Sunday, May 26, 2013

Maine Snaketail and other dragons

While attempting to photograph Indian Skippers on the property this afternoon (I did not succeed thanks to the strong wind), I noticed that there were quite a few dragonflies and damselflies out and about. Most of the damsels were bluets in the Northern/Vernal/Boreal species-group, which are not identifiable in the field. Although I was unable to identify them, I enjoyed watching them nervously fly between swaying blades of grass and occasionally perching on a sunny leaf or twig.

The most common dragonflies this afternoon were Common Whitetails, which will likely be the most abundant species throughout the summer months as well. It was slightly tricky to spot other species among the throngs of whitetails, but I managed to spot this Ashy Clubtail thanks to his flight style.

While I was observing the clubtail, he was dive-bombed by a Juvenal's Duskywing, a butterfly that seems to feel no fear when defending its territory against other butterflies, predatory insects, and even people! Although the clubtail disappeared after the incident with the butterfly, the pesky duskywing alerted me to the presence of another dragonfly that was perched just a few feet away:

This gorgeous odonate is a Painted Skimmer, a species that is fairly common this time of year in damp meadows. Its color and pattern is unique and definitely makes it stand out among the duller species! Unfortunately, Painted Skimmers tend to be skittish. I was only able to take a few photographs before he took flight and was out of sight.

Just as I headed back towards the house, I flushed another dragonfly off its perch. It flew different and looked strange compared to the others I had previously seen, so I followed it for a bit until it landed on the tip of a small greenbrier stem.

This gorgeous yellow, green, and black dragonfly is a Maine Snaketail, a new species for the yard. Typically, this species is found along streams, not ridgetop meadows. I can only imagine that this individual was engaging in "hill-topping," a mate-seeking behavior demonstrated by many insect species that often takes them out of their typical habitats. In fact, this is not the first time I have observed this behavior in this same meadow. Last May, I found an Uhler's Sundragon (a relatively rare species) in almost the same place as this year's snaketail.

A less-than-desirable photo of the Uhler's Sundragon I found in 2012

The fact that I found both of these species so far away from their typical stream habitats suggests that naturalists should always keep an open mind and be on the look-out for unexpected species. Who knows what is out there!

A Maine Snaketail that I found in 2011 in a more typical "northern" stream habitat in Sullivan Co., PA (State Game Lands #57)

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