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Florida Treasure Hunt, Pt. 1

::crickets:: lives!  I’ve been away from the blog for what seems like longer than a couple of months, but you can check my other blog and my other other blog for proof that I’m only slacking in this one corner of the Internet.  Now that winter is officially upon us, there’s not a lot of variety to the landscape, but luckily I have an enormous backlog of posts to fill these gray days with cheer.  Let’s start with the cheeriest place of all: the beach!

Back in September, my family returned to Fort Myers Beach, Florida, where we’ve been going off and on since…always.  I spent my first birthday there, I’ve admired Thomas Edison’s famous banyan tree multiple times, and I’m very fond of the pelicans and other shorebirds.  But where I’ve usually spent my days on the beach under an umbrella with headphones and books, this time I decided to explore the many natural areas around the city instead. I was not-so-secretly hoping that there would be a lot of dragonflies to spot, because my trusty guidebook told me that Florida has many species that don’t occur in Tennessee.  So I approached it as a kind of treasure hunt–what would I find today?

The first thing I found, within two seconds of stepping onto the beach, was a whole mess of wandering gliders.

Dragonfly swarm, Fort Myers Beach

The first couple of days of our trip, you couldn’t walk two feet without having to wade through dragonflies.  It was glorious.  As I walked down the beach, people were remarking on it: “Must be dragonfly season down here!”  An extremely brief foray onto the beach (so brief because it was painfully, witheringly hot even at 5:00 p.m.) yielded four different species spottings.  Most of the dragonflies above are wandering gliders (Pantala flavescens), which are one of the most widespread dragonflies in the world, found virtually anywhere with a tropical climate.  (You’ve probably noticed them in your yard or in parking lots, which they frequent because they mistake the shiny cars for a good place to lay eggs.)  Below, top left is the first and only Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) I’ve ever seen, although I knew instantly what it was because those wings are unmistakable.  Top right is a male seaside dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenice), a species that lives all along the coastline of the United States.  Males are skinny and almost entirely black.  The bottom dragonfly was one I never got very close to, but I’m pretty sure it’s a striped saddlebags (Tramea calverti), which is based in a few scattered areas of the U.S. including southern Florida.  They’re often found alongside gliders, which is where I spotted this one.Florida dragonflies

Despite the heat, I did venture a little ways onto the beach and snapped this shot of a pelican on the fly.  It turned out well!Pelican at Fort Myers Beach

The next morning I set out early to Lovers Key State Park in nearby Bonita Beach.  The wandering gliders were swarming, the crabs were ducking behind vegetation, and there were tons of interesting plants to admire.  Among them (reading top to bottom, left to right):

1. Sea oats (Uniola paniculata), which are beautiful to look at but hell to step on
2. Erect dayflower (Commelina erecta)
3. Fire-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia cyathophora)
4. More than likely beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae)
5. Sea grapes (Coccoloba uvifera)
6. Shepherd’s needles (also called white beggarticks, cobbler’s-pegs, and plenty of other colorful names, but scientifically Bidens pilosa)Florida plants

Florida is, of course, overrun with brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei), which are extremely invasive.  Their population has exploded in Florida since they were introduced, and often to the detriment of native lizards like the Carolina anole.  It seems like everywhere you look, you see one–even when you think you’re just looking at a branch.  The lizard at the bottom is displaying its dewlap, which makes it look larger (the better to scare off predators) and is also a way of showing off when looking for a mate.  I think he was probably trying to scare me rather than woo me.Anole lizards

As I hoped, there were a lot of different dragonflies and damselflies to check out at Lovers Key.  The three below are all female seaside dragonlets.  For the longest time, I thought the one on the left was a male, but the females have highly variable coloring.  Some of them look remarkably like males.  Eventually, though, I printed out this photo and noticed her ovipositor plain as day (the little swoop under her abdomen that points downward and allows her to place her eggs).  She’s also got a fatter body than the male pictured above.  I love the tiger stripes on the one on the right, and that’s her catlike face peering out in the bottom photo as well.
Florida dragonflies

Also spotted at Lovers Key:
1. A female Rambur’s forktail (Ischnura ramburii).  The female of this species takes on several different color forms–there’s an andromorph, which is colored like the male, and a heteromorph, which is colored differently than the male, and also differently in its immature and mature phases.  This is an immature heteromorph, with an orange thorax and green underside.  We’ll get to a mature heteromorph female a bit later.
2. A male little blue dragonlet (Erythrodiplax miniscula), one of the smallest skimmers.
3. The rare sight of a perching wandering glider.  I think there were so many that it increased the odds of seeing one at rest.
4 & 5. Two band-winged dragonlets (Erythrodiplax umbrata).  The one on the right is definitely the heteromorph female; the one on the left is likely a male, but some females are colored similarly so I don’t want to make too many assumptions!Florida dragonflies

I took a break for lunch and a little beach time back in Fort Myers, but soon headed down to the terminus of the beach at Bowditch Point.  It was teeming with dragonflies as well, including:
1. This female marl pennant (Macrodiplax balteata), who is distinguished by a dark brown hindwig spot and a w-shaped pattern on her thorax, and who merits special mention for perching so prettily against the palm trees.
2. A wandering glider getting friendly with an anole lizard.
3. A male scarlet skimmer (Crocothemis servilia), to whom I could not get very close because I was wearing flip-flops and he was separated from me by many, many sea oats.
4. A common green darner (Anax junius), or as I tended to call it when I first began to notice its endless patrols, %#%$ Blue Giant, so expletive-ized because none of them would ever sit down.  This single photo I captured is an extreme crop.
5. I’m reasonably sure this is a mature heteromorph female Rambur’s forktail, but I get them mixed up with female citrine forktails, which I know happens to everybody all the time.  ;)Florida dragonflies

Since this is getting so lengthy, I’ll close with a Florida sunset and split the back half of the trip into a second post.  You can jump to Part Two here.Sunset at Fort Myers Beach

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Real-Life BioBlitz! » Crickets - May 20, 2013 - 8:22 pm

[...] is like a big sweaty hug enveloping you at all times.  I was expecting a similar experience to my dragonfly-hunting in Florida last fall, with a new species lurking around every corner.  This was not that: there were tons of [...]

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