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Posts Tagged ‘Common Whitetail’

Predator or prey? Dragonflies are fearsome predators, but they can also become prey—it’s the whole circle of life cycle in the natural world.

This past Friday as I was walking around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I spotted the twisted body of a dragonfly suspended in the air against a backdrop of the sky. Instinctively I knew that there must be a spider web there, although it was not initially visible. The wing pattern of the dragonfly made it easy to identify as a Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia).

As I got closer, I realized that a large spider was holding onto the body of the dragonfly. I am not totally certain of the spider identification, but it looks to me like it is a Spotted Orbweaver (Neoscona crucifera). Often when I approach a spider, it will scurry to the edge of its web, but this spider defiantly stayed in place—it looked like it was determined not to give up its prey.

As many readers know, I really like dragonflies, but spiders have to eat too. Undoubtedly this scenario plays out multiple times each day, but it is still a little unsettling to see it face-to-face.

spider and dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Thanks to recent warmer weather, dragonflies are finally starting to emerge in Northern Virginia. I captured this image of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) on Monday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. Unlike many species with the word “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies are actually pretty common. They are among the first species to emerge in the spring and among the last to depart in the fall. Unlike many of the early spring species, they are habitat generalists—you can find them pretty much anywhere  and do not have the scour the underbrush or walk through streams in remote locations.

Although I spotted a Common Green Darner dragonfly earlier this month, I was not able to get a photo of it and suspect that it had migrated from another location. This is my first photo of the season of a “native” dragonfly, with plenty more sure to follow in the coming months.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Despite their differences in size and appearance, the Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) and the Common Whitetail (Plathemis lydia) dragonflies were able to co-exist peacefully and both were able to enjoy the same perch this morning at Huntley Meadows Park.

Why is it so hard for us to do the same?

coexist1_8Jul_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Occasionally I complain that some species with names that include “common” are rare, but Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are in fact quite common. They are among the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and among the last to disappear in the autumn.

Even though I see them all of the time, I’ll frequently photograph Common Whitetails, with the hope of capturing a new or different view of the dragonfly. Yesterday was sunny and I knew that I would have trouble photographing male Common Whitetails, because their bodies are so white. Usually they end up overexposed with the highlights blown out.

To try to compensate for that problem, I set the metering mode on my camera for spot metering and I was able to capture this shot. The dragonfly is a male, but has not yet acquired the bright white of an adult male, which made things a little easier. I managed to get a proper exposure for the body and the rest of the image is a bit underexposed. The result was a kind of dramatic lighting effect that helps me to highlight the uncommon beauty of this common species.

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Most dragonflies like sunshine, so it’s been tough this month to find very many of them, given the almost constant cloud cover and frequent rain showers. Here are a few shots nevertheless of female Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) from earlier in May. All of them appear to be young ones, in particular the one in the final shot, whose wings have not yet acquired their final coloration, indicating that it has only recently emerged.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Unlike many species with “common” in their names, Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) actually are abundant and frequently seen during their peak season of June through September. In mid-April, however, they are much more rare and I was thrilled to spot this newly-emerged female this past Saturday at Huntley Meadows Park.

Members of this dragonfly species often perch on the ground, making them a bit difficult to photograph when they are in in area of heavy vegetation. This individual made it a easier for me to get some shots by perching almost vertically. My 180mm macro lens let me get some close-up shots without having to move too close.  I really enjoy trying to get somewhat “artsy” macro shots of dragonflies.

Mature female Common Whitetail dragonflies have distinctive dark patches on their wings. This dragonfly’s wings are mostly clear, which is why I judge that she is a teneral, i.e. she only recently underwent the transformation from living in the water as a nymph and emerged as an air-breathing acrobatic dragonfly. For comparison purposes I have included a photo from May 2014 of a fully-developed female Common Whitetail in which you can see the wing patches.

Common Whitetails are one of the first dragonflies to appear in the spring and they are around until late in the fall. I find them to be beautiful, especially this early in the season when they do not have to share the stage with very many other dragonflies.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly

Common Whitetail dragonfly May 2014

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Dragonflies sometimes look like aliens to me, with their giant eyes and other worldly flying skills. My initial impression of this photo was that it looked like an alien landscape from a science fiction movie—the terrain perfectly matched the subject.

Common Whitetail

So what’s the reality? It’s a female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) in the process of depositing eggs in the shallow water at the edge of a pond. She is hovering over the water and then will drop down and dip the tip of her abdomen in the water, causing the concentric ripples you see in the image. A short while later, she repeats the process. What you don’t see in the photo is her mate, who is hovering nearby, keeping watch over her as she ensures the continuity of his genetic line.

There will be more aliens.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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