An Inordinate Fondness for Dragonflies

Dragonfly ancestors came on the scene some 325 million years ago, and the BugLady is certain that people were admiring them as soon as there were people. They are woven into the fabric of myth and legend in many cultures and religions and have even been used for medicine and food. What’s not to like? They come in a rainbow of colors and range in size from damselflies that are less than an inch long to hummingbird-sized darners.

Technicolor Thoughts

With a lower case “t,” technicolor refers to something that is vividly colorful. But long before the creation of color motion pictures, nature has been demonstrating the word’s meaning. Especially when it comes to bugs!

Carolina Saddlebags (Family Libellulidae)

Carolina Saddlebags have been recorded in about 15 counties in Wisconsin, scatter-gunned throughout the state. These are primarily eastern/southeastern dragonflies that range from Nova Scotia to Texas, and they’re listed as a rare migrant here in God’s Country. Carolinas prefer shallow ponds, swamps, and lakes, and very slow streams as long as there is plenty of emergent vegetation and the water is not muddy, and they are a bit more tolerant of the presence of fish than their confreres.

Ephemeral Pond Critters Revisited

The wonder of ephemeral pools is that they are populated by animals that take this annual disappearing act in stride—animals that are prepared to dry up with the pond or to get out of Dodge (timing is everything), and therein lie many tales. An astonishing array of animals use ephemeral ponds as a place to drink, hunt, and breed, but an ephemeral pond is a challenging place to call home. The still, shallow water warms quickly (which encourages speedy metamorphoses) but contains little oxygen.

Common Green Darner, the Rest of the Story (Family Aeshnidae)

Most of our Wisconsin darners are in the famously-confusing mosaic darner genus Aeshna. Common Green Darners are one of two species of Anax darners found in the state. Common green darners are, well, very common, not just here but across the country. And Central America. And Hawai’i. And Canada. And there are populations in Tahiti and the West Indies. And strong winds have blown individuals to Great Britain, China, and Russia. The other Anax, the stunning Comet darner (Anax longipes) is a rare visitor and even rarer breeder in Wisconsin.

The 13 Bugs of Christmas

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English carol that was probably borrowed from the French and that was originally an acapella chant/call-and-response/children’s memory game. It first appeared in writing in 1780, and there were (and still are) many variations of it, though the words were more-or-less standardized when an official melody was finally written for it in 1909.

Slaty Skimmer Dragonfly (Family Libellulidae)

Slaty Skimmers are one of three dragonflies in Wisconsin that are closely-related, very similar-looking, and very rare. Males are territorial and hostile, defending stretches of shoreline, and an approach by an intruding male results in aggressive displays, loop-the-loops, and chases. They are most active in the morning. Females are rarely seen at the water’s edge unless they’re in the mood, and they may breed while still in their juvenile coloration.

Seasonal Sights and Sounds

Everywhere you look, you see adult insects, young insects, and the kinds of activity that will result in them. Here are some sights from the BugLady’s walks in southeastern Wisconsin.

Arrow Clubtail (Family Gomphidae)

Arrow Clubtails (Stylurus spiniceps) are fairly-common/widespread-but-not-abundant inhabitants of the northeast quadrant of the U.S. They prefer good-sized rivers with muddy/sandy bottoms and with trees along the edges. Unlike the Pond clubtails, the Arrow clubtail is a Hanging clubtail, one of 11 North American species in the genus Stylurus.

Four-spotted Skimmer (Family Libellulidae)

The range of the Four-spotted Skimmer is circumpolar, and turns up in Asia and from European countries where it’s called the Four-spotted chaser. Its American range is listed as the northern half of North America. These are dragonflies of marshy lakes, fens, acid bogs, plant-filled ponds, and very slow streams. Adults are found over fields and along woody edges and they may form swarms over open water; juveniles are often seen far from water. They like to perch on emergent vegetation but are also found near or on the ground.