It's the Fourth of July, and amid our celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago on July 4, 1776 and our glorious nation, we celebrate the red, white and blue--the colors of our flag.
But in the insect world, we can also celebrate the red, white and blue:
The red: The firecracker red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, a common dragonfly of the family Libellulidae, native to western North America. We love to see it perched on a bamboo stake in our pollinator garden.
The white: The delicate, petticoated cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, common throughout much of the world, including North and South America, Europe, Great Britain, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Beauty? Yes. It absolutely glows in the late afternoon sun. Beast? Yes. The caterpillar or larva is a serious pest of our cole crops, including cabbage, kale and mustard.
The blue: The blue spots in the tail of the Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, a common swallowtail butterfly of North America. Its range stretches from much of North America, from British Columbia to North Dakota in the north to Baja California and New Mexico in the south, according to Wikipedia.
We've never been able to capture an image of a flameskimmer, cabbage white butterfly or Western tiger swallowtail in the same photo, but they don't need to be. Individually, their colors are strong and independent, just like our forefathers who signed the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago.
Big Red visited us for four consecutive days.
The red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, zigged and zagged into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. and perched on a bamboo stake for five hours at a time.
Occasionally, he'd hunt--lift off and grab a bee or other insect--and return to the stake to eat it.
Meanwhile California scrub jays nesting in our cherry laurel hedge eyed him. Hmm, there's lunch! And there's lunch having lunch!
Big Red knew they were there but paid no attention to them. He was more interested in the pollinators in the catmint.
He didn't seem to mind us. We eased toward him, about five inches from him. He seemed to know we weren't predators, but photographers.
According to Nature's Notebook (Connecting People with Nature to Benefit Our Changing Planet):
"This species occurs in most states in the western half of the United States from Montana to Oregon, south to southern California, east to Texas, and north through Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming. There are outlying records in Missouri and South Dakota and a disjunct population in Houston, Texas. The species also occurs in northern Mexico (Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Oaxaca, and Sonora)."
"This species is typically found near warm water ponds, warm, slow streams, lakes, ditches, and hot springs- particularly in the northern part of its range. In Idaho, it occurs in high elevation deserts."
We provided the fish pond and the pollinator garden. And the bamboo stakes...
Who doesn't love the red flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata?
If the Fourth of July had its own insect, it would be the firecracker red flameskimmer. It's so showy and eye-popping red that it almost looks patriotic. Or at least it should be flying over an Independence Day parade while a band plays "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
On a breezy day in the late spring, we can usually count on a flameskimmer or two entering our yard. Of course it helps if you have a pond and a pollinator garden and some bamboo stakes. They hover over our pond, turn the pollinator garden into their dining room, and perch on the stakes to eat their prey.
We managed to capture a few images of this one last weekend as it helicoptered from bamboo stake to bamboo stake. It "posed" against a shade-cloth fence, a pink background of Jupiter's beard, and with a little aperture changing, against a black background.
It stayed for a couple of hours.
More than enough to strike up a band to play "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Sometimes the red flameskimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata) will let you approach it.
Sometimes it's having a bad hair day or a bad predator/prey day or a just-leave-me-alone day and won't let you near it.
This one (below) let me approach it. "Hey," I told my new flame, "I'm not going to hurt you. I promise not to poke you, prod you or pin you. I just want to photograph you."
Of course it helps if you have:
- a fish pond or another body of water in your yard (check!)
- bamboo stakes to perch on (check!)
- a supermarket (aka pollinator garden) filled with bees, flies and other delicious insects (check!)
It also helps if you don't act like a predator. Don't go barging toward it as if you're going to take a selfie or charge toward it carrying a big stick (or tripod).
"When I was a kid, I used to call that dragonfly the 'Radio Antenna dragonfly' because when I was a kid, all cars had radio antenna and this dragonfly like to land on it," said Bohart Museum of Entomology associate and naturalist Greg Kareofelas, who takes incredible images of dragonflies, butterflies and other insects. (See his work on posters at the Bohart Museum, available for purchase.) "I now have a couple of sticks, in the back yard here (in Davis) and they function the same way and the dragonfly likes to perch on them."
Agreed! Every garden should have a few bamboo stakes drilled into the ground--perfect for perching.
You never know what you'll see in your pollinator garden.
That's why it's always a good idea to carry a camera with you, or you might miss a bit of drama. Not in drama queens, but in drama kings.
Take the case of the male flameskimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata) perched on a bamboo stake in our yard on Memorial Day. The dragonfly is sunning himself, warming his flight muscles. Periodically he loops to grab an insect and return to his perch to eat it.
Whoa! What's this? A Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae)--probably a male searching for a female or a territorial male protecting his turf--is rapidly approaching. The flameskimmer isn't about to move. After all, there's a "dragon" in his name and hunting is his game. He holds his ground. Er, his perch.
The Gulf Frit moves closer and closer. Soon it's a red blur against stationary red.
Oops! Right color. Wrong species.