Have you ever wondered how nature photographers capture such wonderful shots of flighty insects?
Take damselflies like this one. Damselflies, and their relatives the dragonflies, are fast, strong fliers. How do you ever catch one sitting still enough for a photograph?
It helps to know the damselfly's behavior. For example, this damselfly was not exactly sitting still, although it looks like it from the photograph. What it is doing is perching, waiting for a fly or some other potential food item to fly by. See those big eyes? When it spots something, it launches into the air and grabs the prey. The beauty is that these insects often return to the same exact perch to hunt again and again. With patience, you can set up your tripod and grab a good shot of an active insect in a moment of stillness.
This week we have a few wonderful resources for learning more about dragonflies and damselflies.
Introduction to Dragonflies and Damselflies
What is a dragonfly and what is a damselfly?
Dragonflies are the large, showy insects that you see around ponds and other bodies of water. When they land on a plant or other object, they hold their wings straight out.
Damselflies, on the other hand, are usually a bit finer, more delicate looking. They rest with their wings folded behind their backs.
Look closely and you will see they often sport bright colors, such as red, green and bright blue. They can be just as colorful and fun to watch as birds or butterflies.
Dragonfly and Damselfly Life Cycles
The adult female dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in the water, or on plants or debris in or near the water. The eggs hatch into nymphs (sometimes also called naiads) that feed on other organisms in the water. After a year or two, they crawl to the surface and the adult emerges. There is no transitional or pupal stage.
1. Dragonfly watching
Nothing beats strolling out to a pond, stream or lake and simply watching dragonflies and damselflies in action.
One of the first things you notice when you see dragonflies or damselflies is their strong ability to fly. They have four wings, and can move the fore and hind wings independently. Their wing movement may not be easy to see until you capture them on film.
In this video clip, you can see a dragonfly's amazing flight slowed down.
Often dragonflies are searching for food when they are flying. They catch other flying insects, such as mosquitoes, while on the wing. In this video you can see dragonflies catching flying termites (although the video title identifies the prey as ants).
According to a recent newspaper article, Arizona dragonfly watching a growing hobby at the Arizona Republic, dragonfly watching is increasing in popularity. Several of our local nature areas are now offering dragonfly walks lead by experts. Check in your area for local events related to dragonflies, especially in the summer.
2. Dragonfly Swarms
I recently found a wonderful blog called The Dragonfly Woman. University of Arizona Entomology Ph.D. student Christine Goforth has started a citizen science project about dragonfly swarming (more about that in a minute), plus has loads of cool information about dragonflies and insects in general.
What is a dragonfly swarm? When a group of insects gather together in a large group, for whatever purpose, it is often called a swarm. In the case of dragonflies, the swarm may be a bunch of dragonflies feeding together at one location. This is called a static swarm. Dragonflies can also form large groups and move from place to place. This is called a migratory swarm.