Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ontario: Cottage Country Dragonflies

Some years ago, I wrote a book called "Songbirds: Celebrating Nature's Voices", in which I extolled the virtues of being a "bird noticer". Since then I, with many other naturalists, have become, in addition, a Dragonfly Noticer, aided by an increasing range of field guides for various regions of the world. One of the joys of noticing dragonfly diversity is that familiar areas become, suddenly, new again.

I have already posted numbers of dragonfly photos on this blog, taken in a variety of (for me) exotic regions of the world. It is a pleasure, therefore, for me to present some dragonflies, every bit as new to me as their cousins in Borneo or China, that I encountered in my own home province of Ontario - including this charming little insect, a male White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum).

I met these insects around the ponds and lakes of cottage country in July 2010: specifically, near the cottage of our friend Robert Terro in Eagle Lake, Haliburton County, not far south of Algonquin Provincial Park. Our visit gave me the chance to test a new and excellent field guide, Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and the Surrounding Area, against my very limited skills at dragonfly identification. White-faced Meadowhawks were common, and good to practice on.

Meadowhawks (or darters, if you're British) are found around the world in the temperate Northern Hemisphere.  There are some fifty species altogether (fifteen in north America), and the few in Ontario can be very tricky to identify (if not impossible for juveniles without a specimen in hand).  Thus, this male could be a Ruby Meadowhawk (Sympetrum rubicundum), because it seems to lack a white face, but I would hate to bet on it.  The Ruby Meadowhawk has, apparently, an amber patch at the base of the wing, which I think I can make out in this photograph.

The White-faced Meadowhawk isn't the only dragonfly with a white face.  These are male Frosted Whitefaces (Leucorrhina proxima).

Perhaps the handsomest- and certainly the most ornate - dragonfly at Eagle Lake was the Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa).  Identifying it is easy, but sexing and aging it is a bit trickier.  According to the guide, the key is the colour of the spots on the abdomen and of the stigma, the coloured area shaped like a grain of rice on the leading edge of each wing.  If they are both yellow, as in this photograph, the dragonfly is a female.

Pennants with yellow spots and red stigmas are juvenile males, as I believe these are.

If the spots and stigmas are both red, as in this individual, you have an adult male Calico Pennant.  See?

In the dark and handsome category is this male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), a fair-sized dragonfly (some 5 cm long) that I found coursing about near the lake shore.  According to the very useful Bug Guide website, males defend territories along the shoreline of ponds, particularly in the morning.

I'm not entirely positive, but I believe these two dragonflies are Chalk-fronted Corporals (Ladona julia).  The female is at the top; notice the small patch of black at the base of her hindwing.

These are Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia), this time two females, each with three dark patches on each wing, and a male with one broad dark band, a smaller dark stripe near the wing base, and the chalky-white abdomen that gives him his name.

All the dragonflies so far have been members of the skimmer family (Libellulidae).  Libellulids seem to be almost the only dragonflies I encounter (or at least get close enough to photograph) no matter where I am in the world.  Here, though, to end this entry, is something different: a Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis), a member of the family Gomphidae.  Gomphids are easy to recognize because their eyes, which are much closer to normal size than the huge hemispheres of the libellulids, do not meet across the top of the head.  Oddly enough, it is this lack of an extreme feature that makes gomphids, at least to me, rather exotic-looking.  Or perhaps, to me, they are simply new.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

China: Wuyuan - Damsels, Dragons and other insects

A hot July day on an open paddyfield may not be the ideal venue for birds, but it is sure to bring insects out in abundance. So it proved as Zhang and I explored the paddyfields around Wuyuan, Jiangxi Province, China on July 2, 2010 (see my previous two entries).  So, for this final entry on our trip to China, here is a gallery of paddyfield insects.

The insect peeking out from behind the grassy leaf in my first picture is a particularly handsome and iridescent stinkbug (Pentatomidae).

This cryptic grasshopper was not easy to see against the brown mud of the paddy borders.

Zhang found this handsome scarab, presumably a dung beetle of sorts, trundling about on the ground.

Very different from the tank-like scarab above beetles are this colourful pair.  They are blister beetles (Meloididae).  A very similar-looking insect from Sichuan on the What's That Bug? website is identified to the genus Lytta, also widespread in North America.  Blister beetles can douse their enemies with cantharidin, a toxic blistering agent (the infamous "spanish fly"), and the bright red heads of these insects serve as a warning to keep away.

Here is a mating pair of day-flying moths.  They appear to be members of the genus Amata, the clearwing moths (Family Arctiidae).  There are a number of Amata species in China; these could be tiger-striped clearwings (Amata polymita), though that species should show more orange in the wings.

Back home in Canada I would call a fine fuzzy caterpillar such as this a woolly bear.  It, too, is probably an arctiid; perhaps it metamorphoses into the moth shown mating above?

Mineral salts in the wet paddy soil are a lure for these splendid swallowtail butterflies.  They are, I believe, Chinese windmills (Atrophaneura alcinous), a butterfly of broadleaved forests in China, Korea and Japan.

A sweaty hat (which mine certainly was by this point in the day) can be as attractive a lure as wet mineral-drenched soil.

Here's the same butterfly in a more natural setting.  It is one of the sailers of the genus Neptis (Nymphalidae), perhaps N. sappho though there a number of similar possibilities.

Here is one of the most famous (and remarkable) examples of camouflage in nature, the orange leaf butterfly (Kallima inachus).  Leaf butterflies are extremely difficult to spot unless you see them in flight first, and it's easy to see why.  The upperside, hidden in this photograph, is a complete contrast: iridescent blue, with a bright orange-brown bar across the forewing.

This little butterfly is one of the blues (Lycaenidae), and I'm not even going to try to guess which one!

Here is a butterfly with a fascinating history.  It is an Indian red admiral or Asian admiral (Vanessa indica).  Until recently it was assumed that this species had one of the oddest distributions in the butterfly world: India and eastern Asia, with an outlier population far away to the west in the Canary Islands (where I saw them in 1975).  The Canary population, though, has now been recognized as a species on its own, the Canary Islands red admiral (Vanessa vulcania).  Of course, if the two species are each other's closest relatives that still leaves the question of how the Canaries butterflies got to where they are.

This mating pair of butterflies are members of the enormous genus Ypthima, which contains some 300 species, mostly in Asia and Africa.  Without a good Chinese butterfly guide to hand I cannot go further than that.

This little butterfly is a Punchinello (Zemeros flegyas).  Its upper surface is flecked with metallic markings -- which should be a clue to butterfly enthusiasts that this is a metalmark, a member of the family Riodinidae.  Metalmarks are interesting butterflies.  In most parts of the world, including China, there are only a few species in the family, but in the New World tropics riodinids have exploded into a vast array of brilliantly-coloured and oddly-shaped forms, including some of the most beautiful and exotic-looking (though small) butterflies in the world.  I had seen some truly amazing riodinids in Peru in 2006, and I enjoyed encountering their attractive, if less spectacular, cousin in China.

The air over the paddyfields swarmed with dragonflies.  With vast areas of water for their young and huge numbers of insects to eat, the paddies are a paradise for dragonflies and damselflies -- and, of course, for dragonfly photographers.

I believe this to be Orthetrum testaceum, though it could be one of a number of similar red libellulid dragonflies.

This also looks like an Orthetrum, but I'm not sure which one; it could be just a dull version of the blue skimmers we will look at next.

Probably the most abundant dragonfly in the paddyfields was the Greater Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum melania), an example (in my view) of a species in which the black-and-yellow females are considerably more striking and distinctive than the males. The blue males are certainly handsome insects, but they look a lot like a number of other similarly-blue libellulid dragonflies (particularly the very similar Frosted Skimmer (Deielia phaon), the species I at first thought these were - in fact I am only calling them O. melania instead because of the presence of the females).  It's the females that catch your eye.

This is either a male Lesser Blue Skimmer (Orthetrum triangulare) or a colour variant of the Greater Blue Skimmer.  The two are very closely related (and often regarded as conspecific), and I confess I don't know how to tell them apart.

By contrast, there can't be many dragonflies easier to identify than the Pied Skimmer (Orthetrum [or Pseudothemis] zonata).

I was positively dazzled by the number and variety of damselflies along the paddy borders, particularly along tiny rivulets running down from the surrounding forests.  I have never seen so many species together (though a true odonate expert, which I am certainly not, might have even more diverse spots in their arsenal).  This one appears to be a Black-banded Gossamerwing (Euphaea decorata, Euphaeidae).

This very attractive species is Ceriagrion fallax (Coenagrionidae), whose range extends south at least to Malaysia.

Another beautiful damselfly that is also found in Malaysia is the Chinese Greenwing (Neurobasis chinensis, Calopterygidae).  Check out this species and others in Malaysia on C.Y. Choong's excellent blog Odonata of Peninsular Malaysia.

This may be an Indochinese Copperwing (Mnais mneme), another member of the Calopterygidae, but it could be a closely related species.

finally, a particularly graceful creature that I believe to be a member of the genus Rhinocypha (Chlorocyphidae).  With it I have finally completed my account of our 2010 trip to Asia (written, ironically, during our 2011 trip to Asia!).  Next time I will stay with the Odonata, but this time much nearer home -- in Ontario, Canada.