Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Gift Suggestion for someone on your list...

This is a book review...

A Dazzle of Dragonflies, by Forrest L. Mitchell and James L. Lasswell, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, TX. 224 pp, ISBN- 1-58544-459-6. 2005.

It is refreshing to stumble upon a book that I didn’t know existed, and to be so pleased with the contents. A Dazzle of Dragonflies (perhaps equal to a squadron of skeeters, a flock of gulls, or a an encampment of entomologists?) is dazzling, as the authors have incorporated a LOT of beautiful images from their work with scanning live Odonata, field-based images, and wonderful abstractions of dragonfly morphology. This is a book by, and for, lovers of Odonata (ouch, that sounds a bit kinky). Whether you are a long-time Odonatologist, or a beginner, this book will appeal to you. Besides presenting a lot of information, ranging from dragonfly folklore (something that I have been wanting to see), to natural history, and to digital scanning, the images accompanying the text are simply wonderful. The many large and colorful photographs in this book say “PUT ME ON THE COFFEE TABLE” – and if there was ever a “coffee table” insect book, this one fits right there. To see several pages pleasingly bordered with full-color scans of the butts of skimmers is something to behold.

A Dazzle of Dragonflies is pleasingly laid out, with lots of useful and interesting information on biology, life history, folklore, evolution, collecting, and rearing, with the experiences of the authors well-intertwined into the text. This is obviously not a field guide, nor does it purport to be one. However, the authors do survey the various families and genera of dragonflies in the US, particularly those found in Texas. They provide information of collecting and preservation, as well as how to study them. You can read on how to plan a water garden for Odonata, based upon the authors’ own experiences. You can read on how to photograph them, and you can find out how they do their incredible scans. This is not a run-of-the-mill Odonata book—on a cold winter day in December, the vivid photos almost seemed like would fly off the pages.

If you are looking for the perfect gift for the Odonata enthusiast, something for a library for a nature center, or heck, to splurge on yourself (why not?) – I recommend that you buy a copy of A Dazzle of Dragonflies before it becomes some rare book that nobody has in stock! For $39.95, you will be rewarded with some of the finest dragonfly imagery that I have seen in book form. You can order it online at

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Waning Days

My new friend
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

Today I gave a "bug walk" at Nichols Arboretum for the Adult Ed program. I had 4 participants, which was great, because I could easily show things and not have to talk too loudly the whole time. The day was mostly overcast with some sun threatening to show. Luckily, the focus was not on Odes. However, I did find an American Ruby Spot along the Huron --which impressed everyone, and later, along the Prairie, found this Sympetrum vicinum that was very cooperative.
This is the tail end of the Odonata season, and the pretty red Sympetrums will last until the killing frosts do them in. In some years it has been mid-November! Hardy little buggers, hanging on to the very end.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

This is the halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina, and normally I'd not get too worked up about such a shot, but I took this one with a lensbaby on my Nikon FM. It came out much sharper than I thought it would, and the background is beautifully out of focus.

Pennants are really fun to watch -- once one picks a perch, it seems determined to stay with that particular perch. In the case of this one, it was at the edge of the railroad tracks in Chelsea. I was able to get within a foot of it and it did not fly off. When it did, it came back. The halloween pennant is one of my favorite dragonflies.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Emerald Eyes

Emerald eyes
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

Back to the topic of Hine's Emerald. I just received a box of specimens from Tim Cashatt. These are vouchers from the survey work performed by Wayne Steffins in 1999. They are being added to the MOS database today. This augments our data considerably, and hopefully will avoid duplication of sites in the future.

This photo was taken with my Fiji FinePix S7000 using a 4x diopter on the front, and shooting in normal mode. I was able to get quite close to this perching male.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Show me Your Hiney!

hines emerald perched
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

As in Hine's Emerald dragonfly! On July 13-15, I was at the Hine's Emerald Workshop that took place in St Ignace, MI. Sponsored by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Michigan DNR, and US Forest Service, the workshop was FINALLY held in Michigan to educate state and federal and NGO conservation people on the habitats and biology of the Federally endangered species.
We visited several sites in Mackinac Co., and saw many dozens of these dragonflies. It its proper habitat Somatochlora hineana is a pretty dominant dragonfly species during the adult flight period. We observed both sexes perched, as the male is in this photo, we also saw them mating, female oviposition, male territoriality, and feedingding flights. In addition, Margi Chrisinscke found larval exuviae (a great find) at one of the sites, and we also saw larvae that were removed from crayfish burrows.
Margi Chrisisncke, Stephen Ross, Carl Freeman, and I stayed at a Little Traverse Bay Conservancy cabin on the Pigeon River E of Indian River. It was rustic and perfect for us. It meant commuting to St. Ignace every day, but that wasn't a big deal. Crossing the Mackinac Bridge at 7:30 am is a big difference from mid-day when the tourists are going across.
On Friday, Steve, Carl, and I visited several sites in the lower peninsula near Misery Bay and Thompson's Harbor. The Misery Bay area has me worried -- we saw Hine's emerald there in 2002, but there iss a lot of development going on, and most of the suspected Hine's habitat is on private land. The Thompson's Harbor sites are mostly on public lands, and cover more area.
It was a great trip for the four MOS members, and we also gathered quite a few new county records of other Odonata species.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Great Blue Skimmer

A few days ago Mike Kielb e-mailed me that he'd seen Libellula vibrans at Park Lyndon North in NW Washtenaw County, but was unable to catch it. Today, I was checking my e-mail and found a message from Phil Myers with several photos of dragonflies that he needed indentified. BAM! Photo number two was that of a female L. vibrans from near Mill Lake, near Chelsea. The fact that the individual photographed is recently emerged and not flight-worn in appearance indicates that there is a breeding population here. Now, to catch a voucher specimen!

Image courtesy P. Myers, UMMZ.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Yooper Trameas

The last week of June found me in Delta County with my wife and daughter, and for the fisrt few days we camped at a state forest campground at Portage Bay, which is on the opposite side of the Garden Peninsula from Fayette State Park. The area is primarily a shallow soil layer over dolomitic limestone -- part of the Niagara Escarpment, which is much more obvious on the eastern end of the UP near St. Ignace.

We have camped here before, but always later in the season. Dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) were common, and I for one, don't especially like them crawling on me. Therefore, if I wear shorts I can feel the little bastards crawling on my skin before they get higher up. We did capture about a dozen species of Odonata in areas along the lakeshore (Amphiagrion saucium), and along the roadsides, but our best luck was at a small pond I had visited before. Lots of Leucorrhinias, Enallagma, an Anax junius, Ladona julia (which was dirt common up there), Libellula pulchella, and L. quadrimaculata. Then, a Tramea lacerata came zooming by, and I watched him for several minutes. He buzzed the pond a few times and then flew off and lit on a small shrub. I very calmly walked up to him and snagged him with a swipe of my net. Trameas are obviously not year-round residents here, but they do migrate to the UP and probably successfully hatch a brood that emerges in late summer and flies southward. Just like me, they are temporary visitors to a beautiful part of Michigan.

One species I would love to fnd in Delta County would be Hine's Emerald. Not all that far as the gull flies from the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin, and the limestone bedrock is necessary for this species. One thing that's missing is a fen, but perhaps some searching will reveal some decent habitat.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Musseled Out

Gulliver's Travels Revisited

Hagenius brevistylus larva with attached Zebra mussels, Photo by P. Myers.

Remember how the Lilliputians tied down Gulliver? They were small, but many. Zebra Mussels, are small, but they have tied down many a structure in the Great lakes due to their enormous numbers of individuals that accumulate. This latest blog entry was inspired by Phil Myers from the UM Museum of Zoology, currently teaching a summer course at the UM Biology Station at Douglas Lake. Phil has been the main force behind the Animal Diversity Web Project here at UM, and has been going wild with photographing insects with his Nikon digital SLR. At this point, he has far surpassed me in the number of insect photographs he has taken.

Phil was shooting odes around Douglas Lake, and saw that there were many Hagenius brevistylus (dragonhunter) trying to emerge and dying at the water's edge, when they could not break free from the coating of Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) from the final larval instar. For a mobile hunter like the dragonhunter, the added weight of these mussels has to be a detriment. Of course, if they are covering the exoskeleton where the integument splits along the top of the thorax, the emerging adult will be trapped and die. We do not know how much of a detrimental factor the zebra mussels are to a population of lake-based dragonflies, and this could be a very interesting research project for a student at the Bio Station. This has to have a short-term negative impact on larger species that take longer to reach maturity (1-3 years for Hagenius).
In 2001, Margi Chrisincke wrote about Didymops transversa and Dromogomphus spinosus in Otter Lake that were encrusted by zebra mussels. About that time, I saw a Dromogomphus spinosus exuviae with a Zebra Mussel on the shore of Burt lake, just a few miles away from Douglas lake.

I encourage anyone else to share their observations on this phenomenon.


CHRISCINSKE, M. 2001. Zebra mussels observed on dragonfly larvae in Otter lake. Williamsonia 5(4):9.

WEIHRAUCH, F. & J. BORCHERDING, 2002. The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha (Pallas), as an epizoon on anisopteran larvae (Anisoptera: Gomphidae. Corduliidae, Libinellulidae)  Odonatologica. 31(1):85-94

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Entomology Book Meme

Entomology Books

Thanks to Nannothemis, she convinced me, or rather railroaded me into doing this book meme thing.

I have been an entomologist for over 30 years, counting my teenage years when I was a budding bugologist. Obviously, I have read many entomology books, some cover to cover; others, just a page when I need to refer to something. In college at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, I took every entomology course offered, which came out to something like 40 credits worth... of the books used then, the one I have remained faithful to has been Borror, Delong, and Triplehorn's An Introduction to the Study of Insects, 4th Ed.

In my high school years, two books set me on the path -- How to Know the Insects by H.E. Jaques, and The Golden Guide to Insects by Zim. Later, the book that was a big help was Peterson's Guide to the Insects of North America by Borror and White. The Peterson guide was my main insect book until in college, when I started adding to my collection. I was quite poor until I left for college, so any book I purchased was with my own money, and I used to borrow many an entomology book from the library at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY while in high school. I remember being enthralled with E.O. Essig's book on Entomology and a pile of other early entomology texts.

Books that really influenced me during my early years:

Rau and Rau - Wasp Studies in the Field.

H.E. Evans - Life on a Little-Known Planet

H.E. Evans - Wasp Farm

J.H. Comstock - An Introduction to Entomology

R.E. Snodgrass - Insects and Their Ways and Means of Living

Believe it or not -- I studied solitary wasps extensively from college until about 1994 -- published a lot of papers on their behavior and distribution, and I credit Howard Evans' works for that influence.


I have to admit that early on, I was dissatisfied with the early books on Odonata that I had access to. Too many damn wing vein things, etc. Then, when I really got going with them around 1995/96, there still was not the flood of books that we have today. However, I credit the following:

Needham and Westfall - Dragonflies of North America

Walker's 3 volume series on the Odonata of Canada and Alaslka

Corbet, P.S. - A Biology of Dragonflies (I have a real copy)

Since then, I have amassed quite a few Odonata works, and the ones I use the most are:

Dragonflies of the Northwoods by Kurt Meade

Damselflies of the Northeast by Ed Lamm

Walker's three volumes

Westfall and May's Damselflies of North America

I don't read that many popular insect books anymore, possibly because I'd rather read things other than what I am already familiar with. However, of some relatively recent popular books would be the one by Sue Hubbell, Broadsides From the Other Orders that is a favorite. How many entomology books do I have? I'm not really sure, because a good many are in my office at the UMMZ, and I have quite a few at home. I'll just estimate somewhere between 150 and 250...

Monday, June 06, 2005


GOMPHUS SPICATUS (courtesy of Phil Myers, UMMZ)

Gomphid dragonflies are predominantly dwellers of moving water, but a few (Arigomphus, the pond clubtails, and this species) are lake dwellers. Gomphus spicatus is one such dragonfly -- larvae are found mostly in lotic situations, and where they are found in streams, they tend to be encountered in slow moving slough-like habitats. This one is doing what this species seems to do best- bask on the ground. It has been out and flying for the past few weeks in lower Michigan.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Libellula quadrimaculata

dragonfly 169 2855a
Originally uploaded by lorayne.

I didn't shoot this one, but I'm using it as an example of some awesome Odonata images that have been appearing on the group I started on flickr. You can see them here:
dragonflies pool

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

Ischnura verticalis, also known as the Eastern Forktail, is perhaps the commonest species of Odonata in North America. This little sprightly fellow flew up in front of me near a pond off Embury Road in NW Washtenaw Co., MI. It is one of the earliest species to emerge, and can be found in any pond-like environment, from storm water retention ponds to bakyard lily pools and of course, all of our typical natural ponds and sloughs. It has multiple generations per year, and seems to be abundant just about anywhere. Females are mostly all dark, but the immature adult females may also be orange and black. As they age, the turn a bluish-gray color, and these different manifestations of color patterns confound inexperienced ode watchers/collectors, so that I used to get people sending me various specimens that they thought were three different species. With all the new ode books out there, people are being educated on this topic, so a lot more observers are aware that colors may change through the course of an adult dragonfly's life.
The Eastern Forktail IS a pretty little damselfly, even if it is the Odonata equivalent of an English Sparrow. -- males are pretty, and everywhere, and human influenced landscapes (wetlands) seem to cater to them.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Spring darner - May 8

Spring darner
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

Basiaeschna janata is a resident of streams, so finding one this early is a bit unusual. As you can tell, it's a female that is not sexually mature, as the coloration is rather pale. She probably emerged from the larval stage within the past 48 hrs. This particular one was flying in an open field area near Sullivan Lake, in NW Washtenaw Co. Our total sights for the day were 2 Anax junius, several Ischnura verticalis, one Ischnura posita, Basiaeschna janata, and many recently-emerged Enallagma boreale (at Green Lake, N of Chelsea). It was a beautiful early may day, with temps around 74°F, and mostly sunny. Even if I had not seen a single odonate, it would have been a good afternoon. Seeing my first odes of the year made it an even better one.

05/10 -- Carl Freeman brought up an observation that he has seen B. janata around lakes, too. That is true -- a lake with enough wave action can also harbor a population of this species, and the larvae may also be living at the mouth of the lake if there is a stream exiting or entering. For the most part though, this is a lotic species.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

WTF? It's May 3, and and I see SNOWFLAKES!!

What wacky weather we have. Almost a month ago, it was in the 60s. We lost all our glaciers (at least in the Lower peninsula -- you yoopers, probably still have them). Then it climbed to near 80. Students were sunbathing in thongs on campus. Bees were flying. Anax junius was spotted. Daffodils and Magnolias were blooming like crazy. Then, two weekends ago we had 4 inches of snow. Thankfully, it left quickly. The temperatures, however, have remained cool, and haave not ventured above 55 for the past week. Today, it is cold and gloomy, and I see snowflakes coming down. Not enough to do anything but make me wonder weher our spring has gone.
Well, what does all this mean for Odonates? Those species that live here year-round, and are currently in the larval state, hunkered down until the day they will release themselves for an aerial life. That all depend on degree-days, something which has been well-established for many flowering plants and economically-important insects. There have not been any such studies for Odonata, but I think one could do it by watching the phenology of some of the flowering trees and the date on which certain dragonflies/damselflies emerge. I have seen massive emergences of Enallagma boreale around the 10 May, and likewise, Steve Ross has photographed big emergences of Epitheca in Mecosta County, where it looked almost like a cicada hatch. How these events are influenced by weather is something that we need better records of, and that is a great project for someone to do long-term if one lives near a small pond.
Simply start recording the maximum daily temperature of the water and the air as soon as the ice is off, and then record the emergence dates (first record and then a dialy average) of the Odonates. Do that for 10 years, and voila! At least one set of parameters for one pond somewhere in Michigan...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Waiting for the madness to begin...

Waiting for a meal
Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

This is a Plathemis lydia, taken last June in Sharon Twp., MI. It is is not the earliest resident species to appear, but in favorably warm ponds, it can emerge as early as mid-May. Typically, it is preceded by Enallagma boreale, Ischnura verticalis, Epitheca cynosura, spinigera, and canis, as well as Ladona julia. The one that beats them all is Williamsonia fletcheri and Williamsonia lintneri - the Boghaunters. Typically, they emerge as early as late April in the lower part of Michigan, and are gone by mid-May. In the Upper Peninsula, they may be out as late as mid-June. Check out the MOS pages for more information.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Illustrated, at last!

Stylurus laurae

Susan Fawcett, the student that is illustrating some of the Odonata larvae for me, is doing a great job. Her skills and enthusiasm are great assets, and I believe her work will be very helpful as I start using some of the images on the web for our Odonata larval key, and later on, these images may also be used in the MOS publications that result from our survey.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Dining Out

Originally uploaded by argusmaniac.

This Calopteryx maculata female was feeding on small flies near the River raisin in SW Washtenaw Co. in June 2003. I followd her around and shot several frames before she flew off and I could not take the mosquitoes any longer.

With the lengthy stay of the chill of winter, when I look at shots like this, I recall how nice it will be to feel warmth and see green, mosquitoes and all.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Spring Thoughts

As I look out my window -- it's sunny, snowy, and about 20 degrees F. February is about over. We have had a continually cold winter with few breaks, and I am hoping that spring will arrive soon. This has been an atypical winter for us --
lots of snow, and no really big thaws -- just enough to melt a lot of snow cover in a couple of days, mostly because of rain, not sun. Then more snow and plunging temperatures.

If you remember the major flooding we had last spring and the rain early in the season, you'll recall that it was not the greatest year for Odonata collecting in Michigan. I am hoping that this year will see a return to normal conditions, whatever they are.

Speaking of 2004, I have had a student entering last year's collection data, and we are nearly done with that -- a good thing. It would be nice to get last year's data online before 2005 really begins. I have also been busy updating the MOS web site. I now need to fix up the old maps, and it will be updated. I have a student, Susan Fawcett, who is a very good artist, and she has been drawing Odonata larvae so that I can update our key on the web, and to include the illustrations in whatever publications that follow. She's good and has been cranking them out. I'll post some of them here when I get the chance.

Think Spring...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Must Have Book for 2005

A Must have book for 2005 is the Damselflies of the Northeast by
Ed Lam. - A guide to the species of eastern Canada and the northeastern
United States. It is also applicable to Michigan and much of the Great
lakes region. Published by Biodiversity Books, this is a masterpiece
- I would say that it is the best guide I have seen for our continent
on this group of Odonata. Wondrous color illustrations, clear and
concise text, maps, and perhaps the best rendering I have seen of
damselflies by any artist. Ed Lam wrote and illustrated this book, and
I think that anyone interested in damsels should get out their
checkbook and order up a copy. At 20 bucks, you'll want to buy at
least a couple of copies. You can find more information at his site:

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Larvae -- Lots of them

In December, my friend Dave Cuthrell from Michigan Natural Features Inventory brought us an early holiday gift -- about 500 vials of larvae and exuviae from surveys the MNFI did in 1997. That was about the time the MOS was just getting going. Bill Smith from Wisconsin identified most of them in 1999. I have been transferring the specimens from the huge vials from MNFI into our smaller vials, when appropriate, as well as sorting out the specimens in the vials - in over 2/3 of them, there are two or three taxa - identified, but of course, only I (at the moment) can separate them out and put them in their own vials. We have also been cataloguing the specimens into the Odolarva database. I estimate that amounts to several thousand larvae and exuviae total. There are some great species additions amongst all that - Ophiogomphus howei, for instance, as well as many additional records of several species of Stylurus from various parts of the state. When we have completed these additions, I will repost the amended larval database online.

Here are just a few of the little buggers...

The truth

Mark has always had a secret desire for me to get a leg up on him! -- Nannothemis

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

It's February and its snowing, so what?

After I saw my friend Julie's Urban Dragon Hunter Blog, I figured that no way was she going get a leg up on me! So, I blame her for this.

The Michigan Odonata Survey, of which I have played a big part organizing over the past 9 years, has accumulated a tremendous amount of data, and it is here that I hope to offer some notes on these amazing insects. Hence the name Michigan Odonotes. I will share some pics, some vignettes of what we do, and tips, as well.

You can reach the Michigan Odonata Survey's Web Pages at

Stay warm, and in a few months...we can emerge from our larval abodes and take flight.