Thursday, June 1, 2017

Species Spotlight: California Darner

I went to Cranberry Lake yesterday to have some pictures taken for an upcoming issue of Fidalgo Living. It will be a cover story about the dragonfly whisperer, and the wonderful dragonflies of Anacortes. The article will appear in the August issue.

It's still fairly early in the season, and it was mostly cloudy yesterday, but I still saw one dragonfly at the lake—the California Darner. This is a small darner (the smallest in our range) and the earliest flyer. If you see a darner around here in May it's almost certainly a California Darner.

Here's what this charming little fellow looks like:

California Darner, male.  You can clearly see the "egg tooth" on the front of its thorax, which it uses to break through the larval skin when it emerges as an adult.

Notice the lack of a front stripe on the thorax, the cream-colored spots on the tenth segment of the abdomen, and the simple (blade shaped) appendages—all key features of the California Darner. Also notice that it is perched on the ground, another characteristic of these darners. The other common darners in our area – Blue-eyed Darner, Paddle-tailed Darner, Shadow Darner – almost always perch in a bush at hip to shoulder height. In our area, a darner on the ground is quite likely to be a California Darner, especially early in the season. Here's another example of one perched on the ground:

Notice the lack of front stripes on the thorax, the cream-colored spots on segment 10 of the abdomen, and the simple-shaped appendages.

Of course, they do sometimes perch on vegetation, which usually makes photography a bit easier.

As pointed out in a previous post, this darner lacks the eyebrows of the Happy-face Dragonfly, but it's eyes are beautiful nonetheless.

There are a lot of young California Darners out this time of year. Their eyes are brownish before they mature. Below is an example of a young male.

This is a young male California Darner. Notice the "wasp waist" that is characteristic of males.

In the next shot we are looking into the dorsal fovea of the eyes. This means that we see very large pseudopupils, giving the eyes a dark appearance.

These darners will have the place to themselves for a while longer before the next darners to appear—the Blue-eyed Darners—show up.

The flight season for the California Darner shows its early arrival and fairly early departure:

You don't see many of them after July.

As you might imagine from their name, their range is concentrated in the western United States.

From the range, you might almost want to change the name to the Washington Darner.

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