Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exuviae, Wings, and Dragonfly Things

It was a bit stormy today.  Overcast, a little rainy.  But I had an hour to myself while Sweet Pea was at her last Thursday School day for the year.  So I headed up to Quarry Hill to see if there were any cold, wet Odes wanting to be photographed.

All that I saw buzzing around were Eastern Forktails.

I got a picture of this mature female for proof.

While I couldn't find any live odes, I did pretty well in the EXUVIAE department. (That's pronounced ex-SOO-vee-ay)

They are awfully creepy looking in their nymph mode,

and these little skin shells are usually found attached to grass stems and branches near the water.

Some folks can tell what sort of dragonfly comes from the shell, but I really have no clue.

Though they can be posed to appear to be dancing on a quarter.

Or guarding it. Look at those little Velcro claws on the ends of the legs!

I also learned something really amazing.  See those little white strands coming from the backs of the exuviae?

Those are the TRACHEA of the ode!  I'm not sure exactly how that all works yet, but that's my next course of study.  Incredible.

I also found a wing...

leftovers from somebody's lunch today.

A little more research told me that it was the wing of a male Common Whitetail.

I'm not sure I care what they're called, because when I see how intricate and functional something so small is, I am simply in awe of the wonders of the world.

More Later

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Ode Hunting Adventure

The Kiddos were excited to hear about my adventures on Saturday, so since conditions were good for an Ode Hunt on Memorial day, we donned our hats and sunscreen, grabbed our nets, and headed out to our usual haunts to see what we could find.

Our first stop was Quarry Hill Nature Center.  They have a great pond for Ode-ing. I had been there a week ago without much luck.  But today was VERY different.

Right out of the gate we saw a bunch of damsel and dragonflies hovering over lake and grasses.  There were many Eastern Forktails of course, which the Boyo set about to capture. Both kiddos went after anything that moved with great gusto. I saw a few Black Saddlebags zooming across the sky.

I was not hopeful about catching one of those. So I stalked a couple of dragonflies hovering close to shore, and finally swiped one out of the sky. 

It turned out to be a Dot-tailed Whiteface, like we found on Saturday.  They were just as plentiful today, but much more willing to fly, what with the no thunderstorms, low winds and warm temps.  Still, they seemed OK hanging out with us for a few minutes. Even crawling around on the kiddos hands for a bit before flying off.

We continued around the lake, the children swiping wildly at butterflies, moths, blowing grass. And I noticed that the DTW's were hovering out over the lake, but there were others hovering and flying over the trails. I snagged one of those and took a look.  The first difference immediately noticed was the beautiful blue/green iridescent eyes,

I could tell it wasn't a DTW, but I had left my ID books at home and had no idea what it was.  So I got as many pictures of it as I could before it took off.

These are pictures of two different specimens, but there were dozens of them flying around. I figured I'd have enough for an ID when I got home.

It sure had pretty eyes.

We saw Common Green Darners, too. But I didn't get a shot of that.  I also thing I saw a Red Saddlebags, which would be something.  It was a distance off, but it was big, red and had red wing patches like the Black Saddlebags.  I'll be going back to look for it. Keep your fingers crossed.

I saw a bunch of Twelve-spotted Skimmers zooming around and chasing off the Dot-tailed Whitefaces.

 I didn't know if I'd be able to get one, but it turns out that when dragonflies are fighting with each other, they don't pay attention to the giant with the net moving slowly towards them.

TSS's are pretty common, but extremely striking.

This is a male, as evidenced by the white splotches on the wings.  Females look similar, but without the white.  This guy was extremely aggressive. Extremely.  He was in full fighting mode, and wasn't going to take any guff from me.  He buzzed his wings and struck at me with his tail.

He also unfurled his alien-like jaws and bit my finger many, many times. Look at the jaws in that photo above. After some reassurance that it didn't hurt, the Boyo let the dragonfly bite his finger, too. He was very brave.

It was a nice little pinch, much stronger than I thought it could be for a critter his size.  He was so fierce.

Just before we left, the Boyo snagged a Bluet, and I got a mystery ode.  I didn't think the Bluet was a Tule Bluet, so I got as many pictures as we could before it escaped.

I think it's a Familiar Bluet, obviously un-familiar to me.  But another county record if confirmed.

My mystery ode turned out to be the female version of the Dot-tailed Whiteface.

Very young, as evidenced by the saran wrap looking wings.

Still pretty, though.

We grabbed a little ice cream as we headed to the lake at Foster Arends. Once there we only surveyed a small area down by the beach, as we were limited by the stamina of a four year old.  But we did see Odes! 

Black Saddlebags again, more Twelve-spotted Skimmers, and lots and lots of Eastern Forktail damselflies.  The Boyo used these for target practice, and became quite adept at snagging them.  He'd bring the net to me and let me ID the ode and we'd let it go.

He brought one to me and I saw the indicative blue spot on the tail of the Eastern Forktail male, and told him to just let it go. 
"But wait, Dad." He said "This one has a yellow face. Look."
I did, and sure enough it looked like an Eastern Forktail with a yellow face.


I got a side shot of it, but it slipped out of my fingers before I could get anymore shots of it.

Ah well, I thought. Just an anomaly of an Eastern Forktail.  Turns out that the Boyo had caught a Rainbow Bluet! Another identifying trait is those little orange dots on the wings.  All the other damsels who have spots there, called stigma, have black coloring.  Oh, and the legs are yellow, too. 

I was so proud of him for being astute enough to see there was a difference between the one he had in his net and the thousands of Eastern Forktails swarming around. I've submitted it as his discovery for the County Record.

It was a really great day!  If confirmed, Luke will get two county records for his Familiar Bluet and the Rainbow Bluet, and I'll add one for the Spiny Baskettail!

We're One Nerds, aren't we.

More Later

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My First Pro Dragonfly Hunt

What a day!  Did you ever have one of those days where you were learning so much so fast that your brain nearly melted?   That you had so much fun, even though you were soaked to the skin from the thunderstorms dumping water on you, that at one point you actually stopped mid calf in mucky water to say "Man, I wish I could get paid to do this!".Ya. It was that kind of day.

I went on my first Ode Hunt with people that knew way more about odes than me. I added six new to me species to my personal list, and increased my 'Odoknwoledge' by about 150%.  Lots and lots of pictures, so let's dive right in, shall we?

I met other members of MOSP (that's the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project) up at a place near the Twin Cities for a day of hunting the Spatterdock Darner. It was a chance to finally meet people I had only met through the facebook page.  After some introductions, a Lilypad Clubtail was brought in for show and tell.

See the club like tail there?

I, of course, was so eager to get pictures, I fired away on the wrong settings, so didn't get any great shots of it. But it was the first 'New To Me' species I saw that day.

We drove in a caravan out to our first survey site, and while we were gathering to go in, I swiped a damselfly out of the air that had been flying above us.  It turned out to be a Sedge Sprite...

I hadn't set the camera yet, so just a blurry shot.  They are minuscule, and iridescent green.  Very cool little damsels. And my second 'New To Me' find.  Turns out the were also very much in season, but I'll get to that in a minute.

We hiked around the pond, keeping eyes peeled for whatever we could find. It took no time at all to net my third 'New To Me' find. This one is a Boreal Bluet...

Bluets are a bit tricky, because for most of them the only way you can tell what they are is to look at the tip of the abdomen (tail) and see how it is shaped.

In case you had not noticed, they are pretty tiny. Just a little over an inch long. So just a glance with the naked eye can be tough.  Lots of the others had loups, or little magnifying glasses, so they could see more clearly.  I did a whole lot of squinting.  But I know what I want for my birthday now!

All the better to see you with my dear!

A couple dozen yards later, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye and investigated. Enter number four on my 'New To Me' list. 

This one was really cool, because it had just extruded itself from it's shell, or exuviae. So I got a glimpse of what it had looked like as a nymph, right next to the newly emerged Odonate.

Oh, It's called a Racket-Tailed Emerald, just so you know.

After a bit more walking the rain started to pick up, and the lightning started getting more frequent. So we packed up and headed back to the Nature Center to wait out the storm cell, hoping for a break in the weather.  We had an impromptu class on the area, during which my brain overloaded. But it was interesting to learn the geology of the area.

When we got a break in the storms, we headed to a second lake to see what we could find.  As I was walking down to the lake, I saw this little gal hanging out in the grass. A female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer.

Newly emerged, chilly and wet from the storm, I picked her up to get some close up shots (and because holding a dragonfly is pretty dang awesome!)
 One of my first dragonfly pictures was a long distance shot of a male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer at our house, so technically not new to me.  But my first time being this up close and personal with one.  She was stunning.

I also got a shot of her with a Tanka Bar!

Those things saved the day.  I had a few stashed in my pocket.  Turns out we didn't stop for lunch, and I was a little worried about getting there on time in the morning, so I had a Tanka bar for breakfast on the drive up, another for a pre-lunch snack, another for lunch, and another later in the day when we were wrapping things up. A while back I had told someone that I could eat Tanka Bars all day.  Today I did! And it was gooood! Remarkably I was not hungry in the least, even with all of the tromping through marshlands and ponds and mud.  They must pack a ton of energy in those suckers, because they really kept me going.

As we explored the banks of this lake, one of the ode hunters found a Twelve-Spotted female just emerged.

That was really neat.  See how the wings are shiny? That's a good indicator that a dragonfly is brand new, called a teneral. They are also as soft as butter at this stage, so best handled extremely carefully or not at all. (Another good indicator that she's new? The exuviae hanging from her legs.)

The same gal that found the ode in the above picture also found a very newly emerged Four-Spotted Skimmer, fresh out of the exuviae and glistening with the recent rain.

As I moved aside some grass to get a clearer shot, it spread it's wings out and gave me this one.

Simply beautiful.

The Four-Spotted was number five on my 'New To Me' list.  What an incredible day!

We moved up to another nearby lake and continued searching.

 It was here that I was overwhelmed with the number of Boreal Bluets and Sedge Sprites.

At one point I took ONE swipe over some grasses and ended up with a baseball sized writhing mass of damselflies.  I would have taken a picture, but they were flapping around and looked quite uncomfortable.  So I upended the net and watched a waterfall of odes pour out and disperse like smoke to the four winds.  It was pretty excellent.

I also could barely take a step without seeing the sixth member of my 'NTM' list for the day.  The Dot-Tailed Whiteface.

There were so many that it was hard to choose which of the sixty pictures to put in the blog!

I learned that when they emerge, they look like this.

And as they mature they gradually turn black and the coloring on the tail fades, except for that one dot.

Here's a little fuzzy picture of a very young one and a moderately young one hanging out on my arm.

And yes, it was totally cool.

The young one flew away shortly after, but the older one perched on my finger for a minute and looked at me like it wanted to say something.  Perhaps it did. Because after a little head wiggling to look at me, it settled down in this position.

And just hung there, all content like.  After another minute I felt the need to keep hunting, so I thanked him for hanging out with me on this rainy day, wished him a long and happy summer full of mating and eating, and prepared to set him in some tall grass. Instead, he turned and looked at me again, and flew off into the shrubs.  Quite a moment, I've got to say.

Something else was found in the water, too.  It's called a water scorpion.

I'm guessing it was not named that because of its ability to lick you like a kitten.  So I stayed away from the bitey end, got a quick pic, and it was back to the depths with it. Creepy.

I also found this brand new Twelve-Spotted female hanging out right next to her exuviae.
The exuviae is the little cricket looking thing hanging out in the upper left of the photo. It is amazing how something so very creepy looking one day breaks through its shell, emerges, and becomes this beautiful creature of the air. Nothing short of miraculous.

We headed for a third lake, but after a short hike out to it - just as we arrived- the heavens opened up again and really dumped good on us.  The lightning intensified, too.  But I think the kicker for deciding to head back was when the storm sirens went off.  I was already pretty well soaked from the thighs down from traipsing through the other three lakes, but this deluge left me feeling like I had gone for a swim.

It was comin' down, I tell ya'.

Soon after we arrived back at the shelter, hail started dropping.

Since the day was getting a little late, the decision was made to call it a day.  Some people left from there, some went back to the nature center for their cars.  I changed into some dry clothes. And although I felt like a kid again, or at least a Marine again, sloshing through the woods in the rain, it was pretty nice to wear dry clothes for the trip home.  We never did find the Spatterdock Darner.  But I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all anyway.

Thanks to all of the great folks from MOSP who made this day so very fun and educational. And to Tanka Bars for keeping me going.  I had a really great time and I'm looking forward to my next outing with the MOSP Dragon Hunters!

More Later