Dragonflies / by Greg Westrich

Sunday I saw my first Elegant Spreadwing. A male with a metallic green head and a black rectangle on each wing. At least that's what I think it was. Dragonflies can be hard. It's usually easy to decide what group an individual is from, but many species in a given group are almost indistinguishable. In fact, the only sure way is to look at the sexual organs at the tip of the thorax under magnification. The guide I have (Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson) has pages of drawings to compare.

To make identification even harder, males and females generally look different and young adults are often less or even differently colored. For example, there were several newly emerged spreadwings on the side of the dock that were pale green. 

Dragonflies have been active on Borestone Mountain since the beginning of June. Each week a new species emerges. Dragonflies are like butterflies. Each species has a specific window that the adults are around. Which makes sense if you think about it. An adult that emerges too early or too late will miss out on breeding--the point of the adult stage. 

 Common Pondhawk

Common Pondhawk

Birds do the same thing, timing migrations and breeding. With birds, the idea is to have hungry babies when food is abundant. Since dragonflies don't care for their young, other considerations determine each species cycle.

Our world is an interlocking set of these cycles. Birds migrate to time the emergence of insects. Trees of a given species bloom to maximize cross pollination and beat the competition  in reseeding the forest floor.  Moose move around and breed in rhythm with the seasons and its various bounties. We humans mostly live in a world outside these rhythms--or at least an understanding of them. The closest most of us come is enjoying the ever-changing world around us.

 Chalk-Fronted Corporal

Chalk-Fronted Corporal

So, this summer I'll track the rolling emergence of various dragonflies: Common Pondhawks, then Chalk-Fronted Corporals and Familiar Bluets, and now Elegant Spreadwings. I can't wait to see what's next.

 Ebony Jewelwing (in Baxter State Park)

Ebony Jewelwing (in Baxter State Park)