top of page
  • jjvanm

Anita’s Blog – A Dazzle of Dragons and Damsels

Updated: Aug 20, 2023


Thornbush Dasher. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Ever wish you had a name like Evening Skimmer, Blue Dasher or Phantom Darner?


No, they’re not specialized call signs in a hover of helicopter fighter pilots – but they could be. Flying a helicopter with the dexterity of a dragonfly is always an optimal skill for successful operational extractions.


Dragonflies zip around with a flexibility like no other insect. Dragonflies can move each of their four wings independently to flap up and down and rotate forward and backward allowing dragonflies to fly up, down, backwards, sideways, hover like a helicopter and make hairpin turns in the blinking of an eye.


Narrow-striped Forceptail. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

All right, so their wings don’t rotate round and round in a whirly-bird gyration, still, dragonflies, like helicopters, are pretty impressive.


Relative to other insects, dragonfly vision is extraordinarily good. Nearly all of its head consists of two huge compound eyes. Each eye contains as many as 30,000 lenses, or ommatidia, giving it nearly 360-degree vision.


Red Saddlebags. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Dragonflies eat on the fly. Their unique flight capabilities and remarkable vision help them detect the movement of other insects. They eat mosquitoes, flies, gnats, even butterflies and smaller dragonflies. A single dragonfly can eat hundreds of mosquitoes a day. They catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet.


Dragonfly wings are clear with an iridescent sheen and with dark veins and pterostigma -- a cell in the outer wing of insects often thickened or colored which makes it stand out from the other wing cells.


Band-winged Dragonlet. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

These amazing insects belong to the order, Odonata; they are found on every continent except Antarctica. According to fossil records, dragonflies have existed for more than 300 million years. There are about 5,000 species of dragonflies and damselflies. Texas may have 250 different species of dragonflies and damselflies.


A quick glance tells whether you’re looking at a dragonfly or damselfly. Damselflies are usually slim, whereas the abdomen of a dragonfly is thicker. The eyes of damselflies are widely separated; at rest, they close their wings above their abdomen. Dragonflies rest with their wings spread; their eyes touch near the top of their head.


Rambur's Forktail Damselfly, wings not yet closed, but it was only passing by. (photo by Anita Westervelt)

Dragonflies are daytime fliers with entertaining aerial aerobatics in a colorful array of orange, green, yellow, black, brown, red, turquoise and blue.


Now is the opportunity to challenge yourself to photograph as many species of Odonata as you can in yet another Citizen Science opportunity. Participating in Citizen Science projects can count as volunteer hours for Texas Master Naturalists.


The Odolympics begins today – August 19 and goes through August 27.


Check out this link to the Odonata Central site:

In addition, below is information from this link: https://www.odonatacentral.org/odolympics/#/

Highlights:

  • Odonate survey of the entire Western Hemisphere

  • Everyone can participate by entering observations into Odonata Central or iNaturalist

  • Two dates per year so one falls in your summer no matter where you are in the Western Hemisphere

  • The goal is to record as many species from as many places as possible

  • You can have fun and contribute to citizen science by helping to create a snapshot of odonate distribution

Details:

Everyone can participate. The goal is to try to record as many species from as many places in the Western Hemisphere as possible in the two census periods to generate a snapshot of odonate distribution.


Submit your odonate observations to Odonata Central or join the iNaturalist projects. Enter observations on as many days of the Odolympics as you wish.


If you enjoy using iNaturalist.org, “join” the project entitled: Odolympics August 2023.


So, here’s the real challenge: photographing dragonflies. It’s no easy task unless you’re blessed with an abundance of patience. Recall I wrote above that they have nearly 360 degrees of vision – consider approaching the insect directly from behind.


You probably have observed that dragonflies rest mostly at the tip of something -- twig, snag, top of tree, a lone stick stuck in the ground or on the grass -- really, anywhere. Dragonflies rest often and at length -- it’s a time for them to recharge their body and brain. With this in mind, approach a resting dragonfly with camera or phone app at the ready. The dragonfly will fly away, of course, but stay put and keep your camera focused on where the dragonfly was. More often than not, the dragonfly will come back and perch in the same spot where it was before you caused it to flee - or very near it.


Blue Dasher. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Damsel flies do not cooperate like this. Once disturbed, they get annoyed and zip off out of sight. They also seem to be invisible on plant leaves and shrubs until you’ve disturbed them and they’re gone.


Amberwings are dragonflies, too. Male amberwings have solid orange wings; female wings have dark spots. Both have yellowish legs, and their abdomens have rings around the segments. Amberwings are considered wasp mimics. They are incredibly skittish. They have rapid, erratic flight, and they twitch their wings and abdomens when at rest.


My favorite lens for photographing dragonflies and amberwings is a 70-300 mm zoom and the phone camera for damselflies -- of which I have barely a handful.


Slough Amberwings. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Good luck! My brilliant photo suggestions are sure to help you get a lot of entries! And if you have successful photo recommendations yourself, I’m always glad to learn!


The collective noun for a cluster of dragonflies is a dazzle. The collective noun for a battalion of helicopters is a hover.


Red Saddlebags. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

46 views

Comments


bottom of page