dancer family.

Here's one that shows off its color particularly well.

The next photo shows the habitat where this species is generally found.

This lovely damselfly is well worth looking for next time you go to Tortilla Creek!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Species Spotlight: American Rubyspot

Next up in our species spotlight series is a damselfly with colorful wings, which is a bit unusual for damselflies.

The American Rubyspot is named for the ruby-colored patches at the base of its wings. You can see the patches in the following photo of a male perched above a small stream—its preferred habitat. To its left is a Blue-ringed Dancer, showing off its intense blue colors. What a contrast in colors this pair makes.

Here's a bit closer view of a male American Rubyspot.

Notice the white wings veins in the ruby patch.

The American Rubyspot uses its wing patches to attract females, and to fend off rivals. In the next photo a male flashes its patches to ward off another damselfly (a California Dancer in this case) that was attempting to land on its perch. Notice that it is also bending the tip of its abdomen forward in a very threatening posture.

The brilliant colors and aggressive pose was effective at convincing the California Dancer to find another perch.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Species Spotlight: American Emerald

Happy New Year, 2017!

Since it's winter, and dragonflies are few and far between, it's a good time to review some of the species we'll be seeing later this year. This is the first in a series of Species Spotlights to get us ready for the upcoming season.

One of the more elusive dragonflies in Anacortes is the American Emerald.  So far, we've only seen this species in June and July, and even then it's usually just one or two observations.

The American Emerald is an easy dragonfly to ID.  Here's a shot showing the main field marks:

Of course, the most striking field mark for this species is the intense, emerald-green color of the eyes.  Overall, this dragonfly looks black in flight, but when it turns toward you the eyes flash a brilliant green.

The second distinguishing field mark is the white ring at the base of the abdomen.  This can be seen clearly below:

The similar-looking Ringed Emerald has a white ring at the base of each segment of the abdomen.

This is a beautiful and intriguing dragonfly.  It's always a special treat to see one of them flying around Cranberry Lake.