I’ve reached the point in my insect enthusiasm that when people see an interesting bug, they send me a photo and ask me to identify it. Me! The same me who is regularly confused by whether something is a wasp, a fly, or some sort of weirdo beetle. I find these questions very flattering, because even though people sometimes find my bug-watching hobby weird, at least on some level it can prove useful. (“Nope, that’s not gonna bite you.”)
On my continuing quest to know all the names of all the things, I’m obviously furthest along in learning the dragonflies and damselflies. Often I’ll know everything I’m seeing at any given pond these days, and if I don’t I get out the field guide and excitedly pore over it to determine whether there’s something new I can add to my “species photographed” list. (Which is at 43 so far–13 damselflies and 30 dragonflies. Not bad for a relative newbie, I think.) But sometimes I’m just completely stumped. So today I bring you: Mysterious Damselflies of the Mid-Southern States.
The first few images are from Beaver Lake in Shelby Farms here in Memphis. On the left is an orange and greenish damselfly. My best guess is a female Rambur’s forktail, although the orange seems a little dull and the greenish hue of its stripes tends to be blacker in others I’ve seen. Normally I can recognize those very easily, but I’m just not sure about this one. The one on the right is a teneral (or freshly emerged) damselfly; you can tell by the particularly transparent wings. She’s obviously a female (look for the little blade-like ovipositor on the back underside of her abdomen), and probably a bluet or forktail given how low to her body she’s holding her wings. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.
These are three different individuals, but they share one thing in common: crazy eyes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen damselflies with striped eyes before–usually they’re one color on top and one on bottom, or more uniform. The one at the bottom left has what’s called an interrupted antehumeral stripe–see how the brownish stripe on its back stops and restarts, like a sideways exclamation point? That suggests a fragile forktail, but I’ve never seen those be anything other than green or blue. The other thing these three seem to share is a tiny bump on their left shoulders. Maybe they’re each carrying a water mite? Usually I see those on the underside, though. Like I say: these guys are all stumpers in many ways.
Speaking of water mites, this one is definitely carrying a few: look at the tiny black circles under where her thorax meets her abdomen. This one was perching in the grass when I walked by, so I followed her to a tree, where she flexed up and down on a twig. Her wings look teneral, but she’s so brightly colored. Because of how high she holds her wings, I think she’s a dancer, and she’s purple, which in our area might make her a variable dancer or a blue-tipped dancer. It’s hard to know for sure, though, because when the wings look like that, it often means the body’s color is going to go through a bunch of changes as the damselfly matures. I’m not actually sure I know about any female damselflies that are bright purple when they first emerge.
This is another purple damselfly I found in the grass, although its shoulder stripe is darker and more defined than the one above. Its wing position suggests it’s a dancer, but its cerci (rear appendages) are long like a bluet’s. This lake is overflowing with orange bluets right now in more colors than its name suggests–could this be a blue-form orange bluet that’s not quite blue yet? Sometimes I wonder if these things are named after colors just to throw off amateurs like myself. Good thing the Internet affords the opportunity for a nature rube to broadcast her ignorance into cyberspace!
The remaining images are ones I took in a ten-minute walk through Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood, Missouri. I was visiting a friend over the weekend, and her husband’s family threw them a going-away party in this beautiful park. Unfortunately, I only had few minutes to look around before a torrential downpour arrived. I was surprised to find any insects at all given the foreboding skies, but I encountered several brown damselflies, all hiding in the grass (which is what I’ve noticed the dancers doing, so by wing position and behavior, I’m guessing these are all dancers).
At first I assumed they were all females, but on closer examination I think they’re actually all immature males, which makes true identification almost impossible (for me, anyway). I think this may be a male powdered dancer, based on the thickness of the stripes on its thorax (they’re much thinner in the powdery blue mature males), and the stripes on its abdomen that are approaching a white color. If that is what this is, I can add another damselfly to my checklist, because this would be a first.
I am pretty sure this one is a blue-fronted dancer, because all of the stripes on its thorax are so thin. They tend to be pretty easy for me to recognize at home for that reason, and I’ve seen mature ones in Kirkwood before, so let’s call this one a little less mysterious than the others.
This final one looks similar to the first one, in that it looks like the sides of its thorax are starting to fill in with darker colors. But this one also has a little patch of dark blue forming on the back of its abdomen, and the spaces between the segments on its abdomen are more clearly white. My guess is that it’s also a powdered dancer, but that it’s a little bit more mature and starting to morph into its later-in-life colors.
Thanks for tagging along as I attempt to solve the 2013 damselfly mysteries. If you have any suggestions on the stumpers, please leave me a comment and I will happily credit you for your know-how!