Monday, May 20, 2013

A year of dragons and damsels

I have been known at times as the spider lady. I'm also the vulture lady and now the mother of a budding ornithologist (more on that later). But Arizona offers more than amazing birding and fodder for my nocturnal adventures. Dragonfly and damselfly watching has been growing, much like birding took off (har har) before it. Places like Boyce Thompson Arboretum do regular dragonfly walks in the summer, Chandler's Environmental Education Center holds days celebrating dragonflies, they're studied around Arizona both formally and through awesome citizen science efforts, we have dragonfly experts and enthusiasts cataloging our species, we have dedicated dragonfly blogs, and dragons and damsels generally make Arizona an awesome place to be, especially in the summer. (Well, if you don't mind the whole 120-degree heat thing.)

Canyon rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina vulnerata), Saguaro Lake, Mesa

Mexican amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis intensa), Tucson

Mexican amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis intensa), Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Spot-winged glider (Pantala hymenaea), Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Pacific forktail damselfly mating pair (Ischnura cervula)‎, Gilbert Riparian Preserve

So I was excited and intrigued when my friend on Google+ (yes, there are a ton of us over there -- come join us!), Michael Hensley, had the idea to start sharing a photo of a dragonfly or damselfly each day. He shared some of his fantastic photos before moving on to other pursuits. However, I stole was inspired by his idea, and with his permission, ran with it for the full 365 days. My rules were kind of made up as I went, but almost all the shots were taken within this past year. To "count," it had to be a good photo -- I've spotted a few springwater dancers, red rock skimmers, and plateau dragonlets; but alas, I captured only one lousy shot of the dancer and none of the others, so I'll keep trying. The main idea was to show off the amazing, intricate beauty of these insects, and maybe learn a little about science and photography along the way. I was forced to skip a day here and there. (Family emergencies and family in general are not too sympathetic to "Hang on! The Internet needs an insect photo from me today!") However, just a couple weeks late, here is my year's worth of photos of our state's gorgeous Odonata (that's the name for this order of insects). It's been a fun year, following these dragons and damsels.

Mexican amberwing dragonflies (and bonus hoverfly!) (Perithemis intensa), Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Blue-ringed dancer damselfly (Argia sedula), Gilbert Riparian Preserve

I plan to do a much more thorough and dedicated blog post (or posts) on dragonflies -- maybe some species accounts, certainly more of a rundown of what I've learned in the past year. I'd like to share some dragonfly research, highlight some spots, talk about my wonderful assistant/son when he accompanies me, and hopefully touch base with some fellow odo-nuts. (Yes, I know that's lame.) For now, though, please enjoy some highlights from this year. You can check out the whole album here.

Rambur's forktail damselfly (Ischnura ramburii), Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler
I'm doing another year, starting today. I have a few thoughts, which follow. Any tips from fellow oders? Any requests from pretty insect oglers?

Rambur's forktail damselfly (Ischnura ramburii), Papago Park, Phoenix

1. More locations. I've relied really heavily on half a dozen ode havens. While part of this is because I have a job (usually), a kid, a family, and all that good stuff; and I do not have infinite gas money and time to spend tracking them down; I would like to branch out quite a bit more. I know there are some great spots I've yet to hit, and I bet there are new ones I don't even know yet.

Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Papago Park, Phoenix

2. More species. This kind of goes with No. 1 -- the more locations I visit, the wider variety of species I'm likely to encounter.

Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Gilbert Riparian Preserve
3. More, and more frequent, visits to the "regular" spots. This could also go with No. 2. Different species frequent the same area at different times in the season. For example, I almost never saw Pacific forktails (or at least I didn't notice them) until I started paying attention to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve earlier in the season.

Flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata), Tucson
4. More information. I did pretty well on this for a while -- I regaled anyone who followed the series with tales of territory disputes, Latin name origins, cannibalism, and dragonfly/damselfly Kama Sutra (or "insex" as some of us in the insect geek set like to call it) -- but I can do better. I'd like to include at least nuggets of cool information with maybe a quarter to half of my shots, and engaging descriptions with most of them, hopefully. Of course there are limits -- there are only so many anecdotes I can share about blue dashers -- but you get the idea.

Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Papago Park, Phoenix
5. Connect more with others. I would love to learn from the dragonfly and damselfly experts, and I would love to connect more -- virtually or otherwise -- with other enthusiasts. The Internet is so awesome for this kind of thing (we already have Yahoo groups, Facebook groups, and awesome sites like, and I hope to make even better use of them.

6. Make something (else) out of it. I would really, really love to write a well-researched, longer-form piece on these awesome arthropod acrobats. Any takers?

Rambur's forktail damselfly female orange form (Ischnura ramburii), Papago Park, Phoenix

Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Papago Park, Phoenix

Desert firetail damselfly (Telebasis salva) mating pair, Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), Papago Park, Phoneix

Mexican amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis intensa), Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), Papago Park, Phoenix

Desert Forktail damselfly (Ischnura barberi), Papago Park, Phoenix

Flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata), Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Rambur's forktail damselfly female orange form (Ischnura ramburii), Papago Park, Phoenix

Red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler

Red saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea onusta), Papago Park, Phoenix

Red-tailed pennant dragonflies (Brachymesia furcata), Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler

Roseate skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea), Gilbert Riparian Preserve

Western pondhawk dragonfly mating wheel (Erythemis collocata), Papago Park