Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes


In Odonata on April 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm

One of the many hobbies that my wife finds stupid involves studying, identifying, and capturing “odonates”–dragonflies and damselflies.  In a nutshell, dragonflies tend to be somewhat larger, fly quickly and strongly, and they hold their wings horizontally when perching.  Damselflies, supposedly named for their petite bodies (beautifully captured by the French word ”demoiselle”), are slender, tend to flutter rather than streak, tend to hold their wings paralll to their bodies when at rest, and are MUCH easier for an almost-sixty-year-old geezer to catch.

That being said, my favorite among all the damselflies is a broad-winged lovely called Calopteryx maculata, the Ebony Jewelwing.  These gorgeous little bugs are found in profusion all over my beloved Ozarks, particularly near swift, clear streams, and often flutter about a shallow-water, grassy/bushy plant that I believe is called “water willow“.  (Thanks to Dennis Bell, my old buddy who teaches botany at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, for the plant identification.)  As a matter of fact, my current stupid project is to try to personally document the presence of these insects in every one of Missouri’s counties, with my progress thus far shown on this map: 

Even a neophyte such as I can catch them, and it’s simple to differentiate the sexes, even from a distance.  The males have solid black wings, and an irridescent body, while the wings of the females are a translucent brown, with a prominent white spot (or “pterostigma”) on the wings.

 So…a couple of days ago, I’m sitting on my front porch, swilling a cold, adult beverage and supporting the Missouri brewing industry.  Susan, my eight-year-old daughter (Yes, I am almost sixty!  Yes, I have an eight-year-old daughter!) and her friend Sadey were racing around the yard with nets, wreaking havoc among the butterflies in the yard.  They’d grab one, then bring it over to me for identification.

All their hard work was making me tired, so I yelled out, “You guys want to go to Hunter Creek?”  Eight-year-old girls (and sixty-year-old guys) LOVE to go swimming at Hunter Creek, where crystal water spills over bedrock into deep gravelled pools, with a hundred-foot cliff as a backdrop, and LOTS of water willow.
Within an hour, we were there.  I piddled around on the bank, catching a few species of Argia damselflies, a delicate little bluish bug, while they splashed about, leaping off an eight-foot rock into the pool, and swarming about with their bug nets.  I, meanwhile, was basking, lizardlike, on a large mid-stream rock, still helping to improve the stock price of Anheuser-Busch.
After awhile, the girls came over to rest.  Nearby, the jewelwings were going about their buggy business.  The males are quite territorial, defending small stretches of streambank from rivals.  When an intruder appears, they rush toward each other, ebony wings flashing, and one usually retreats.  The victor then sits on a leaf, preening and flexing, and acting VERY nonchalant about the whole affair.
I pointed out one of the males to the girls.  “Watch that guy,” I said.  “His name’s Liam (using the name of one of their third-grade classmates), and he’s just sitting around on the beach, keeping an eye out for girls.”
A few feet away, a female alit, pointedly ignoring Liam.  “That’s Sadey,” says I.  “She’s wearing her new bikini, and hoping the boys notice her.”  The girls giggled a bit.  Another female settled down in the general area.  “There’s Susan, in HER bikini.  Watch what happens now.  Each girl damselfly will start to stretch her wings, and stick out her chest, showing off for Liam, hoping he’ll like her better.”
When I turned around, Human Susan and Human Sadey were stretching and preening, and trying to show the damselfly girls what to do.  It must have worked, for Liam soon forsook his perch and zipped over to Bug Sadey, and the two disappeared into the underbrush.

Girl Susan was somewhat devastated.  In a moment, however, another male arrived on the scene.  Girl Sadey was still crowing over her victory over Liam.  “Who’s that new guy on the scene?” I asked.
Susan didn’t hesitate.  “It’s Justin Bieber!!, she squealed, resuming her posturing.  Young Mr. Bieber, for those uninformed souls, is a rather androgynous, seventeen-year-old singer, who is adored by eight-year-old girls, who are said to be consumed with “Bieber Fever”.
After but a moment, Bug Justin and Bug Susan lit out for the weedy area, as Susan boasted.  “Susan got Justin, and Sadey got stuck with Liam!!!”.
At any rate, we had a fine old time.  Two Ozarkian eight-year-olds learned a new bug, and they can tell the boys from the girls.  I really hope, however, that my two demoiselles don’t try out their fluttering and preening the next time THEY go to the beach.

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