Semper Fidelis - Semper Discentes

In Search of the Elusive Jewelwing

In Odonata on April 2, 2013 at 2:27 pm

My old friend from northeastern Louisiana, Kelby Ouchley, is a biologist. He retired recently from his job as Area Manager of the Black Bayou Wildlife Refuge, near Monroe, and hasn’t slowed down since.
Ebony jewelwing (male). Original artwork by Susan Louise Sims, age 7.

Kelby hosts a program on the local NPR radio station, as well as a blog, both called Bayou Diversity (www.bayou-diversity.com), is a birder, an accomplished photographer, and has his fingers in pies all over north Louisiana.  Last year, he posted a couple of pictures of odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) on Facebook.  I made the mistake of responding to the post, and before I knew it, I was caught up in the International World of Bug Catching.

I hope my wife doesn’t total up all the money I’ve spent on reference books, collecting supplies, nets, chemicals, and fuel for my new hobby.  I already belong to the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, and am corresponding with odonate experts and enthusiasts all over the country.

My identification skills, for almost ANY animals, has always been fairly rudimentary, but I have all sorts of dichotomous keys to walk me through the individual bugs’ characteristics, before making a final determination.  I’ve bought a microscope so that I can look at their little reproductive organs. 

Identifying damselflies by their “terminal appendages” (butts).  I do believe that this is Enallagma civile, the Familiar Bluet.

Odonates begin their lives as aquatic nymphs, which look nothing like the adult bugs, and may spend up to a couple of years in that state. 

Typical dragonfly nymph.

I’m even beginning to learn how to identify the nymphs, by species.

Typical damselfly nymph. Note the three tail-like gills on the posterior end.

As a rookie odonatologist, I tried to come up with a fairly simple project, in order to hone my identification skills, get me out of the house, and learn a bit more about these fascinating creatures.

Ebony Jewelwing (male), North Fork of the White River, Ozark County, Missouri

In the crystal-clear Ozark streams in my area, a beautiful little damselfly, the Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), is found in great profusion.  These little flutterers are IMPOSSIBLE to misidentify, as the males boast completely black wings; they flutter about gently, making them obscenely easy to catch; and almost nobody has ever spent much time collecting dragonflies or damselflies in my area.

Dr. John Abbott, of the University of Texas, has put together a magnificent website, called Odonata Central (www.odonatacentral.org).  Amateur and professional odonate collectors identify the specimens they have captured in their areas, then take pictures, and post them on the OC website.  The IDs are confirmed by experts, and the location of the collection is automatically plotted on a map, which can be viewed at national, state, or county level.  It’s VERY cool.  Go to the site, and check it out.  There are also a couple more dragonfly links shown at the bottom of this page.

Female, same location.

I decided that I would attempt to document the presence of Ebony Jewelwings in every one of Missouri’s 114 counties.  Before the 2010 flight season ended, I’d covered quite a bit of southern Missouri, driven a couple thousand miles, and had a wonderful time.  I’ve only completed something like forty-eight counties, but am enjoying myself immensely.  At first, I captured ONLY jewelwings, to document my search; now, however, as my identification skills improve, I’m gonna capture an example of every different species I can locate, hoping to add to the body of odonate knowledge in the Ozarks.

The Quest, through mid-August 2011. Fifty-five counties down, sixty to go. “Yellow” counties signify areas where jewelwings have been documented, but NOT by me. 

My wife thinks this is the absolute dumbest interest that any person could have.  “You fancy yourself some sort of scientist, don’t you,” she sneers.  “How much have you spent on gasoline, and books, and junk, for your bug-chasing projects?” she asks.  “Not nearly as much as I’d spend if I were a gambler, or a drinker, or chased women instead of bugs.”  .

I think I’ve got a good point.

Loaded for the Hunt. (I do NOT attempt to catch odonates with a nine-foot net, as shown for humorous effect.) The six-foot net telescopes down to three feet, which is the usually-used length.)

I’ve already turned at least one other guy onto this passion–Skyler McLean, in southern Arkansas.  We MIGHT even drive 800 miles to the Dragonfly Society of the Americas meeting in Colorado in July, and meet with all the “celebrities” in the Dragonfly World.

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