Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dragonfly Wings Revisited

I originally posted this two years ago. Due to time restraints and other projects calling, I'm going to tell this story again. It will be new to most of you but familiar to some. I hope you enjoy it.
We spent a few days up at Frank's family cottage.The weather wasn't terribly cooperative, offering just a few moments of sunshine here and there over the course of the week. We didn't have access to a boat so we were pretty much cottage and dock-bound for our full stay. That was just fine with us.

The overcast days didn't lend themselves to photographing colourful vistas, and since dawn occurs so early at this time of year, I wasn't anxious to get out of my cozy bed to attempt to capture the non-existent sunrise. What was left to photograph?

Last June, when we arrived at the lake, we were greeted by dozens of dragonflies which zigged and zagged their way around our heads, kindly reducing the mosquito population for us. This year, we might have arrived a week before that schedule. There were a few here and there, but it seemed that many of the dragonflies we saw were not in flight.

This is the empty skin of a nymph. In previous summers, mature dragonflies dropped their eggs into the lake where they grew and developed into nymphs. They stayed underwater from one to a few years, eating, growing and maturing until they were ready to climb out of the water and begin the process of becoming a dragonfly.

Here is a healthy dragonfly which has just emerged from its abandoned skin.

This one is resting on the dock while its wings unfold and dry off over the next hour or two. Isn't that a brilliant green on its back?

This beauty recently emerged from its nymph state, and appears as if it is almost ready to fly. Its wings are still too wet to separate. See the water droplet suspended from its tip? It took a little over an hour until it flew off in search of food.

Here we have a sick or perhaps injured dragonfly. We didn't realize it at the time, but it soon became apparent that it was not recovering from its ordeal as it should. Its body was dry, but its wings remained stuck together, and we could see the droplets of water captured between them. Unlike others which we had observed, this one didn't appear to be able to separate and spread its wings. We wondered if they had not formed properly. Perhaps they were somehow fused together. Late in the day, this dragonfly had not progressed at all. Frank wondered if his fish filleting knife might have a thin and sharp enough blade to help separate the wings.

It seemed to help. With such a skilled touch, he should have been a surgeon.

A short while later its wings were open for the first time.

Climbing the rope a few hours later, it appeared to be just as unable to spread its wings as before the "surgery." We placed it so it would be more sheltered from impending rain and predators. In the morning it was in worse shape than before.

It seemed fairly obvious to us that it wasn't going to make it, so we figured that the best we could do for it was relocate it in a more natural setting and allow it to die a dignified dragonfly death. It clung to my finger allowing for an easy transport.

I zoomed in for a closer look.

We gently placed it on the end of a cut branch where it remained for the rest of the day.

It was unable to capture its own food, so we made a clumsy offering of a recently-swatted mosquito. You can see it over on the right side of the branch if you enlarge the photo. Shortly afterwards, the mosquito was gone and the dragonfly remained.

Later in the day, we learned that our dragonfly friend still had some fight left in it, when its safety was threatened by a determined caterpillar.

I learned that I could take a video while my camera was on the macro setting. Watch as our dragonfly friend displays its survival instinct as it fights off the caterpillar.

It won that fight, but we're not so sure it survived the night. In the morning, it was nowhere to be seen. It may have become a bird's meal. Had we checked more thoroughly, we may have found it lying somewhere below its previous perch. Or perhaps it gained some strength overnight, managed to spread its wings and fly. Neither of us really believe that but we'd like to.

In a few days I'll post some more photos. There probably won't be a dragonfly among them.


Sueann said...

What a wonderful photo montage! I hadn't heard the story before so I am glad you re-posted it. Great photos!!!

Shrinky said...

What a captivating post, hilary, and the shots are absolutely stunning. The poor creature was given more than one fighting chance, thanks to your efforts, who knows - he may well have survived!

Anonymous said...

That was an incredible series of pictures, and finishing with a true 'wild life' video good enough to be posted on the tube thingey.

I think it deserves a prize. I do hope it survived due to your valiant efforts.

Maggie May said...

That was a great set of photos that I am sure I haven't seen before and I thought that the dragonfly was a very plucky little fellow fighting off that huge monster the way he did.
I hoped that he would have survived for a bit longer.

Nuts in May

Brian Miller said...

these are just that green thing an egg?

Kappa no He said...

I've been away so long. Your blog is all new and shiny. I love it. I loved it before. But I love it now more. And the pictures are amazing.

When Julyan was in elementary school they wouldn't clean the outdoor pool during the winter months to let it get all gunky and then the kids would wade out and collect nymphs to observe, setting them free when they became dragonflies. I love dragonflies.

Tabor said...

I had not read this post and am so glad you shared it once again. You have a wonderful talent as you made us sympathetic toward that tiny alien looking bug.

Steve Gravano said...

Such a lovely story. Frank's efforts with the knife were gallant. That dragonfly had some pretty fancy boxing moves!

DeniseinVA said...

I haven't seen this before either and I thank you for sharing it again. Amazing photography and a wonderful post which shows not only this beautiful dragonfly's fight for survival but also your love of nature. So glad I popped in this morning.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Hilary: Wonderful post, I was watching some dragonflies skim a pond but they wouldn't stop for photos. I tried but don't think I got anything.

Leah J. Utas said...

Gorgeous pics, and what a beautiful story of a life in struggle.

Joanne said...

Though I've seen dragonflies all my life, I've never been aware of their life cycle! Nature can be so harsh for the tiniest of creatures, what a very moving photo story you've shared.

Paul C said...

Dragonflies embody for me an essential element of a clean environment. Breathtaking macro images!

järnebrand said...

Beautiful photos. And what a beautiful story... You sure tried hard to save him! Good karma coming your way, I am certain... :)
Such a sweet post. I love the colors. Love/ Jo.

Sarah Knight said...

That is awesome!
Have a happy earth day!

Susie said...

I remember this post and have actually thought about that dragonfly off and on. I'm not sure why...but the story, your concern and of course, the amazing photos really left an impression on me. It's nice to see it again.

~JarieLyn~ said...

This is one of the most interesting posts I've read in awhile. I am so glad you re-posted this for your readers.

Your photos are amazing and the video was awesome. I like to think that the dragonfly survived through the night as well.

lime said...

what an amazing series of photos. not only are they beautiful but so informative!

Daryl said...

Superb .. but the first two .. ewww

Zuzana said...

I love the minute detail in each and every photograph. I am not a great fan of insects, but I love dragonflies. This one is a stunningly beautiful, in colour and shape.
I missed this post the first time around, thus it is lovely to read it now.

Dawning Inspiration said...

Oh my goodness - how fabulous are these pics! The details in the wings and such are amazing!

Frank Baron said...

One of our most memorable days that also turned into one of your best blog posts. Well worth a re-visit, dear. :)

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Hilary: What spectacular shots. These are National Geographic quality. I'm sure you are extremely proud of these. Do you have any of them framed and hanging where they can be appreciated by everyone.

A real treat to see everything up close and personal! Thank you.

LadyFi said...

Oh wow - what an amazing story. And those photos are just superb. Just brilliant!

Anita said...

How wonderful it is, that you and your husband can get away, relax, and enjoy all the intricacies of nature.
I thoroughly enjoyed your photograpy and comments...and the film too!

messymimi said...


A story and pictures worth the telling and viewing, over and over.

CiCi said...

Dragonfly on the finger. Amazing. Wonderful photos and I had not seen them before.

Suldog said...

I recall this from years ago, and it was one of my favorite offerings here. As a person who likes to believe he might do similar - has, on occasion, actually - I applaud the effort, again.

Kat said...

I remember this post. I loved it then and I loved reading it again. :)

San said...

Hilary, I have to remind myself: When I come to "The Smitten Image," prepare to be smitten. I am, again and again, especially on this visit. Breathtaking photographs. And I loved reading about/viewing Frank's heroic wing-separation procedure.

Unknown said...

Hilary, thanks for reposting, as I've never seen this.

And seriously, you should submit this somewhere.
It's superb, educational, beautiful, unique , and for Earth Day~ it doesn't get much better.

Karen said...

Amazing. Again. Wow.

Pearl said...

Hi, HIlary.

Thanks for the follow-up re: a comment on my crop-duster story. :-) Very kind of you.

And thanks for the re-post. As you know, I'm new here and so of course had not seen this before.

You tell a good story.


Mage said...

Beautiful story....thank you so much.

Dianne said...

I'm trying to remember the exact quote but it goes something like

the greatest among us are those who respect the least among us

I love this story
I think you and Frank are wonderful souls

beautiful photos of course

Cloudia said...

What an extraordinary story!
Such patience, skill & heart you have.

We call them "Pinao."
From Wikipedia:

"The Giant Hawaiian Darner, also known as the Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly or Pinao (Anax strenuus), is a species of dragonfly in the family Aeshnidae that is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. It is particularly common at higher elevations.
This species is one of the largest of all modern dragonflies, reaching a wingspan of 7.5 in (19 cm)."

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Hilary said...

• SueAnn, thanks very much. I'm glad that you were able to catch it this time around. :)

• Shrinky, thank you kindly. I'd really like to think that he did. :)

• Moannie, thank you so much. I don't think I've ever been told that I'm tube thingey-worthy before. ;) Your kind words do mean a lot to me. :)

• Maggie, thank you. Wasn't he just such a determined fighter? He kind of reminds me of YOU.. without the mosquito lunch, of course. ;) Keep on fighting, my friend. :)

• Brian, I really don't know what that was. It looks like the wrong place for an egg or egg sac, but you never know. Google hasn't helped much this time, I'm afraid. Thanks for your kind words. :)

• Kappa, thank you so much. I've missed you! And I love dragonflies too. That had to be a great learning experience for Julyan. They're fascinating creatures. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Tabor, a tiny alien looking bug that eats mosquitos! Thanks for your kind words. :)

• Thanks, Steve. He had a lot of fight left in him. And yes, Frank's got a steady and caring hand. :)

• Denise, I'm glad you popped in too... such kind words. This was a memorable day for me and I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about it and seeing our little dragonfly friend. Thank you. :)

• Fishing Guy, they can be rather elusive sometimes. But when they're first emerging as these were, they're usually easier to photograph. Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Thank you, Leah. I'm so glad that you think so. :)

• Joanne, thank you. I was quite unaware of their life cycle too, until I first posted this story. There's so much to know.. so little time! :)

• Paul, they're a wonderful creature, aren't they? Thanks so much for your kind words. :)

• Jo, thank you so much. I sure was hoping for his survival. I still am. :)

• Thank you, Sarah. Happy Earth Day to you, too. :)

• Susie, I'm happy to know that this story has touched you and remained with you over time. It sure has done likewise for me. Thank you so much for letting me know. :)

• JarieLyn, nice to see you again. :) I'm glad to know that you enjoyed the post. Thanks very kindly . :)

• Thanks very much, Lime. I'm happy to hear that you think so. I learned a lot from watching that little guy. :)

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Daryl. Nature can be both beautiful and quite unattractive at the same time, I suppose. :)

• Zuzana, I'm not a huge insect lover either but there are a few which I find beautiful - dragonflies, butterflies, moths and lady bugs are among them. Earwigs and spiders - not so much! Thanks for your always-kind words, my friend. :)

• Stacey, thank very much for your kind words. They're very much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, Frank - my pleasure. I enjoyed that day with you very much. Then again, I always do. :)

• Bonnie, thank you so much. You're too kind. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I've never printed and framed any of my photos.. yet. I suppose I should get around to doing that sometime, eh? Thanks so much for your very kind words. :)

• LadyFi, thanks so much for the kind words. Very much appreciated. :)

• Anita, thanks very much. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

• Messymimi, thank you. That's a good thing because I have in fact told it over again. ;)

• TechnoBabe, thanks. I'm glad you caught them this time around. :)

• Thank you, Suldog. I have no doubt given the same or similar circumstances, you'd have done the same. I know your heart is huge. Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Linda, they tend to stick around more some times than others. I've been lucky on occasion.. not so much on others. That's a sad story about the dragonfly dying on your husband's cap but I think it says something about the kind of person he is. Somehow that creature recognized a kind soul with whom to spend its last time on earth. It's actually a very touching event. Thanks so much for your very kind words. :)

• Kat, thanks very much for reading it again. :)

• San, good to see you. Thank you so much for your very kind words. I always love discovering that you've done another post. They're so few and far between.. and always wonderful. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, Deb. Your very kind words mean a lot to me. I'm very appreciative. :)

• Thank you, Karen. :)

• Pearl, thanks very kindly. I'm glad you've decided to stick around, and I'm equally happy to have found your blog. I have Joanna Jenkins to thank for that. :)

• Thank you, Maggie. Much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, Dianne. You know I feel the same about you. That's a lovely quote - any idea who said it? Of course, when it comes right down to "us," there really isn't any greater or lesser. We're all basically the same. Thanks always for your kind words. :)

• Cloudia, thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed post and I appreciate reading the quote from Wikipedia. Aloha to you. :)

Joanna Jenkins said...

I am not a "bug" fan but these pics are amazing. The clarity and detail is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

Dave said...

Hilary, this blog is amazing! Thanks for repeating it. Excellent macro photos and a sad story to go with it. Thanks to you both for trying to help the dragonfly. I have learned a lot from your photoblog and explanations. - Dave

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reposting! Your photography is amazing! You are a professional by all means.
I agree, life is so busy; LadyCat and I are spinning around with something all the time anymore!
Have a great weekend! :) The Bach

Land of shimp said...

Morning, Hilary :-) What a stunning set of photographs. The intricacies of the world never fail to fascinate me, and this series really pinpoints how even something seemingly simple has a great deal of complexity to it.

I'm almost positive I've told you this in the past, but I'm going to risk redundancy and say it again: Long ago, in a class about fairytale and myths, the idea was posed that the basis for a belief in faeries came about from viewing dragonflies and fireflies.

Isn't that easy to believe? Just seeing the jeweled bodies of dragonflies, and the winking lights of fireflies, it is easy to start to imagine a magical kingdom, isn't it?

It's pouring here this morning. Just dismal, and this series of photographs really helped brighten the day. Thank you!

ds said...

Wonderful. Your photographs, Frank's skill with the knife (he's a good voiceover too), the videos. Well done! I will never look at a dragonfly in quite the same way. Thank you.

holdingmoments said...

Amazing pictures to go with that story Hilary. I'd like to think he survived, and lived on. You both gave him the best chance he could have.

SandyCarlson said...

Incredible. I enjoyed going through that process with the dragonfly. Your photos are outstanding, my friend.

Jinksy said...

The video proves there was sill an urge for was great thing to have filmed- thanks!

Tammie Lee said...

Hilary, this is a wonderful post! All the lovely photos which happen to have such amazing details that I have to look and look and look. That surgery was a delicate procedure.

Nancy said...

This was so fascinating! I really love how you and Frank respect and celebrate life in all it's tiny little ways. Great juju.

Sammy's Photoblog said...

Wonderful post Hilary, i had not read this before and i'm glad you shared it again, i also learnt about their life cycle today... picutes are amazing

Have a great Weekend

Unspoken said...

You made these critters appear beautiful, intricate, amazing.

photowannabe said...

I remembered this from before but was equally captivated by it the second time. Nature is an amazing thing.
Thanks for posting this again Hilary.

Merisi said...

this is such a gorgeously rich photo story about nature's joys and losses!

Cedar said...

AWESOME. I love dragonflys, or as some call them back east, darning needles, but I have no clue why, or if I spelled darning needles right.

Hilary said...

• Thanks very much, Joanna. I'm glad you enjoyed them. :)

• Dave, thank you so much. It pleases me to know that you're liking what I have to share. :)

• Bach, I'm glad you approve of the reposting because I'll be doing another one in a few hours. Thanks very much for your always kind words. :)

• Shimp, thank you so kindly. I don't think you've told me about the faeries, but it's certainly a belief I've heard before. And yes, it's entirely easy to believe. Tiny little moths too... especially if you see them in the late day sunlight. Then you'll know what I mean. I'm glad that my photos were something of a day-brightener for you. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• DS, thanks very much. I haven't looked at them in the same way ever since. I'm glad this post touched you. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Holdingmoments, thank you very kindly. I'd like to think he did too. Let's do just that. ;)

• Sandy, thanks so much. That means a great deal coming from you. :)

• Jinsky, we were very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Yes, the survival instinct is so strong, isn't it?

• Tammie Lee, thank you very kindly. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the post and that it kept you looking. :)

• Nancy, thanks very much. Your very kind words are much appreciated :)

• Sammy, thank you. I'm glad you stopped by to see it. :)

• Amy, they already appeared that way to me. I just photographed them. Thanks though, for your very kind words. :)

• Sue, I knew you were one of those reading my blog way back when. Thank you so much for sticking with me. :)

• Merisi, thank you so very kindly. Your warm comments are very much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, Cedar. I have heard the term "darning needles" used for dragonflies. I think I used to associate them with the smaller of the species. I love these creatures too. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! The short videos were a nice addition, and I learned much about dragonflies. When does the Nature Channel start paying you?

Hilary said...

Thanks, KC. That Nature channel gig would be great. See what you can do, eh? Thanks for the kind words. :)

Vanessa Rogers said...

Wow, I have to say that I prefer the adult dragonflies to the adolescents. He did have brilliant green on his back but he sure was ugly.

Hilary said...

Vanessa, I guess ugly is in the eye of the beholder.. or dragonfly holder. ;) They're not always the prettiest but they sure are interesting critters. Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you'll be back again soon. :)

beth said...

wow wow wow.....everything.....the photos, the videos, the !

Kerri Farley said...

Oh I remember this post well Hilary! It was one of my favorites .... and still is!!

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Beth. I take it you enjoyed the post. :)

• Thank you for reading it again, Kerri. Much appreciated. :)

Unknown said...

I just want to say thanks as I found a Dragonfly today that had wings that were stuck together today and after many hours of spraying the wings to try to moisten them again so that it might be able to open them I decided to look for help on line. The first thing I clicked on was your blog. I volunteer in the Entomology department of a museum in the collections and up to now I've only handled butterfly, Moth and Beetle collections. I wasn't sure how fragile the wings of a Dragonfly would be and was bearing in mind how fragile the wings of these other insects are. I decided the Dragonfly wasn't going to make it if I didn't intervene so I found and watched your video and tried and managed to open the wings with the handle of a tea spoon. After a while of checking the wings aren't going to stick together again I have put this beautiful bug out for the night hoping it will be able to fly away and breed to produce the next generation!

Hilary said...

Amanda, thank you so very kindly for letting me know. I'm so glad you were able to separate its wings and I sure hope that it will fly on to a good bug-eating life. I very much appreciate you writing to share your experience. I love dragonflies and your comment made my day. Thank you for that and especially for looking out for this lovely creature.