Readers’ wildlife photos

The photo tank is getting low, so I importune you to send me your good wildlife photos (remember, landscapes and plants count as wildlife, too). Today we’re featuring the insect photos of Mark Sturtevant, whose comments are indented:

I have previously mentioned a favorite location for taking pictures of arthropods. This location, which I call the ‘Magic Field’, does not at first give a good first impression since it consists of a few acres of finely powdered sand that is populated by coarse grasses, pine trees, and stunted oak trees. Even the flowers are mostly unappealing.

But then one starts to notice that scattered in the field are various oddities like couch-cushion sized pillows of ‘reindeer moss’, which is really a kind of lichen, extensive patches of actual moss that also compete for space, and every few steps there will be a star-shaped puffball. These strange additions to the ground cover are dry and crunchy on this porous and exposed ground, and yet seem to thrive without looking like they should. Next, one sees that invertebrates are everywhere and are high in number and variety. For example, the ground is dotted with numerous holes of burrowing wasps and giant burrowing wolf spiders. Grasshoppers are everywhere, and antlion pits crowd the shady areas under every tree. More on these residents later. I have no idea why the Magic Field even exists, as the very soil is completely different from anything else in the region.

As a simple example of the specialness of this place, over a year ago before I knew about the field, I would have considered the beautiful ‘end band’ net-winged beetles (Calopteron terminale) to be fairly uncommon, and in any case they are described as a woodland species. But in the open environment of the Magic Field they are extremely common, as shown in the first two pictures. Insects with this color pattern have been pointed out here recently as members of a Müllerian mimicry ring.

But this post is mainly about the dragonflies that abound in this field, even though the nearest water is about a mile away. Seeing dragonflies far from water is not unusual since young adult dragonflies will often move inland to mature and fatten up before returning to water for the trials of reproduction. The magic field must attract young dragonflies from miles around. The next several pictures show members of a group of dragonflies known as the pennants. The first two pictures are of Halloween pennants (Celithemis eponina), which is a lovely species that is pretty common in many places.

But next are pennants that I have yet to see outside of the Magic Field. The one with plain black wing markings is a banded pennant (Celithemis fasciata), and this picture is a good example of why a stepstool is sometimes useful for these excursions. Some Odonates like to perch a little too high.

Next are two pictures of a gorgeous dragonfly called the calico pennant (Celithemis elisa). Both of these are males. Young males start out with bright yellow colors that make them resemble females, but as they age they take on a redder color. So there are three species of pennants in my Magic Field!

Clubtail dragonflies are another family, and many clubtails are similarly marked in black and yellow stripes that can make it hard for me to identify the species. The first one is a so-so picture of what I am pretty sure is midland clubtail (Gomphurus fraternus), although it is very similar to several other clubtail species. I base my identification on small details in its markings. I want another chance at this species since this photograph was taken on a very windy day.

The final two pictures are of something rather special to dragonfly fans. Dragonflies are often given cool names like pondhawks, meadowhawks, skimmers, and cruisers. But the most awesome name is perhaps given to one of the most impressive dragonflies, and that is the ‘dragonhunter’ (Hagenius brevistylus). This is not (quite) our largest dragonfly, but it is the largest clubtail in the U.S.

The common name for this species comes from its habit of hunting large insects, including other dragonflies as shown here. The dragonhunter is an elusive species that definitely attracts attention when it’s around, and so I have been chasing this species ‘round perdition’s flames’ for the past two years. I think I have seen a few, always far out over water, but last summer the Magic Field gifted me with a very large female clubtail who was willing to sit still for pictures so long as I kept my distance. I could scarcely hope that it might be the dragonhunter, but my friend Tony Schoch, an expert on Odonates, confirmed that it was indeed that species. The elation was very intense, and I consider this to be one of my best finds. Ever.

Just as a final aside, another goal during the previous summer was to get pictures of the elfin skimmer which is the smallest dragonfly in the U.S. Just look at this tiny thing! [JAC: photo from BugGuide]:

I have some good leads on where they may be found (only in certain, scattered wetlands), and getting pictures of this challenging species is now my #1 goal for the coming summer. Fingers crossed!

15 Comments

  1. Christopher
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Those are wonderful. If I were in top hat and tails, I’d stand and cheer Bravo! Beautiful beasties they are, and I love to see their finely veined and decorated wings clearly. I purchased the Dragonflies Through Binoculars book last year to aid in my identifications but it’s still quite tricky, and no, they don’t like to hold still while you look for this or that little marking! Thanks for sharing.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 28, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Thank you. You can do quite well to go out with a basic camera equipped with a zoom lens. A lens that can go out to 200mm is usually quite sufficient, and using one of the automated settings on the camera makes it pretty easy to take acceptable pictures. Identifying from pictures would be a lot easier this way.
      Of course this is exactly how ‘the addiction’ starts…

  2. jaxkayaker
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    My favorite alternate name for dragonflies is mosquito hawks.

  3. busterggi
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Could you please give the email address to send pic to?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 28, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Click “Research Interests” in right sidebar of this site
      In there are all the contact details inc. email

      • busterggi
        Posted March 28, 2018 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        thanks

  4. Posted March 28, 2018 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I like how well the veins show up in some of those pictures. Happy dragon hunting!

  5. Greg
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Very impressive photography. Thank you.

  6. Liz
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    So beautiful.

  7. Posted March 28, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the photos!

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely lovely Mark! All the best with finding the elfin skimmer.

  9. Posted March 28, 2018 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Freaking gorgeous, as usual. I can never get enough dragonflies and damselflies.

  10. Paul Doerder
    Posted March 28, 2018 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Great photos, detail. Love the dragonflies. Though not nearly as attractive as the adults, the nymphs are cool, but challenging to photograph.

  11. Andrea Kenner
    Posted March 29, 2018 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous photos!

  12. tjeales
    Posted April 3, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Just beautiful. The dragonflies are amazing.


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