Bug o’the Week – Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Bug o’the Week

Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Greetings, BugFans,

We’ve just had an all-too-brief Indian Summer – it got warm enough for the flies to fly, the tree crickets to sing, and yes, for a few very late Monarch butterflies to drift past on their big journey.  The BugLady spent some time on boardwalks in wetlands, enjoying the last dragonflies of the year.

Meadowhawks, in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, are a genus of 15 species, nine of which have been recorded in Wisconsin.  They can be tricky to identify (understatement).  They start to appear in late June/early July and are with us for the rest of the summer and well into fall, but other than a few tenacious White-faced Meadowhawks, the final meadowhawk on the scene is the Autumn Meadowhawk (called the Yellow-legged Meadowhawk in older field guides) (the BugLady thinks that their legs are flesh-colored, rather than yellow, but she can see why that name would be a non-starter).  Here’s an early BOTW about meadowhawks https://uwm.edu/field-station/meadowhawks/.

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) can be found in Southern Canada and much of the US, except for the northern Rockies, the arid Southwest, and a few of the Gulf States.  Some meadowhawks are picky about habitat, but not Autumn Meadowhawks, which are equally happy in shallow, permanent ponds, lakes, marshes and swamps, bogs, flooded meadows, and even slow-moving streams, especially if there are woodlands nearby. 

This is a pretty small/small, pretty dragonfly, only about an inch-and-a-quarter long.  Mature males are red – often cherry red – and females and immature males start out yellow https://bugguide.net/node/view/1959185/bgimage and then turn red and tan https://bugguide.net/node/view/1895278/bgimage.  Females have a prominent egg spout below the end of their abdomen. 

Along with the mosaic darners, Autumn Meadowhawks are the last dragonflies to emerge, and once they do, they spend more time than most dragonflies do away from the water.  The “Dragonflies of Northern Virginia ” website paints this picture, “Autumns can actually be abundant at times.  Hundreds of golden tenerals rise out of shallow wetlands in early summer, and bright red adults fill the same wetlands in fall.”   Large-scale emergences start at marshy pools in June, at which point juveniles take to the woods and grow up in sunny woodland clearings. They don’t seem to reappear at ponds and marshes until fall, often staying quite late into the season, hence their name.

Meadowhawks can be very common from mid-summer on, yet the BugLady rarely sees them at the waterfront with the other dragonflies.  Several meadowhawk species do oviposit into shallow water with emergent vegetation, but others have different ideas about where to leave their eggs.  White-faced Meadowhawks gamble, bobbing up and down in tandem as the female drops eggs onto the ground in a dry pond basin or on an edge that might be underwater by spring. 

In many dragonfly species, mature males patrol the shoreline and beat their figurative chests, waiting for females to arrive; females come to the water only when they’re reproductively ready.  Autumn Meadowhawks finish their development away from water, and by the time they get back to it, they have already found a female and are flying in tandem.  Legler, in Dragonflies of Wisconsin (aka “The Bible”) says that “the sexes form tandem pairs in midday https://bugguide.net/node/view/715052/bgimage, away from the water, then fly to water where they make dipping motions imitating oviposition.  They then mate and proceed to lay eggs while pair is in tandem.  Female trails and she will have mud on end of abdomen because she alternately strikes water surface and muddy stream bank or grassy area above the water line.  Eggs are deposited in mud or wet moss.  She alternately dips abdomen in water probably to clear the egg spout https://bugguide.net/node/view/351265/bgimage.  Eggs will survive the winter and hatch during rains and high water the next spring.” 

Unlike many other dragonflies, male Autumn Meadowhawks don’t defend territories along the shore, and, possibly because they aren’t territorial, they are unusually tolerant of other Autumn Meadowhawks.  Legler says that “Ovipositing by one pair attracts other pairs to same site for ovipositing.” 

The eggs hatch when (if) they’re inundated by water the following spring, as the water heats up to 50 degrees.  The naiads eat and grow and shed for six or seven weeks, emerging as adults at night in August or September.  They may fly into November if there isn’t a hard freeze; this they can do because they collect heat by basking in the sun and by sitting on warm rocks (Sympetrum means “with rock”).  With this boost, they are able to fly even when the temperature dips to 50 degrees F.  

They routinely perch higher off the ground than other meadowhawks, but on cooler days, they’re found on the ground.

Adults feed on small, soft-bodied invertebrates that they spot from a perch and then fly out and “hawk” from the air (one source said that their pursuits are successful 97% of the time).  The aquatic naiads https://bugguide.net/node/view/249117/bgimage, called “sprawlers,” hunt from concealment and grab a meal (fly larvae, daphnia, tiny fish, tadpoles, and smaller dragonflies) as it swims/walks past (nice video, but, no, never “larvae” https://www.kqed.org/science/1915435/a-baby-dragonflys-mouth-will-give-you-nightmares). 

Both above and below the water’s surface, Autumn Meadowhawks have an important place in the food web, both as eaters and eatees.  They’re food for ducks and other birds, fish (one source said that largemouth bass pick off ovipositing pairs from below), frogs, crayfish, mantises, and other dragonflies.  Another source reported that a snake that bites a naiad may get bitten back hard enough to convince it to drop its prey (and that the naiad may make sounds to startle predators).  With populations that peak as migration begins, Autumn Meadowhawks supply important fuel to southbound birds.  

Go outside – look at bugs – it’s not too late……

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Bugs at the End of Summer

Bug o’the Week

Bugs at the End of Summer

Howdy, BugFans,

The general rule of thumb is that if you want to find insects, look at flowers.  Even though summer is fading, there are still flowers in bloom.  Some Liatris/blazing stars linger, along with brown-eyed Susan, wild sunflowers, asters and goldenrod (more than a century ago, Asa Gray said that the 12 pages about goldenrods in his Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States, from New England to Wisconsin and South to Ohio and Pennsylvania Inclusive (aka Gray’s Manual) were the most uninteresting in the Manual).  Late summer and early fall are dominated by flies, bees and wasps, and by grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.

Most adult insects die by the first frosts, leaving behind the next generation in the form of eggs or pupae (occasionally as nymphs or larvae), so the clock is starting to tick pretty loudly.  As BugFan Mary stated dispassionately many years ago, they’re dead and they don’t know it yet.  Meanwhile, their activities are centered on eating and on producing the next generation.

AMBUSH BUG (pictured above) – One of the BugLady’s favorite insects is the ambush bug (she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for predators).  Ambush bugs tuck themselves down into the middle of a flower and wait for pollinators.  They grasp their prey with their strong front legs, inject a meat tenderizer, and slurp out the softened innards.  They’re paired up these days (the BugLady has a picture of a stack of three), and she has several pictures where the female is multitasking – eating an insect while mating.

BUMBLE BEE – A bumble bee forages for nectar and pollen for the brood well into September, but the brood will not survive the winter.  Only the newly-fertilized queens will see the spring and establish a new colony.  Moral of the story – plant Liatris/Blazing star.

PUNCTURED TIGER BEETLES (aka Sidewalk or Backroad Tiger Beetles) are named for the rows of pits on their very-slightly-iridescent elytra (hard wing coverings).  They’re common across the continent in dry, sandy, bare spots, and as one of their names suggests, they’re sometimes seen on sidewalks.  Like their (much) larger namesakes, Tiger beetles chase their prey https://bugguide.net/node/view/1106590/bgimage.  For more info http://www.naturenorth.com/Tiger%20Beetle/The%20Tiger%20Beetles%20of%20Manitoba.pdf.  

Some Punctured tiger beetles are “plain” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1343674/bgimage, and some are “fancy” https://bugguide.net/node/view/223895, and some are green https://bugguide.net/node/view/2025474/bgimage.  

FAMILIAR BLUETS signal the end of the damselfly season.  Big, robust, and startlingly-blue, they’re one of the BugLady’s favorite bluets.  

EASTERN COMMA – There are two generations/broods/”flights” of Commas (and Question Marks – the “anglewings”) each year.  The second generation overwinters as adults, tucked up into a sheltered spot (a hibernaculum).  They sometimes emerge during a January thaw, but they quickly resume their winter’s sleep.  They fly briefly in spring – one of our early butterflies – and produce the summer brood.

FALL FIELD CRICKET – Poking her ovipositor into the soil and planting the next generation.  Her eggs will hatch in spring, and her omnivorous offspring will eat leaves, fruits, grain, and other invertebrates. 

The BugLady loves their simple songs http://songsofinsects.com/crickets/spring-and-fall-field-crickets and is happy when a cricket finds its way indoors in fall.  Males form a resonating chamber by setting their wings at a certain angle; then they rub their wings together to produce sound (one wing has a scraper edge and the other has teeth).  There are mathematical formulae for calculating the ambient air temperature based on cricket chirps that give you the temperature in the microclimate on the ground where the cricket is chirping (add the number of chirps by a single field cricket in 15 seconds to 40). 

CANADA DARNER – Common Green Darners are robust dragonflies that fill the late summer skies with dramatic feeding and migratory swarms.  There are other darners, though, primarily the non-migratory mosaic darners (like the Canada, Green-striped, Lance-tipped, and Shadow Darners) whose abdomens have blue and black, “tile-like” patterns.  Identify them by the shape of the colored stripe on the thorax and by the shape of the male’s claspers (lest you think it’s too easy, females come in a number of color morphs – this is a green-form female Canada Darner).  

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES were alarmingly scarce this summer – the short-lived Gen 3 and Gen 4, whose job it is to build the population in the run-up up to the migratory Gen 5, simply weren’t there.  But, on one of the BugLady’s recent stints on the hawk tower, she saw 289 Monarchs heading south during a six-hour watch.  Moral – Plant goldenrod (and native milkweeds).

GOLDENROD CRAB SPIDER – Like ambush bugs, crab spiders live on a diet of pollinators.  They don’t build trap nets and wait for their prey to come to them, they pursue it.  Sometimes they lurk on the underside of the flower, but their camouflage makes hiding unnecessary.  This female looks like she’s sitting at the dinner table.

RED-LEGGED GRASSHOPPERS are very common in sunny grasslands at this time of year from coast to coast.  They eat lots of different kinds of plants (including some agricultural crops, which does not endear them to farmers), but they prefer plants in the Legume/pea family and the Composite/aster family.  As the air temperature increases – and when predators are around – they eat more carbs.  Grasshoppers are food for spiders, many birds, and other wildlife.  Moral of the story – plant wild sunflowers.

PAINTER LADY – You don’t get to be the most widespread butterfly in the world (found everywhere except Antarctica and South America) by being a picky eater.  It migrates north in spring – sometimes in large numbers and sometimes in small.

THIN-LEGGED WOLF SPIDER – This Thin-legged wolf spider formed an egg sac (with about 50 eggs inside), attached it to her spinnerets and is going about her business.  When the eggs hatch, her young will climb up on her abdomen and ride around piggyback for a few weeks before dismounting and going about their lives. 

GREAT BLACK WASP and GREAT GOLDEN DIGGER WASP – Two impressive (1 ¼” long) wasps grace the flower tops at the end of summer.  Both are good pollinators, both are solitary species that eat pollen and nectar, and both dig tunnels and provision chambers with paralyzed insects for their eventual offspring.  Great Black Wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-black-wasp/ select crickets and grasshoppers for their young’s’ pantry, and so do Great Golden digger wasps https://uwm.edu/field-station/great-golden-digger-wasp-family-sphecidae/.  Neither is aggressive.  

The moral of the story?  Plant lemon horsemint.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

Bug o’the Week

Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was looking for bugs in Kohler-Andrae State Park in late July when a large dragonfly flew across the trail and landed about 12 feet up on some shrubs.  She took a picture from about 25 feet away, looked at the camera’s screen, and got pretty excited.  The dragonfly’s abdomen was dark blue, but it was larger than the blue-bodied, black-eyed Slaty Skimmers that she’s familiar with https://bugguide.net/node/view/2018015/bgimage.  She stalked it and got two pictures of it before it departed – one was bad, and the other was worse, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.

She massaged the pictures so that the operative field marks – eye color, markings on the wings, and color of the stigma (the pigmented spot toward the outer margin of the wing) – were “visible,” and then she sent them off to some people who are smarter than she is.  The verdict?  It was a Great Blue Skimmer, a dragonfly that’s rare in Wisconsin (thanks, Dan and BugFan Freda).  According to the wonderful, searchable Wisconsin Odonata Survey website https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/, Great Blue Skimmers have been recorded in only five of the past 15 years, and most of those years saw only one or two individuals.  This year has been exceptional – there have been almost a dozen reports, some of several males in the same location.

Great Blue Skimmers are common across the Southeast, but they wander north, sometimes as far north as Massachusetts, and rarely, Maine and Ontario.  One source referred to them as migrants, but that implies a return trip (only about 15 of the 331 North American dragonfly species are migratory (and a few of the damselflies roam a bit) – here’s the Xerces Society’s Guide https://www.xerces.org/sites/default/files/2018-05/12-036_01_MDP_Field_Guide_4-4-2013Websec.pdf).  In Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, Dennis Paulson speculates that climate change may be allowing these skimmers to extend their range northwards, but he also wonders whether wet periods in the East may drive their episodic range expansions. 

Great Blue Skimmers (Libellula vibrans) are in the Skimmer family Libellulidae.  Members of the genus Libellula are called the King Skimmers – large, often flashy, aggressive dragonflies that dominate the sunny ponds where they live.  At almost 2.5” long, Great Blue Skimmers are the largest of the skimmers.  Their “plumage” changes depending on age and sex – young females https://bugguide.net/node/view/182934/bgimage and young males have yellow abdomens with a black stripe https://bugguide.net/node/view/1936981/bgimage.  Older females turn a dull brown with blue-ish to reddish-brown eyes https://bugguide.net/node/view/700746/bgimage, and mature males are a spectacular blue, with teal-colored eyes https://bugguide.net/node/view/787748/bgimage.  Like many dragonflies, the intensity of the adult colors is softened somewhat as it ages by tiny wax particles called pruinescence, which produce a hoary appearance.  They have white faces and pale, unstriped thoraxes https://bugguide.net/node/view/110122/bgimage, and the amount of black wrapping the tips of the wings is variable.   

Don’t look for them over sunny ponds with the other King Skimmers – these are dragonflies of the dappled sunlight of woodlands, edges, and roads through wetlands and bottomlands, where they may be the only dragonflies around.  They perch on twigs (at eye level and easy to photograph, said one source; at five to ten feet above the ground, said another).  

Males vigorously defend stretches of ponds that look like good spots for a female to oviposit – Great Blue Skimmers prefer shallow, wooded pools and ponds, swamps, ditches, and very slow-moving sections of streams (and there are reports of females ovipositing in muddy tire tracks).  Paulson says that they like “dark, mucky water.”  They mate (very briefly) https://bugguide.net/node/view/1664022/bgimage, and then he releases her, but he guards her from the air (“hover guarding”) and shoos away rival males as she lays eggs. 

She has a unique approach to ovipositing – she flies down to the water’s surface with eggs at the ready (scroll way down for a picture of eggs https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/view/740), then she dips down and uses her abdomen to scoop and splash a bit of water, plus eggs, up to six inches away (“She may splash eggs and water onto the bank, presumably for a rainy day,” says Legler, in Dragonflies of Wisconsin).  Watch the video to see her technique https://waltersanford.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/great-blue-skimmer-dragonflies-mating-pair-fe/.  The drops of water are thought to help the eggs adhere to land.  When the eggs hatch, the tiny naiads crawl into the water.    

As always, both the aerial adults and the aquatic naiads are carnivorous – the adults spot their insect prey from perches in the shade and fly out to grab it, a behavior called “hawking,” and their menu includes smaller dragonflies. 

The BugLady doesn’t care how common this dragonfly is within its range, it distresses her to find ads offering pinned specimens for “$40 to $60 depending on quality and sex” (which also sounds caveat emptor-ish to her). 

The BugLady attempts a lot of Hail Mary Shots of dragonflies in flight (in fact, a recent shot of distant Common Green Darners flying in tandem seems to have an equally-distant Great Blue Skimmer in it), but most of them end up on the cutting room floor.  She’d like to give a shout-out to this one https://bugguide.net/node/view/231364/bgimage.  

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

And speaking of rare Lepidopterans – heads-up in the Pacific Northwest: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-us-sighting-of-massive-atlas-moth-confirmed-180980617/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220822-daily-responsive&spMailingID=47269440&spUserID=ODg4Mzc3MzY0MTUyS0&spJobID=2302313711&spReportId=MjMwMjMxMzcxMQS2

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – the Dragonflies

Bug o’the Week

Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was looking for bugs in Kohler-Andrae State Park in late July when a large dragonfly flew across the trail and landed about 12 feet up on some shrubs.  She took a picture from about 25 feet away, looked at the camera’s screen, and got pretty excited.  The dragonfly’s abdomen was dark blue, but it was larger than the blue-bodied, black-eyed Slaty Skimmers that she’s familiar with https://bugguide.net/node/view/2018015/bgimage.  She stalked it and got two pictures of it before it departed – one was bad, and the other was worse, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.

She massaged the pictures so that the operative field marks – eye color, markings on the wings, and color of the stigma (the pigmented spot toward the outer margin of the wing) – were “visible,” and then she sent them off to some people who are smarter than she is.  The verdict?  It was a Great Blue Skimmer, a dragonfly that’s rare in Wisconsin (thanks, Dan and BugFan Freda).  According to the wonderful, searchable Wisconsin Odonata Survey website https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/, Great Blue Skimmers have been recorded in only five of the past 15 years, and most of those years saw only one or two individuals.  This year has been exceptional – there have been almost a dozen reports, some of several males in the same location.

EASTERN PONDHAWK WITH MITES: When the BugLady first saw this dragonfly, she thought that for some reason his abdomen had gotten muddy, but a peek through the camera lens revealed that he was carrying a huge load of water mites.  Adult water mites are (mostly) free swimming carnivores, but they go through a tick-like nymphal stage in which they attach to and feed on other aquatic invertebrates (see their story at https://uwm.edu/field-station/water-mite-redux/). 

EXUVIA ON POTAMOGETON: The leaves and flower stalks of aquatic plants in the genus Potamogeton are dragon and damselfly magnets.  Here, a female Violet/Variable Dancer damselfly stands on a leaf as she oviposits in an underwater stem.  The empty damselfly skins (exuvia) that decorate the flower stalk show that it has been a busy place.   

EASTERN FORKTAIL: A female Eastern Forktail damselfly oviposits directly into the flower stalk.  The stalk will sink, and when her eggs hatch, her young will swim out into the water.

COMMON WHITETAIL: A recently-emerged female Common Whitetail dragonfly crawled out of the water, climbed 15” up the river bank, and then trekked another two feet across mown grass to find the perfect spot to stop and gather strength for her life in the air.  Dragonflies may take a few days to achieve their mature coloration – here’s what she’ll look like when the spots on her wings intensify https://bugguide.net/node/view/7160, and here’s the male https://bugguide.net/node/view/27710

RACKET-TAILED EMERALD: These very inquisitive dragonflies fly back and forth above the trail as you walk along.  When the sun is at your back, the glowing eyes of an approaching emerald are a religious experience! 

Slender Bluet
Marsh Bluet

SLENDER BLUET DAMSELFLY:  Bluets can be a confusing bunch of damselflies.  Some species are very distinct – one is neon blue at one end and yellow at the other, one is rainbow-colored, one is orange, and a few Eastern species are red.  But for many of the blue and black species, scrutinizing the male’s rear appendages is the best way to identify them (the Marsh Bluet terminates in a tiny pipe wrench).  You can narrow the field by eyeballing the comparative amounts of blue and black on the abdomen and putting them into the “blue-type,” “black-type,” or “intermediate-type” category.  This young male, who is in what BugFan Bob calls “that embarrassing purple stage,” will be a spectacular black-type bluet when he matures https://bugguide.net/node/view/1613844/bgimage.  And one of these days, the Slender Bluet will get a BOTW of its own.

DOT TAILED WHITEFACE: Not long out of the water, this Dot-tailed Whiteface clings to its shed skin (which clings to an Equisetum stalk) as it pumps up its wings.

DRAGONFLY DOW (dead on the water): Whether it was chased by a predator or just miscalculated, this dragonfly got too close to the water and adhered to its sticky surface film.  Beautiful even in death, its body is returning nutrients to the pond that nurtured it.

COMMON GREEN DARNER: Common Green Darners, one of our biggest dragonflies, are with us from May through September.  Wisconsin has two populations – migratory and resident.  Migratory darners like these, photographed in early May, arrive from the southeastern part of the US, mate, and put their eggs into the water, and their naiads develop during the summer.  About the time these early birds are wearing out (mid-June), the resident population begins to emerge, and they fill the skies until the end of summer.  The migrants emerge as adults at the end of August, and fly south, leaving no eggs in the ponds, but the eggs of the resident population overwinter under the ice.  A dragonfly do-si-do.

AMERICAN RUBYSPOT: Dragonflies and damselflies are fascinating, and they do some amazing things.  They can be a challenge to photograph and to identify, and some are just plain beautiful! 

RIVER JEWELWING: River Jewelwings are much less common where the BugLady lives than are the spectacular Ebony Jewelwings (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1840629/bgimage), so she was thrilled to get a picture of one.  Jewelwings and Rubyspots are members of the Broad-winged damselfly family Calopterygidae (which means “beautiful wing”), and they’re sometimes called river damsels because of their preferred haunts. 

SKIMMING BLUETS: The BugLady aimed her camera at an odd-looking configuration on a water lily leaf and saw one-and-a-half damselflies.  Apparently, a male and female were flying in tandem when a hungry bird came along and bit off the female’s abdomen.  When the pair landed, two Mesovelid bugs (aggressive scavengers and predators), sensed “blood in the water” and zipped in to sip her bodily fluids (hemolymph).  Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water….

Go outside – look for dragonflies!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Painted Skimmer Dragonflies

Bug o’the Week

Great Blue Skimmer Dragonfly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was looking for bugs in Kohler-Andrae State Park in late July when a large dragonfly flew across the trail and landed about 12 feet up on some shrubs.  She took a picture from about 25 feet away, looked at the camera’s screen, and got pretty excited.  The dragonfly’s abdomen was dark blue, but it was larger than the blue-bodied, black-eyed Slaty Skimmers that she’s familiar with https://bugguide.net/node/view/2018015/bgimage.  She stalked it and got two pictures of it before it departed – one was bad, and the other was worse, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.

She massaged the pictures so that the operative field marks – eye color, markings on the wings, and color of the stigma (the pigmented spot toward the outer margin of the wing) – were “visible,” and then she sent them off to some people who are smarter than she is.  The verdict?  It was a Great Blue Skimmer, a dragonfly that’s rare in Wisconsin (thanks, Dan and BugFan Freda).  According to the wonderful, searchable Wisconsin Odonata Survey website https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/, Great Blue Skimmers have been recorded in only five of the past 15 years, and most of those years saw only one or two individuals.  This year has been exceptional – there have been almost a dozen reports, some of several males in the same location.

Painted Skimmers are in the Skimmer family Libellulidae, which contains many of our more common and more colorful dragonflies, and they’re in the genus Libellula – large, sturdy, showy dragonflies, often with dramatically-patterned wings, that are often referred to as the King skimmers.  King skimmers have appeared in these pages before https://uwm.edu/field-station/closed-for-june-spectacular-summer-dragonflies/https://uwm.edu/field-station/four-spotted-skimmer/, and https://uwm.edu/field-station/slaty-skimmer-dragonfly/ (Chalk-fronted Corporals are sometimes included in the group, too https://uwm.edu/field-station/chalk-fronted-corporal-dragonfly/).

They look like a dragonfly that was put together by a committee.  Their wing spots are similar to, but fainter than, those of a Halloween Pennant (all the Painted Skimmer write-ups say “see also: Halloween Pennant” https://bugguide.net/node/view/1996897/bgimage), and their abdomen looks a lot like that of a Four-spotted Skimmer, an early-flying dragonfly whose wing spots are much smaller https://bugguide.net/node/view/1220037/bgimage.  Female Painted Skimmers https://bugguide.net/node/view/1664464/bgimage are duller in color, with wider abdomens than males https://bugguide.net/node/view/1665876/bgimage.  They often look golden in flight.  There are many wonderful photos of Painted Skimmers online, but not much in the way of biographies.

Painted Skimmers (Libellula semifasciata) occur only rarely in Wisconsin (they’re a “Most Wanted” species here).  They’re on dragonfly checklists from Texas to Florida to Maine to Ontario, becoming rarer as you travel farther north, and they’re at the edge of their range here in Wisconsin.  They’re one of the fifteen-or-so species of North American Odonates that migrate (out of our 450-ish species), moving both north and south along the Atlantic Coast as well as inland.   They arrive in the north early (one source said that many of the first arrivals are mature males); they often stay just long enough to get people excited (birders will sympathize); and they’re more numerous some years than others.  According to the Wisconsin Odonata Survey database https://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/, they’ve been recorded in only seven of the years since 2000, and 2022 is the only year that they’ve been seen in multiple locations (five so far).  When the Bug Lady was looking into that, she found this handy list http://texasento.net/migration.htm

One source described them as widespread and relatively common but not often seen, due to their early flight period (they usually show up in June and July, so the influx of Painted Skimmers in 2022 is early) and to their habitat preferences.  They frequent shallow, plant-filled, marshy, woodland ponds, pools, seasonal puddles, and sometimes bogs and slow-moving streams, but they may hunt for food far from water.  Like all dragonflies, their aquatic young (naiads) (“nymphs,” if you must, but never “larvae”) eat the small invertebrates that they find next to them below the water’s surface, and the adults feed on flying insects.  Painted Skimmer dragonflies perch on twigs and fly out to “hawk” small insects. 

The Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website calls them both less aggressive and more wary than other King skimmers.  

Males patrol territories and watch for females from perches on twigs or grass tips three to six feet above the water.  They mate (briefly) in mid-air, he releases her, and Paulson, in Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, tells us that “Females oviposit in low flight by vigorous and well-spaced tapping and moving some distance between groups of a few taps.”  Males often patrol as she oviposits in order to protect her (and his genetic material) from being nabbed by rival males.

In her search for information, the BugLady turned up the comment on the Northern Virginia Dragonfly website (on two different pages) that “Some dragonflies have partially translucent abdomens (Painted Skimmers) and many others have dark wing patches at the base of their wings (saddlebags and pennants) – both may be anatomical adaptations to absorbing sunlight and channeling that heat to their organs and wing muscles.”  She suspects that means that the dragonfly’s cuticle allows some light to pass through, and not that you can hold up a Painted Skimmer and see daylight through it.  She couldn’t find any other sources to back that up.

Go outside – keep your eyes peeled.  Things are popping!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

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