A Ninety-Degree Difference

A young friend once described dragonflies as being “all buzz and all wings.” It’s an apt description, although “jewel of the skies” seems equally appropriate.

It’s always a treat to find one at rest, showing off those jewel-like qualities. This one, which I take to be a pennant of some kind — perhaps a Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina) — was kind enough to remain at rest for several minutes. From my vantage point at the side of a county road, I was able to photograph it with a background of grasses on the other side of the ditch that was attracting so many of its kind.

Then, I decided to change position. Turning ninety degrees to my right, I posed the dragonfly against the gray and not necessarily appealing ditch water; the striations in the background are reflections of the reeds on the other side of the ditch.

It’s the same dragonfly and the same perch, shown only minutes apart, but the feel of the photo has changed. As in photography, so in life: what’s offered as ‘background’ — of a person or of an issue — can make quite a difference in our perception.

Comments always are welcome.

Feeling Crabby?

A broken pincer could make for a crabby crab
I suspect we’ve all experienced periods of Lucy Van Pelt style crabbiness over the past months, but this creature is ‘crabby’ all the time. It is, after all, a crab: a familiar sight in my part of the world.

 

Since I usually encounter crabs in the water, finding this one scuttling along atop a grassy levee intrigued me.  After cutting an erratic path through the grasses, it made a sudden turn, scooted down the levee’s side, and disappeared into a hole several feet above the water. Minutes passed, but the crab didn’t reappear, so I decided it had reached its destination, and went on my way.

 

 

If the crab had been our tasty blue swimming crab (Callinectes sapidus), I might have looked for its friends and turned them into supper. But the crabs I’ve known tend to stay in or very near the water, and a little research led me to suspect I’d met my first blue land crab (Cardisoma guanhumi) in that grass.

 

Usually found farther south in Texas, the blue land crab does range all along the Gulf coast into Florida, and this one had all the marks of C. guanhumi: a blue-green carapace and orange-to-brown legs, a single over-sized claw, its relatively large size and, of course, the fact that it was cruising around on land before it retreated into that hole.

 

A terrestrial species, the crab’s generally found near the shores of estuaries, creeks, and river banks. Burrowing into dense shrubbery, mud, or coastal sand hills, the crab prefers a burrow above the tide line and as much as six feet beneath the ground’s surface. Even when foraging, it doesn’t stray far from home, but uses light and sound to find the leaves, grasses, insects, and carrion it prefers. After foraging, it carries its food in its claws back to its burrow, eats until satisfied, and saves the leftovers for later.

 

The crab leads a relatively hidden and solitary life, but despite its solitary nature, on this day it seemed to welcome — or at least tolerate — an unexpected visitor. When a Blue Corporal dragonfly (Ladona deplanta) stopped by for an extended visit, they seemed perfectly at ease with one another, and not at all crabby or blue.

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.

The Angelfish

 

Pleased by the vaguely octagonal framing these aquatic plants had provided for themselves — a framing emphasized by some creative cropping — I paused to look more closely at the image.

As so often happens, I’d missed a few things when taking the photo: especially two dragonflies perched on the plants, and a very small, very young alligator cruising through the reflected reeds.

Given to pareidolia — the tendency to recognize familiar images in unfamiliar places, like a man in the moon or a dragon in the clouds — it wasn’t long before I noticed an angelfish cruising through the air, well above more ordinary fish still forced to live in the water. 

Somewhere, an aquarium may be missing a resident.

 

Comments always are welcome.
(If you can’t see the allligator, try enlarging the image.)

Shadow Play

Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

 

Although written for children, Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem titled “My Shadow” would be nearly as appropriate for this dragonfly. Dragonflies may or may not recite poetry, but they’re able to cast remarkably large shadows.

 

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
                                              

Comments always are welcome.