Common Green Darner

One of my favorite dragonflies has always been the Common Green Darner.  It is very large and fast-flying, as all members of the Aeshnidae are, and brightly colored green and blue (green only for females).  This time of year they are migrating south, just like the birds and the monarchs.  A few years ago, some clever scientists glued little transmitters to them to track their migration down the east coast into the southern tier of states.  They can accumulate in large numbers, and are very conspicuous.  I managed to net one, in front of my class, no less, in our prairie at QU.  After an impromptu minilecture, I took it home and prepared it for my insect studio.  OK, I put it in the refrigerator. 

Looking pensive Sperm receptacle

It was a lot more cooperative after that.  Still, after it warmed up it would take off and fly around the room.  Gretchen was very excited by this.  I’m sure she thought it was her duty to kill it.    Males place their sperm in the receptacle at the base of the abdomen.  While gripping the female’s head with his cerci, she removes the sperm with the tip of her abdomen.  This wheel formation is characteristic of dragonflies.  Mate guarding occurs as the male holds on to the female’s head while she oviposits.

Jaws! Graphic

Order Odonata means “toothy” or something like that.  Here you can see the big mandibles that give them their name.  They can’t really bite people, as the gape is not large enough, though I could get this one to bite my fingernail.  I shot it on a white paper background, making it easy to isolate in Photoshop.  I created this graphic and opened a section in my online store for T-shirts and other products with this image at  People love dragonflies.  The Latin name of this one is glorious: Anax junius.  Sounds like a superhero.

September 26 – Pass (on) the buck

I finally had a chance to go deer hunting, 11 days after the opening of archery season.  After spending most of the day working on some new interior doors, I got my gear together and headed out to Lowell’s.  I got into one of my favorite tree stands and tried to let the squirrels entertain me.  I was there about an hour when I saw the distinctive silhouette of deer’s head and ears headed my way.  I stood up while it couldn’t see me as it went through a draw .  My heart was pounding a little.  I thought it would pass on my right, but it came straight to the front.  I turned to get into a better shooting position, then stopped.  It was a buck with three tines on each antler–not legal to shoot in Lewis County.  I slowly sat, laid down my bow and picked up my camera.  It was already fairly dim light, and the old Panasonic is not very forgiving under those conditions.  Nonetheless, I fired away as well as I could.

Rubbing antlers. Grooming

He spent a lot of time rubbing on little saplings, even though his antlers were clearly in hardhorn, with no velvet remaining.   A lengthy bout of grooming was also performed for my viewing pleasure.

Peek-a-boo Walking by

He got kind of spooky a couple of times, and when he crossed the little gully behind me he ran for 20 yard or so.    Otherwise he was rather tolerant of my photographic efforts, and looked up only when he could hear the repeated fake shutter noises from my camera just feet away.  It was hard to get a fast enough shutter speed to stop the motion blur, but after I switched the ISO from 100 to 400 the results improved considerably, as in the bottom two shots.    Click through to see larger versions.

I didn’t see any more deer, though I heard some turkeys fly up to roost in a tree.  It was much colder than I expected, and I was glad when it was time to go back to the car. 

September 20 – Monarch mania

As usual, we ordered 100 monarch tags for our classes this year.  Only once in five years have we used them all, and that was a while ago.  We have already used up this year’s supply, and the migration is only half over.  We tried to get more, but they won’t Fedex them to us.   It’s 10 to 15 days to ship them, and by then the migration will be mostly over.  Too bad.  I tagged 25 in my own back yard.  The classes really had fun, unlike in the years when monarchs are tough to find.  Now that I’m out of tags, I can spend some time trying to photograph them. 

Monarch female, ventral Monarch female, dorsal

My neighbor’s butterfly bush is a reliable place to find monarchs.  Then many spend the night in the line of trees behind our yards.

Skipper on zinnia Skipper sunning

Little skippers–maybe Peck’s skipper on the right. 

Common buckeye Silver-spotted skipper–spot not visible from this angle.

Common buckeye, close-up

I cropped the lower image very tight to show the detail on body and hindwing.

Three small froggies One big frog

There must be six or eight frogs living in my little pond in the back yard.  I wouldn’t think it would support that many.  I guess they just need a few bugs to get by, and we’ve got plenty of them.

Juvenile wheel bugs

Speaking of bugs, these three wheel bug nymphs (see the wing pads) were hanging out behind the house.  They appear to be all the same age, but I don’t know why siblings of this species would be socializing together. 

September 18 – Bike rides and butterflies

I took a bike ride last weekend, lugging the big camera all the way.  It was a nice ride, except for the thick layer of rock they had recently put down on one of the gravel roads, on a long downhill at that.

Orb weaver in the morning. Early morning damsel.

The light on these guys was perfect.  I saw the spider web from my bike and stopped to get the shot.  Both of these were near the old “School Bus” bridge.

Leaf roller Painted lady

The rolled leaf was the home of a caterpillar, perhaps a pyralid moth larva.  It was chewed open, and the larva hauled off, probably by a wasp.  The carpenter wasp, one of the species I’ve worked on, does this, but so do paper wasps.

Later that same day, I walked around the yard looking for targets.  It’s a good time of year for butterflies and some other species, getting their last hurrah before it turns cold.

Silver-spotted skipper Bush katydid

This skipper is very common, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a pretty shot of it.  It is the largest of our skippers, and easily recognizable.  I haven’t bothered to learn the rest of them, but I’m thinking about it.   I saw this katydid land in the willow tree, then proceed to crawl around and chew on its leaves.  I didn’t know anything would eat willow.  This same katydid genus (Scudderia) is favored prey of black digger wasps. 

Paper wasp

This wasp is a male, as revealed by his yellow face.  Many are produced this time of year as nests reach their maximal size and next year’s queens begin to emerge.  The queens will live until next spring; I wouldn’t give this guy more than a couple of weeks.

September 5 – Fall Stirrings

I took a bike ride with a couple of my students at Wakonda State Park.  It was a sunny, cool day. 


Caspian tern

Both of these are rare birds, just migrating through our area.

Jessica and Luke

Viceroy – dorsal

Viceroy – ventral

This specimen was interesting, given the great number of monarchs that were out. 

Black swallowtail

Common buckeye

Cloudless sulphur

I was really surprised to see so many butterflies, and in such good condition, this late in the season.

Crab spider eats spicebush swallowtail.

Later that day I was in the back yard looking for monarchs when I spotted a dark butterfly in the garden phlox.  It was in the grip of a big crab spider, already dead.    It’s sad, but a classic “circle of life” moment.