Dragonfly Hunting

This morning I joined a couple Dahlem regulars as they went out in search of dragonflies.  I’d seen a twelve-spotted skimmer yesterday while out in the bug field with a school group, and with the summer rapidly approaching, I knew that dragonfly numbers were on their seasonal rise.  How could I not go out with them to learn some ID tips?

They had already cruised the gardens and pond out in front of our building.  By the time I caught up with them, they were headed to the bug field.  At first we didn’t see much, but the morning was getting warmer and warmer, and soon the dragonflies were on patrol.

We saw a couple widow skimmers – noted by the large dark wing patches near the body. The male is all blueish and black.

widow skimmer lightThe female, on the other hand, is more subtle, but no less striking, in yellow and black.

female widow skimmer crop

We also saw the twelve-spotted skimmers, both male and female.  Like the widow skimmers, the male twelve-spotted is blueish and black, and the female a more subtle brown and yellow.  The female twelve-spotted skimmer looks quite similar to the female common whitetail.   When looking at one of these, note the yellow stripes on the abdomen.  The twelve-spotted skimmer’s stripes look more like solid lines, whereas the common whitetail’s stripes are more like dashes, each a slightly angled slash on each abdominal segment.

female 12 spot skimmer cropDon was eager to find meadowhawks, for he’s seen very few so far this year, and he noted that numbers were way down last year as well.  We spotted this one yellow specimen, but are not completely sure of its ID because we could not get close enough to see the identifying characteristics.  It might be a cherry-faced…or something else. meadowhawk cropWe also saw some green darners zooming about the field, but they are well nigh impossible to photograph for they just won’t alight on anything!

We walked through the woods and out to the grassland, where more widow and twelve-spotted skimmers were skimming, as well as a few darners (possibly a mosaic).  All too far away or moving too fast.

Our next stop was the Reflection Pond next to the boardwalk.  We caught a few damselflies there.  Here’s a female eastern forktail:

eastern fortail female crop3and her consort, the male eastern forktail:

eastern forktaile male cropWe had both a blue dasher (no photo) and eastern pondhawks (below) – both light blue, although the former is smaller and the latter’s thorax tends toward green-blue.  The both refused to land close enough for a good photo.

male eastern pondhawk cropWe watched a pair of mating twelve-spotteds as they clung together (he grasping the back of her head with his claspers).  They rattled in the tall grasses and then zoomed to the the edge of the pond where they rested, she with the tip of her abdomen in the water so she could lay eggs.  Very cool.  We also watched another female (was it a green darner?) dipping her abdomen in the water as she lay eggs as well.

So, dragonfly season is upon us.  Ebony jewelwings are decorating the woods, and the fields and ponds are filling up with dragon- and damselflies.

If you would like to learn more about these spectacular insects, Don will be here on July 13 (Saturday, 9:00 AM – noon) to help you master the basics.  There will be an indoor presentation (Simply Dragonflies) followed by hands-on field work with binoculars.  Call to pre-register and hold your spot!


About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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