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Posts Tagged ‘copulation wheel’

swamp2

Whose swamp this is I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his swamp…

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But I think of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening whenever I stop to appreciate this wetland that is bisected by a paved road on my route to Prescott. It evokes the same sense of stillness that Frost’s poem deftly captures.

If time allows, I park my car on the shoulder, turn off the ignition and climb out to gaze over the water. On a hot summer’s day, the heat of the sun envelopes me and a deep, penetrating silence settles into my bones. Soon the abundant life of the wetland becomes apparent, the quiet sounds of birds and frogs, dragonflies zipping back and forth, littles intensely living out their lives.

On the west side of the road, the wetland runs toward swamp, with dead trees and snags punctuating the water surface. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, with cattails and open water. In winter, it is dotted with muskrat houses.

marsh

I especially enjoy watching the dragonflies. The cast of characters changes across the season. When I visited early in July, the water surface was alive with bluets, brilliant blue damselflies. (There are a number of bluet species, difficult to differentiate.) Many were curled into copulation wheels, whereby the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. This can take a few minutes or as long as an hour. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs in water or on plant material.

bluets1

This weekend, Easter Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) predominated. They’re members of the Skimmer family, Libellulidae.

dragon3

As I watched, I could see many females skimming the surface, dipping into the water, depositing their eggs.

>Female Eastern Pondhawk

Others were wrapped in copulation wheels, the female in the rear or lower position.

Eastern Pondhawks

I was startled when a heron that I hadn’t even noticed suddenly flew up with an extended loud expression of its annoyance. It flew across the road and settled far along the edge of the east marsh, away from my prying eyes.

heron

When I crossed to the east side of the road, a little flock of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) kept a close eye on me and let out their distinctive alarm shrieks before whirling away to a more distant mudflat. They were keeping company with some Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda). You can just see one peeking out to the right of the Killdeer.

kildeer

The water surface was dotted with little yellow flowers, bladderwort (Ulticularia sp). Can you spot the frog watching me?

flowers

I could hear a bird sound coming from the cattails and walked up the road to get a better view. I thought it might be a bittern, and didn’t really expect to see anything. Bitters are very hard to spot in vegetation. I was surprised to find instead this chicken-sized bird strolling along the water’s edge.

moorhen2

A Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)! In spite of the name, moorhens aren’t a very common sight and I was delighted to encounter this one. There was some movement of something dark behind her, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was. Perhaps she had chicks with her. What an exciting find!

moorhen

I was sorry to leave, but I had errands to run. Miles to go…

swamp1

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pondreflection

Reflection

The other day, I walked down to the pond to see what the inhabitants were up to. As soon as I got there, I turned around and walked back to the house, because I was greeted by a horde of deer flies. I put on a sweatshirt, even though it was a warm day, to save swatting at my arms. Back at the pond, I took stock of who was out and about.

bluetpairs

Along the shore, dozens of bluets were zipping back and forth and perching on vegetation along the edge of the water. Many pairs were flying in tandem, or were forming a copulation wheel, the position in which the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female.

bluetpair2

You know that “I’m being watched” feeling? Down by the pond, you don’t have to be paranoid to believe that many eyes are watching you. A lot of those eyes belong to frogs. As I walked along the shore, every few yards a large frog would leap into the pond before my advance. Many more simply rested in the water and watched from a safe distance. The pond is home to a sizable population of Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) and a fewer number of Green frogs (Rana clamitans). One charismatic character seemed to have a Mona Lisa smile:

pondsmilingfrog

Another was floating in a relaxed posture as if enjoying a day at the beach…which I guess he was!

pondfloatingfrog

This big fellow sang a few bars of his throbbing love song for me. Well, maybe I wasn’t the female he had in mind…

pondbullfrog

Along the shore, schools of tiny fish fry and minnows swam by.

pondfish

The vegetation, both in the water and along the edges is full and luxuriant. There is plentiful pondweed (Potamogeton sp.) to provide cover for floating frogs and little fish. Along the shore, Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) adds a touch of colour.

pondswampmilkweed

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dragonflyloop

Across the summer, and from habitat to habitat, the array of dragonflies seen on the wing changes. Pictured above are a pair of Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonflies (Leucorrhinia intacta), a common dragonfly of vegetated ponds, seen in spring and summer. The Whitefaces are members of the Skimmer family. There are 7 species of Whitefaces in North America.

This mating pair demonstrate the “copulation wheel”. In this position, the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. The process can take from 3 seconds to an hour or more. A male dragonfly can remove sperm deposited by a previous competitor to insure that his own sperm will be the ones fertilizing the female’s eggs. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs (oviposit) in flight by tapping the water with the tip of her abdomen.

dragonflywhitetail

The Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia) is a stocky skimmer that flies in summer over a wide variety of wetlands. The male, pictured above, shows the chalky white abdomen for which the species is named. The appearance of the female is quite different from the male. Instead of the white of the male, her abdomen is brown, with angled yellowish to white dashes on the sides. The wings are also different. The male’s wings have broad black bands across the middle and thick black bars at the base, while the wings of the female feature black patches at the base, midpoint and tips. A female Common Whitetail is pictured below.

dragonflywhitetailfemale

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