"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!
How magical are the dragonflies.
They zig-zag through the pollinator garden, a perfect portrait of a predator: multifaceted eyes, strong wings, and mouthparts that include a toothed jaw and flap like labrium.
They're an ancient insect: scientists have found fossil dragonflies that date back 325 million years ago.
Bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980) reportedly said he robbed banks "because that's where the money is." Predators, like dragonflies, frequent pollinator gardens because that's where the food is--food like native bees and syrphid flies.
Like other dragonflies, red flameskimmers, Libellula saturata, frequent our pollinator garden because of "Sutton's law." We welcome them with bamboo-stake perches. They circle the garden on their hunt, snag prey, and return to the perch to consume it.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll see a dragonfly eat a bee (lucky for a nature photographer who wants to share a little bit of how nature works, but not so much for the bee!).
We can't tell what bee was on this male flameskimmer's menu, but it appears to be a longhorned bee, maybe Melissodes agilis, family Apidae.
It's eat and "bee eaten" in a pollinator garden.
Looking for love...or a fast-food snack...or a little sun...
A male flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, is a sight to see. The males are fire-engine red or firecracker red, and when they perch on a bamboo stake in your pollinator garden, establishing temporary residency, it's absolutely delightful.
The welcome mat? It's three-fold: a fish pond, nectar sources to attract pollinators, and a series of bamboo stakes just for dragonflies.
This one stayed on his perch for an hour on May 11 in our Vacaville garden, and then moved around a bit to the other stakes, perhaps to escape the photographer, perhaps to grab an insect for a quick snack. Instead of musical chairs, it's musical stakes--magical musical stakes.
“Magic is seeing wonder in nature's every little thing, seeing how wonderful the fireflies are and how magical are the dragonflies.”--