Category Archives: Dragonflies

Birds, dragonflies have more than wings in common

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The plastic yellow guards are meant to exclude bees and other insects from your sugar water feeders for hummingbirds.

I’ve had some Facebook queries recently from fellow hummingbird enthusiasts hoping I can offer a solution to the problem of bees overwhelming their feeders.

Bees, as well as other insects, are attracted to sugar water. To complicate the problem, bees far outnumber hummingbirds and can quickly make themselves a nuisance. Although hummingbirds are brave enough to challenge one or two bees to a duel, these tiny birds usually shy away from feeders that have attracted swarms of these stinging insects.

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Honeybees can cause problems at feeders; however, methods for dealing with these important pollinators should always be non-lethal.

The most effective solution is to buy a feeder with bee guards, which are simply little plastic shields that allow access for hummingbird bills and tongues but ban bees from squeezing their bodies into a position to reach the nectar solution. Most hummingbird feeders are red, which is supposed to capitalize on the hummingbird attraction to that color, and the bee guards are usually fashioned from yellow plastic. Some of the guards are fashioned to look like tiny yellow flowers to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

Online research also offered a solution that could make everyone (people, hummers and bees) happy. Provide a bowl of sugar water for the bees. They will find it quickly. Gradually move the bowl away from your hummingbird feeders. If this works, both bees and birds can co-exist.

Remember that honeybees are an extremely valuable insect, so any solution to bees invading your hummingbird feeders should definitely be non-lethal.

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A couple of different dragonflies share a perch at water’s edge.

Since I am already discussing insects, I am taking a hiatus from the birds for one week to introduce readers to some “other things with wings.”

Specifically, I would discuss dragonflies and damselflies, otherwise known as “odes,” or members of the insect order of Odonata. Surprisingly, other than their wings, the odes and birds have a lot in common.

When birds are scarce during the heat of the day, I find that other winged creatures get active and can provide some fun observations. In late summer I spend a great deal of time focused on the dragonflies and damselflies that live along the creek and at the fish pond at my home. The “odonates” are insects with long brightly colored bodies, two pairs of membranous wings and large compound eyes.

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Blue Dasher chooses a prominent perch at a fish pond.

Some of the more prevalent dragonflies in the region include widow skimmer, common whitetail, Eastern pondhawk, Eastern amberwing and slaty skimmer. I also often find the ebony jewelwing, a species of damselfly, fluttering along the creek. These delicate-looking insects like to find a sunny perch near flowing water. I’ve noticed the ebony jewelwings for many years because they are particularly difficult to miss. They have dark wings and a tapering body that glistens with a metallic blue-green sheen.

Damselflies, which are closely related to dragonflies, are usually smaller and less swift. A dragonfly at rest keeps its wings extended horizontally like an airplane’s wings, but damselflies fold their wings over their backs.

All odes are predators, feeding on other insects, but they are harmless to humans. Despite an enduring myth, they cannot sting. They are capable of biting, but will not do so unless they are handled in a careless manner.

If you observe dragonflies long enough, you will start to notice they share one trait with hummingbirds: they are intolerant of any intrusion into their personal space. In the same manner that hummers constantly chase rivals away from a favorite perch or feeder, dragonflies along the edge of a pond are unceasing in chasing and harassing rivals.

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Blue Dasher striking a pose. Despite superstitions about them, dragonflies are harmless. They can’t sting and don’t bite unless provoked.

Some cultures consider a dragonfly landing on a person a sign of good fortune. My sister-in-law would disagree. She has an intense, if irrational, fear of dragonflies. Perhaps she learned too much of the misinformation handed down in various human cultures about dragonflies.

Europeans have long linked dragonflies with sinister forces. Some common names for dragonflies, such as darners, come down from older names such as “devil’s darning needle.” Swedes call dragonflies “troll spindles” and Norwegians refer to them as “eye pokers.” Some cultures in South America call dragonflies “horse killers” and others refer to them as caballito del diablo, or the “devil’s little horse.” Some residents of the Southern United States refer to dragonflies as “snake doctors,” believing these insects can stitch and repair any injuries that a serpent suffers. It’s no wonder some people fear a harmless and rather beneficial insect.

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The Carolina Saddlebags, pictured, is one of the species of dragonflies known to migrate.

Native Americans as well as some Asian cultures have a more positive outlook on dragonflies. In Japan, dragonflies represent such concepts as strength, courage and joy. Dragonflies are often depicted in Zuni pottery, and the Navajo use the dragonfly as a symbol to represent “pure water,” which was an important resource for people living in very arid conditions. For both birds and dragonflies, water is also a crucial resource if they are to thrive.

The Hopi and Pueblo tribes also incorporate dragonflies into their art. Many Native Americans consider dragonflies a symbol of renewal. Many others see them as a symbol representing illusion and seeing through deception. I wonder if the use of the dragonfly as a renewal symbol evolved because of the life cycle of dragonflies.

Odes spend the first stage of life as aquatic larvae living below the surface of the water. Later, they emerge as adult dragonflies. During their time spent as larvae, or nymphs, they are voracious predators, tackling other aquatic organisms, including small fish. At the same time, these nymphs are important food sources for some larger fish. Nymphs may spend as long as three years living beneath the water, but adult dragonflies usually live only a few weeks or months.

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Blue Dasher surveys its territory at a fish pond.

Adult dragonflies continue to consume prey, which is mostly other insects. Among the odes, there are no vegetarians. “Mosquito hawk” is another common name for them because they catch and eat mosquitoes. They also consume gnats, flies and other insects. So, along with birds such as swallows and nighthawks, the dragonflies help keep in check the numbers of many nuisance insects.

Some of the larger dragonflies are also reputed to attack and eat hummingbirds. I tried to find conclusive evidence, but the jury’s still out in my opinion. However, some of the larger species of praying mantis have been documented capturing and consuming hummingbirds, so it is not too far-fetched to believe some dragonflies might be capable of preying on hummers.

Like many birds, some dragonflies migrate. Species such as Carolina saddlebags, green darners and wandering gliders are known to migrate hundreds of miles.

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Painted Skimmer clasps a cattail.

In recent years, dragonfly-watching has emerged as a nature pastime to rival the watching of birds and butterflies. Why watch dragonflies? Well, in many ways, they are just as fascinating as birds and other wildlife.
Here’s some fun trivia about dragonflies:

• Odes have excellent eyesight. Their compound eyes have up to 30,000 facets, each of which is a separate light-sensing organ arranged to give nearly a 360 degree field of vision. Their vision also makes it difficult to sneak up on a dragonfly. I have learned this during my attempts to photograph them.

• Dragonflies are built for speed. Many experts credit dragonflies with the ability to fly at speeds between 19 to 38 miles per hour. They have also been documented traveling as much as 85 miles in a single day.

• Dragonflies can hover and fly backwards, a feat achieved by only hummingbirds among our winged friends with feathers.

• Dragonflies are ancient. They appeared 100 million years before dinosaurs and 150 million years before birds.

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Eastern Pondhawk perches on an impatiens bloom.

• The largest dragonfly to ever live was Meganeura monyi, which lived during the Carboniferous period about 300 million years ago. It resembled and was related to present-day dragonflies. With a wingspan of almost 26 inches, it is one of the largest known flying insect species.

• Worldwide, there are about 5,000 species of dragonflies, but only about 400 are found in North America.

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Amazing dragonflies share skies with birds, other winged things

I am on vacation in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend, so here are some recent photos of dragonflies that I have taken so far this spring.

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Slaty Skimmer selects a delicate perch at the water’s edge.

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This Painted Skimmer was a new visitor to the fish pond.

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Lily pads are popular resting spots and excellent for basking in the sun.

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Eastern Pond Hawk chooses a perch just above the water’s surface.

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Widow Skimmers are one of the more vibrant dragonflies at the pond. They will often perch a good distance away from the water.

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Mating Eastern Pondhawks at the fish pond.

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Spangled Skimmer is an attractive dragonfly.

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The aptly named 12-Spotted Skimmer is an unmistakable dragonfly.

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Some dragonflies prefer a more vertical perch.

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Female Common Whitetail Skimmer warms herself on the gravels heated by the sunshine.

 

 

Blue Dasher photographed during a recent trip to South Carolina.

Blue Dasher photographed during a recent trip to South Carolina.

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The Fragile Forktail is a common damselfly at the fish pond.

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Common Whitetail Skimmer perched on a branch at the fish pond.

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Probably a Needham’s Skimmer photographed during a recent visit to Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

 

There’s change in the air…

With every passing day, autumn is creeping closer. The calendar indicates that the first official day of fall is Sept. 23, but the rest of the world around us doesn’t wait for us to turn the page.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Asters, which come in a variety of colors, are usually a late-blooming wildflower.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Asters, which come in a variety of colors, are usually a late-blooming wildflower.

Fall is upon us, which is apparent in a myriad of subtle signs, from the blooms of new wildflowers to the last surge of the season’s butterflies and dragonflies.

Of course, there’s also the migration of our feathered friends.

 

The dazzling birds of spring, such as Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, are winging their way through our backyards again.

Photo by Bryan Stevens  Many butterflies, such as this swallowtail, look rather tattered this far into the season.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Many butterflies, such as this swallowtail, look rather tattered this far into the season.

Many of these visitors have adopted a more subdued appearance as they stage their earlier migration flights in reverse. Then, there are fall warblers, sometimes also known by birders as “confusing fall warblers” since not only do observers have to distinguish between differences in male and female plumages, but also must contend with immature birds that resemble neither of their parents.

 

Want to learn how to quickly identify some of these so-called “confusing” warblers you may see flitting through the treetops this fall? Simply visit

http://dl.allaboutbirds.org/download_the_warbler_guide_quickfinders?utm_campaign=Warrbler-Campaign&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=Warbler-Campaign&utm_source=adwords&gclid=Cj0KEQjw-dSgBRDb0oOl9MzxqMEBEiQAkHqy-YYJxjOHJaXTUB4yRx0CewNowVY0m5PyD9K46roYfJkaAkuO8P8HAQ

Along the edges of ponds, the final dragonflies of the season have begun to emerge. Autumn Meadowhawks and Blue-faced Meadowhawks have both made appearance at my fish pond along Simerly Creek Road.  Other dragonflies have been scarce, and the damselflies have almost disappeared. I am still seeing a few Eastern Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, Eastern Amberwings and even a Fawn Darner.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The aptly-named Autumn Meadowhawk is one of the last dragonflies to emerge each year.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The aptly-named Autumn Meadowhawk is one of the last dragonflies to emerge each year.

During a visit to Erwin Fishery Park on Sept. 12, I was amazed to observe thousands of dragonflies — basically, a swarm of these incredible winged insects — hawking for smaller winged insects in the air above the now-closed swimming pool at the municipal park.

Most of the individuals in this incredible swarm looked like Green Darners, but I think a few other species had also joined the feeding frenzy. Green Darners, incidentally, are known for gathering in large flocks, just like birds, and staging their own migratory flights.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Katydids, some resembling nothing so much as a green leaf, are becoming more prominent as summer transitions into fall.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Katydids, some resembling nothing so much as a green leaf, are becoming more prominent as summer transitions into fall.

Speaking of insects, I’ve also been hearing Katydids. A recent post of a Katydid photo on my Facebook page prompted responses that brought up the old superstition that the first frost will take place several weeks after the Katydids begin their nocturnal serenades.

I always look forward to September, but it always seems to be an extremely busy month for me. This year’s no exception, but I am determined to carve out some time to enjoy this month of transition.

Join me in paying closer attention to the world around you this month. There are new birds to see almost every day if you simply take the time to look. If the birds are absent, look with even more attention to detail and you’re sure to be rewarded with some other remarkable observations.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A male Hooded Warbler makes a quick journey through the back yard.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A male Hooded Warbler makes a quick journey through the back yard.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens A newly-hatched Snapping Turtle will have a few weeks to grow before burrowing down to hibernate through the long, cold winter season.

Other things with wings

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                             Don’t believe all you hear. Dragonflies and damselflies are harmless to humans. They can’t sting. They can’t sew your lips shut. People have invented many scary names for these winged insects, including “snake killer,” “water witch” and “devil’s darning needle.” Don’t be fooled by the bad press and all the myths. Dragonflies and their kin are some of the world’s most beneficial insects. Pictured, a decorative and illuminating dragonfly owned by a fan of these valuable insects.

I’m taking a hiatus from the birds for one week to bring you some other things with wings in the form of a pictorial essay of dragonflies and damselflies, otherwise known as “odes,” or members of the insect order of Odonata.

I hope you enjoy this diversion. I know I’ve had much fun this spring photographing the odes at the fish pond at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton. I’ve also visited some other locations to find and photograph them, including Erwin Fishery Park in Unicoi County.

 

Photo by Bryan Stevens An Eastern Amberwing casts an amber shadow on this rock at the edge of a pond in Erwin, Tennessee.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
An Eastern Amberwing casts an amber shadow on this rock at the edge of a pond in Erwin, Tennessee. This is one of the smaller dragonflies in the Southern Appalachians. The largest dragonfly to ever live was Meganeura monyi, which lived during the Carboniferous period about 300 million years ago. It resembled and was related to present-day dragonflies. With a wingspan of almost 26 inches, it is one of the largest known flying insect species. Like modern dragonflies, Meganeura monyi was predatory and fed on other insects.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Aurora Damselfly is a study in simple elegance.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Aurora Damselfly is a study in simple elegance. Damselflies are typically weaker flyers than dragonflies.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A glimpse through the vegetation at one of the pond's most voracious predators. Dragonflies consume many other species of insects, including some that are considered pests. Pictured is a female Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A glimpse through the vegetation at one of the pond’s most voracious predators. Dragonflies consume many other species of insects, including some that are considered pests. Pictured is a female Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              Dragonflies and damselflies have been around longer than birds. Scientists estimate that these insects have been flying our skies for 300 million years.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                         Pictured, a male Ebony Jewelwing displays along the edge of Simerly Creek. Most, but not all, damselflies are fairly small. Megaloprepus caerulatus, which belongs to the Forest Giant family of damselflies, is the world’s largest damselfly. This damselfly inhabits rain forests in Central and South America. It has the greatest wingspan — 7.5 inches for large males — of any living damselfly or dragonfly.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                              What big eyes they have! Not surprisingly, it’s the better to see you with that has pushed the evolution of the dragonfly eye. A dragonfly’s head is comprised almost entirely of two large, compound eyes. Pictured, a Blue Dasher.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                        Common Green Darners photographed in early May on Holston Mountain in Elizabethton. At least 5,000 species of dragonflies and damselflies have been documented by scientists. There are probably more yet to be discovered.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                     There are no vegetarian dragonflies. Adult dragonflies feed on other insects that they catch in flight. Larval dragonflies, called nymphs, are aggressive underwater predators that feed on almost anything they can catch, including tadpoles, small fish, other aquatic insects and even each other. If mosquitoes are a nuisance, be sure to welcome dragonflies. They’re a major predator of mosquitoes. Pictured, a Widow Skimmer perches at the edge of a pond, resting until her next flight to prey on other insects.

Like birds, some species of dragonflies migrate. They may also form swarms — the equivalent of a flock of birds — as they stage their migratory flights.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                        This empty shell once housed a voracious dragonfly nymph until it emerged as an adult dragonfly.

Photo by Bryan Stevens

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                                     A Common Whitetail perches by a pond’s edge.

For more information on dragonflies in the Volunteer State, please visit http://www.pbase.com/rconnorsnaturephoto/tennessee_odonata to learn more.