In his essay, The Decay of Lying (1889), Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) wrote: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” adding “the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression, and art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may release that energy.”
Take the case of a mural on Main Street, Vacaville, the work of Cheyenne Renee Marcus. The artist, based in Covington, Va., painted the mural in 2022 with plans to paint 50 murals in 50 states. All in small towns. (See the Vacaville project on YouTube)
Her mural shows a young girl in a billowing blue dress blowing the seeds off a dandelion--perhaps she's making a wish?--while a flameskimmer dragonfly zigzags away.
The dragonfly is firecracker red, in sharp contrast to the light blue dress.
The mural is located at 444 Main St.-- actually in the alley--on the wall of a building now occupied by a wine bar, Main Grape.
One thing's for sure, that flameskimmer is a main attraction. On a cold, wintry day, it's a burst of joy and spirit, much like the little girl blowing the seeds off a dandelion, destination unchartered, but the making of a promise.
It was a little late.
The first flameskimmer of the year usually arrives in our yard in early April.
Not this year. The species, Libellula saturata, was late.
The easily recognized red dragonfly, also known as "the firecracker skimmer," touched down in our yard today, May 24.
She perched on a bamboo stick in our pollinator garden, close to a fish pond, and eyed her surroundings.
It's amazing to watch them grab a flying insect and return to the perch to devour it.
Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, which means "toothed one" in Greek.
Danish zoologist Johan Christian Fabricius, a student of Carl Linnaeus, coined the term Odonata in 1793. He is considered one of the greatest entomologists of the 18th century, according to Wikipedia. He named nearly 10,000 species of animals.
"My old flame" returned Saturday, July 2.
A strong north wind aided him.
It wasn't the "old flame" from last year, but a new generation.
Still, what a beauty of a dragonfly--a red flameskimmer or firecracker skimmer (Libellula saturata), native to Western North America.
Big Red perched on a tomato stake and checked out his surroundings, as a gale-like wind engulfed him.
Still, he stood his ground, or rather, his perch.
Big Red even managed to zip off and grab lunch (a bee) and return to eat it.
He didn't seem to mind the photographer seeking portraits of him during his lunch hour.
You want to let Big Red to stay in.
This male flameskimmer hung out in our pollinator garden in Vacaville on July 3 for a little over five hours. He perched on a bamboo stake, periodically circled to grab a few bees, and then returned to his post to eat them.
Flameskimmers, Libellula saturata, are a joy to watch as they circle, curve and dip to snatch their prey in flight. When they perch, they sometimes look like a biplane.
If you love dragonflies, note that the Bohart Museum of Entomology created an educational poster, "Dragonflies of California," the work of then doctoral candidate Fran Keller (now a professor at Folsom Lake College) and naturalist/photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis. It focuses on 18 dragonflies commonly found in the Golden State. Keller is now a professor at Folsom Lake College. The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions but the gift shop is online.
Kareofelas identified this flameskimmer as a male.
After an afternoon sunning and dining in our garden, Big Red left for parts unknown.
He was back today to stake out his claim and snatch a few more bees (in this case, Melissodes agilis and Svastra obliqua expurgata). Table for one? He needs no reservations, no menu and no wait staff.
This male made its appearance in our Vacaville pollinator garden on May 17, and hung around long enough for me to capture several images.
Like a lens to a flame...
When folks talk about seeing "a red dragonfly," they might not know the species, but they do know it's firecracker red.
"It was red! Firecracker red!"
Ten fast facts about dragonflies, as provided by the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis:
- 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, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. It's the home of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects (aka "walking sticks"), and tarantulas; and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewelry, books, posters, collecting equipment and the like.
It's temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. But just you wait...good things are going to happen!