A Salty Old Girl

  Female Seaside Dragonlet on  Marsh Bristlegrass ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

The Seaside Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenice) spends most of its time perched atop salt marsh plants; here, one rests on a stem of marsh bristlegrass (Setaria parviflora).

Perhaps ‘saltmarsh dragonlet’ would be a better name, since they’re often the only dragonfly in the marshes. Other dragonflies appear in coastal habitats, hunting insects over dunes and wetlands, but no other species is as tied to the coast as the dragonlet; they rarely appear inland, and are considered to be our only marine dragonfly.

The primary reason is their adaptation to salt. Like all dragonfly larvae, seaside dragonlet nymphs are aquatic, but their ability to regulate the concentration of salt within their bodies allows them to thrive in saltwater; researchers have found them tolerating water as much as three times the salinity of the ocean. In salt marshes, the seaside dragonlet often is the only medium-sized dragonfly — about an inch and a half long — that’s encountered.

Salt marshes are insect-rich, so dragonlets can afford to be a little lazy. They do less flying and more waiting than many species: launching themselves out to capture passing prey before returning to their perch.

Adult males are deep blue or black, with clear or nearly-clear wings; females show varying amounts of yellow atop the abdomen, and elaborate patterns of black-and-yellow striping on the sides of the thorax. As accomodating as they are attractive, they make fine subjects for a photographer.


Comments always are welcome.

71 thoughts on “A Salty Old Girl

    1. You have such a great imagination, Derrick. I always enjoy people’s varied responses to photos. Sometimes they’re in general agreement, and sometimes they’re not. That’s often when the fun begins.

  1. Fabulous photo of a beautiful creature. I haven’t come across the term dragonlet before! Tremendously interesting how well-adapted they are to a salt environment.

    1. ‘Dragonlet’ was new to me, too, Liz. I couldn’t figure out why it seemed so familiar, and then I remembered ‘booklet,’ and other such words that use ‘-let’ as a suffix. It’s a fun, poetic way to say ‘little dragonfly,’ although there may be other small species that don’t carry the common name. I was astonished to learn about their tolerance of salt water. I’ve always associated dragonflies with fresh water.

    1. We’re awash in dragonflies just now. We’ve had plenty of rain, and there are new hatches. Sometimes, they’re so thick the National Weather Service picks them up on radar, and sends out “Look for the dragonflies!” notices.

  2. When I first saw your title I thought you had met my wife! Instead, I was introduced to a dragonfly I have not seen nor have any chance of seeing here. Thank you, Linda.

    1. You’ve just proven that none of us can predict the direction our titles might take in someone’s mind! I will say that from what I know of Miriam, she wouldn’t be at all offended by the description. As for the dragonlet’s range, I was quite surprised to see it so far north, although it does remain a coastal species.

    1. Whether I’d say they run the world, I’m not sure, but there’s no question they’re a critical to it: functioning as pollinators, food for other species, and so on. The mosquitos are running rampant here just now, so most people are focused on insects-as-annoyance, but they’re so much more, and they’re often quite beautiful, as this one proves.

  3. The species name brought to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920 story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” The spelling of the name is one letter different, but I just found out from Wikipedia that “Fitzgerald named the title character Bernice as a reference to Berenice II of Egypt. According to legend, Berenice sacrificed her most beloved possession—her tresses—to ensure victory in warfare. For this act, the gods bestowed upon her a great honor: They placed her tresses in the heavens as the constellation Coma Berenices” [which I’ll add means Berenice’s hair]. Maybe your marsh bristlegrass seed head could pass for a tress with unruly hairs.

    1. I couldn’t remember reading that story, so I found an online text, and did. The plot line’s great, but a different editor might have tightened it up a little. It’s interesting to read a version of the Samson and Delilah story in such a different setting.

      On the pareidolia front, I looked for more information on the constellation, and found this: “The Boorong people [of Australia] called the constellation Tourt-chinboiong-gherra, and saw it as a small flock of birds drinking rainwater from a puddle in the crotch of a tree.” That’s a good example of how environment and culture shape vision.

      As for the grass, after reading Fitzgerald’s story, I saw it more as one of Marjorie’s braids.

  4. Dragons, salty old girl, and bristlegrass — all sound pretty militant and formidable, but this is a beautiful creature and helpful, too. I love dragonflies, swallows, bats –any creatures that love to eat mosquitoes, are my boon companions. I use some salty language sometimes when the mosquitoes are thick and drinking my blood! Excellent photo!

    1. If I thought I could live with the constant whirring of wings, I’d invite the dragonflies into my house. The mosquitos are thick now, and they sneak in every time the door opens. At least the local ones aren’t the dreadedsalt-marsh mosquito. Those fly during sunny days as well as early morning or evening, and even the usual precautions don’t always deter them. When they show up, salty language is appropriate!

  5. What an unusual wing position for a dragonfly. Does she have the usual position of two pairs that lie flat along the top plane of her body when at rest, or is this position with the wings wrapped forward of her head a natural resting position when not flying?
    Beautiful critter, and a super nice image.

    1. I thought I knew the answer, but when I confirmed it, I learned something new. When damselflies are resting, they fold their wings over their backs, sometimes parallel and sometimes in a V shape. Occasionally, young dragonflies may fold their wings over their backs, but generally the wings of dragonflies at rest lie flat, held at right angles to the body.

      Here’s what I learned: some species will rotate and extend their wings forward to help regulate their body temperature. That’s likely what this one was doing, and it explains a behavior I’ve often seen, especially in the hotter parts of the day.

    1. I was very surprised to learn that this species is associated with salt water rather than fresh. It seems that for every rule in life, there is an exception — even with dragonflies’ preferred living conditions.

    1. Learning to do that has taken a few years, and things still don’t always work out the way I hope. (Now I’m remembering a few of your experiences with your kiln.) I checked to see what camera settings I’d used here, and I’d chosen an aperture of f/6.3. That’s what helped get the dragonfly in focus, while blurring the background. You can just see some other stems of grass as light streaks in the background; if I’d gone higher, say to f/14, those would have been more in focus, too.

    1. And it all works together: salt marsh, salt marsh mosquitos, and salt-tolerant dragonfly. In that setting, the only creatures who have real trouble adapting are the humans. Pass the repellent, please!

    1. Thanks, Pit. I wasn’t sure of this beauty’s identity at first, but the good people at BugGuide came to my rescue, and once I had a species name, it was easy to confirm. It took a little longer to chase down the dragonfly.

    1. Isn’t it, though? And thanks to this post, I now know something you probably were aware of: that the ‘wing forward’ pose is related to thermoregulation. I’ve seen that ‘arms akimbo’ pose in herons that serves the same purpose, but I never would have thought about dragonflies wanting to cool off.

  6. What a lovely creature! She reminds me of the dragonflies I saw just yesterday, swooping around my back yard. I knew they’d skedaddle as soon as I tried to get their picture, so I just sat back and enjoyed them in person.

    1. It’s always fun to see a new batch of them emerge, and ‘swoop’ is just the right word. I’ve never managed to capture a photo of one in flight, although there are people who do it, and do it remarkably well. Like you, I just enjoy them, and look for the occasional one who’s decided to take a rest.

  7. You obtained great details there, as everything is so tack sharp. What’s amazing is how easily you can identify Setaria. There are so many of these ‘foxtail’ grasses around.

    1. It did take a while to identify the grass, as well as the dragonfly. One thing that helps is following a couple of Master Naturalists on iNaturalist who have long experience with the area. Skimming their photos often provides a starting point; then, I’ll try confirming by turning to books or websites, or by trying to key the grass. Having multiple sightings in the same location always helps, too. Setaria magna is common in the refuge, too, but it’s easy to spot, since it can be as much as four or five feet tall.

    1. We both got educated with this one. If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago whether dragonflies live in fresh or salt water, I would have said “Fresh, always.” What’s strange is that, despite living in an area rich in salt marshes, I’d never thought to question that assumption. I guess I thought all those dragonflies flitting above the marshes bred in freshwater ponds somewhere, and then came down to vacation on the coast.

    1. And so helpful, too! Anything that eats mosquitos is my friend; anything that eats mosquitos and happens to be beautiful, is even better. They surely must visit your pond. A friend and I were watching clouds of them above the pond in her pasture last night, and I laughed when she referred to the pond as a “dragonfly magnet.”

    1. That she is. As it turned out, she’s also a reminder that the environment where a critter is found can be a good starting point for identification.

    1. Believe me, I’m always gratified when one decides to pause. One thing I’ve learned about dragonflies is that they often return to the same spot. If I scare one off, in only a few seconds it often comes back and gives me another chance. I doubt it’s come back to pose — it would be interesting to know the reason for the behavior.

  8. A dragonfly’s wing is a miraculous thing. I always smile at the irony of calling the larval stage of a dragonfly a “nymph” They are anything but nymph-like. Generally speaking, they’re voracious little monsters.

    1. Voracious, yes. But a monster? Only metaphorically. Anything that enjoys chowing down on mosquitos is a friend of mine. They can be startling, though. The wing-whirring on some of the big species is an attention-getter — especially if they’ve found themselves trapped in a car and can’t find an escape.

  9. How wonderful to find your websites! I am almost certain I used to follow your posts at some point in the past, but my memory cells are no longer reliable.

    The real reason your Salty Old Girl is holding her wings forward is the same reason demure young ladies once held a veil across their face. Shyness, intrigue, promise. Mostly, it is to confound those of us trying to see identifying marks on the thorax – but that’s a bit less romantic!

    Superb photograph! Excellent article! Looking forward to more.

    1. Both of your explanations for the wing-forward position are fanciful and fun, but the reality’s quite different. Like my tendency to head for air conditioning at the end of a hot summer’s day, the dragonfly’s interested in thermoregulation. The obelisk posture’s one way they cool down, but shading the thorax is another. The section on temperature control in this page from the Minnesota Dragonfly Society is especially nice, and the section on cooling is relevant:

      “In hot, sunny weather it is important that dragonflies don’t overheat. Cooling strategies include becoming less active, moving into shade and changing their body position. The obelisk position orients the dragonfly’s abdomen directly at the sun, thereby reducing the surface area exposed to solar heating. Some dragonflies also point their wings forward and down in order to reduce exposure to sunlight and, perhaps, to reflect light and heat away from their bodies.”

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the photo of this unusual creature.

    1. Or a burgee in a stiff wind. I was pleased to get both the grass and the dragonlet in focus, but I really was surprised when I learned this one’s learned how to thrive in brackish and salt water. It’s more proof (as if we needed it) that our assumptions about nature can be both justified and wrong. So much for my assumption that dragonflies are fresh water creatures.

  10. Beautiful portrait of a lovely lady, Linda. I’ve not seen a dragonlet, as far as I am aware, so seeing yours was a treat. Insects are so adaptable over time. They fill every nook and cranny of the planet and provide such interesting subjects for study.

    1. I’d be happier if they weren’t trying to fill every nook and cranny of my apartment — especially the mosquitoes — but that’s a fact of life down here, like the heat. On the other hand, clouds of mosquitoes lead to even greater appreciation for the dragons and damsels. They are more interesting than I ever realized, and beautiful, too.

      1. We are fortunate that most of the insects that come into our house are not pesty. There is an occasional mosquito but that is about the only insect I will kill with no guilt. Most others are captured and shown the door…except for those corner spiders that catch all the unseen tinies. Yes, thank you odonata for all the mosquitoes you eat. Thank you bats too.

  11. Great closeup, Linda, of an attractive dragonfly! Great orange and black look. Have you ever been in on a dragonfly hatching! I woke up next to a little lake I was camping near once and discovered that dragonflies had decided my boots were the ideal launching place for their new lives. Some fun! –Curt

    1. I’ve missed out on that experience, but I often see a new hatch once they’ve taken to the air. Sometimes they can be so thick that they show up on our NWS radar. Usually, that happens with migrations, but not always. That whirring of wings can be impressive.

      1. Wow! That’s quite a mob of dragonflies. Watch out mosquitoes! They scoop them up in their front legs. The nymphs climbed up on my boots. The skins along their backs popped open, allowing the dragonfly to come out. They rested on my boots until their wings dried out and hardened enough for them to fly away, which they did— leaving me with the skins. –Curt

          1. Right! Actually I was camped out on a small , remote lake in the Sierra’s taking a month off in 1968 after I returned fro reciting for Peace Corps across the southern United States. Including Texas. –Curt

    1. Isn’t she, though? I suspect she didn’t have posing on her mind, but having a camera that lets me keep my distance certainly helped with the capture!

    1. I’d never heard of a dragonlet, myself, but lo and behold, it’s a large genus of neotropical dragonflies: the Erythrodiplax. There are a lot of them, and I suspect I’ve seen others without realizing it. This one certainly was pleasing, and its willingness to pose on such an attractive grass was a bonus!

    1. Thanks, Judy! And guess what? I think I finally located real purple Gallinules. I went to a new spot — a state park — that has several lakes and such. One was absolutely filled with lotus, and wandering around those lotus pads, and through the plants lining the banks, were Moorhens and chicks for sure, and I think Gallinules, too. I didn’t have my long lens with me, so in the next week I’m going to make the trek again — partly for the lotus, and partly to confirm my suspicions.

      I missed a stunner of a photo for lack of that long lens. I saw a GBHeron on the limb of a dead tree, with its wings akimbo in that cooling position. That’ll teach me not to have all my lenses with me!

  12. I know the feeling well. I hate to carry a bunch of heavy things and will sometimes just say its a wide angle day or a close up day and take one lens and none to change. Sometimes if its windy I am reluctant to change lenses in the field for fear of dirt getting in. AND, sometimes I take both of my cameras, one with the long lens and one with wide angle or so. LOL, then I have to decide do I want to put the 300mm on the small sensor camera for the telephoto 1.6 boost or on the full sensor camera for the quality I feel I get from it. Other than the fact that my shoulders get tired carrying two, I like that idea in case of opportunity.

    Good chance Gallinules will be in the vicinity of Moorhens…both being ‘swamp chickens” :)
    If there is fire flag and pickerel weed….great chance of Purple Gallinules!! Look forward to your delight in photographing some of them!!

    1. How to you carry your lenses? Backpack? Sling bag? I usually have just carried the camera with one lens on and the other two in a small bag, but I’m going to need something roomier and more substantial if I start making longer treks. One of the strap attachments on my bag recently broke; it was plastic, and I’m sure a combination of heat and the stress of continually being slung around did it. I fixed that. I went down to the chandlery and got myself two stainless steel D shackles. Problem solved!

      I’m hoping for a little cooler weekend, but we’ll see. With those new tropical critters roaming around, work has to come first, so I can finish a job before one decides to make landfall.

      1. If I do two cameras with no plan of changing lenses, sometimes I just put both over my shoulders and grab the right one depending on the close or far shot. Sometimes I get the straps all tangled up that way though and a comedy of errors ensues. I do have a camera bag that holds one camera and a couple of lenses and another sling style my son gave me. It holds a single camera and long lens nicely and hangs down in front of you for an easy grab. If it was a long hike and you want to be open for possibilities and one camera you have to at least have the lens on the camera and one in a lightweight shoulder bad, you need the extra memory cards too, maybe a spare battery, lens cloth and spray. I read somewhere that the reason that photographers don’t confuse themselves with hikers, is that the gear is so heavy!!

        You usually carry a wide angle and a longer lens? I have a 100mm Macro lens and sometimes use it when I am close enough to a bird for portrait detail but don’t need the 300mm. Its so nice and crisp. Love prime lenses that way.

        1. I usually carry a 100mm and an 18-135, unless I know I’m going to be in birding territory. On the refuge auto loops it’s easy, because I can keep all three lenses handy. I laughed at your mention of extra memory cards. I’ve yet to fill one up completely. I need to try harder!

          1. Well I have to say I used to fill them up and change. But, now that I use 16g instead of 4 or 8 I tend not to fill them either. This is partly because I let shots pass that I wouldn’t before preferring to wait for the perfect pose instead of taking many. I think this happens when you have a lot of images already and just are willing to take less and wait. But, also maybe I just don’t stay out as long and my arms wear out more easily. Drat!! I am out of shape!! I need to do weights or get a lighter camera. LOL!!

            Its is good to take spare memory cards though even if you don’t expect to fill the one in the camera. You never know when something amazing might happen causing the need for more shots, or if, heaven forbid, you realize that a memory card is corrupted which would end your day without a spare.

            1. After all this time, I finally experienced a corrupted card last week. I was pleased that it happened after I’d gotten the images from it. I’d been getting little messages from my computer that the drive needed to be repaired, and eventually, even after formatting it, etc., neither the computer nor the camera could access it. I suppose I shouldn’t fuss too much, since I’ve been using the card for four or five years.

              Do you format your cards on a regular basis? I haven’t been, and it saved me once, when I accidentally deleted about 500 photos. I learned that if I’d formatted the card, I wouldn’t have been able to retrieve them. I suppose the trick is to be diligent about uploading images and backing them up before formatting!

            2. Generally, I will load the images from the card onto two computers…home and office. Verify the files are good. Then reformat the card in the camera ready for the next adventure. This gives me at least two of the original captures in case one or the other computers fail in some way. I have had a hard drive crash before with unrecoverable pictures once.

              I also have external drives with copies as once in awhile I save there too, just not initially. So the most I would lose is the actual adjustments to a picture which might only live in one spot. Not that I want to have to start over once I’ve gotten a thing to my liking.

              I should in reality put my best things onto the cloud. I have been sort of a Luddite -ish when it comes to the cloud. But, I’m changing I think. Maybe will consider Photoshop and Lightroom cloud options instead of buying the programs next time.

              If you don’t have two computers, you could get an external drive to store duplicate copies of your shoots. Those are really reasonable nowadays!! :)

            3. I only have one computer, but I do have an external hard drive for backing up my whole system. Then, I back up photo files and such again, with a 2 TB portable SSD. Come the ‘cane, I can pick up and go.

              Speaking of which, I laughed today when I came home for lunch to see if TD22 had turned into Wilfred. It hadn’t — some other storm got Wilfred, and Alpha had popped up, too. Now, TD22 is Tropical Storm Beta — no jokes about Beta testing, please. One of our local mets did make me laugh when he said, “With the 23rd pick in the Atlantic Hurricane Season, the Gulf of Mexico selects ***BETA*** a depression from Troll So Hard University.” There’s nothing left to do but indulge in gallows humor at this point.

  13. Very nice photo and I actually like dragon flies. I think they are graceful and pretty and good pollinators. Some years I see them in my little garden plot but this year I think I saw maybe two of them and then they were gone. Birds are often foragers of the garden and they likely preyed on the dragonflies.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if your dragonfly population has helped to keep the birds fed. I once saw a shrike pluck a dragonfly right out of the air. It was quite an amazing sight, given the ability of the dragonflies to maneuver like a helicopter. I’m becoming more aware of the amazing variety among dragonflies. I used to think they all were green or blue, but that certainly isn’t true.

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