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Posts Tagged ‘ovipositing’

Last week I spotted a female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) as she was depositing eggs in vegetation at the edge of a small stream in Prince William County, Virginia. Some dragonflies lay their eggs directly in the water by tapping, but damselflies (and some dragonflies) use their ovipositors, the tubular, sharply-pointed appendages at the tips of their abdomens, to make slits and insert eggs into the tissues of the plants.

If you look really closely at the second photo, you can actually see the damselfly’s tiny ovipositor that is shaped a bit like a thorn. The damselfly appeared to arch her entire abdomen, insert the ovipositor into the vegetation, and then forcefully push down on her abdomen to insert the eggs more deeply, as you can see in the first photo. Sometimes she would flap her wings a few times, either for stability, I assume, or possibly for additional leverage.

I noticed that vegetation in which the damselfly is depositing her eggs has an unusual pattern, a broken line that looks like a seam made by a sewing machine. I wonder if that line is the result of the damselfly’s meticulous efforts to deposit her eggs.

 

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday I posted a photo of a male Common Whitetail dragonfly that was hovering in the air to fight off rivals and protect the female with which he had mated as she deposited her eggs in the water, a practice know as hover guarding. In some dragonfly species, the male will remain attached to the female throughout the entire process of oviposition, a process known as contact guarding. In other dragonfly species, the female is entirely on her own to deposit the eggs.

Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) use a different technique for guarding that I like to call “release and catch.” After mating is completed, the male and female Black Saddlebags fly together over the water in a tandem position, with the male in the front. At certain moments, for reasons that I cannot determine, the male releases the female and she drops down to the water and taps it to release one or more eggs. As she rises up out of the water, the male catches the female and reattaches the tip of his abdomen to the back of her head. They continue to fly in tandem and repeat this cycle multiple times.

On Saturday I was fortunate to be able to capture this sequence of shots that documents the entire process. Most of the time these dragonflies chose spots that were too far away for me to photograph them, but in this case they flew a bit closer to the edge of the pond where I was standing. As you probably suspect, I had to crop in a good amount to highlight the action for you, given that I was shooting with my trusty 180mm macro lens, which has a more limited reach than the lens that I use when photographing birds.

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Regional Park I spotted this female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) as she was depositing eggs into the water. I managed to capture a short series of shots that help to illustrate what she was doing.

She would fly low over the water as in the first shot and then hover over what she determined was a good spot. When she was ready, she dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water, creating the circular ripples that you see in the second image. Immediately she returned to her starting position as the ripples began to spread. Sometimes she would repeat this sequence several times at the same spot, while other times she would move on to another spot.

What was the male doing at this time? A male Common Whitetail dragonfly, which I assume was the one with which she had just mated, patrolled a few feet directly over her as she was depositing the eggs. I am pretty sure that he was there to deter or fight off potential rivals that might try to interfere with the perpetuation of his genes.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

common whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This female damselfly blended in almost perfectly with her surroundings yesterday as she deposited eggs in the shallow water at the edge of Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge at Fort Belvoir. I love the way that the shadows changed as she dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water.

I have real difficulties in identifying female damselflies, but in this case I am not too concerned.  I was so caught up with the colors, shapes, and lighting in this image that identification seemed of secondary importance.

damselfly ovipositing

 

damselfly ovipositing

damselfly ovipositing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Now that the weather is warming up, I am searching in earnest for dragonflies, one of my favorite subjects to photograph. I am still having difficulties locating native-born species, but fortunately there are some migratory species in the area. Yesterday I spotted this Common Green Darner (Anax junius) dragonfly couple in tandem, with the male holding on as the female deposited her eggs in the floating vegetation.

In some dragonfly species the male will hover above the female as she oviposits, but in others, like the Common Green Darner, the male remains attached. I suspect that this method is one way of ensuring that the eggs that the male has fertilized are deposited before the female hooks up with another male.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As a wildlife photographer, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a studio photographer. Imagine being able to control the intensity and direction of the light, to choose my own background, to have a responsive subject, and to be able to move around and carefully compose images in my viewfinder. What if there were no wet grass or thorns or mosquitoes or ticks? Perhaps a studio photographer has a sense of control—a wildlife photographer lives in a world of unknowns, never knowing for sure exactly when and how a shooting opportunity will present itself nor how long it will last.

This is the time of the year when I focus my attention and my camera on tiny subjects and dragonflies and damselflies are among my favorites. Some of them are pretty accommodating subjects and will perch and pose, though many are elusive and hard to capture.

I sometimes struggle with the question of how to create cool and dramatic shots of these beautiful little creatures. How do I capture then in action, especially when I am so often using a macro lens and shooting at close range?

I wish I had an answer to these questions, a magical formula that would guarantee great results, but, of course, I don’t. Sometimes, though, things do come together and magic happens. That’s what I felt this past Monday when I was out looking for dragonflies. I was crouched on the wet sand trying to get some shots of a Common Sanddragon dragonfly, when a female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) landed a few feet in front of me and began to oviposit in the vegetation at the edge of a small stream.

I was at a good distance to use the 180mm macro lens that I had on my camera. The lighting and background were beautiful. My subject was isolated, but there was enough of the environment in the foreground to give a sense of the location (and the green of the moss was wonderful).

Is it possible to create a dramatic macro action portrait with a two inch (50 mm) subject? For me, it’s rare that I am able to pull it off, but I’d like to suggest that it does happen and offer this image as evidence.

I go out with my camera with the hope that situations like this will arise in the uncontrolled environment in which I like to operate. I live for those moments.

Ebony Jewelwing

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 tough to photograph a dragonfly in flight, but when it chooses to hover, there is a slightly better chance of getting a shot. That was the case recently when I encountered this female Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) that was in the process of depositing her eggs in the water. As her mate circled overhead, the female dragonfly would hover over the water and then periodically dip the tip of her tail in the water before returning to the hovering position. I was able to get several images of the hovering dragonfly, but got only a single image of her depositing the eggs.

flying1_skim_blogflying2_skim_blogflying3_skim_blogflying4_skim_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As I was observing dragonflies on Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, a female Swamp Darner dragonfly (Epiaeschna heros) decided that the spot right next to me was the perfect place for her to deposit some eggs. She seemed to fly right at me and then veered just slightly to the left and began to arch her back in the way that dragonflies do when ovipositing.

I was really close to this female dragonfly, so close that my 180mm macro lens might actually have been too much lens for the situation. This was an unusual situation for me—I am usually trying to get closer and closer to a subject. As dragonflies go, Swamp Darners are really large, as much as 4 inches (10 cm) in length.

I didn’t dare move back for fear of scaring her away, so I slowly moved my upper body to try to frame the action. These shots show a couple of the different body positions of the dragonfly as she deposits her eggs.

drag1_ovp_blogdrag2_ovp_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

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As was watching this Handsome Meadow Katydid (Orchelimum pulchellum) through my viewfinder,  it suddenly arched its body and assumed a position worthy of an world-class gymnast or yoga master. What was it doing?

rainbow_gymnastics_blog

My first thought was that the katydid was merely stretching, getting ready for the day’s activities. When you jump around as much as these insects do, you can’t risk a pulled muscle or other injury by not warming up properly.

Over the past year, this rainbow-colored katydid has become my favorite insect, but I confess that I don’t much about their anatomy. Looking over my photos, I realized that I needed to identify the orange-colored body part, a part that I don’t recall observing before, in order to figure out what was going on. What could it possibly be?

rainbow_gymnastics3_blog

Well, it looks like this katydid probably is a female and the orange-colored thing is her ovipositor, the organ used for depositing eggs. So, is she depositing eggs in the photos? I am not sure.

A University of Arkansas website describes the ovipositing for a similar katydid with these words, “An ovipositing female embraces a plant stem with her prothoracic and mesothoracic legs and brings the curved and sword-like ovipositor far forward so its tip can scrape the substrate.” It’s not really helpful when the explanation contains so many words with which I am unfamiliar. I think that I will leave this kind of science to the scientists.

As a photographer, I continue to be amazed by the multi-colored beauty of this fascinating insect and especially by its alluring blue eyes. I know that it’s an illusion, but those eyes often seem to be looking right at me. I’m not sure if this Handsome Meadow Katydid is depositing eggs in these photos, but I am sure that  I like the images a lot, including the final image, which shows the katydid in a more “normal” position following her brief series of gymnastics.

rainbow_gymnastics2_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How can you photographing a dragonfly while it is flying? As we have moved into dragonfly season, I have been thinking a lot about that question and earlier this week, I had some success in getting images of a female Blue Dasher dragonfly that I believe was ovipositing.

female_dasher2_blog

Last year, I was content to photograph perched dragonflies (and still love to do so) and occasionally would capture one as it was leaving a perch. This year I am challenging myself and am actively seeking out opportunities to follow dragonflies with my lens and, if possible, to catch them in motion. They are so agile in flight, that the challenge is somewhat daunting. I have experimented with auto focusing and manual focusing. I have tried pre-focusing on an area and waiting and hoping a dragonfly would fly into it. I have had my best luck so far when I can catch the dragonfly as it is hovering.

This female Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) approached this little clump of vegetation several times and would begin to hover. Then she would bend her tail forward and move it rapidly back-and-forth for a few seconds, which I think meant that she was laying eggs.

female_dasher1_blog

I am definitely not an expert on dragonfly behavior and may be totally wrong about what she was doing. However, from a purely photographic point of view, this offered my best chance of getting some shots of this dragonfly in flight. As I recall, I got my best shots when focusing manually and snapping as many shots as I could when it looked like things were coming into focus.

female_dasher3_blog

The Blue Dasher female (and you’ve probably noticed that the females of this species are not blue, despite their name) flew away and returned several times, but eventually was done with her business. I am continuing to observe the different species of dragonflies and hope to identify the types of behavior they exhibit that will maximize the chance of me getting some more shots like these ones.

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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