August 18, 2017

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

Continuing my series of Dragonflies and Damselfies, here’s the most often encountered species from the group of Darters.

I managed to spend a couple of hours at my local dragonfly spot early this afternoon, hoping to make the most of a brief sunny spell before the threatened rain and the continued onset of autumn. On the walk down, I was buzzed by a glorious looking Hawker racing along the hedgerow, swiftly followed by a less purposeful but equally un-photographable Darter. On arriving at the pond I set up the tripod and proceeded to be teased by a succession of Darters then cruelly mocked by a male Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), who continually patrolled all around me, flatly refusing to land.

Thinking I’d try my luck away from the water as the females often only visit the pond to actually lay eggs, I wandered over to the bordering brambly scrub. I immediately spotted what I though was a female Common Blue butterfly feeding on some Ragwort and got a few shots. On closer inspection this evening and much head scratching, they’re hard to distinguish, this turned out to be a female Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) which was another new addition to my all taxa list. Excellent!

Whilst trying to photograph the future Argus, a Darter actually landed on my shoulder. Presumably to remind me what I was there for.

The first picture is a head on close up shot of a female Common Darter (S. striolatum). It turns out that this is a very useful angle for ID purposes because the ‘facial’ markings are a useful distinguishing characteristic.

The second image is of the same species, but of a pair mating in the copulation wheel position. I think this picture this is actually genuinely brilliant as I’ve not even seen them in tandem before, let alone in cop, and to be able to get a really close up shot like this is a terrific insight into a pretty alien world -for me anyway.

Large Red Damselfly (Phyrrosoma nymphula)

Although a common species, and the most likely ID if you see a red damselfly, this was the first time I’d seen any at our local pond.

Seeing two dragonflies or damselflies joined together in the above position is referred to as in tandem and contrary to popular belief isn’t actually mating. The male clasps the female in this manner, he’s at the front, both before and after the transfer of sperm, which happens when the female curves the tip of her abdomen underneath the male’s thorax. This position is called the copulation wheel and damselflies usually prefer to do it in a secluded position high in the trees or deep within bushes, so its rarely observed, whereas dragonflies are more brazen and some species will fly around openly ‘in cop‘.

On the same day I took this photo I also shot the HD video of Saturday’s One a Day species and used exactly the same camera for both – my Canon EOS 5D Mk 2. Isn’t modern technology amazing?

Here are a few other shots I took that day including yet another One a Day species in tandem.

Broad Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa)

A bit of a bumper Saturday night post, two species of the day for the price of one in full HD video!

The first part of this film features an earlier SOTD post the Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) but the really good stuff in the second half features L. depressa the Broad Bodied Chaser, ovipositing (egg laying) in my local dragonfly pond.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

Although pretty familiar with fellow genus member Libellula depressa the Broad Bodied Chaser, which will soon feature in a fuller post, complete with HD video, this dragonfly was a new one on my species list. They’re not uncommon, but my regular dragonfly hunting ponds don’t suit them for some reason, so I was pleased to find plenty of these around a different local pond earlier this summer.

They’re pretty big insects, up to around 5cm and very active so quite easy to spot. They also have the habit of repeatedly returning to the same perch rather like Broad Bodied Chasers, which obviously helps the photographer. Unfortunately this individual kept returning to the end of the same stick in almost exactly the same position, so although I was able to get quite a few pictures, they were more or less identical. A little positional variety would have been nice and a macro lens would have been even nicer as this individual was far too intent on hunting small flies in the late afternoon sun to worry about me. Having no waders with me, I had to stick to the telephoto zoom lens as the favoured perch was a little too far into the boggy margin, but then that’s kind of why my wife bought me the zoom in the first place.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Sooner or later I’m going to run out of beautiful posterboy species but definitely not just yet.

Azure Damselflies are pretty special beasts. The males are a piercing blue and the females a slightly less predator attention grabbing green, but for me the amazing thing is how slender they are. They dash around on a blur of inadequately flimsy wings with chopper pilot bravado, and at any moment I almost expect them to simply break apart with the effort of it all.

I filmed a large group of perhaps twenty or so pairs laying their eggs (ovipositing) in tandem. Each male clasped to a female’s thorax as she dipped the tip of her abdomen below the pond’s surface, leaving a single egg with each splash. Apparently they prefer to oviposit ‘en masse’ as a defense strategy, employing the same technique as other tasty looking creatures by presenting a confusingly large number of individuals.

So, options paralysis, the ‘slacker’ affliction which means that when you’re presented with a multitude of choices you inevitably choose none, clearly works to some species’ advantage elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

The first outing for our new pond dipping kit

Dragonfly nymph

Broad Bodied Chaser nymph (Libellula depressa)

Although this may not look like much, it bodes well for my dragonfly film project.

The first dip of our brand new net landed us this Broad Bodied Chaser nymph (Libellula depressa). Earlier in the summer I shot some HD footage of an adult of this species laying eggs in exactly the same spot in this local pond and this discovery seems to suggest the whole lifecycle could be filmable.

Also in the net today were lots of Greater and Lesser Water Boatmen, a few very tiny damselfly nymphs which were too small for my phone camera to capture and a rather interesting acquatic beetle larva I’ve yet to identify. A particularly fine flatworm caught Joe’s attention.