The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 12, 2003


Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Name: Meadowhawk, Sympetrum sp.

When and where seen:

Meadowhawks appear in mid-summer and can still be seen in early November. The photo was taken by Kay Fairweather in her garden on School Street, in August.

Observation: One of the best places to observe "odes" (dragonflies and damselflies of the order Odonata) in Carlisle is the Cranberry Bog on Curve Street. Both ponds and the irrigation ditches swarm with odes on a sunny day. Dragonflies tend to hide in cloudy weather seeming to vanish when a cloud drifts in.

Unlike many of the dragonflies still flying in September, Meadowhawks are not easily frightened and the observer can get very close. The large dragonflies zooming about are mostly darners (species Aeschna or Anax). They rarely land and are much harder to observe.

Many of us who enjoy studying and observing odes, use close-focusing binoculars for observations. Soft insect nets are also an aid. Unlike butterflies, odes are not harmed by being netted and can be carefully observed by gently holding by the wings. I often place the damselfly or dragonfly in a clear plastic box for observation, before releasing it.

Damselflies are small odes that land with their wings closed or nearly closed, while dragonflies land with their wings spread.

Identification: The small red or brownish-red dragonflies that are seen all over Carlisle in late summer and early fall are Meadowhawks. Meadowhawks are small dragonflies, about 1.3 inches in length. The adults are bright red with small black chevrons on the side of the abdomen. Immature and female Meadowhawks are yellow to yellow-tan with similar black markings.

There are several species of Meadowhawk, and it is difficult to distinguish them. The individual pictured is most likely a White-faced Meadowhawk, Sympetrum obtrusum but it is similar to the Ruby Meadowhawk, Sympetrum rubicundulum. Check out the photo in color at

Life of Odes: Both dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in or near water, sometimes in stalks of marsh plants. The eggs hatch into larvae that swim in the pond or stream for a period of one month to five years, before emerging from the water, shedding their last exoskeletons and emerging as adults. Dragonflies often range far from the water where they emerged, while damselflies are more often seen close to water.

Behavior: Meadowhawks perch readily on plants, porches and even on the observer. The lowered wing attitude of the dragonfly shown here is typical of some species and may be a method of keeping the thorax warm and may help with rapid takeoff.

Adult dragonflies rarely walk, instead they are nearly always in flight or perched. They have a voracious appetite for small insects (including mosquitoes) which they catch in flight. Their strong jaws (mandibles) and their feeding behavior give them the name "dragon" flies.

References: Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, Donald and Lillian Stokes, Little Brown. Dragonflies Through Binoculars by Sidney W. Dunkle. Dragonflies, Behavior and Ecology of Odonata by Philip S. Corbet.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Be the first to do a moss, a fish or a spider. The only requirements are that the subject exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito