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...
It's a joy to watch these firecracker-red dragonflies (Libellula saturata) make their presence known. They dart over our fish pond, snatch an insect, and then perch on a tomato-plant stake to eat it.
Last year another generation did the same thing. They darted over our fish pond, snatched an insect, and then staked their claim in the vegetable garden. Over a tomato plant.
Most of the time the flame skimmers seem unaware of my presence. Guess they consider me neither prey nor predator.
If you love dragonflies, several years ago the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, created an educational poster, "Dragonflies of California," the work of doctoral candidate Fran Keller and naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis. It focuses on 18 dragonflies commonly found in the Golden State. The largest insect depicted in the poster is the Giant Darner (Anax walshinghami), but the most colorful just has to be...drum roll...the flame skimmer. But I'm biased.
Keller came up with these facts about dragonflies:
Ten fast facts about dragonflies, as provided by the Bohart Museum:
- Dragonflies date back before the dinosaur age.
- The largest known prehistoric species of dragonfly, living 300 million years ago, was the Meganeura monyi. Its wingspan measured more than two feet long.
- The largest species today is a South American dragonfly with a wingspan of 7.5 inches. The smallest modern species is an east Asian dragonfly, the libellulid dragonfly, Nannophya pygmaea, with a wingspan of about 3/4 of an inch.
- California is home to approximately 108 species. More than 5000 species are found worldwide.
- Dragonflies help control pests such as mosquitoes, midges and flies, but will also dine on honey bees and butterflies.
- The adults feed by hawking their prey. They dart off a perch to catch prey and often return to the perch to eat.
- Most dragonflies live around lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes; their larvae, known as “nymphs,” are aquatic. Some dragonfly larvae live in bromeliad flowers.
- Dragonflies usually do not bite or sting humans, but if grasped by the abdomen, they may bite to escape.
- The dragonfly is thought to have better eyesight than any other insect. Its compound eyes take up much of the insect’s head. Each compound eye has up to 30,000 facets or sensor modules, arranged to provide nearly a 360-degree field of vision. That's why it's difficult to sneak up on them.
- Dragonflies are a common motif in Native American art, displayed on Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and on Pueblo necklaces. In Japan, they are considered symbols of courage, strength and happiness.
The Bohart Museum, home of more than seven million insects, is open year around, but is closed to the public on Friday. It's directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology att UC Davis.
But if you want to see dragonflies in The Great Outdoors, look for them near a body of water, whether it be a river, creek or...a fish pond in the back yard...
For at least three days, he visited our yard.
He swooped over our fish pond and swimming pool and returned each time to perch on a tomato stake in the vegetable garden.
We nicknamed him "Big Red." Big Red? Actually, a flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata), native to western North America.
Our presence never bothered him. Our excitement at seeing him never bothered him. My macro lens poked a couple of inches from his face never bothered him.
I captured his image from above (bird's eye view), from the sides (both sides now!) and from beneath (bug's eye view).
It was only when I popped a barbell-like ring flash on the 105 macro lens that he stirred. Whoops! That was a bit big. He lazily took off and then returned--with a native bee in his mouth.
One day Big Red sat on his perch for three hours, periodically leaving to snag insects, then methodically returning to eat them.
On the fourth day, he disappeared. We haven't seen him since.
I suspect Big Red proved to be an easy catch for a hungry bluejay.
You can't miss the flame skimmer dragonfly (Libellula saturata). You especially can't miss the male, which is firecracker red.
We watched a male flame skimmer hunt for prey over our fish pond Saturday afternoon. (Hopefully, it was nailing mosquitoes!)
This insect's pattern of flight is so unpredictable that it's difficult to photograph. Where it was, is not where it is. Where it is, is not where it was. It flutters, swoops, soars, and corners a turn like an Indy 500 race car heading for the checkered flag.
But wait! After you watch a dragonfly catch prey, follow it. See where it lands.
In our yard, the dragonflies seem to prefer landing on a tomato stake. The bamboo stake is there for two reasons: (1) to anchor the tomato vines and (2) to attract dragonflies.
We set up a "stakeout." The dragonfly kept returning again and again within a five-minute span to rest or eat its prey.
Nature's pole dancer...resplendent in red...
Dragonflies occasionally hang around our fish pond to catch flying insects, such as flies and mosquitoes.
Last weekend a gorgeous flame skimmer swooped down in our garden--a few yards from our fish pond--and landed on a bamboo stake.
She absolutely glowed in the late afternoon sun.
Soon she lifted off to catch insects. Would she return? She did. She repeatedly left her perch to nail more insects.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis and professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, identified it as a female Libellula saturata. Order: Odonata. Suborder: Epiprocta. Family: Libellulidae.
The Bohart Museum contains some seven million insect specimens.
The flame skimmer is there, too. It's also on a dragonfly poster that the Bohart offers for sale in its gift shop or online.