LEPS & ODES: Dragonfly season concludes with meadowhawks
Fall colors are not only restricted to plants and leaves. They are shared by the season's last group of dragonflies: the meadowhawks. All are members of the Sympetrum genus.
Mature males have bright-red bodies. Immatures of both genders, as well as mature females, are yellow or yellow-brown.
This sets up an almost-perfect color match when they rest from hunting their flying insect prey. They become much less noticeable to their predators, such as birds. (It also makes them much less noticeable to us!)
Unlike the much larger darners I wrote about in a recent column, meadowhawks are quite small. They average only 1.2 to 1.4 inches long. The seven species of Sypmpetrum we have around here share the same size range with the five whiteface (Leucorrhinia genus) species that began emerging in May.
Here, I'll spotlight three of the seven meadowhawk species:
• White-faced Meadowhawk: As I already mentioned, nature provided five spring species that all have white faces. So, why not a late summer/early fall White-faced Meadowhawk? Their faces stand out like a night time sign in our headlights. You don't even need binoculars to see the white of their faces. I began keeping track of dragonflies in this neck of the woods in 1997. I've seen the White-faced Meadowhawk flying as late as Oct. 6.
• Saffron-winged Meadowhawk: Young adults have a saffron, gold leading edge on all four wings. Mature males have bright-red leading edges, stigmas and bodies. All in all, this creates a very striking effect. I've seen them flying as late as Oct. 8.
• Autumn Meadowhawk: Most meadowhawks have black legs, not so the Autumn. It's former common name was "Yellow-legged" due to their straw color. Days or even weeks after nectar-sipping butterflies have closed shop for the season, Autumn Meadowhawks are still on the wing.
Even I was impressed that one fall, so far, I saw Autumns on the wing through Nov. 13! (However, climate change probably makes this the "new norm" rather than the "exception." With disease carrying mosquitoes having a longer season that would be a beneficial bonus.)
While outdoors this fall, take some time to look closer as you walk by foliage and even leaves that lay on the ground. I'm sure you'll see more than one of these small meadowhawks that usher the close of our 2018 dragonfly season. Enjoy!