The 12 Bugs of Christmas

In lieu of the usual bug biography, the BugLady presents The Twelve Bugs of Christmas—a tribute to a dozen insects (a Baker’s Dozen, really) that were photographed this year but not featured in a BOTW. Let the singing commence.

Clubtail Dragonflies (Family Gomphidae)

Many Clubtail species (but not all) are adorned with three noticeably-flared segments at the end of their abdomen. What Clubtails have in common is that their eyes (usually green, blue or gray) do not touch each other on the tops of their heads. They generally rest, hunt and fly close to the ground, but they will perform vertical loop-the-loops when disturbed. Thirty-four species of Gomphids live or have lived in Wisconsin (there are about 1,000 species worldwide).

Wandering Glider (Family Libellulidae)

Wandering Gliders are considered the most widely-distributed dragonfly species, and because of that have been featured on postage stamps around the globe. Found on 6/7 of the earth’s continents, they occur between 40 degrees north and 40 degrees south latitudes, in areas where there is seasonal rainfall. They are found near temporary, even brackish, ponds and very slow streams, and flying over grasslands. Their range in Wisconsin is erratic.

Babes in the Prairie

Baby bugs are not sweet and cuddly like, say, Golden Retriever puppies, but they have their own charm. Here are a few of the less-seen prairie babies.

Swamp Darner (Family Aeshnidae)

Swamp Darners are impressive insects—large, broad-headed, brown/maroon abdomens ringed with thin, green lines. They range over eastern North America, more-or-less from Maine through Michigan to East Texas. They are one of approximately 15 species of dragonflies (out of about 400) that migrate, and they move down the Atlantic Coast in large numbers, sometimes as far as Mexico and the Bahamas. But they are very rare in Wisconsin; rare enough to be labeled a species of Special Concern.

Ephemeral Pond Critters

The BugLady has been hanging out at her local ephemeral pond again, looking at small things in the water. She loves the cycles of ephemeral ponds and the critters they contain. Ephemeral ponds are (most years) just that—ephemeral. These are here-today-and-gone-tomorrow ponds, gather-ye-rosebuds-while-ye-may wetlands.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Family Libellulidae)

The Variegated Meadowhawk has a medium size body, patterned abdomen, tinted veins on the leading edge of all four wings, stigmas (pigment dots at the wing tips) that shade from pale to dark to pale, and yellow spots on the sides of the thorax. Adult meadowhawks may be found hunting away from water or hanging around the lake shores and ponds where they will lay their eggs in late summer.

Not Green Darners (Family Aeshnidae)

Mosaic darners are a group that includes about 20 darners in North America—darners whose abdomens are decorated with “a mosaic” of blue/green/gray lines and speckles. The size, shape and color of the stripes on the thorax are important field marks. Sexual dimorphism runs rampant, with females of some species having as many as three different color phases (blue, green and yellow)—all of them distinct from the coloring of the males.

Dragonfly Swarm

It’s been a remarkable year for dragonflies in southeastern Wisconsin. They made the print and television news in early August, when green darners, appearing in huge swarms, were hailed as saviors from the flood plain mosquitoes that had just emerged in cosmic numbers. These impressive sights only happen when the ecological “planets” are aligned just right, and they may not recur for years.

Confusing Summer Dragonflies (Family Libellulidae)

Today we take to the air with three big dragonflies that belong to a group called the King Skimmers; 12-Spotted Skimmer, Common Whitetail, and Widow Skimmer. Represented by 103 species in North America, the Skimmer family (Libellulidae) contains our most common and conspicuous dragonflies.