Mosaic Darner #1: Shadow Darner (Slanting Green Stripes)

2012 March 3

I was pushing my bike up the hill on August 31, 2011, when I found this dragonfly alongside the road. The end of August is getting to be late in the season for dragonflies around here, and I thought it was dying. When I picked it up and brought it home, it only moved feebly, with slight vibrations of the wings. So I put it on a sheet of paper for photographs.

As I proceeded, it kept vibrating its wings more and more strongly and perking up. I guess it was just cold (it had been under 50 degrees F outside, and cloudy, when I found it). In fact, that might have been why it was resting on the side of the road; it may have been trying to warm up on the dark pavement, but then the sun went behind a cloud and the pavement cooled off.

It was pretty good sized, and from the general shape and coloration it looks to me like one of the Mosaic Darners, genus Aeshna. I think it looks most like the Shadow Darner, Aeshna umbrosa, which not only has the right coloration pattern, but is also a northern species that flies late in the year.

The wings are practically clear, except for one dark cell up on the leading edge. A lot of dragonflies have that, I’m not sure why.

And, like other dragonflies they have complicated individual joints on their wings. They can’t fold them back when at rest, but each one can flap independently of the others.

For some reason, I have a terrible time focusing on the eyes of dragonflies. I always end up focusing on things around the eyes, but not actually on them.

I think this one was a female, because she just has some short blade-like appendages at the tip of her abdomen. Male dragonflies have a larger, more complicated set of appendages that they can use to grab onto the females.

So, after I’d been taking pictures of her for a while in our nice warm house[1], she abruptly decided that it was time to take off, so she flew up and over to a window, where she kept beating against it trying to get out. I figured I had enough pictures by that point, so I opened up the window and let her go.

So I guess she wasn’t dead yet, after all.

[1] Sometimes, I think that it would be nice to get one of those little “cube” refrigerators, and turn it into a “white box” for photography. Not only would it keep the insects cool enough that they wouldn’t run around so much[2], bu the white lining would also reflect the camera flash and give uniform illumination. It would probably be best to get one that could open from the top, so that all the cool air wouldn’t spill out every time I opened the door to take pictures.

[2] Many photographers disparage the whole idea of refrigerating insects to slow them down for photography. They say that it makes them stand in unnatural poses, and they often end up with telltale condensation droplets on their bodies. This is true, and is certainly a big concern when photographing insects found in warmer climates or during high summer. But, around here, our warm period only really lasts a couple of months (from about mid-June to mid-August). For most of the year, our outside temperatures are frequently at or below the temperature of an average refrigerator. So, one could argue that for at least some of our insects, the most natural state for them is being refrigerated.

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