02 December 2005

The next big thing

Good optics and great field guides helped make birding a hugely successful hobby (serious birders would find another word, I'm sure). Close-focus optics and field guides more suitable to identifying free-flying butterflies, rather than pinned specimens, boosted the popularity of seeking out these insects. The lastest beneficiaries of these tools has been dragonflies, which might be why you're here. The next bug folks might be looking for, photographing, listing, and posting about might be beetles. As one of the most abundant taxa on earth, we might be counting these things for a long time.

We found this Harlequin Flower Beetle (Gymnetis caseyi) in Texas slurping up some fermented slop that had been slapped out to attract sap-seeking butterflies. Those fine lines on the wing covers (elytra) are scratches, like gouges in the paint job of a Volkswagen.

One guy who is already thinking "beetle" is Mike Quinn of Texas Parks & Wildlife, who set up the Texas Beetle Information page, where you can see much nicer photos of the Harlequin Flower Beetle with references and other info.

29 November 2005

Hot times in the LRGV

Stylurus and I have made more than one holiday trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas to enjoy the birds, butterflies, and dragonflies. Even in late fall and winter, you never know what you might find there, and often there are rarities of all these taxa.

Of course, the weather is always better there than here, and this weekend was no exception. We left Michigan in a howling snowstorm with the temps about 15 degree F. The Valley was sunny and hot, hotter than any of our previous November visits. That meant ponds, ditches, and the Rio Grande were buzzing with odonata!

We looked for odonata at several locations, primarily Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (SANWR), Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, and along the Rio Grande at Salineno. We ended up with over two dozen species, which is quite respectable for this time of year:

American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana)
Common Spreadwing (Lestes disjunctus)
We are still examining some photos of another female Lestes
Blue-fronted Dancer (Argia apicaulis)
Blue-ringed Dancer (A. sedula) – According to both Abbott's great book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central States, and his web site, Odonata Central, a late date for the region. We had at least a half dozen along the irrigation canal at Bentsen.
Dusky Dancer (A. translata)
Double-striped Bluet (Enallagma basidens) -- One male along the irrigation canal at Bentsen; late date.
Familiar Bluet (E. civile)
Neotropical Bluet (E. novaehipaniae) -- A lifer for us. I picked it out of a spider web at Salineno so I was able to confirm the ID later.
Rambur’s Forktail (Ischnura ramburii) – We photographed one interesting blue-thoraxed male along the irrigation canal at Bentsen.
Caribbean Yellowface (Neoerythromma cultellatum) - A lifer, a pair in tandem along the irrigation canal at Bentsen; late date. These were super-cool. Wish we could have gotten a photo (without falling in the canal).
Desert Firetail (Telebasis salva)
Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
Black Setwing (Dythemis nigrescens) -- Quite common, handsome little guys like the one pictured above.
Pin-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis plebeja) – One male at the ponds near the front entrance of SANWR; late date by over a month.
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicollis)

Straw-colored Slyph (Macrothemis inacuta) -- A lifer for us, seen two days in a row at the very dry, waterless old manager's residence at SANWR. Also late by over a month. It finally posed for a photo, above.
Spot-tailed Dasher (Micrathyria aequalis) –Also quite late.
Thornbush Dasher (Micrathyria hageni)
Roseate Skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea)
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)
Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)
Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) – One female along irrigation canal at Bentsen was also a little late.
Filigree Skimmer (Pseudoleon superbus) – This stunning ode was not a lifer, as we had seen one at SANWR two years ago. Theoretically, there really isn't great breeding habitat (noted as desert ponds and slow streams) in the vicinity for them, and they are thought to be vagrants. This time, we saw four individuals at SANWR, none of which were near water. The female below was also at the old manager's residence, where we had nine different odonata species! Abbott lists no dates past late August.
Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)
Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
Red Saddlebags
(T. onusta)

Many of these late dates mostly reflect the lack of work in the Valley at this time of year. With the addition of Josh Rose on the staff of the World Birding Center, this should change. Josh is great with birds, getting a crash course in rare Texas butterflies, has a keen interest in beetles and other insects, and is a very enthusiastic odonatist, having worked on them for his PhD. He is leading regular dragonfly walks at Bentsen, and is sure to find many more interesting odes in the months to come. He's not only knowledgeable, but friendly and generous with his time. Thanks for your help, Josh!

13 November 2005

Nice knockers!

At a museum shop today, Stylurus and I saw some cool dragonfly merchandise. What we liked the most was this really nice doorbell. Unfortunately, it won't fit where our current doorbell is placed. I'm not even sure our doorbell works!

Then there were these door knockers. The one of the left was nice, I didn't care for the shiny one on the right. The little dragonfly on the bottom is also a doorbell.

I like our current door knocker, which I got on eBay. Yeah, I know our door needs painting.

05 November 2005

The last meadowhawks of summer

It was another unseasonably warm fall day here in Michigan, with temperatures around 70F. As usual, the last species of dragonfly on the wing was the Autumn (Yellow-legged) Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum). They are not uncommon in early November, if the weather stays warm; the late date for a specimen in southeast Michigan is November 9. Nonetheless, I was a little surprised to see this hopeful pair flying around in tandem today. They seemed...tired.

S. vicinum is one of the several lookalike Sympetrum. But the females are very easy to identify, with just a glance. They have spout-shaped ovipositors, seen here on this female in profile.

The temperatures are not going to get drastically cold the next week, but it will turn rainy and windy. These are probably the last dragonflies I'll see this season, at least here in Michigan. I'll be going to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas over Thanksgiving. This has become something of a tradition for the Urban Dragon Hunters. Odonata are not plentiful there this time of year, but the butterflies can be good and you never know what interesting bird might show up.

Farewell, little red odes of summer. See you next year.

04 November 2005

Karner Blue threatened by invasive species?

The Karner Blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is an endangered butterfly endemic to the Great Lakes region, with the largest populations in Michigan and Wisconsin. While other subspecies in the L. melissa complex feed on a variety of plants in the Fabaceae family, the wild lupine, Lupinus perennis, is the only host plant for the Karner Blue, contributing to its rarity.

A new paper in the Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society notes a new larval host plant for the nominate subspecies of Melissa Blue, L. melissa melissa. Colonies in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota are feeding on crown vetch, Coronilla varia, an aggressive introduced legume planted for erosion control and slope stabilizations, especially along highways. It is now considered a serious invasive species.

The reason this is so notable is that the rapid spread of crown vetch, in particular along road corridors, provides a means for the Melissa Blue to penetrate into the range of the Karner Blue; in fact, the Melissa Blue is undergoing a range expansion that is facilitated by its new use of crown vetch. The two species are now separated by less than 70 km (~43 miles), including the areas that contain the main part of the Wisconsin population of Karner Blue.

Nobody is certain what will happen when the two species meet, but there is a good chance that they will hybridize and produce viable offspring. This possibility is a huge threat to the existence of Karner Blue as a distinct subspecies.

Dana, R. P., C. Lane, and D. Hansen. 2005. New larval hostplant for Lycaeides melissa melissa in Wisconsin and Minnesota and potential threat to Lycaeides melissa samuelis (Lycaenidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 59:175-177. Photo public domain, USFWS.

11 October 2005

"Petrified sunlight"

Things are a tad busy for me right now, but I am working on a post on dragonfly migration, by request, as well as a summary of the 2005 ode season. Meanwhile, I will leave you with the little ode that thinks she's a wasp: a female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). She is, indeed, a diminutive jewel in the late summer sun.

29 September 2005

Great Spreadwing: New for Michigan

Remember back in July, when I said one of our goals was to find Great Spreadwing, Archilestes grandis, in Michigan? On 27 September, we did.

We've been looking for this brawny bug for a couple of years; it's a southwestern species that has been expanding its range since the 1920s. It was first found in southwest Ontario in 2002, although it has been present in Ohio since 1925. The other day, Stylurus and I met in northwestern Wayne Co. for dinner. It was a fairly new restaurant, part of a ~35 ac (~15 ha), as-yet unfinished development. A small creek emerged from a metal culvert under the busy road out front and went right between the restaurant and the parking lot, heading off to the rear of the development. The creek is perhaps 1 meter across, and the "protected natural wet land" (according to the sign; sic, and sick) is about 4 meters wide, full of weeds, trash, etc.

It was a beautiful day, the last really warm day of summer. We crossed over the decorative little bridge, and a flash of substantial odonata wings caught our attention. I literally skidded to a stop, thinking it might be a late ovipositing Aeshna working the creek. But no, perched on a poorly planted (and therefore mostly dead) shrub was an enormous female spreadwing.

"Wow," I said...I think out loud, "that has to be Archilestes grandis!"

"There's another!" Stylurus pointed out a male.

This was a little too unlikely, I thought. "They must be Amber-wings," I said, referring to the next-largest spreadwing, Lestes eurinus, still staring dreamily at the perched female. I knew as I said it this was not true.

Of course, we both had nets in the car, and I went ahead and caught the female. No doubt, here it was: Michigan's first Great Spreadwing.

Dinner abandoned for the time being, we walked along the creek for about a quarter-mile. The swath of green was never more than 5 meters or so wide, bordered by erosion cloth and then denuded ground with a covering of opportunistic weeds. The creek itself was rarely visible. Along most of the length were piles of twisted brush, thick growths of thistles, burdocks, buckthorn, and pioneering patches of Purple Loosestrife: an excellent example of Michigan's fantastic wetland protection and mitigation laws in action. There were five or so places where bridges leading to nowhere (but soon, office buildings) had been built over the creek, offering glimpses on either side of various types of garbage, and about five or six other Great Spreadwings. We caught a male for a second voucher. The sun was waning and we went back to the restaurant for a celebratory meal.

Yesterday afternoon it was still fairly warm but a strong cold front was approaching. I returned to try to census the population along the creek and take some photos. By the time I arrived it was cloudy with a strong wind. Hunkering low in the vegetation I located two pairs of Archilestes in tandem, and another six solo males. I would say that there are probably at least two or three dozen individuals along the creek, and that this is likely an established population. How long it will persist as the area becomes more degraded is anybody's guess. This species is tolerant of disturbed areas, but if the creek gets completely overgrown, polluted from runoff from the parking lots, full of algae from fertilizer or other nutrients such as abundant goose poop from the retention basin feeding it, or the flow gets obstructed from all the trash, then it may not longer be suitable habitat for this very grand Great Spreadwing.

(images clickable)

19 September 2005

11 September 2005

Supersize it

I've seen pondhawks eating other dragonflies and big gomphids taking down large butterflies, but I usually see bluets eating gnats. I was surprised to see this Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) hauling around a moth which probably weighed nearly as much as the damsel itself. I didn't see the initial capture, but the moth was alive when I first started taking pictures. At this point, the bluet had already dined on the moth's head.

Thistle or plant down that had gotten stuck on the bluet's thoracic hairs is silhouetted in the late afternoon sun.

08 September 2005

Tramea party

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) are one of the species of North American odonata thought to be at least partially migratory. They are common here, and although I can't say I've observered anything that appeared to be migration, I have seen large congregations of them.

At a large, scrubby open area near the Detroit River on Labor Day, Stylurus and I saw hundreds of Black Saddlebags. They were both in the air hunting, and many were perched in the vegetation, like this one. There were a couple of Carolina Saddlebags with them (we were hoping for the rarer Red Saddlebags, T. onusta, but the one we caught was T. carolina), and many Pantalas. Normally, Wandering Glider (P. flavescens) is the more common species, but in this group Spot-winged Glider (P. hymenaea) outnumbered them; it's been a bumper year here for that species.

Update on dragonfly migration: A nifty paper was published in 2006. The abstract is here and a summary appears at Science Daily.

It's also been a decent year here for southern butterflies. Nectaring on Eupatorium (mostly tall boneset) were at least a half-dozen Fiery Skippers (Hylephila phyleus). This is a species just at or beyond the northern limit of its range in Michigan. Some years it's fairly common, while it is absent in others.

It must be autumn.

01 September 2005


I can't say that I can tell you much about the tropical genus Uracis, except that they are a lot like dragonlets (Erythrodiplax) and also libellulids. The male above is Uracis fastigiata. In central Panama, we found them in sun-dappled shady areas near water, but they weren't common. The extent of the black on the wings of this species varies; this is as extensive as it gets. The wings actually appeared stiff and plastic-like, and they flew with a fluttery, butterfly-like flight. It must be the end of their flight season, because most we saw were worn, if not battered.

In sunny, open areas we found the related Uracis imbuta (below). They were a little smaller, and more typically dragonlet-like, without the thick-winged appearance. Do you see what that individual is perched on? That's right -- Uracis grass.

28 August 2005

Some more L. vibrans, and a Panamanian damsel

For the first time in weeks, Stylurus and I went out to look for odes this weekend. It's Aeshna season, yet we saw not a single one. We did find his namesake fairly readily -- Arrow Clubtails, Stylurus spiniceps, were patrolling the Huron River. We spent some time looking for the state-threatened Russet-tipped Clubtail, Stylurus plagiatus, a species I discovered in the county five years or so ago. I've only found them on one stretch of the Huron, and they can usually be located perched in the surrounding vegetation. A thorough beating of the bushes did not yield any; we did have a tentative sighting on the river, but the lighting wasn't the best.

We returned to a couple of the spots I'd discovered on my bike earlier this summer. They were much drier, allowing further exploration. We were able to get right next to a mucky shallow pond in the woods, adjacent to the Huron, and were rewarded with the sight of at least three male Great Blue Skimmers, a species we'd only just confirmed for the state in July. We took one voucher for this new site, and I didn't even fall in the stinky mud.

Meanwhile, I've been working through the identifications of odonata I photographed on my recent tropical trip, a task that could not be accomplished without the expert opinions of Dennis Paulson, Nick Donnelly, and Sid Dunkle. One of the cooler damselflies I saw was an Acanthagrion, or wedgetail. The Mexican Wedgetail (Acanthagrion quadratum) occurs in the southwestern U.S., but I've never seen one. This photo is likely A. trilobatum. You can see how they got their name. I'll post a list of positively ID'd species soon, as well as more photos. I'll be providing my photos to Paulson's Odonata Biodiversity web pages, which were a great resource for me.

20 August 2005

Helicopter Damselfies

Dragonflies of the World by Jill Silsby is ode porn. Not only is it full of great information on odonata biology, it offers a tantalizing overview of the world's odonata. From the time I first looked through its pages, many families and species quickly ascended to the top of my "must see" list. One such family was the Pseudostigmatidae, or Forest Giants. The largest living odonate in the world, Megaloprepus caerulatus (wingspan of about 7 inches) is in this family, which is found in Latin American rainforests. Despite their size, pseudostigmatids are rather delicate looking, sort of like extremely elongated spreadwings (Lestes).

Another common name for this group is helicopter damselflies. Pseudostigmatids have very large spots at their wing tips, sometimes replacing the pterostigmas. When they fly -- quite slowly -- they really resemble helicopters! They also have a very specialized mode of foraging: they hover in front of spiderwebs and pluck out the spiders, preferring soft-bodied arachnids to hard-bodied ones. Although they look ungainly, they are skillful at manuevering close to the web to grab the spider, and then going in reverse to back away without getting entanged in the web.

This female (left) is in the genus Pseudostigma; according to a checklist by T.W. Donnelly it should be P. accedens. The other species is P. aberrans, a good match for this photo. A key to the Costa Rican species notes that accedens is rarely found in Panama, so it's a toss-up. This photo was taken at the Metropolitan Nature Park in Panama City. UPDATE: Both Donnelly and Dennis Paulson have identified this as most likely Mecistogaster ornata.

Pseudostigmatidae breed in standing water in tree holes. Males will defend good breeding sites. Little sunny openings at stream crossings are also good places for spiders. Consequently, we were able to find Megaloprepus caerulatus in many such locations. Although the largest odonate in the world, individuals vary greatly in size. Some seemed truly huge, others, just big.

The one on the right allowed us to take many photos as he explored leaf tips looking for spiders. The second photo, below, isn't great, but shows that the black spot on the wings is actually metallic blue. When they land, helicopter damsels fold their wings slowly, it looks really cool! This individual was photographed outside of Gamboa, Panama, along the Rio Chico Masambi.

A web site on the odonata of La Selva, in Costa Rica, has photos of specimens of four species of helicopter damselflies. Seeing these magnificent damselflies was one of the highlights of my trip. They are still at the top of my "must see" list!

29 July 2005

Bombyliidae: Geron sp.

You know I have a bit of an obsession with bee flies, even ones I haven't seen myself. Here's a cutie I found today. The odonata update is below.

This tiny, hump-backed little bee fly is probably from the genus Geron.

A Spreadwing Update

Yesterday, I spent some time at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in the odonata range with the accomodating and helpful Mark O'Brien, researching some of the species that have been recorded in Wayne Co. that I personally have not seen. The big news, I guess, is that Elegant Spreadwing, Lestes inaequalis, is now striken from the list. It's inclusion was based on a lone record, a female specimen taken several years ago. I took a look at it, and lo and behold, it was mislabeled (note, MFO: I could have said "misidentified"). Males are easy to ID, their inferior (lower) claspers are longer than the superior (top) ones. You can kind of see this in the photos here and here, but it's really obvious in the hand, even without magnification. Females ("Lestes without testes" Mark calls them), however, usually require a microscope and some experience. I've looked all over hell's half-acre in the county for this species, but so far no luck.

We also went over some literature records. Several are from prior to 1880 (Hagen's Bluet, Enallagma hageni; Canada Darner, Aeshna canadensis; Mottled Darner, A. clepsydra; and Williamson's Emerald, Somatochlora williamsoni), and others might be in error. Of the 90 species on the checklist, there are only 13 I haven't seen, and half of them are species that either haven't been seen for over 100 years or that I suspect are in error. Eventually, Mark and I became sidetracked into reading some of the correspondence given to the museum by E. B. Williamson (the MOS newsletter's namesake) from colleague Clarence Kennedy. I always find it interesting to get to know historical figures from a personal perspective rather than just seeing their published papers and the results of their field work. Let's just say that these two men were particularly intriguing; Mark promises to liven up our winter months summarizing some of these riveting letters in his blog.

Today I was hoping to find either Elegant Spreadwing or Common/Southern Spreadwing (Lestes disjunctus disjunctus and L. d. australis). There actually aren't that many L. d. disjunctus specimens from southern Michigan; I don't find them all that common. There are just a smattering of L. d. australis specimens from the state.

Now that I have a bike rack, I'm able to explore further afield at the metroparks. There is a 3-mile stretch between Lower Huron and Willow metroparks that, from an aerial view, looked to have a nice old wooded oxbow near the bike path, so that's where I headed. This was nearly all dried up, just squishy much and lots of wetland vegetation. It was loaded with Lestes, mostly Sweetflag Spreadwing, L. forcipatus. Wherever I find these, I find A LOT of them. The males look pretty much like Common Spreadwings. The easiest thing to do is catch a pair and take a look at the female. If her ovipositor is longer than her superior anal appendages, like this, then it's a pair of Sweetflags. I netted every nth pair that I couldn't get a good look at through binoculars, but could not come up with Common/Southern. There were a smattering of Slender Spreadwings, L. rectangularis, some Ruby Meadowhawks, Sympetrum rubicundulum, and the many of the ubiquitous Blue-fronted Dancers, Argia apicalis. Despite the lack of diversity, this looks like a great spot earlier in the season, and later on for patrolling Aeshnas. I'm headed to a different spot furthern downriver tomorrow.

20 July 2005

Skimming Bluet

Getting tired of seeing me post damselfy photos? Well, for me, the bluets are like miniature shards of the deep blue July sky, skittering through the grass at my feet, and symbolic of the summer season I love so much.

Skimming Bluets (Enallagma geminatum) are very dainty, and usually seen dancing over glassy-surfaced ponds. This one paused nearby for me to admire.

14 July 2005

Blue-ringed Dancer

The Blue-ringed Dancer (Argia sedula) is the least common of the blue dancers in our area. Although I noted them along the Rouge River some years ago, I did not encounter them again until yesterday, when I obtained the necessary first voucher specimen to put them officially on the Wayne County list. I think they are the most beautiful of Michigan's Argias; this photo hardly does them justice.

10 July 2005

Great Blue Skimmer: New for Michigan

Great Blue Skimmer (Libellula vibrans) was first recorded in Michigan in 1995, described in a paper published (in Japanese) in the journal Aeschna by Tokihiro Nishida. He had one on 22 June 1995, and photographed a male 10 July 1995, at a small wooded wetland in Westland, Wayne Co. If he obtained a specimen, it is not in the University of Michigan odonata collection.

I think I've looked at this paper, with its tantalizing color photos of species in the county that I have yet to find, dozens of times. In 2004, I went to what I figured HAD to be the swamp Nishida described in Westland, an extremely built-up community. It could only be at Holliday Nature Preserve, a county park. Although I returned again and again, finding other species he noted there, there was no sign of L. vibrans. The swamp also appeared to be filling in with button bush and fallen trees, as seen below.

Accessible wooded ponds are hard to come by in this county. One other looked promising, but repeated visits in 2005 did not turn up this species. Perhaps Nishida's Great Blue Skimmers were just wanderers, and would not be found again without luck, and a year when conditions, perhaps drought in the southeast, brought L. vibrans north to Michigan.

I thought perhaps this might be the lucky year. The Northeast Odes listserv noted an influx of Great Blue Skimmers in New York state. Mark O'Brien reported sightings in Washtenaw Co. just last week. In fact, he told me he was going to go try to voucher one for the first official state record on Saturday. Alas, I was committed to do a survey at Humbug.

We finished our survey of Humbug yesterday (which did not turn up Comet Darner, Painted Skimmer, or any other interesting odonate) sooner than expected, so Stylurus and I decided to head up to Holliday NP. Within five minutes of arrival, I called excitedly over our two-way radios "It's here! I have a male over here!" Just like the books said, this Great Blue Skimmer kept returning to his perch in the dappled sunlight after looping out over the swamp. The very mucky, duckweed-covered-water-0f-indeterminate-depth swamp. Right in front of me. So close and so obstructed by branches I could not possibly get a good swing. I had promised myself if I finally found this thing I'd go in the water after it. Momentarily, I was standing in some very fragrant, warm-as-piss gunk. Stylurus arrived in time to see our bug quite well, before it flew out over the button bushes. We hunted as best we could to no avail.

This brought about a change in today's plans. After doing some other surveying, we arrived at Holliday at about 1:30 PM, wearing rubber boots in 90 degree weather. We went in separate directions, and searched unsuccessfully for half an hour. I sat on a moss and raccoon-crap covered stump, wondering how many dozen Blue Dashers I could stand watching in this reeking place. Suddenly, the radio beeped...Stylurus had two males staked out at the opposite side of the swamp!

One cannot race through this area. The water was opaque and filled with downed trees. I made it half way around and onto "land" before I stepped into a hole and collapsed in the putrid mud. I can't cut to the chase -- that was it -- but suffice to say we had a number of males in a much shallower (albeit no less stinky) spot. We were able to obtain some mediocre photos and a voucher for Michigan's first state record -- 10 years to the day that Nishida had one in the exact same place. Domo arigato, Nishida-san.

Nishida, T. 1999. The odonata collected in the United States of America, mainly in the State of Michigan. Aeshna 36:1-20.

Craves, J. A. 2006. First Michigan specimens of Libellula vibrans Fabricius (Odonata: Libellulidae). Great Lakes Entomologist 39: 91-93.

07 July 2005

Swamp Spreadwing

I spent quite awhile in the field today, but found nothing truly notable. I did see my first Swamp Spreadwings (Lestes vigilax) of the year. I'm not sure why, but I love spreadwings. One of our goals is to find Michigan's first Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis). Maybe this will be the year.

06 July 2005

That Stylurus...

...turned out to be Stylurus spiniceps, the Arrow Clubtail, for those of you that have been waiting on the edge of your seats. We were a little surprised, being pretty familiar with this species here along the Huron River. In its extreme tenerality (bloggers are allowed to coin new terms), we did not recognize it.

04 July 2005

Kentucky odes, the end

We spent today in Grant County, KY. We now understand why there aren't a lot of records for this county. It was hard finding publicly accessible permanent water. A couple times we found really lovely rocky streams like this one. We were quite surprised at the lack of odonata in them.

A Macromia was patrolling one, and we staked ourselves at strategic points in the stream. This is where my brilliant new water shoes came in handy. Unfortunately, the river cruiser only made a few passes and eluded us. We think it was either an Illinois (M. illinoiensis) or Allegheny (M. alleghaniensis).

Halloween Pennant

We ended up with only about two dozen species, including this lovely fresh Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina). There were very few damselflies -- no spreadwings and only two species of bluets. And the entire weekend we did not see a single green darner. How weird is that?

03 July 2005

Kentucky odes, day 1

Our holiday weekend was a leisurely ride through small towns in Ohio into northern Kentucky, with the goal of recording some species for the KY odonata survey in the very sparsely covered counties near the Ohio River. We made several stops yesterday. In a backwater leading to the Ohio near Augusta, a teneral female gomphid fluttered by. She turned out to be a Flag-tailed Spinyleg (Dromogomphus spoliatus).

Teneral female Flag-tailed Spinyleg (you can see the spines on her thighs). I like the commuter strap-hanger look.

Near Foster, we went to a boat launch where we could walk along the Ohio, dodging every type of garbage known to man from holiday party boats. Please, people. There were a number of medium-sized gomphids with paddle-like clubs. On the plus side, they tended to perch facing away from us, so we could sneak up fairly close. On the minus side, a good photo was hard to take, and it took us forever to catch one because we had to creep over ankle-twisting rocks. They turned out to be Cobra Clubtails (Gomphus vastus).

Uncooperative Cobra Clubtail.

As we were leaving there, a very teneral clubtail, on its maiden flight, caught the light. Without a whole lot of reference materials, we are uncertain what it is. A cursory look at the wing veins led me to think Ophiogomphus (snaketail), but habitat and lack of extensive green on the thorax seems to vote against that. Stylurus thinks it's a Stylurus, and I am leaning to Stylurus notatus, the Elusive Clubtail. The habitat, size, markings (such as they are) look right. If so, it will be the second one we've stumbled across, when many people can never find one; our first was near the Mississippi in Wisconsin.

26 June 2005

Marsh Bluet

Yesterday we revisted a nice wetland recently made accessible by the development of a new municipal park. The park is essentially a lot of ball fields, but if you walk beyond them, through an extensive old field community, you reach a short rise that overlooks a large grassy wetland. This is just across the street from the previously mentioned retention ponds that have such interesting boggy species of mysterious origin. On the other side of the wetland, new development is also taking place, in what used to be an old peat mine. Ah-hah! This must be where our Nannothemis, Amphiagrion, and Nehalennia are coming from. We were hopeful that we might find emeralds there, too.

Alas, we didn't find Jack Schitt there. It was fairly dry, since it's been so hot, and maybe the density of the vegetation, with no open spots, makes it less ideal than we had hoped. We wandered around -- still lots of interesting land and birds -- and ended up at two retention ponds behind a new megachurch of enigmatic denomination. The ponds looked a year old. There was a lot of activity by the usual species: pondhawks and dashers, whitetails and Widow Skimmers, etc. There were several Carolina Saddlebags (Tramea carolina) in the mix, a species we only located in the county last year. Stylurus set about trying to nab one, while I scanned the grass for damsels.

I have been on the lookout five years for any of the suite of similar bluets that have not been found in the county at all or for many years: Boreal (Enallagma boreale), Northern (E. cyathigerum), Hagen's (E. hageni), or Marsh (E. ebrium). I have looked at Familiar Bluets until I'm, uh, blue in the face. Today was no exception. Familiar, familiar, familiar. All those cerci with the funny little pale tubercule. Finally my persistance paid off, and I found one with forked superior cerci (left). Marsh Bluet! I went on to find that about a third of the bluets at the pond were Marsh, the rest Familiar. After awhile, I could see the Marsh were a little smaller and paler blue, but the patterns were pretty much alike. The only previous specimen of Marsh Bluet in the county is from 1904.

As we were getting ready to leave, what should appear over one of the ponds. You guessed it: Comet Darner. It flew only briefly, then perched about 17 feet up in a tree in the shade. It was too distant and the lighting too poor for a decent photo, but it offered us long looks through binoculars. Stylurus put both our sets of net poles together and still couldn't reach it. It flew off deeper into the trees, and although we sat there in the 94F heat for another 45 minutes, it never reappeared.

Today we went to Lenawee Co., back to Indian Trails Crossing Park. It is pleasant to walk along, or in, the River Raisin looking for gomphids and Macromia. It is mostly shallow, sandy or gravelly, and clean (or at least it seems pretty clean. I'll let you know if any of the scratches, scrapes, or fly bites on my legs become hideously infected.). Although we saw a couple Macromia, and some Black-shouldered Spinylegs, it was unproductive overall. But scenic.

24 June 2005

18 June 2005

More on the Painted Skimmer

Due to my fixation with the Comet Darner, Anax longipes, I have given short shrift to the significance of the record of the Painted Skimmer, Libellula semifasciata, that I obtained on June 16. I'd do well to dwell on my successes rather than my failures.

Mark O'Brien's L. quadrimaculata praenubila

There are only four specimen records of L. semifasciata for Michigan; the dates are 1892, two from 1908, and one "recent" record from 1936. Sight records have been noted (Kielb 1996), but without verification. In 2001, O'Brien (2002) photographed what he thought was L. semifasciata, albeit a slightly strange one (above), and later found out that it was actually a rare form of the Four-spotted Skimmer, Libellula quadrimacula (O'Brien 2003). L. quadrimaculata is a very widespread species, known in the Europe as the Four-spotted Chaser, and is more common in Michigan (although there has not been a Wayne Co. record since 1917). The form Mark saw was L. q. praenubila, a form with more highly colored wingtips that is found in Europe, with only one reference to a North American sighting, from Maine (Harvey 1901). A typical female L. quadrimaculata can be seen here, and compared to the praenubila form here.

I've examined my female specimen and verified that it is indeed L. semifasciata and not L. q. praenubila. Among the diagnotic features are a yellow stigma bordered in black, rather than all brown in L. quadrimaculata; fewer bridge crossveins on the forewing than in L. quadrimaculata; and, in females, a widened flange on abdominal segment 8, not present in L. quadrimaculata. Photos of these features in the June 16 specimen are below, taken through a dissecting microscope and adjusted for the resulting lousy exposure.

L. semifasciata: pterostigma yellow bordered in black.

L. semifasciata: s8 is slightly widened

L. semifasciata: enhanced photo showing details of forewing veination. Click for larger image.

Photos of L. semifasciata -- the whole bug, alive in living color -- can be seen here, here, and here. The last image is a biggy, but shows the pterostigma and wing veination especially well.

The Painted Skimmer is considered rare in Ontario, with only three sighting records in Essex Co. in the Ontario Odonata Atlas. Thus, this Wayne Co. record is a smashingly good find.

And, as an addendum, today we found ANOTHER Painted Skimmer about ten miles northwest from Humbug, at a great site where we have found many other interesting odes -- a marsh and wooded wetland complex slated for development. It quickly flew over a fence, so we were unable to photograph it or examine it. Perhaps this species is more common than previously believed; we'll certainly be looking for it in earnest in the coming weeks to clarify the situation.

  • Harvey, F.L. 1901. Contributions to the Odonata of Maine -- IV. Ento. News 12:269-277.
  • Kielb, M.A. 1996. The occurrence of Libellulid dragonflies in southeastern Michigan and adjacent Ontario. Great Lakes Entom. 29:1-9.
  • O'Brien, M. F. 2002. The Painted Skimmer, Libellula semifasciata, in Michigan: rare or not? Mich. Birds & Nat. Hist. 9:17-18.
  • O'Brien, M.F. 2003. A rare form of Libellula quadrimaculata -- "praenubila" in Michigan. Williamsonia 7(2):1-2.

17 June 2005

Humbug, indeed!

I have been doing survey work for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge at their Humbug Marsh Unit, the last bit of natural shoreline on the U.S. side of the river. It was recently acquired from developers, after a long fight, and will be the gateway to the refuge. This property is not currently open to the public, and baseline flora and fauna surveys are being undertaken to prepare for site planning and restoration.

I didn't have high hopes for odonata here. Wetlands are severely impacted by Phragmites, there are no permanent ponds or streams, water quality is mediocre, and I didn't think the characteristics of the Detroit River at this location were really conducive to a variety of odes. Yesterday was the first day I have been there since our hot spell, and what a surprise!

I was initially joined by USFWS employee Emily D. (I have no idea if she wants fan mail, so I won't give her whole name) in the southern portion of the unit, which is the most disturbed. A single Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) and the pedestrian Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile) were all we initially saw. I had just finished explaning how amazing it was to me that I'd been able to find over 40 new species for the county when Emily, using my crappy spare binoculars, asked "What's this one?" I looked where she was pointing and told her "Oh! That's a county record!" After several tries I was able to catch a nice Painted Skimmer (Libellua semifasciata). There is a sight/literature record for Wayne Co., but this is the first specimen.
The all-too Familiar Bluet

We were able to find a few other common species, such as Black Saddlebags, and an early Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundulum). After Emily departed, I was able to secure a Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea), a difficult bug to catch.

Spot-winged Glider

Brimming with overconfidence, I was standing and patiently trying to see if I could observe nesting behavior in a catbird, and whoosh! a large ode zooms by at knee height, pivots, approaches me, feints, hovers near me wondering about that huge cave, formed by my mouth hanging open (did I hear laughing?), and takes off over my head. Once again, my nemesis, the Comet Darner (Anax longipes). Oh, yes, I encountered this thing four more times over the next couple of hours, cruising the trail or perching just out of reach. My last look at it was it taking off over a canal that empties into the Detroit River. This species remains a sight record only for Wayne Co.

Comet Darners typically inhabit fishless ponds, and I don't think there is appropriate habitat nearby, although there are a lot industrial properties in the vicinity, some of which have ponds. So perhaps I won't have another swing at this ode...but who knows. I ended up the day with 18 odonate species (as well as 17 butterfly and 33 bird species), and strong motivation to return to find more.

13 June 2005

Photo du jour: Pronghorn Clubtail

Male Pronghorn Clubtail, with detail of last abdominal segments and cerci.

12 June 2005

Passive insect netting

Gotcha! A Swamp Darner gets caught in the bird banding nets.

This, from last evening, is probably the third or fourth Swamp Darner that I've caught in a bird banding net. Prior to the first one a couple years ago, there was only one old specimen from Wayne Co.

Book meme

Okay, I've decided to stick with the theme here and go with entomology books. It was a bit easier than I thought.

How many [entomology] books do I own?
Hmm, about 60. Not bad for an ornithologist.

Last [entomology] book purchased.
Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas and the South-Central United States by John Abbott.

Last [entomology] book I read.
Well, they tend to be reference books, so I don't really read them cover to cover. Last one I referred to was Ed Lam's stunning Damselflies of the Northeast. I use this book so much in the field, it fell apart. I put the pages in sheet protectors and it's in a binder in my car. Another that got the same treatment is The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Ohio, edited by Bob Glotzhober and Dave McShaffrey. They are easier to use than the big texts, Needham, Westfall, and May's Dragonflies of North America and Westfall and May's Damselflies of North America, both of which I also own. The last entomology reference book I actually read pretty thoroughly was Corbet's Dragonflies: Behavior and Ecology of Odonata. Yes! How geeky of me! I read it, highlighted it, and was duly inspired! The 1962 version is online. I do have a bunch of butterfly and moth books that I use regularly, too.

The five [entomology] books that influenced you the most.1. and 2. Grassroot Jungles and Near Horizons by Edwin Way Teale. I read all his books early in my writing career; these were wonderful essays on insects and the natural world close at hand. He was one of the last great popular natural history writers, and he greatly influenced that aspect of my writing.
3. and 4. The Golden Guide to Insects and The Golden Guide to Butterflies and Moths. What kid could do without them? The latter is still a great little reference to lepidoptera larvae, although now new field guides are finally coming on the scene.
5. Dragonflies through Binoculars by Sid Dunkle. The first field guide to dragonflies. There wasn't much point in trying to go out and identify them before this book, and look what he inspired!

11 June 2005

An unexpected county record

A face only a mother could love. Cyrano Darner, Nasiaeschna pentacantha

Today Stylurus and I sort of planned to head back to Lenawee Co. because so many gomphids are needed. A walk in the shady River Raisin seemed like a good way to spend a super-hot day. But he first wanted to see the Dickcissels (Spiza americana) and Henslow's Sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii) that are on territory at one of Wayne County's large metroparks, Oakwoods. Since I had seen a large darner patrolling the Huron River here the day before, we decided to take a quick look for that, too. All I knew was that it was large, dark, and from the brief look I had of the thorax, green-striped. I assumed it must be a Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros), although the habitat wasn't quite right.

At the field where the birds were, dozens of odes, mostly Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) were patrolling the air. At the river, we soon found Unicorn Clubtails, and our big darner friend. Stylurus stood at the end of a short dock, and I stood near the shoreline. After about 10 minutes, he got his chance, swung, and bagged the darner. Redemption (for missing the state first record of Flag-tailed Spinyleg in 2003) was his! We looked at this thing, clearly not a Swamp Darner, and decided it must be a Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), just out of basic ignorance and our limited choice of likely species.

Did we notice the huge schnoz on it? Of course! Did we know Cyrano Darner had this distinctive profile? Yes! Was this so unexpected that we dismissed this species out-of-hand while in-the-hand? Yes, also, at least initially. A quick look at the books confirmed it -- an unexpected county record, of which there are only six specimens in the Michigan Odonata Survey for the state.

Rainbow Bluet, Enallagma antennatum

We went to the nearby pond in the woods, home of the Pronghorn Clubtail described here. Indeed, there were males flying around, but also lots of damsels. This pond is one of the only places in the county, for some reason, that has Variable Dancer (Argia fumipennis); the race here is now known as Violet Dancer (A. f. violacea). As well, there were several of one of my favorite Enallagmas, the Rainbow Bluet. Isn't he a beauty?

It was a fruitful day, cut short by a drenching thunderstorm. Not sure what tomorrow will bring...

Book meme on the entomology theme will be posted soon.