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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Do you like a fun photo challenge? Try taking a photo of a dragonfly as it zooms on by you.

Here’s an image I captured on Tuesday of a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) in flight at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. In case you are curious, Common Baskettails are about 1.6 inches in length (41 mm).

So how would you go about getting a shot like this? I would say that the key requirements are patience and persistence. The first thing that I usually do is observe the dragonfly’s flight path and try to determine if there are particular places where it tends to hover or turn around. This particular dragonfly was flying low and not too far from the shore of a small pond.

Focusing is the biggest problem. Some photographers like to pre-focus on an area and wait for the dragonfly to fly into that area. Others will rely on the auto-focus capabilities of their cameras. I have had almost no success with those techniques. What I usually do is put my camera’s focus into manual mode and literally change focus on the fly as I attempt to track the dragonfly in the air.

I like to use my Tamron 180 mm macro lens, because it gives me a decent amount of reach and frees me from worrying about zooming in and out. I have found that simultaneously zooming and focusing manually while tracking the dragonfly is like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time—it is theoretically possible but tough to accomplish in real life.

If you click on the image and view it in a larger size, you will see that I was fortunate to get my focus just about right for the middle of the dragonfly’s body. The shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second was fast enough to freeze most of the movement of the wings.

Needless to say, I took a lot of shots and my success rate was very low. Perhaps this is not your idea of a “fun” challenge. In that case, I would encourage you to find some area of your life and challenge yourself to do something that is difficult. Even if you are not successful, I think even the effort will help you to grow, especially in self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Common Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Odonata is an order of insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies. In general, dragonflies tend to be larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides, while damselflies are smaller, have more slender bodies, and most  hold their wings over the body at rest. I try to pay attention to members of both damselflies and dragonflies, but often spend more time with the latter group, because they are easier to find and photograph.

In the interest of equality, I decided to devote today’s post to some of the female Fragile Forktail damselflies (Ischnura posita) that I have observed this past week. The three images show female Fragile Forktails in three of their main activities—perching, eating, and ovipositing (laying eggs). I have no recent shots of the mating that precedes the ovipositing, so I will leave that to your imagination for now.

As you probably noted, the coloration of these lady damselflies varies. The damselfly in the first image with the distinctive markings is an immature female. As the females age, they acquire a bluish coating that is sometimes referred to as pruinescence, which you can especially see in the second image. The third image shows a damselfly arching her long abdomen as she deposits eggs in the debris floating on the surface of a small pond.

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

Fragile Forktail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday I traveled to Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland with fellow dragonfly enthusiast and blogger Walter Sanford to search for dragonflies. One of the highlights of the visit for me was spotting this female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) as she was laying her eggs. As you can see from these two photos Swamp Darners lay their eggs directly into wet wood with their blade-like ovipositor, unlike many other dragonflies that lay their eggs onto the water.

Swamp Darners are among the largest dragonflies in our area, about 3.4 inches in length (86 mm) and it was impressive to watch this one flying about over a swampy area of the refuge.

Swamp Darner

Swamp Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday was a wonderful day for searching for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park and among my finds was this beautiful female Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifasciata). This is the first one of the season for this species, which is relatively common compared to most of the early spring species. The patterns on the wing make this species stand out and definitely help in identifying.

I love the way that the different colors on this dragonfly work so well together and give this dragonfly a refined and rather sophisticated look. It is an additional bonus that those colors are mirrored by the background colors in this image.

Painted Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When presented with a downward-facing flower, this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) was forced to choose an unusual angle of attack. Seeming defying gravity, this acrobatic butterfly hung upside down as it probed upwards earlier this week at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia.

If this were an Olympic competition, I would give him a 10 for both his technical skills and overall artistic impression.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I sometimes complain about the names given to species and how little they correspond to what I actually see in the field. That certainly was not the case yesterday when I spotted a Twin-spotted Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster maculata) along a creek in Northern Virginia. If you look closely at the image, ideally by double-clicking it, you will see the double row of spots on the dragonfly’s abdomen (the “tail”) and the long pointed ovipositor extending well beyond the end of the abdomen, the “spiketail.”

As I post photos of dragonflies, I realize that it is hard for readers to get a feel of the relative size of these beautiful creatures. The Uhler’s Sundragons that I have featured recently are about 1.7 inches in length (44 mm). A Twin-spotted Spiketail, by contrast, is much larger, about 2.8 inches in length (69 mm).

Both of these species are uncommon to rare in our area, primarily because of their specific habitat requirements—they require clean forest streams, which are not common in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and they have an early and short flight season of only a few weeks.

Twin-spotted Spiketail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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You know you are pretty close to a dragonfly when you can see individual grains of pollen on its head and body. I photographed this Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia uhleri) on 12 April alongside a creek in Northern Virginia. Ideally it would be best to stabilize macro shots taken at this close a range by placing the camera on a tripod, but in a field situation with a live subject, that is rarely possible.

If you click on the individual images, you will see some wonderful details, like the ommatidia, the individual optical units that make up the amazing compound eyes of these dragonflies.

Uhler's Sundragon

uhler's sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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