Friday, January 30, 2015

Tuleyome Tales: Hang around water to spot dragonflies

Damselflies are smaller than dragonflies, and when they land they fold their wings neatly against their backs. Mary Hanson/Courtesy photo

From page A5 | August 04, 2013 |

By Mary K. Hanson

You see them all over the region this time of year, wherever there’s a slow-moving or still body of water nearby, flitting around on specialized wings sometimes in excess of 30 miles per hour. They’re sometimes called “water witches” or “fairies spinning needles,” but most of us just call them dragonflies and damselflies.

One of the most common dragonflies you’ll see this time of year is the flame skimmer. Their bodies are up to 3 inches long and are fiery red-orange in color (including their eyes and the veins in their wings). Males are generally brighter in color than the females.

Kathy Biggs, an expert in California odonates (dragonflies and damselflies), says you’ll most likely find the males nearer the water, and the females farther inland. To catch a photo of a male flame, Biggs suggests, just hold a stick down near the water’s edge. Perching-sticks attract males, who may come and sit for a while to survey their territory.

“Even if he flits away immediately, be patient; there’s a 50 percent chance he’ll come back,” Biggs says.

Some species of odonates can live up to sox years, but the majority of their lifetime is spent underwater as voracious nymphs called naiads. The alien-looking wingless naiads will eat just about anything, including fish and tadpoles that are bigger than they are.

When mature, the naiad will climb up onto the stem of a nearby plant, shed its skin (called exuvia) and emerge as a pale dragonfly or damselfly. Their color intensifies as they grown older.

Adult dragonflies are generally much larger in size than damselflies, and when they land they hold their wings out away from their bodies. Damselflies fold their wings neatly against their backs.

You may also see pairs of dragonflies or pairs of damselflies in a tied-together formation called “in wheel”; this is the configuration they use when mating. After mating, the females generally will head toward water to lay their eggs, and the males patrol in a “hover-glide” fashion to keep other marauding males away from them.

The female flame skimmer actually “splashes” her eggs into the water so they bounce up and adhere to nearby water plants. This keeps hungry fish from gobbling up her eggs before they have a chance to develop.

One of the most prominent features of the dragonfly is its set of huge multi-faceted eyes. The eyes, which can vary in color, have as many as 30,000 separate lenses. Most dragonflies have broad-spectrum color vision and can even see into the ultraviolet range. Damselflies, like the vivid dancer, one of the species most regularly seen in our area, likewise have excellent color vision.

The male vivids are a glorious neon-blue with black bands and stripes on their bodies. The females are usually dusky tan or even chalk-white.

To snap some photos of the vivids, Biggs suggests looking for them as they bask on sunlit trails near the water and on wooden bridges.

“For some reason, they just seem to love places like that,” Biggs says.

When you first approach a vivid, it may clap its wings together as a warning for you to get away from its territory, but don’t worry. Damselflies and dragonflies don’t have stingers.

In California, there are 113 different species of odonates, and what’s extra-special for those of us who live in the counties encompassing the Berryessa Snow Mountain region is the fact that almost half of those species live right here. According to Biggs, they are easiest to find on sunny days when there is little wind, and it’s best to approach them slowly and directly (rather than quickly and at an angle).

So get out there and photograph some of these “water witches” while the summer months last.

— Mary K. Hanson is a local amateur naturalist and photographer. Tuleyome, a conservation organization with offices in Woodland and Napa, thanks the Xerces Society ( and odonate expert Kathy Biggs for their assistance with this article. Tuleyome Tales are published monthly. For more information, visit



Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Town hall focuses on Coordinated Care Initiative

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

    Parents will get tools to help their children thrive in school

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    Walkers head out three times weekly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3Comments are off for this post

    Free tax preparation service begins Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    No bare bottoms, thanks to CommuniCare’s Diaper Drive

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Storyteller relies on nature as his subject on Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Still time to purchase tickets for DHS Cabaret

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    All voices welcome at sing-along Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Great Chefs Program will feature Mulvaney

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    February science fun set at Explorit

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Take a photo tour of Cuba at Flyway Nights talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6 | Gallery



    Time for bed … with Grandma

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    A ‘new deal’ for the WPA building

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Protect root zone to save trees

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Weigh quality of life, density

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Olive expert joins St. James event

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    We’re grateful for bingo proceeds

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10



    UCD has another tough football schedule in 2015

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Gould’s influence felt mightily in recent Super Bowls

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    Mustangs hold off UCD women

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD men set new school D-I era win record

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Sports briefs: Watney, Woods start slow at TPC Scottsdale

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    Sharks double up Ducks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Recall that first Aggie TV game, national title?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery





    ‘Song of the Sea’ is an enchanting fable

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    ‘Artist’s Connection’ launches on DCTV

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    February show at YoloArts’ Gallery 625 is ‘Food for Thought’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12 | Gallery

    Gross’ paintings highlight a slice of Northern California

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery







    Comics: Friday, January 30, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: A9