A Dragonfly And Other Generalities

Wildlife / Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

“Look, there’s a bird.”

It’s usually more like, “Look, there’s a Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker or Bluebird.” Even us “backyard birders” specifically identify the bird being observed, don’t we? It’s like a fisherman saying, “Hey, I caught a fish.” You get my point.

I’ve been doing this for years with certain creatures. Wasps, flies and spiders would be referred to as such — not indicating the specific type of insect or arachnid. Another one of those nondescript identifications for me has been the dragonfly. Surrounded by water, we have a wealth of dragonflies visiting our yard. On any given day during the summer, we might see more dragonflies than birds.

I differentiated between the various types flying, sitting or waiting to capture their next meal, only by their size and color. I didn’t take the time to specifically identify them. “There’s a red one, a green one or one of those large dark blue ones,” I’d say. But, each dragonfly has a unique hunting technique, flight pattern and behavior. Some constantly fly back and forth over an area, quickly darting one way or another. Others, sit motionless, rising quickly to snare a flying meal.

Eastern Pondhawk
An Eastern Pondhawk waits to ambush his next meal.

FACT: Some dragonflies migrate south for the winter, very much like birds do. Cold nights trigger the start of their journey using the northerly winds to assist them. Unlike birds, however, their migration is only one way. The offspring of these dragonflies migrate back up north in the spring.

 National Geographic News

I’ve identified four types of dragonflies in our yard, though not necessarily at the same time: Eastern Pondhawks (green), Blue Dashers (blue with a green head), Autumn Meadowhawks (red) and Slaty Skimmers (dark blue) are my regulars, each type usually patrolling a different area of the yard.

I’ve vowed this year to try and do a better job of identifying the insects, arachnids and all other unknown creatures I’ll see. Each time I come upon something I don’t know, I’ll make a point of looking it up (insectidentification.org is a good place to start). Hopefully, I’ll get to know many more of my flying, crawling and hopping “visitors” by name.

Slaty Skimmer (left) and a male Blue Dasher (right)
A Slaty Skimmer (left) and a male Blue Dasher (right) perched on downed branches.

So this summer, when that large yellow and black wasp stings me for the second or third time while I’m mowing the lawn, I’ll make a point of identifying it. That way, instead of my usual, “Ouch! That damn wasp stung me again,” I can actually call it by it’s correct name. I can’t wait.

OBSERVATION: I’ve found that the Autumn Meadowhawk is the most comfortable dragonfly around humans. Many times, while I’ve been sitting in the yard, one has landed on my shoulder, arm or hand. If I stay still, it might use me as a hunting perch for quite some time.