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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That ... Squadron?

What Is That … Squadron?


As we sat on our cottage porch enjoying the tranquility of a late afternoon, sipping a perfectly-chilled chardonnay, a war was taking place beyond the porch screen.  A large cluster of huge dragonflies soared, looking decidedly like a squadron of helicopters at siege with the mosquitoes and deer flies.  From a distance of 10 meters it was impossible to say which species of dragonfly we were rooting for, but they were large, and we cheered them on with gusto.  How we love to watch dragonflies!  Go Dragons Go!

We are delighted to learn recently that three of our dragonfly pictures so far this year are of dragonflies we have not before photographed … one was the lancet clubtail dragonfly.  The following picture shows this beautiful dragonfly with yellowy-green stripes on its thorax, a similarly-coloured face, and lance-shaped markings on the top-side of its abdomen.  They flew throughout June here at White Lake, delighting us almost daily.

The second new (to us) dragonfly was attracted to our fresh pot of ornamental lavender as soon as we set it on the deck late in May.  This pretty dragonfly is a beaverpond baskettail.  It has a fuzzy thorax and a brown abdomen with yellow, elongated spots along both sides.  Our sources describe this baskettail’s abdomen as spindle-shaped.  Why not then name this family of dragonflies ‘spindletails’, we must wonder.  In the right light their beautiful eyes are bright emerald blue-green.

Thirdly, on July 6th, Bruce captured the extraordinary Halloween pennant dragonfly.  For years, we have wanted to see a ‘Halloween’ but we were not hopeful considering our location is on the northern edge of what Paulson shows as its territory.  The Halloween pennant’s colourful face, wings and abdomen make it unique within our region.

Dragonflies are insects with all the characteristics common to insects in general including the division of their bodies into three major segments … head, thorax and abdomen.  The dragonfly’s three pair of legs grow from the thorax.  It has a much longer abdomen than many other insects such is the much-hated deer fly.  As with all insects the abdomen is divided into 10 segments which dragonfly enthusiasts refer to regularly in order to identify various dragonfly species.  The segments are numbered starting with ‘one’ closest to the thorax and ‘ten’ being at the far end.  One of the distinguishing field marks of the American emerald dragonfly is the yellowish or whitish ring that shows clearly between segment 2 (S2) and segment 3 (S3) of its abdomen.  This field mark shows nicely in the following picture of an American emerald sitting on our lavender plant.

The similar-looking racket-tailed emerald dragonfly can be distinguished by its more prominent yellow spots at S3.  In addition, the racket-tail’s abdomen widens dramatically at S6 to form more of a club or, what some see as, a racket.  This feature of the racket-tailed emerald shows nicely in the following 2016 photograph of one on a young tomato plant.  (The tomato plant thrived until the chipmunks and squirrels found it.  Sigh.)  Knowing these field marks is helpful since the American emerald and the racket-tailed emerald dragonflies’ flight periods overlap.

The four-spotted skimmer dragonfly is also flying now.  It has abdominal spots which extend from its S1 to S10 on both sides.  We can also see its characteristic dark spot at the base of its hind wings where the wings merge with the thorax, as well as dark spots at the nodes of each wing.

Not at war with us, but rather with the biting insects beyond the porch screen, we love to watch the squadrons of dragonflies descend on the yard at the cottage.

To help with the description of the dragonflies’ field marks, we referred to Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, and the Jones et al Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and Surrounding Area.




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