Monday, June 6, 2011

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Northwoods

Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida) a skimmer... BACK VIEW

Frosted Whiteface (Leucorrhinia frigida) a skimmer... Front VIEW

One of my favorites of all the local wildlife unique to this area is the dragonfly.  In that sentence most of you would instantly get a mental picture in your head and identify a group of insects.  You might group some who look nearly alike, but may be a bit smaller in with them.

These would be the damselflies.  And, no, they are not female dragonflies as the name might suggest, and as I have incorrectly deduced for a long time.  Notice I did not say assumed.  It pays to read.  It pays to discover all you can about the wildlife around you.

Here are some differences I discovered by reading our guidebooks available from Piragis online.

Dragonflies Have/are:
Eyes in Contact with each other
Bulbous-headed, nearly as long as wide
Stout Build
Strong, sustained flight
Wings held flat and perpendicular to body when perched
Ovipositor non-functional (except in darners)

Damselflies Have/are:
Eyes separated by at least own width
Hammer-headed, much wider than long
Lond, slender build
Weak, fluttery flight
Wings held over back when perched (or at 45 degree angle)
Ovipositor present and functional

One of the most fun things you can do is learn how to utilize a couple of tools that have a low-skill level and are inexpensive.  One of these tools is a digital camera.  It happens to be a tool that now, thanks to cell phones, almost everyone has with them at all times.  Many of us have a reliable point and shoot no-nonsense digital camera with high pixel capability as well.  Some of us are lucky enough to consider ourselves professional enough to own something nicer like an SRL...  The point is, you've probably already got one of the tools you need.  A camera.

The second tool is a guide book.  Mushrooms, trees, birds, spiders, butterflies, lichens, wolves, beavers, hey, even rocks and earthworms.  If you can spot it, someone has probably written a guidebook for it.  Two of the best are Dragonflies of the Northwoods and that's right, you guessed it, Damselflies of the Northwoods (currently out of print as of 03/2016).  Not only do these guide books have great pictures they are full of interesting and helpful information.  It is one thing to have great pictures of your Boundary Waters trips, it is another thing entirely to know the flora and fauna intimately.

Holding the identification of the plants, animals and insects around you in the recesses of your mind opens up the wilderness in a whole new way.  Just ask the folks who have been fortunate enough to take a guided trip with Steve Johnson or Steve and Nancy Piragis.  When your guide can speak intelligently and with hands on experience about the rocks you walk on, the trees overhead, the fish and wildlife in the water and the woods and the bugs, well -- then you're getting your money's worth and then some.

We fill our heads with so much minutia that it is good to step it up a notch above the latest greatest hottest new search on yahoo or google.  To sit down with a guidebook before a trip, or pull it out of your pack while on a trip.  To research your guidebooks and photos after a trip.  These are the kinds of mental calisthenics that build brainpower.  And, besides that, IDing things is fun and rewarding.

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