Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bedazzled by Dragonflies

Male Blue Dasher

Dragonflies completely bedazzle me! Regardless of what I'm doing, or what my photographic focus is at the moment, once I spot that familiar burst of speed in my peripheral vision, the chase is on as if I'm spellbound! It is such a challenge to keep your eyes on these "Speedy Gonzaleses", and once they land it is always exciting to see what species they may be. 

I've always been captivated and inspired by these beautiful, interesting creatures. The dragonfly's amazing agility is one of its most profound characteristics. Their maneuverability is as precise and skilled as that of an elite jet fighter pilot. I am in awe of how they can obtain incredible speeds, then abruptly turn or hover in mid-air as if carrying out a mission. It is a joy to watch as they patrol their domain, relentlessly chasing other species who dare invade their space. Even though they will fight other dragonflies to their death, and are voracious predators, they are also extremely delicate, gorgeous and can be downright charming! They are truly and literally a work of art!

Their colors and patterns are exquisite. Their relationship with light is a poetic one, as their fragile wings display an ethereal iridescence while the bold, beautiful colors of their bodies shimmer like jewels in the sun. It is no wonder they are regarded as mystical and symbolic by so many cultures.

Dragonflies begin their life in an aquatic world, then take to the air when they reach maturity. They are very beneficial and contribute to the delicate balance of the ecosystem by consuming thousands of mosquitoes and other insects. Everything about them is fascinating, including their breeding habits.

 As I've observed and photographed dragonflies and damselflies, I've noticed that different species seem to have their own personalities. The one pictured above, the Blue Dasher, is very charismatic and curious. This particular species seems to lock eyes with you, watching you intently as if amused by your presence, while simultaneously scanning the periphery for a quick snack.  They do this comical little move where they jerk their heads very quickly, which makes for some funny pictures if you catch just the right angle. The Blue Dasher seems to love your company and will remain very close, occasionally darting about to catch insects, but returning to the same perch over and over within a few seconds. Other species can be more aloof, and lead you around for hours as if enjoying some kind of game of aerial hide and seek!

There is nothing more therapeutic than relaxing along a pond or stream on a warm afternoon, watching the graceful acrobatics of a dazzle of dragonflies, and listening to the sound of their wings as they skim over the sparkling surface of the water. Just the memory makes me long for spring!

The Variegated Meadowhawk. I found this dragonfly while visiting my daughter in Oregon. 

I believe this to be the Clamp-tipped Emerald. Found him patrolling a drainage ditch along an old forestry road on top of a mountain in West Virginia. My husband and I set up our collapsible stools in the ditch and watched him diligently flying back and forth along that narrow ditch. He finally didn't seem to mind us anymore and would land right beside us! What a fun afternoon, and what a real beauty! Spectacular eyes!

Female Twelve-Spotted Skimmer. The male is similar, but has a white spot in between each black spot.

Spreadwing Damselfly (unknown species) Some of these tiny damselflies literally shimmer and sparkle!

Possible Black-shouldered Spiny Leg. I've only seen one of these.

Possible Violet Dancer Damselfly

Male and female Green Darner in tandem (the female is ovipositing her eggs as her mate guards her from other males who may try to breed her.)

Male Pondhawk

Damselfly (unknown species). I think these subtle colored damselflies are just as beautiful as the brighter ones.  It is amazing how well they blend in.

Male and female Blue Dasher, mating

Female Black Saddlebag

Female American Rubyspot Damselfly. She reflects the colors of her surroundings so much better than the male. They are both very stunning and fun to watch.

Male American Rubyspot Damselfly. The Rubyspots really love moving water like rivers and streams.

Male and female American Rubyspot, mating. I love they way damselflies eventually form a heart while mating.

Male Blue Dasher

Female Blue Dasher

Male Blue Dasher

Male Blue Dasher.  Sure does appear that he is laughing!

Male Blue Dasher

Male Halloween Pennant. His coloring is perfect for his name.

Yellow-Legged Meadowhawk (also called Autumn Meadowhawk)

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (also called Autumn Meadowhawk)

Female Calico Pennant.

Male Calico Pennant (notice the little "hearts" along his abdomen).

Male and female Ruby Meadowhawks, mating.

Damselfly (unknown species)

Damselfly (unknown species)

Same Damselfly as above, finishing up an insect he just caught.

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (possibly a female)

Damselfly eating an insect (unknown species). You would be amazed at how lightening fast a damselfly or dragonfly can grab an insect out of the air. You would also be amazed at the audible crunching sound as it is consumed!

Same Damselfly as the photo above.

Uhler's Sundragon (This one is a rare find-it is on the Endangered list for Ohio!) I found this one while mushroom hunting in the woods early one spring morning. I was surprised to see a dragonfly in this particular area. I will be looking again as soon as the time is right, and maybe I'll get lucky again!

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (possibly a female)

Green Darner

Green Darner (He blends in so perfectly with his surroundings)

Blue Dasher

Ruby Meadowhawk. (I like the shadow and the yellow of his wings on the leaf)

Damselfy (not sure of the species)

Female Black Saddlebag. This species is a very fast patrolling dragonfly that seems to fly non-stop. They usually do not tolerate a close approach, so I feel fortunate to have gotten a few shots of her as she was warming her wings in the sun on a cool morning. There is also a Red Saddlebag that is very bright and beautiful, but I've yet to get a picture because they are always in constant motion!

Close-up of the incredible texture and details of the wings!

I always love to get shots looking right into the eyes! This is the same Black Saddlebag pictures right above.

Love the play of light and color!

Damselfly (unknown species)

Male Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly. You can find lots of these guys amongst the foliage that line streams. They have a very beautiful, dainty flight pattern, somewhat different than other damselflies. The metallic appearance really catches your eye.

This beautiful, large dragonfly is the Spatterdock Darner. My husband took this picture-I walked right past him because of his camouflage. The perfect symmetrical markings make this dragonfly look like a hand-painted tree ornament!

Male Blue Dasher

Male Blue Dasher (This is my favorite shot of this guy!)

Female Eastern Amberwing. This is a very small dragonfly that I've seen in large numbers at the edge of ponds. The male of this species has beautiful, bright amber/orangy wings.

Unicorn Clubtail. I love this dragonfly-he will let you approach fairly closely without fear. He gets his name from a small centrally located point situated on the vertex between the eyes.

I call this one "Dueling Darners"! These large, beautiful Green Darners are very aggressive and the male will jealously guard his mate as she dips her abdomen under the water, splits a plant stem and deposits her eggs. This behavior is referred to as "contact guarding", and it ensures that a female is only producing eggs with her mate's genetic donation. The males here were constantly fighting and ramming each other in competition.

Male Ruby Meadowhawk. This species will sit very still even when you get close. They pick the most interesting places to perch.

Another Male Ruby Meadowhawk, and another interesting perch! This is so "Zen-like"!

I think this is a female Ruby Meadowhawk, although could be a teneral male. I love to see the wings reflect the light!

I believe this is the Lancet Clubtail

This is the same Lancet Clubtail above, eating a damselfly.

Another shot of a female Black Saddlebag (or possibly immature male). The adult male's abdomen is duller in color.


  1. AWESOME!!! Such beautiful photography! The male and female green darner shot is my favorite!

  2. What a great roundup! Thanks for brightening this cold winter day with memories from summer.

  3. Wow, these are gorgeous photographs. I'm totally jealous... I thought I had some nice Odonata images, but yours blow me away. I've been using a 300mm f/4 with a 1.4x converter which works very well, but I gave myself a 100mm Macro lens for Christmas and I can't wait to try it out in warm weather when the awesome bugs come alive.

    One question, if I may... did I detect that you've used a flash for at least some of those photos? They are so well lit.

    I found your blog via a tweet from Tom Arbor @NatureDad and

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Bill! I think the only dragonflies where I used flash were the Black Saddlebag closeups and the closeups of the Green Darner. I did not use flash for the others. Sometimes I find that the natural light makes the details on the dragonflies show up better than flash, although I've used it on most of my other insect photography and moth photography (mostly because they are in more dense foliage and the light is not the best). I purchased the NIkon R1C1 macro lighting system that I really like. I've used that for fill light and also my SB900 on a macro bracket for fill light when necessary. :-)

  4. The male blue dashers have such amazing eyes!

  5. Lisa, thank you for your detailed reply. I generally use natural light, but have tried the flash a few times where the bug was deep in the foliage, with mixed results.

    That R1C1 looks very good. Having exhausted my current photo budget on the new macro lens, I'll have to forgo a real macro flash system. I've got the plans in my head to build a light weight, folding beam-splitter-diffuser for my 7D's pop-up flash that will hopefully be a poor-man's version of your dual side-lights. ;-)

  6. Wow Lisa, great post and impressive photos. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Wow your photographs are AMAZING! Totally impressed.

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