The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 13, 2010


A trio of dragonflies

Female Amberwing

August is a wonderful time to observe a variety of dragonflies, swooping in your garden or spotted in a field sitting on a blade of dry grass watching for smaller insects to grab for lunch. Dragonflies have captured the imagination of people all over the world for centuries and can be found depicted in a variety of works of art.

In recent years spotting and identifying “odes” has become a popular pastime for birders and other naturalists, encouraged by the recent publication of dozens of field guides (see notes at the end of this article) to help with identification. “Odes” and “oding” are common terms now among naturalists. The terms are taken from Odonata, the name of the classification order for damselflies and dragonflies.

Male Amberwing

Where seen: I spotted an Amberwing flying on the Town Common in late July. Though usually found flying low over ponds, this individual had roamed to the Common in search of food. On July 10 Tom Brownrigg saw two Halloween Pennants perched in the field at the Benfield Land. The Spangled Skimmer is often seen flying over the ponds at the Cranberry Bog throughout July and August and is a favorite of observer and photographer Alan Ankers.

Dragons and Damsels: The easiest way to tell a dragon(fly) from a damsel(fly) is that the damselflies land with their wings closed and are usually smaller than the dragonflies. There are of course exceptions: A damselfly group known as Spreadwings land with wings at least partially spread, and the magnificent Ebony Jewelwing, a damselfly, has large, showy black wings (and a spectacular iridescent green body). These Jewelwings were seen last week along the Otter Slide Trail (near the Cranberry Bog) and at the State Park boat landing.

Female Halloween Pennant

Identification and habitat: The Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera) is a small dragonfly measuring about 7/8 of an inch in length, with an amber-brown body. The male has amber-colored wings, while the female has clear wings with brown spots. This species flies slowly and has such distinct coloration that it is easy to identify, unlike many species of dragonflies that tend to zoom past you as if to say “just try and figure out who I am!”


The Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina), like the Amberwing, belongs to the family called “skimmers.” It stands out with its brilliantly marked wings, its bouncy flight style and its habit of perching on stalks, often roaming far from water. The wing markings occur in bands, which help distinguish it from the Calico Pennant.

Male Halloween Pennant

The male Spangled Skimmer is a large blue dragonfly with distinct “spangles” or sparkles that seem to glitter on its otherwise mostly clear wings. These spangles are striking black and white spots known as stigmas on the front edge of both sets of wings. The Spangled Skimmer swoops over the streams and ponds and is commonly seen at the Cranberry Bog flying along the wet ditches and perching on various plant stems.

Recommendations: I hope that many readers will be inspired to look closely at the wonderful diversity of odes in our area – in your backyard, the State Park, Cranberry Bog trails

Male Spangled Skimmer

or any other place with fields and ponds. These beautiful creatures eat lots of mosquitoes and other small insects and just by their beauty enhance our neighborhoods! Dragonflies and damselflies have strong legs and well-developed mouth parts for catching and eating their prey, but they do not bite or sting people. Instead, some species like the Meadowhawks often land on your shirt so you can get a close look. (And vice versa).



Female Spangled Skimmer

For more information see other dragonfly articles at the Mosquito archives online at Blue Dasher, 7-19-2002, Meadowhawk, 9-12-2003 and Pond Skimmers, 7-16-2004. My favorite guides include: A Field Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts by Blair Nikula, Jennifer Loose and Matthew Burne. Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones and Donald and Lillian Stokes.

all photos by Alan Ankers

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