One of my favorite things to do is to stroll quietly around our six small ponds and watch for interesting things to happen. Yesterday I noticed a large water snake foraging for frogs, a group of eastern tailed blue butterflies “puddling” on damp soil, and an absolute maelstrom of dragonflies of at least 5 species furiously flying around and chasing each other (common white-tails, widow skimmers, 12 spotted skimmers, eastern pond hawks, & green d
arners). Given that we have about 30-40 swallows of 3 species feeding around these ponds the activity is intense and exciting to watch. However the most unusual observation was of a mating pair of green darners in the so-called wheel position (see photo). If one were to land on Mars and see local animals mating it could not be stranger than what these dragonflies do when combining their genetic material. The male (top position) holds the female by her head with the tip of his abdomen. He has previously placed his sperm in a compartment on his second abdominal segment (counting to the posterior from the thorax). The female curls the tip of her abdomen forward and makes contact with his accessory genitalia; the male scoops out sperm remaining from her previous matings to ensure his own paternity, and the actual sperm transfer takes place. The male then guards the female while she deposits eggs in the water, his constant presence ensuring that he is not cuckolded by another male. This particular couple is quite unusual in that the female below is colored much like the male (she has a bluish abdomen). In fact I suspected that these might be two males, but the dragonfly gurus advised that this is indeed a female, albeit strangely colored.
Once again Nature surprises us with its unpredictability and amazes us with a bizarre and complex strategy for reproduction among some of the most primitive insects.
Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA