Posts Tagged 'Odonata'

Autumn Meadowhawk

Waited all through October for the sight of a Sympetrum vicinum. Three centimeters of fiery, late season dragonfly.
Finally spotted one last Friday, when the temperature got into early 70s. Spotted at Sylvan Water in Green-Wood, the only one seen.
Not many of these have been observed this fall in NYC, at least according to iNaturalist. I didn’t get out Saturday, but on Sunday I saw a second at Valley Water after coming up empty around Sylvan. Monday I saw one at Sylvan (the same one as Friday?). October’s wet coolness may have been a factor in this poor showing. Better late than never, although there are fewer insects to eat now during the mission to perpetuate the species.

And there you go, as mask-wearing slackens off, NYC’s Corvid-19 cases climb. Testing positives are up and so are deaths, with 54 in the last week (from yesterday). Over the last 4 weeks, the average was 43 deaths per week.

Nation-wide we’re approaching 10 million cases. The US leads the world in deaths. It didn’t have to be like this. New York’s leadership — Cuomo at the state level and de Blasio for the city level — failed to heed the lessons of China and Italy. Then the Republican parts of the nation, taking their cue from the absolutely criminal Trump administration response (denial, diversion, conspiracy, patent medicine frauds, corrupt politicization of public health), failed to heed New York’s hard won lessons. Having so successfully killed off a quarter million Americans, Trump and his crew of scum are now poisoning the well of democracy by challenging the clear choice of a majority of American voters.

The Wanderer

A Wandering Glider, Pantala flavescens. Also known as the Globe Skimmer or Globe Wanderer, and one of two “rain pool gliders.” Considered the most-widespread dragonfly in the world, this species also has one of the longest multi-generational migrations in the insect world. “Basically a tropical species” says Paulson; individuals may migrate up to four thousand miles.

They’re usually relentlessly in flight around here, hunting over meadows, often at eye-level. But occasionally, they will perch during the day, in this hanging style (other dragonflies perch more horizontally).

Raptor Wednesday With Gliders

Two American Kestrel males in Green-Wood.

Hunting must be good here, because I’ve seen kestrels in this area for years. There are some great perches, with meadow below. When I was there Saturday, both Spot-winged and Wandering Gliders, the orange-y dragonflies that seem to be constantly in the air, were flying at eye-level. Kestrels eat dragonflies. Crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside — one supposes.

Rare to see a Wandering Glider perched. They’re on the wing most of the time. The Flying Dutchman of dragonflies.
Spot-winged Glider. They don’t perch much either, but perhaps a little bit more than the Wandering. Fairly similar, but with small dark patches at the hindwing base.
These smudges can be seen in flight…


This is the first Ebony Jewelwing I’ve ever seen here in Brooklyn.
They can be common elsewhere, but this is now the first record in iNaturalist and Odonata Central for Kings Co.
A male. Eating a small fly in this shot. He was patrolling a puddle in the Dell Water, which is mostly drained now and half-filled with plants.
This makes for eight damselfly species I’ve seen here in the urban wilds of Brooklyn: Familiar Bluet, Rambur’s Forktail, Eastern Forktail, Fragile Forktail, Citrine Forktail, Lilypad Forktail, Orange Bluet, and now Ebony Jewelwing.
On iNaturalist, Staten Island is the most Ebony be-Jewelwinged of the five boroughs. The Bronx, connected to the mainland of America, comes second. Manhattan has no reports and Queens one. Long Island — of which Brooklyn is the western-most part — has ’em.
So where did this one wander in from?


Saw my first “ode” of the year on May 7th. Both damselflies, of which this is one, and dragonflies are members of the Odonata order. This one looks recently emergent. It was flying weakly, characteristic of a newly emerged adult, getting used to operating those four wings.
This one is easier to identify: a Fragile Forktail spotted on Monday. Second damsel I have seen this year. Never mind the name: I see this species all over the place, in many different habitats. They’re small but seem to be as tough as the proverbial nails.

It’s been a cool May so far. The waters need to warm up to inspire more Odonata nymphs to emerge and shed their aquatic life for the skies.

Late Odonata

Dragonfly eating damselfly.
Eastern Pondhawk female gobbling up one of the bluets.
Familiar Bluet ungobbled.
Common Green Darner male.
Autumn Meadowhawk female.
Autumn Meadowhawk male (probably). As their name suggests, these Sympetrum genus meadowhawks are one of the last species to fly during the Odonata year.

Citrine Observation

Six years after spotting a male Citrine Forktail at Brooklyn Bridge Park, I spotted one in Green-Wood this week. This is my second record.

Ischnura hastata is one the smallest of the damselflies. They like “densely vegetated pond and lake edges, grass seepages, and quiet streams,” according to Ed Lam. The site at Brooklyn Bridge Park fits that profile. Green-Wood doesn’t. But the species also gets around: strays are sometimes found far from water. Sure, there’s water in G-W, but the nearest “Water,” as the ponds are called, is very orderly, completely without vegetated edges

Odonata Central had one ten-year-old report of this species in Kings County (Brooklyn). I added mine to that database. I wasn’t aware of OC when I spotted the one in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Over at iNaturalist, there are now two observations for Kings County, although one of them is questionable: it hasn’t been confirmed to research grade; the picture isn’t clear enough; I can’t tell.

Meanwhile, my observation at Brooklyn Bridge Park isn’t counted for Kings Co. because, by a fluke of history, the Kings County line ends at the low tide mark. New York County (i.e. Manhattan) claims the piers the park is built on! Say what? This is a technical point, true, but on iNaturalist the county lines are the county lines.

Same day, nearby, this female Bluet (Familiar is the usual option, but…) was snacking on what looked like a fly.

A lot of patches went un-mown this year in Green-Wood. They’re seeing what results, along with folks from Cornell U. One thing that results: the invertebrates! Walk though the grasses and forbs, and tiny things shoot away from you, grasshoppers and katydids bound away helter-skelter, moths flutter in a whirl, and occasionally the exotic Odonata shows up.

P.S.: I wrote about odonating for the summer issue of the Clapper Rail.

Paulson on the Odonata

Dennis Paulson’s new Dragonflies and Damselflies: A Natural History‘s is a great introduction to odonating.

Paulson has written the standard field guides to American/Canadian odes as well as dozens of journal papers on odonates. The pictures in his field guides are too small; that’s these guide’ principal fault. But consider: there are 461 species to be covered in the US and Canada. There is strong sexual dimorphism in odonates, meaning at least two images for each species. Some damselfly species have four or five color forms. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East is 519 pages long, not including glossary and index. Gotta be some hard calls for the author and publisher in this field of field guide publishing.

This new book, however, is coffee table format. It’s aimed for a popular readership. While there is a Further Resources appendix, I note the absence of a real bibliography. There’s a lot of scientific literature out there; touching base with it would have been a good thing, especially with our unparallelled ability to pull up scientific literature on the ‘net (if not full text than at least the abstract).

Chapters on natural history alternate with two-page spreads on individual species from around the world. At the time of publication, there were 6,299 described odonate species. That number is sure to change. Nearly two hundred of these were first described between 2015-2017. Only a small sample are included here, obviously, representing the great range and diversity of this order of insects.

News to me: the Common Winter Damsel (Sympecma fusca), found in southern and central Europe east to central Asia, stays dormant through the winder. They grab hold of something and sit out the winter in dormancy. The two other species in this genus are the only overwintering adult Odonates we know of. Advantage: very early start to reproduction, before predatory migratory birds show up. Disadvantage: they suffer “moderately high mortality from rodent predation” in winter. A frosted-over damselfly is still fresh meat, after all.

On the Azores, the population of Citrine Forktails (Ischnura hastata) is all female. They’re the only ode that manifests parthenogenesis. With so many species, there are many strategies and adaptations and habitats. The basic plane is the same, but the differences are what fascinates.
The Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) rates an entry because it is one of the few species in the world that seems to be increasing its numbers, going against the general decline brought about by… us. I photographed this one in Brooklyn. They thrive in any kind of fresh water; many other species have rather more specific requirements: gravel bottoms, slow moving streams, fast moving streams, muddy bottoms, etc.

What else? Much else. Up to 60% of the weight of a dragonfly is muscle used to power their four wings. “Although they operate independently, the fore- and hindwings interact with one another. The hindwings suffer slightly increased drag owing to the turbulence created in front of them by the forewings, but the positive pressure generated by the hindwings actually decreases drag on the forewings.”

There are even some numbers on flight speed: average speed of a moderate sized dragonfly: 4.5 mph. The largest dragonflies, the darners, can hit bursts of 34mph!
Sweetflag Spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus) female. Photographed in Alley Pond Park in Queens, on the same day as this
Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis). These are now the only Queens records for Lestes genus spreadwings at Odonata Central. iNaturalist has one more, seen in 2016, but nobody could get it down to species level. I have a similar problem with the third spreadwing I photographed in Ally Pond Park that day. Without the specimen in hand, identification can be impossible, but I’d rather see them flying than tucked into someone’s drawer. Brooklyn, by the way, has only one record of a spreadwing, but here too the picture is too obscure for species-level.

The Better To See You With

You may have noticed the long antennae of butterflies, or the sometimes very elaborate and feathery antenna of certain moths.
Male moths especially, like this Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria), pick up the scent of female pheromones from great distances. Some beetles also have long antenna; c.f. the “long-horned beetles.”
But note how minor a dragonfly’s antenna are.
This is a Blue Dasher male. Blue Dashers are the most common dragonfly species in NYC. And yes, they definitely see you coming.
Here’s a female Great Blue Skimmer.
It’s only recently that Odonata antennae have been shown to have olfactory sensory pits on them. But a dragonfly’s main sensory receptors are its eyes. We humans, who bleat on and on how we are the top a-number-one Americans of the animal world, have three color-sensing proteins in our eyes. Dragonflies have from eleven to thirty, depending on the species (and for some, age). They see in “ultra-colour” as New Scientist puts it. There are as many as 30,000 facets on their compound eyes — along with bees, they have the largest eyes in the insect world — which can see in all directions at once.

Except obviously, their blind spot, which is behind and below. “They see the sky as a very bright background against which flying insects [their prey] stand out dramatically,” Dennis Paulson writes in his new natural history of odonates, which I will give more attention to shortly.

Robber Flies & Dragonflies

A Holcocephala genus gnat ogre. Hey, I don’t make these names up, I just report them. Like the examples below, these are robber flies. Ommatius genus. Robber flies hunt and kill “insects of many orders” according to In this case, a fly victim.Genus Efferia. Another captive fly.Here, the prey looks like a tiny wasp.

And now for some dragonflies. These are Great Blue Skimmers mating.Female Great Blue Skimmer.One of the meadowhawks.Female Carolina Saddlebags.Spot-winged Glider. It’s rare to find these perched. They seem tireless when flying, patrolling meadows and lawns for prey. This is one of the migratory species: the late summer generation will head south. Like with its Pantala genus-mate, the Wandering Glider, their hindwings are wider than other species of dragonfly, better adapted for frequent flying.

The Republican assault on America comes in many blows. Trump’s environment-rapists are attempting to undercut public control of public lands. The Forest Service wants to revise its rules to bypass environmental impact studies for the benefit of loggers and miners. They are, of course, bullshitting about the intent of their sneak attack. Comments on this proposed rule change are due by Monday.

I excerpted this from a recent comment because I thought it was so spot on: “I am opposed to the U.S. Forest Services proposal to cut out public participation from the vast majority of its decisions. I want to have the ability to comment on decisions affecting places I care about in the future. The current proposal would fundamentally change the relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and the public, cutting our voices entirely out of how to manage these special places.”


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