Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dragonfly Wings

Last week 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 sunrises occur 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.

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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.

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

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This one is resting on the dock while its wings unfold and dry off over the next hour or two.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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I zoomed in for a closer look.

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

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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.

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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 random photos taken at the cottage. There won't be a dragonfly among them.


Kerri Farley said...

This may be the very best post I have ever read! What a kind person you are to go to all of that effort. I am so glad you posted this today!!

And Fabulous shots, too!

Jane Hards Photography said...

Gigantic effort. Sutch a lot of thought and energy wwent into producing this post, and it's marvellous. I hope many stop by and comment as it's well worth spending some vitual time here. Very big well done.

Michele said...

Wonderful post... I throughly enjoyed your efforts to help out these little critters. YAY... what a wonderful way to show us a closeup of these beautiful insects!

Russell said...

I will second Kerri's statement! My goodness!!

I read through this post and it was like reading a most excellent book! You and Frank certainly went to a lot of effort to help this little guy out and I hope he makes it!!

Here in Iowa we have dragonflies around the lakes, but I am not very close to one so I don't seem them very often. They are amazing creatures, though, aren't they?

Take care and thanks for such a wonderful post. I really enjoyed reading through this and looking at the photos!

Frank Baron said...

Doh!! Now you tell me. Why didn't I think of that?!!

I should have become a surgeon! They make way more money than fishermen!

Great post Hil. You make the reader/viewer feel like he was really there. :)

gary rith said...

you know, those are awesome pics, and YES, dragonflies are a godsend to countryside with abundant mosquitos---a few years ago I was standing outside my house, a friendly dragonfly landed on my arm and proceeded to eat its lunch of a mosquito, from the bottom up, while the mosquito's head and arms flailed around uselessly....

the Bag Lady said...

Hilary - this was fascinating! It isn't too often that we get to see the drama of the insect world up close!
Marvelous post, and wow, you and Frank were really dedicated to preserving the life of that dragonfly! I, for one, choose to believe that he recovered and flew off in pursuit of those dratted mosquitoes. (and please don't ever tell me any different!!)

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I love your photography. I stumbled here from another blog, which I had stumbled on from another blog and .. so on and so on and so on. I plan to explore your blog more.

Love your work and the way you posted these photos with the story. Very interesting and heartwarming about the dragon fly!

Pat - Arkansas said...

"Marvelous: astonishing, excellent, fabulous, fantastic, glorious, magnificent, rewarding, sensational, smashing, spectacular, splendid, super, supreme, terrific, wonderful!! "

You see that I had to go to Roget's to find (still) inadequate words to describe this post. I say it is nature photo-journalism at its best.

Very well done, Hilary!

Suldog said...


That's a wonderful and amazing photo-story! God bless you and your hubby for trying to help the critter.

Just wonderful, all around.

Hilary said...

• Thank you so much, Kerri. Your ultra-kind words mean a lot to me. :)

• Thanks very much, Babooshka, and welcome to my blog. I sure hope you'll return soon. :)

• Thanks, Michele. That means a lot to me coming from you. :)

• Thanks muchly, Russell. You're right about dragonflies.. they're incredible creatures. Truthfully, I learned more from reading up on them before posting this, than I thought I knew by observing them last week.. if that makes any sense! That is, I knew they crawled out of the water, but was referring to the nymph skin as a chrysalis, so I learned as I posted. Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

• Doh, Frank.. you WERE there! What a cut-up! Just like a surgeon. ;)

• Thank you, Gary. That was so nice of you to allow that dragonfly to use your arm as a park bench. ;)

• Thanks, Baggie. I wouldn't dream of telling you anything that I don't want to believe myself. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Well thanks Jonny's Mommy and welcome! I'm glad you stumbled in via a series of blogs. I've found some of my favourites that way too. Thanks so much for your kind words, and please come back soon. :)

• Pat! I've never had compliments in alphabetical order before! Thank you SO much for your very kind words AND for posting about me in your own fine blog. You have totally made my day. :)

• Thanks so much for your sweet words, Sully. They mean a lot to me. And I'm sure (non-hubby) Frank feels the same. ;)

L said...

Those pics are outstanding!

Daryl said...

What a post .. loved how you and Frank tried to help that dragon fly ... and the photos .. oh Hilary .. you are SO good!


Missicat said...

WOW! Usually I shudder at any sort of insect (especially flying buzzy things), but your pics and video are fascinating! Bug drama!

Louise said...

Terrific pictures and what a story! I'll think with you that the thing recovered and flew away.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This was a fabulous photo essay recording a very kind, humanitarian deed. I'm so glad that Pat directed me here.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Wow, that was amazing!

I can't believe you captured it all with such beautiful photographs. And its so cool that you gave that poor guy every chance to survive.

Awesome post.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

WOWZA, this was a fun post. I am partial to anything photography so this was stellar! Isn't it amazing how intricate the bugs are (and how FAST they move). OY.

Hilary said...

• Thank you, WD. I'm glad you stopped by. :)

• Thank you SO much, Daryl. You're too kind. :)

• Thanks, Missicat. I'm not a big bug fan either, but I do love dragonflies and butterflies because they're so beautiful. I'm shallow that way. ;)

• Thanks muchly, Louise and welcome. You and Baggie might convince me that he did make it. ;)

• Thanks so much, Ruth. I'm glad Pat sent you here too. I hope you'll return. :)

• Thanks, Crabby. Much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, MamaGeek. Yeah, most bugs are NOT my favourite creatures.. fast moving ones even less so. But this guy just kind of tugged at me. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Latin Lupe Lu said...

Hilary, you captured the amazing dragonfly so beautifully. I have never seen them like that in Minnesota...truly inspiring. It is great that you take time to enjoy nature so fully!

Tink said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post!!!

I had no idea that's what dragonflies looked like before they became flighted bugs. Crazy... Also, the video of the dragonfly fighting off the caterpillar was amazing.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic pics!

Clowncar said...

You really have an ability to weave a narrative in pictures. That was wonderful.

I miss dragonflies. Much too dry here.

Shammickite said...

What a great story and told in such an inimitable style too! I like to think he (or she) recovered overnight and is out there busily chomping on juicy mozzies right now!
When I was in England I was told that the dragonfly population is dwindling, possibly something to do with microwaves and cell phone emissions.

Reb said...

WOW! Those are beautiful shots and such great and informative prose to go with them.

I really enjoyed the first video. It looked like he moved into a better position for the knife and then he was definitely hanging on against the final tug. It was as if he knew Frank was helping.

I was cheering him on in the second video. I truly believe that he recovered and flew away.

Great post Hilary!

Cath said...

That is one of the best I have ever read. It is a fantastic look at nature and the attempts you made to help the dragonfly are wonderful.
The photography (and video) is out of this world.
Really fantastic stuff. You are an awesome photographer. And Frank's not a bad could've-been-surgeon either!

RiverPoet said...

What amazing people you are to help that little dragonfly! Even if he didn't make it, what a beautiful connection you made. He trusted you and got a little spunk back as a result!

Wonderful post (and photos/footage) - Peace - D

JC said...

Most beautiful pics and commentary I've read. Thanks for sharing. I came over from Pat's. Will visit again. JC

Leah J. Utas said...

A moving post. What a beautiful thing to do to help that creature to live a full and glorious life. Of course it got its strength and flew off.
The video of the fight was amazing.

Jo said...

Hilary! My goodness! What a wonderful post. I think there is a children's book in this. Really! What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

Indrani said...

What a wonderful post, Hilary! It can be a good study material for school children. Right now my daughters have enjoyed the pics and write up thoroughly.

Daisy said...

Who needs National Geographic when they've got you?!

Most excellent.

Chi said...

I have a dragonfly wrapped around my car antenna right now; we met fast. I read your post and now I feel bad for that poor guy on my antenna, and the one under my windshield wiper. What's happening to me?! I think I'm turning--soft!!


Hilary said...

* Thanks so much for your kind words, LLL. :)

* Thank you, Tink. I didn't know that before last week either. Thanks for stopping by. :)

* Thanks, Mark. :)

* Thanks, Clowncar. Much appreciated. I don't get to see too many of them around home either, so it was a treat. :)

* Thanks, ex-S. I'd like to think it recovered too. :) I wonder if there's any truth to that microwave theory.

* Thanks muchly, Reb. What you described is pretty much how it happened with the positioning of the dragonfly and the knife. I'm thinking more along the lines of escape rather than trust.. but you never know. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

* Thank you so much for your very kind words, Cath. They're so very much appreciated. Thanks for stopping by. :)

* Thanks, Momma. Much appreciated. Your comment reminded me of a line by Lou Grant to Mary on the old Mary Tyler Moore show.

"You know what Mary? You've got spunk! .......... I HATE spunk!" ;)

Thanks for the visit. :)

* Thanks so much, JC, and welcome. I'm glad you dropped by. Thanks, again Pat! :)

* Thanks so much, Leah. I had a hunch it would appeal to your love for nature. And yes, of course he survived. I'm going to be believing that fully by the end of this day! ;)

* Thanks so much for your very kind words, Josie. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

* Thank you, Indrani. It seems that you and Josie are thinking along similar lines - kidlet-wise. Thanks so much for stopping by. :)

* Thanks, Daisy Jo. Too sweet. :)

* Christopha you'd have me believe that you eat kittens for breakfast too.. but I ain't fooled. ;) Thanks for stopping by. :)

Kat said...

I've always loved dragonflies but knew nothing about them. Do you know how much I just learned from this post? That was awesome! I didn't even know that they started out as nymphs! Wow!

I'd like to think that dragonfly gained strength from the mosquito you fed it and flew off into the night. I think you saved it!!!! You are awesome!

photowannabe said...

Wow....this is amazing and every supurlative I can think of. What a fantastic post Hilary.
Your husband is quite the surgeon.

Jo said...

That was amazing! I still think you would make an incredible career out of photographing/filming have a real gift for it, Hil...and the way you share the story is so empathetic.

It's great the way you & Frank tried to save the poor guy. A dragonfly tale from beginning to mysterious end--I loved it!

david mcmahon said...

Frank = genius.

Hilary = genius.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful photo essay. We miss dragonflies here.

Unknown said...

Don't dragonflies go to dragonfly heaven? He's in a better place ;)

Can I also echo what a fun post it was? You and Frank always seem to find so much wildlife... I suppose we're surrounded by it, we just need to look a little closer.

Anonymous said...

This is a superb set of photos!

steviewren said...

Apparently, I knew nothing about dragonflies before reading this post. Thanks for the fascinating lesson. As always your photos are magnificent.

Anonymous said...

Very intersting post. Thank you! (I'm a first-time visitor.)

Hilary said...

* Thanks very much, Kathryn. The truth is that I didn't know about the nymph stage either. It just started to become apparent when all these dragonflies with unopened wings were always seen near what appeared to be a dried out, dead beetles of sorts. Then we saw one emerging and it clicked! We were even referring to them as chrysalis until I thought I'd better do a bit of research. I did know about the dragonflies dropping their eggs into the lake because we witnessed a lot of that last June. I just never gave much thought as to how they hatched.

Thanks for your kind words. And if optimism alone could do it, that dragonfly is having a fine life now. :)

* Thanks muchly, Photowannabe. Much appreciated. :)

* Thanks so much, Jo. Your encouraging words always mean a great deal to me. I'm glad you enjoyed the tale and photos. :)

* Thanks very much, David.
Frank + Hilary = blushing. ;)

* Thank you, Seamus. I don't ordinarily get to see too many of them myself so this was a treat. Thanks for stopping by. :)

* Ubi! Glad to see you! :) I suppose dragonfly heaven would have countless mosquitoes upon which to feast.

Thanks for your kind words. I began finding more nature when I started to look through the camera lens, and I know you've found some ultra-amazing subjects that way yourself. Thanks for the visit, Dave. :)

* Thanks Quinttarintino - much appreciated. And welcome. :)

* Thanks so much, Steviewren. I learned a bit before I posted too. Thanks for your always-kind words. :)

* Welcome, Addhumorandfaith and thank you. I hope you'll drop by again soon. :)

Suldog said...

Oops! Sorry about the faux pas! I assumed, and we all know what happens when we assume...

Hilary said...

Yup, u and me both, Sully. No problem though. :)

imbeingheldhostage said...

what an amazing post with absolutely gorgeous photos and a captivating tale... I'd like to think it got really strong and flew away. The Arkansas Stamper sent me, and I'm so glad she did!

Sandi McBride said...

I always enjoy coming in here to see your photos and read your renderings...haven't been in awhile and for that I marking you now

Anonymous said...

Absolutely stunning photography here. Your shots are amazingly subject to detail. While growing up I had a entomology collection. It actually was awarded a display position at the Indiana State Fair years and years ago. Thanks for this great post.
Have a great weekend.
The Bach

Hilary said...

• Thanks so much, Imbeingheldhostage. I'm glad Pat sent you too. Your kind words are very much appreciated. :)

• Thanks, Sandi.. but no need to apologize. I'm happy to see you back for a visit. :)

• Thanks very much, Bach. That's so cool that you won that honour for your collection. Have you posted about that yet? Thanks always for stopping by. :)

Kappa no He said...

AMAZING! I love dragonflies.

Hilary said...

Thanks, Kappa! :)

elasticwaistbandlady said...

This was like a National Geographic story and photo shoot. Seriously. Really spectacular.

Dragonfly in Spanish in Libelula. My kids don't really speak Spanish (neither do I) but they sing this cute song about a Libelula. My girls also love dragonflies. We have a lot of butterfly weed and salvia in our front yard which attracts them by the swarm.

Hilary said...

Thanks very much, EWBL. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

I'll bet your girls sound adorable singing about the Libelula. Maybe you could record it sometime. I'm glad they share a love for dragonflies. It's one cool insect. Thanks always for stopping by. :)

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon the site after looking up some information about some dragonflies in my yard. I just wanted to say that I truly believe God has special rewards for you in heaven! Seeing us helping out his smallest creatures must please him so much. You are truly a loving and compassionate person to spend so much time taking care of that dragonfly. May God bless you.

Hilary said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Tracey. You're very sweet to stop by and express your thoughts. I hope you found the information you needed. :)

Ishat's Fire and Ice said...

I love dragon flies. I loved that you got to take so many stages of them.

The stuck wing one. That was interesting.

Thanks for sharing.

Hilary said...

Thanks very much for your kind words, Ishat's Fire. :)

Cedar said...

This is my favorite Blog of yours so far. I played that video for my office buddy. We both thought it was fascinating.

What is that emerald green thing on the Dragonfly?

Hilary said...

Thanks very much, Cedar and office buddy! Much appreciated. :)

I'm not sure just what that emerald green blob is on one of the dragonflies. I assume it was just its markings.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you will ever read this, but I found your blog having just had a very similar experience with an injured dragonfly - I was looking for advise on helping it.

It emerged from our pond on a stormy day, and we noticed that the fore wings were stuck together and while the back wings were open one was badly kinked. After standing over it with an umbrella for 30 mins it ended up climbing onto my hand so I carried it into the garage for shelter. Like you we managed very carefuly to separate the stuck fore wings with a craft scalpel, but could not get the kink out of the other. Hoping it might heal on its own we gave it a home in our conservatory where it could fly free (and not so much junk as the garage to loose it).

It was an Emperor Dragonfly, biggest in the UK and utterly beautiful. Unfortunately it couldn't fly so spent most of its time sitting on a shoe (that happend to be there). We tried to feed it but it didn't seem to be interested. When it was sunny it became more active and tried to fly - best it could manage was 6 inchs out of control flutter and in the process the kinked wing broke off. I guess dragonfly need all 4 wings operative.

The weather was aweful all week and we just didn't have the heart to put it out there, and could not bring myself to kill it. It didn't seem distressed resting on the shoe in our conservatory, even with a borken wing. That is where it ended its days a week after emerging.

Nice to know that we are not the only crazy people to try and rescue these beautiful creatures.

Hilary said...

Anon, thank you for leaving such an informative comment. One of the most common search hits that I get on this blog is "injured dragonfly" so I'm guessing that a lot of people are trying to find a way to help these beauties. I'm so glad that you're one of them and wish that it could have ended more positively for both of our winged charmers. Thanks so much for stopping by, and rest assured, I read every comment. :) Please do return again.

Unknown said...

I just ran across this posting and am so happy to have found it. I live in NYC and work in midtown Manhattan in an office building on Park Avenue. I was just coming in from an errand and laying outside the entrance to my office building was a dragonfly upside down, trying desperately to move. I gently picked up the end of his trail and turned him rightside up, hoping that would help and saw that he could not move. I went upstairs to my office but could not get this poor creature out of my mind so came back down a few minutes later and put him in a cup and carried him to a large planter that had flowers and plants in it. I figured he was better off there than on a cement floor near a doorway. I still feel sad but it makes me feel better to know that there are other people like me out there who care to help such beautiful and helpless creatures.

Hilary said...

Thank you so much for commenting, Tamara. And especially for trying to help the dragonfly. I guess some are either just malformed, injured or are at the end of their life cycle. But I believe you did the right thing for giving it a more natural environment. A beautiful creature like that doesn't belong on a concrete floor. Thank you. :)

Jenn Jilks said...

I see what you mean! Thanks for sharing this one. I must say I've saved more dragonflies than lost them, they get lost in the goldfish pond, I rescue them.