It was windy enough to trigger a small craft advisory.
Yet here comes a flameskimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata) around noon on Monday, Memorial Day, circling our little bee garden.
He chases a few flying insects around and then perches on a bamboo stake to eat them.
Hmm, I thought, maybe I can capture an image of Big Red in flight? Will he cooperate? I've always wanted to photograph a flameskimmer in flight, but they're usually (1) too fast (2) too far away or (3) they zig when I think they'll zag and they zag when I think they'll zig.
Plus, they are leery of big dark objects (cameras) with long metal protrusions (lenses).
For the past decade, we've prepared well for our dragonfly visitors. They like our fish pond, our bee garden and the assorted bamboo stakes we've placed around the garden. They especially like the all-you-can-eat insect smorgasbord.
Big Red kept returning to Bamboo Stake No. 2 (bamboo stakes are sort of like pot holes—you can name them if you want).
Using my Nikon D800 camera with a 200mm macro lens, I focused on where I thought Big Red would land.
Bamboo Stake No. 1: Probably not. Too high.
Bamboo Stake No. 3: No, a little short.
Bamboo Stake No. 2: Just right.
Big Red obliged. By now he was not afraid of me—he figured, and rightfully so--that I had no culinary interest in him. And neither would I poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em. With the wind tousling his wings, he aimed straight for Bamboo Stake No. 2.
Got 'em. In flight.
Said dragonfly aficionado Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist emeritus: “What this photo really shows is that insects do not fly simply by ‘flapping' their wings. This guy's right wings are vertical to the body, but in the same plane, while the left wings actually are down-swept and a bit out of synchrony. The ability of insects to rotate their wings in their sockets allows them to change roll, pitch and yaw as do the moveable parts of airplanes. But, dragonflies can do it instantaneously.”
Commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis: "I like how clearly you can see how tightly the one is holding its legs against its body."
The dragonfly vanished right before our residential scrub jays returned. The jays are rearing their young in nearby trees, and the young, as you know, get the munchies. In fact, they're always hungry. Ravenous. Famished.
Have you ever seen a bird nail a dragonfly? Butterflies, yes. Dragonflies, no.
“Birds can change direction in flight pretty quickly, but usually not quickly enough to catch a dragonfly in flight,” Mussen commented. “If it stays stuck to the post, it may be in real trouble.”
What a beauty.
But not nearly as striking as her male counterpart.
The flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata) owned a perch on a bamboo stake last Tuesday in residential Davis.
Davis resident Gary Zamzow, a dynamite insect photographer (especially bumble bees), pointed his Pentax camera at the insect, just inches away.
The dragonfly did not move.
“The female flame skimmers are not as intensely orange as the males are and they also have the expansions on the 7th abdominal tergite that you can see in your picture (below),” said senior museum entomologist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum of Entomology (http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/), University of California, Davis.
If you like dragonflies, you may want to purchase a dragonfly poster at the museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, or online at its gift shop. It features 18 species of dragonfies, ranging from the common whitetail and green darner to the Western river cruiser and the bison snaketail. And, of course the flame skimmer.
Entomology doctoral candidate Fran Keller designed the poster with images provided and donated to the museum by naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis.
It's a bird, it's a plane...
It's not Superman. It's a flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata).
We spotted this dragonfly in our yard recently and crouched down for a low angle, framing it against the sky.
This is one insect that everyone notices and admires.
Except maybe its prey...
From toe biters to flame skimmers...
That's what visitors will see on "Aquatic Insect Day" on Sunday, March 24 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis.
Toe biters (giant water bugs) and flame skimmers (dragonflies) are just some some of the aquatic insects to be featured at the open house from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 Academic Surge, Crocker Lane. The event is free and open to the public.
The toe biters belong to the Belostomatidae family of insects in the order Hemiptera. The largest insects in the order, they are found in freshwater streams and ponds throughout much of the world. In some Asian countries, the giant water bugs are considered a delicacy. The Belostomatids are unique in that the female lays her eggs on the back or wings of a male; the male carries the eggs until they hatch.
The flame skimmers belong to the family Libellulidae and are native to western North America. The red flame skimmer (Libellula saturata) is common in California. The immature flame skimmers or nymphs inhabit warm ponds and streams and feed on the larvae of mosquitoes, aquatic flies and mayflies, as well as on freshwater shrimp, small fish, and tadpoles. You'll often see the adults gliding through the air, catching moths, syrphid flies and bees.
Bohart Museum personnel also will pull out the fly-fisher drawers containing caddisflies, mayflies and stoneflies, said Tabatha Yang, Bohart Museum education and outreach coordinator.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
Visitors can hold such live insects as Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks, and buy gifts at the gift shop, which is filled with t-shirts, jewelry, insect nets, posters and books, including the newly published children’s book about the California dogface butterfly, the state insect. The 35-page book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly,” written by UC Davis doctoral candidate Fran Keller and illustrated (watercolor and ink) by Laine Bauer, a 2012 graduate of UC Davis is geared toward kindergarteners through sixth graders. Naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a volunteer at the Bohart, provided photos.
Net proceeds from the sale of this book go directly to the education, outreach and research programs of the Bohart Museum. The book also can be ordered online at http://www.bohartmuseum.com/the-story-of-the-dogface-butterfly.html.
Bohart officials schedule weekend open houses throughout the academic year so that families and others who cannot attend on the weekdays can do so on the weekends. The Bohart’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
The remainder of the open houses for the academic year:
Saturday, April 20: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Theme: UC Davis Picnic Day
Saturday, May 11, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "Moth-er's Day"
Sunday, June 9, 1 to 4 p.m.
Theme: "How to Find Insects"
For more information, contact Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-0493.
Gotta love those dragonflies in the family Libellulidae.
The Thunderbirds of the insect world, they perform amazing aerial maneuvers as they skim over water, catching mosquitoes, knats, flies and other undesirables on the wing.
But oh--occasionally they nail a pollinator.
A red flame skimmer (Libellula saturata) skimmed over our fish pond and pool last Saturday and picked on the pollinators. Well, at least one pollinator.
It grabbed a female sweat bee, of the genus Halictus, probably H. tripartitus (as identified by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis).
Yes, they can even identify a mangled sweat bee in the mouth of a dragonfly.
And no sweat bee.