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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Black Saddlebags dragonflies (Tramea lacerata) spend most of their time flying, so it was a rare treat to spot this beautiful female perching recently at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. In the second image you can see the distinctive blotches on the dragonfly’s wings that make it look like it is wearing saddlebags, but the first image is my overwhelming favorite—the unique pose, the delicate coloration of the eyes, and the “artsy” overall feel of the first shot produce an emotional reaction in me than the more clinical second shot.

Do you prefer one image more than the other?

 

Black Saddlebags

Black Saddlebags

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I was thrilled to spend some time hanging out with this Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius). The range of colors on its body is so remarkable that I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I zoomed in on it. An expert in a dragonfly forum on Facebook noted to me that the dragonfly is a teneral one, which means that it has only newly emerged. That would account for its relatively pale, almost pastel coloration and the perfect condition of its wings. If you click on the image, you can see even better some of the remarkable details of this dragonfly, like the colorful pattern on its “nose.”

The beautiful dragonfly was hanging vertically only a few inches above the ground, in a pretty safe location. I kept my distance as I took some photos and departed quietly, conscious of the fact that a dragonfly is fragile and vulnerable at this early stage of development. It remained in place as I slowly slipped away.

Green Darner

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It seems a little late in the season for Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) to be mating, but I nevertheless spotted this couple in action this past Saturday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia. In case you are curious, the male is the red one near the top of the image that is clasping the female by its head. I like the way that the soft background and simple composition draw our eyes to the shapes, colors, and patterns of the dragonflies, rendering the subject in a beautifully abstract way.

calico pennant dragonflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At first I thought it was love, but looking closer I realized that Tina Turner was right—what’s love got to do with it. Both the predator and the prey in what appears to be an act of cannibalism look to be Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum), which I spotted this past Sunday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The pale coloration of the victim suggests to me that it is newly-emerged, a phase referred to as “teneral.” At this stage of development, dragonflies and damselflies are relatively immobile as their bodies and wings are transforming and are particularly vulnerable.

damselfly cannibalism

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As the seasons change, some dragonflies begin to disappear, but happily some new ones appear, like this spectacular female Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum) that I spotted this past Monday at Huntley Meadows Park.

One of the really cool things about this species is that there are two different color variants of the females. Most of the females (and young males) are brown in color and are sometimes referred to as heteromorphs, while a smaller number of females, like the one in the photo, have a bright red color matching that of mature males and are sometimes referred to as andromorphs. This is roughly parallel to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, which has two different varieties of female, a yellow morph that matches the males and a black morph.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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What is a Fine-lined Emerald? It may sound like some kind of exotic jewel, but it is actually a relatively rare dragonfly that is found in coastal plains areas. I don’t recall having heard of this species until several weeks ago, when fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford alerted me to keep an eye out for them when visiting nearby Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I met Walter this past Sunday at the wildlife refuge and we began out search for the elusive Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa). This species tends to hang vertically from bare branches at about eye level, so we walked slowly past the never-ending vegetation, hoping that we would spot one. I honestly was not optimistic that we would be successful and was shocked to almost stumble upon one only about four feet from me. I had two big problems. First of all, I was using my Tamron 150-600mm lens that has a minimum focusing distance of almost 9 feet (2.7 meters), so I had to back up. Secondly, in my excitement, I was unable to clearly explain to Walter exactly where the dragonfly was perched. In the end, the dragonfly flew away before either of us was able to get a shot.

Eventually we were able to track that dragonfly and several other Fine-lined Emeralds and to capture some images of these beautiful creatures. Walter and I agreed that we would both do blog postings with some of our shots today to give readers an idea of how two photographers standing almost side by side can come up with very different photos of the same subject. We have done this type of companion pieces and it had always been interesting to compare results. Some of the differences can be attributed to the very different gear that we are using and some are caused by our different backgrounds and approaches.

Once I publish this posting, I will finally take a look at Walter’s posting and update this posting with a link to it.

UPDATE:  Here is the linkas promised, to Walter’s post, in which he shares some scientific observations and some wonderful photos.

Fine-lined Emerald

Fine-lined EmeraldFine-lined Emerald

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This spectacular Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) spread its wings wide and seemed to be posing for fellow wildlife enthusiast Walter Sanford and for me as we explored Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge this past weekend. We have a number of different dark-colored swallowtail butterflies in our region, including the black morph of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the Pipevine Swallowtail, and the Spicebush Swallowtail, but this is the only place that I have encountered the Black Swallowtail.

Whenever I photograph a swallowtail that is black, I will usually refer to a very helpful blog posting by Louisiana Naturalist that compares some of the identification features of the four different dark swallowtails.

Black Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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