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Posts Tagged ‘dragonflies mating’

For the last couple of weeks I have been chasing male Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies (Somatochlora filosa) around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Northern Virginia in a series of patrolling and perching encounters. One day this past weekend a couple flew by me in wheel position, i.e. they were locked together in a mating position and were still able to fly. I was able to get a few shots of them when they landed nearby. Eventually they changed positions and hung together in tandem. Unfortunately I lost sight of them for a second and I didn’t see them actually fly away

Readers of this blog have seen multiple shots of mating dragonflies, but this was a really special encounter for me. Why? This species of dragonflies is pretty rare, both locally and nationally. As Kevin Munroe described it on his wonderful Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website, “One of Northern Virginia’s most rare dragonflies, possibly our rarest, this species is seldom seen and little known throughout its range, from New Jersey to Florida, and west to Kentucky and Texas. Most field guides describe its breeding habitat as “unknown”.” It is reassuring to see this species breeding in our area, so there is a chance I will see them again next year and in the future.

In the section of his website dealing with the Fine-lined Emerald, Kevin included a photo from 2012 of a pair of these dragonflies mating with a caption that indicated it was “the only record of this species breeding in N VA.” I don’t know if others have captured images of mating Fine-lined Emeralds more recently, but it is cool to realize that I am part of a really small group of folks who have documented this behavior.

Early this week I went back to the same area, hoping to find another mating pair, but was unsuccessful. I’d like to be able to learn how and where the females lay their eggs. I was told by one dragonfly expert on a Facebook forum that egg-laying behavior for this species has been observed and documented only once. I tend to think of myself as more of an artist than a scientist. I am, however, motivated by an almost overwhelming sense of curiosity that pushes me outdoors more and more frequently with my camera, striving and hoping to capture more interesting subjects and situations that I can share with others. Who knows, maybe I will be able to find out where female Fine-lined Emeralds hang out and deposit their eggs.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies in wheel position

 

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined Emerald dragonflies in tandem position

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is often said that springtime is a time for love, but so apparently is autumn, especially if you are a Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum). This species appears most often during the latter part of the summer and in early autumn, so springtime is not really an option for them.

I spotted this couple in flagrante delicto during a recent trip to Huntley Meadows Park. It is hard to get a real sense of scale from this photo, so you will have to trust me that these brightly-colored dragonflies are really small, about an inch and a half in length (38 mm).

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most of the Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum ambiguum) yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park were perched alone in the bright sunlight, but some of them managed to find mates and were “getting busy.” No matter how many times I have seen this behavior, I continue to be amazed by the unusual and acrobatic method that dragonflies use when mating.

I usually start to see the brightly-colored Blue-faced Meadowhawks in early September, at a time when the overall number of dragonflies is declining and they are one of the signs for me of the end of the summer. This species seems to be generally tolerant of my presence, although some individuals are quite skittish, and I have managed to get some close-up shots of them in the past.

Don’t be surprised to see more photos of the Blue-faced Meadowhawks in upcoming weeks—they are one of my favorite species of dragonflies.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When I captured these two images of mating dragonflies on the 10th of November, I did not realize that their frantic efforts to perpetuate their species that day would mark an end to this year’s dragonfly season for me. There is a chance that some especially hardy Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) may have survived our recent spell of bitter cold, but realistically speaking, it’s time to put my macro lenses on the shelf and focus my photographic efforts and birds (and the occasional small mammal).

The Autumn Meadowhawks in the first image were a little higher off the ground that the Blue-faced Meadowhawks (Sympetrum ambiguum) in the second shot and I managed to get into a better shooting position to capture details and separate the dragonflies a bit from the background.  In case of the Blue-faced Meadowhawks, I was so thrilled to see them so late into November that I was willing to settle for a lower angle shot with a more cluttered background.

Most of the time I feature only a single species of dragonflies in a posting and it’s a little hard to compare the featured dragonflies with others. It’s a whole lot easier to see the differences between the species when you compare the two photos here.

And so this year’s dragonfly season draws to a close, as the mating couples dance their last tango of the autumn.

Autumn Meadowhawk matingBlue-faced Meadowawk mating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) have finished mating, the male does not release the female, but continues to clasp her head tightly with the tip of his abdomen. The pair flies off together in the “tandem” position and remains attached until the female has finished depositing her eggs, normally in the water.

A chivalrous interpretation of this behavior might be that the male is merely protecting his mate from clamoring suitors and allowing her to oviposit in peace. The reality, though, is that there is a fierce competition among males that can sometimes involve attempt to dislodge a rival’s sperm from a female and replace it with his own if the female has not yet laid her eggs. By holding onto the female, the male increases his odds of fathering some baby dragonflies.

Check out a 2006 National Georgraphic article called Dragonflies Strange Love for some other fascinating insights into the love life of dragonflies.

Earlier this month, I was at a small pool of water and I watched as a series of Autumn Meadowhawk couples in tandem went through the process of ovipositing and I attempted to get some in-flight shots of them. These dragonflies are really small and my success rate in keeping them in the frame was not high, but I did manage to get a few decent images.

Hopefully the practice in tracking a moving subject will carry over and help me as I move to photographing birds in flight, rather than dragonflies.

Autumn MeadowhawkAutumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s hard not to feel a little bit like a voyeur when I move in close to capture the details of an intimate encounter between two wild creatures. There is something especially intriguing about the acrobatic maneuvers of colorful mating dragonflies, like this pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) that I photographed in the “wheel” position at my local marshland park in late October.

Many times I have to assume equally acrobatic positions to capture the action. Fellow photographer and dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford photographed me in one such pose in an image that I included in a previous posting entitled “My view of the mating dragonflies.”

On this occasion, however, the dragonflies were much more accommodating and they perched at eye level on the top of some vegetation. The couple was back-lit, but a little fill flash helped to bring out the details and the colors.

In this case, at least, the brightly-colored  dragonflies seemed to be exhibitionists and I felt less like a voyeur, though I must confess that I did not shield my eyes and turn away from the activity.

Autumn Meadowhawks mating

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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