Eva Frost Dragonly-On the Fly_Oct18




The HAYS HUMM - October 2018 - Online Edition

Tom Jones & Betsy Cross

Cover Photo by Eva Frost

Checkered Setwing (Male, Red-faced)

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Checkered Setwing (Female)

Dragonflies were the first winged insect to evolve 300 million years ago. Their four wings are 2-5 inches long now, but back then, they were 2-4 feet long. Meganeura, a genus of extinct insects from the Carboniferous Era, was the largest insect known. It is believed that the high oxygen levels in the Paleozoic, until the end of the Permian Era, attributed to their large size. Dragonflies evolved from this creature. Some nicknames for dragonflies include snake doctor, devil's darning needle, spindle, ear sewer and my favorite, the skeeter hawk.

Females leave eggs in waterways or swampy waters. Even if she dies, her eggs will still survive, hatch in the water, and become predators of anything they can eat. They are called naiads. They have a voracious appetite and will even eat small fish and other naiads. They do this for about a year or two.

They shed a few times before the larvae, or naiads, climb up on a stick and shed their exoskeleton. This could happen quickly, or it could take an hour or longer. Then the new "teneral" dragonfly hangs, sometimes for another hour, or longer. This is a time for "pumping up", leaving them in a very vulnerable state. Some adults live a few weeks, some a few years. You can usually find little exoskeletons going up the sticks in the water.

Amberwing with Exoskeletons at Launch Pole

Dragonflies have to reach a temperature of 63 degrees to get moving. And these voracious eaters can only eat when they are flying, which they are extremely good at. They literally consume everything, including other dragonflies. On a good note, one dragonfly can put away 30 to hundreds of mosquitoes in a day. They have a small "arm" hanging by their mouth to assist in holding the prey or cleaning the face. Its head is all eyes, and they have 360-degree vision, which begs the question, "Why are they always flipping their head back and forth?" Actually, a dragonfly can pick one individual flying insect from a group of flying insects and calculate its speed and trajectory to catch that exact fly. So, I guess it's doing math!

Four-spotted Pennant - Oblisking

Hundreds of different species will gather for feeding or migrating in the early morning on a freshly mown, wet yard or near a swampy area or water catchment. They do like it hot, too, so in the afternoon, they are found perched at the tip of bare sticks or the points of a century plant. Agaritas, Red Yucca's and the tops of trees are good perches. They regulate their body temperature by abdomen oblisking.

Dragonflies and damselflies are in the Order Odonata, from the Greek meaning "the toothed one". Dragonflies are in the infraorder Anisoptera. The damselfly is from the Zygoptera. You can tell them apart, because the damselflies are smaller and sit with wings folded up. They seem to have two large, separate eyes. Damselflies, also, will sit on a rock or stick for a while, as dragonflies are more on the move. Their presence is the sign of a healthy ecosystem and clean waters!

Bluet Duet

Roseate Skimmer

Eastern Pondhawk (Male)

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Information on Logo provided by Michelle Haggerty - Texas Master Naturalist

The Cyrano Darner was chosen as the Master Naturalist program logo for many reasons. First, dragonflies in general are beautiful, interesting creatures. They are widely distributed and accessible and even the most urban of urbanites are likely to have seen them “in person”. The size of the dragonfly made it easy to use in a logo and the darner family has the most classic dragonfly shape with the Cyrano darner having the most beautiful coloration especially in the male. A cruiser may have also worked, but the Cyrano was the most beautiful we thought. The beauty of the detail, the structure and the venation of the wings in the Cyrano Darner made it very appropriate for capturing the “19th Century naturalist’s field notebook look we were trying to achieve with the logo. The idea of capturing that much detail in a creature that small says a lot about not only love of nature but also the a value for scientific accuracy. Forrest Mitchell’s Digital Dragonfly Museum (http://www.dragonflies.org) inspired us early on because most of the specimens were collected by Forrest and his assistants. We wanted the logo to be an actual species and not just a pretty drawing. The Digital Dragonfly Museum specimens were captured and refrigerated to make them dormant and then scanned using a flatbed scanner and a mouse pad with a hole cut in it to keep from crushing the specimen. The scanning helped re-warm the specimen and when it was done the original was released unharmed. That shoestring creativity to capture accurate images (avoiding the loss of color that happens when you kill a specimen) and meticulous attention to detail seemed like a great attainable example of what a naturalist does. When the program was implemented statewide in 1998 we chose the Cyrano Darner as the program logo from several other species drawings which are also represented in the program today. At the time, we wanted a logo that wouldn’t be confused with those of other nature organizations and since dragonflies were not yet seen very often in logos--unlike oak leaves, horned lizards, bluebonnets and other emblems of Texas flora and fauna--we chose it. Of course dragonflies are everywhere now, but who knew?!?

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Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil.
Of his old husk from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew.
A living flash of light he flew.