Look, it’s a red dragonfly! Actually, to be specific, this dragonfly is commonly known as an Autumn Meadowhawk (Odonate sympetrum vicinum). I got so excited when I saw this beautiful creature lighting beside me on a lichen-covered stone the other day, that I almost dropped my camera. I can’t believe I got the shot without scaring it away! I love dragonflies —as well as their close relatives the damselflies— and I find them completely fascinating. However, in spite of my attraction to these amazing insects, until recently I knew next-to nothing about them. And then, I took the picture above.
I’ve discovered that one of the more interesting things about owning a camera —and there are many— is that when I photograph something, I want to know as much as possible about it. No longer is it enough to know that it is “a frog” or “a snake” or “a butterfly”, now I’ve developed an obsession with identifying each thing that I photograph. Fortunately, the photograph makes re-examining a fleeting subject —close up in macro— and identifying it, much easier. So, after taking the photograph above, curiosity got the better of me and I began researching the Odoante order of insects (which includes damselflies as well as dragonflies) in my guidebooks as well as on a couple of great websites listed below…
This photograph was taken by my friend Tim Geiss. For identification purposes, all I have to go on here is this dragonfly’s intense, iridescent green eyes. Based on the eye color and spacing, I think it may be an Emerald Dragonfly, but in order to properly identify it, I would need to look at the wings and body, and know something about the environment in which it was found…
The Autumn Meadowhawk (red dragonfly at top), was fairly easy to identify with a macro photo in hand. First of all, I knew it had to be a dragonfly (suborder Anisoptera) as opposed to a damselfly (Zygoptera) because while it rested, its wings were spread out and extended horizontally, perpendicular to its body (damselflies hold their wings together and parallel to their bodies when at rest). You can see photos of damselflies and dragonflies, and learn more about their differences on this great website, called Odes for Beginners (click here). Once I determined that it was a true dragonfly, I broke down the identifying details about the insect by various physical characteristics, listed here and discovered that this is a meadowhawk (a member of the skimmer family). To find the exact species, I jumped over to Bugguide (a great site for bug identification) to compare my photo with others submitted by readers. Based on habitat, and the distinctive yellowish/tan legs, and red stigmata (dots on its wingtips), I determined that this bright red dragonfly must be an Autumn Meadowhawk. Here in New England, the Autumn Meadowhawk is a late-season dragonfly, often found in grassy meadows and wetlands from early October through November. This species is widespread in the United States and southern Canada, from the east coast (as far south as Georgia), throughout the midwest and westward to the pacific northwest and northern California.
Dragonflies and damselflies serve an important environmental role as beneficial insects, providing significant and natural mosquito control. Dragonflies spend most of their life-cycle as waterborne nymphs. During this immature stage (which can last anywhere from two months to five years, depending upon species) dragonflies inhabit swamps, ponds and slow-moving streams, feeding mainly on mosquito and other fly larvae. After metamorphosis, dragonflies continue to serve as adult mosquito predators for the remainder of their lives (some species can live up to six months). Dragonflies are so effective at mosquito control, that many municipalities, parks and private estates purchase and release dragonfly nymphs into wetlands.
I’ve always loved watching these tiny biplane-like creatures as they dart about fields and ponds, hunting for an airborne meal. And now that I have been properly introduced to the Autumn Meadowhawk, I am eager to know more about the other dragonflies and damselflies in my area. If you are curious as well, and would like to learn more about dragonflies and damselflies, I suggest checking out this Odonate page provided by UC Berkley, as well as the other, helpful entomological sites I have linked above. One of the things I love most about nature and gardening is the endless sense of new discovery I feel. What a wonderful world.
Please Pass Along the Bug ID Sites to Friends with Children. Identifying and Learning About Insects is Great Fun for Kids!
Article and Autumn Meadowhawk photograph ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE
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