It's a damsel, but not in distress.
It's a Familiar Bluett, but it's not all that familiar--unless you study Odonata.
Lately we've been seeing scores of damseflies zigzagging in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Seven showed up at one time on our soon-to-bloom Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia). They found some prey and decided to stay...for awhile.
Greg Karofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the damselflies as the Familiar Bluett, (Enallagma civile), family Coenagrionidae. They are native to much of the United States and southern Canada.
"The name fits time of the year, and locality, males are light blue, females dark," Karofelas commented. "Enallagma is a genus with a bunch of very similar looking damselflies--they can be hard to identify, even under 10X magnification, in hand."
This species of damselfly belongs to the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselfies), suborder Zygoptera (damselflies), family Coenagrionidae (narrow-winged damselflies);genus Enallagma (American Bluets), and species
civile (Familiar Bluet).
Wikipedia describes damselflies as "an ancient group," insects that have existed since at least the lower Permian. "All damselflies are predatory; both nymphs and adults eat other insects. The nymphs are aquatic, with different species living in a variety of freshwater habitats including acid bogs, ponds, lakes and rivers."
Watch for them! They're the insect version of the flying needles, and their fabric is our landscapes./span>
They look like shiny blue and black needles.
Make that "flying" shiny blue and black needles.
We spotted this damselfly foraging on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) this week in our family bee garden. The blue was breathtaking.
Can anything be so blue? What species is this?
"By the amount of black on the middle abdominal segments, it looks to me like a male of Enallagma carunculatum Morse," said senior insect biosystematist Rosser W. Garrison, with the California Department of Food and Agricultur'es Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch.
Its common name is "tule bluet." It's a species of damselfly in the family Coenagrionidae, found throughout North America, according to Wikipedia. It's all over the United States, "except for the southeastern quarter."
Its blue and black abdomen is usually more black than blue. It derives its common name, "tule bluet," from the stands of tule it frequents. Its habitat includes rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes and bogs. It likes to hang out in the bulrushes.
The nymphs eat such aquatic insects as mosquito and mayfly larvae, while the adults feet on a wide variety of small flying insects, including mayflies, flies, small moths and mosquitoes. Sometimes they'll grab a few aphids from plants.
Our little buddy (along with other damselflies) was hanging out in our Tithonia patch.
But the Tithonia patch is just a few feet away from our fish pond...
Check out the images of tule bluet on BugGuide.net for more of a blue fix and more information!
Naturalist Greg Karofelas of Davis, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has not only seen them, he has photographed them. See his truly spectacular photo below.
The mites look like a cross between pomegranate kernels and salmon eggs. They are hitchhikers!
It's a good case of phoresy, or the symbiotic relationship in which one organism transports another organism of a different species.
Scenario: Say a damselfly is laying her eggs in a fish pond or the wetlands. Say some mites are waiting for her. They seek free meals and a free ride to the next pond to find mates and reproduce.
The damselfly dips down. They jump up.
What a load!
We wrote about these mites in a Bug Squad blog on July 25, 2013.
As for the image of the water mites that Greg Kareofelas captured, he suspects they may be Arrenurus mitoensis.
All we can say is "Wow!" Great image, Greg!
The result was a good one: more damselflies.
Damselflies lay their eggs in water, whether it be a pond, underwater vegetation, or in water-filled cavities in trees. If they lay their eggs in a fish pond, fish feast on the eggs and larvae.
But not this year, not in our pond. One egret. No fish. And now damselflies are no longer in distress.
On any given day, 20 to 25 damselflies flit around our bee garden, searching for food as they land on the stems of the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), catmint (Nepata), and oregano (Origanum).
They also search for mates and occasionally collide with a bee or butterfly.
Most of the damselflies we see carry the parasitic water mites (Hydracarina), which look like red caviar.
Damselfles and dragonflies belong to the same order, Odonata. Damselflies, however, are typically much smaller than their dragonfly cousins. Wikipedia tells us that damselflies, suborder Zygoptera, can be distinguished from dragonflies "by the fact that the wings of most damselflies are held along, and parallel to, the body when at rest. Furthermore, the hindwing of the damselfly is essentially similar to the forewing, while the hindwing of the dragonfly broadens near the base.
We've never seen a damselfly eat anything or anything eat the damselfly, although our resident praying mantis seemed quite interested--or perturbed--when a damselfly bumped into him.
They're so tiny and inconspicuous that they're easy to miss. They're about an inch long and so slender that they look like flying needles.
Like its cousin, the dragonfly, the damselfly (suborder Zygoptera) is a predator that catches and eats flying insects. Flies, knats and mosquitoes are often on their menu.
Damselflies frequent the area near our fish pond and we see them glide in and out of our lavender patch, the catmint, oregano and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). Sometimes they perch on a stem in the early morning and warm their flight muscles.
When we see them, we always look for bright red mites. Red mites? Think of a a cluster of miniature salmon eggs. Some of these damselflies are so heavily parasitized that you wonder how long they'll survive. Damsel in distress?
We've never seen a damselfly actually catch a flying insect, but we did find one last weekend that was quite interested in an ant scurrying down a lavender stem. The damselfly backed up and appeared to be targeting it.
The ant, however, escaped.