For my first column of 2020, I’m focusing on a specific “ode” (odonate dragonfly), the Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa).

Kurt Mead in his “Dragonflies of the North Woods,” says, “The stunning little Calico Pennant is one of my favorites.”

During the dragonfly programs I give for Hubbard County sixth graders at Freshwater Festivals, I’m often asked “What’s your favorite?”

Without hesitation, I reply, “Calico Pennant.”

Why? Once you see the vivid, striking colorful faces, bodies and wings of the Calico, you might agree.

Many dragonfly species have clear wings. Not so the two pennant species: Calico and Halloween. Both have impressive spots. (In fact, the Greek prefix celi in the genus name means “spot.”)

Dragonfly author Cynthia Berger says her readers may have heard Calicos called “Valentine Pennants.” That’s because the mature males have a chain of red mini-hearts on top of their abdomens. Certainly another striking feature.

However, immature adults – both males and females – have yellow highlights that mature females retain. You can readily tell mature Calicos apart by gender – yellow females, red males – as they fly hunting for insects near you.

Berger also says “pennants like ponds and marshes with tall water plants; they also forage in neighboring fields.” I can definitely attest that Calicos love to hunt over fields.

June 9 was my first date seeing Calicos this year. The season started with a bang: 143. They were at a field where I’ve witnessed many in the past. When I next returned there on June 15, I encountered 299!

As underwater larva, Calicos require clean water. Their presence confirms good water quality exists. For decades, monthly summer water sampling of our Spider Lake has indicated high water quality.

So Marlene and I were not surprised when we witnessed mass Calico emergences along our shore on June 17, 2009 and again June 15 last year.

I’ll briefly pause this column to put in a plug for shoreland owners to keep their shorelines as natural as possible. Natural onshore and offshore vegetation is very important.

Calico Pennants are one of the most recent additions to the 2020 dragonfly season. It began with the first arrivals of Common Green Darners from Texas on May 2.

Locally, the annual mass emergence of dragonflies slowly began on May 27. Spiny Baskettails, Chalk-front Corporals and Dusky Clubtails were the main species I saw then.

In this neck of the woods, I’ve recorded dragonfly flight seasons from 1997 to 2019. With another late spring this year, I’m not surprised my first date of Calicos was about two weeks later than my earliest date for them, May 27.

Since my latest date of Sept. 5 is still over two months away, I hope you do get to see and enjoy these festive holiday-like pennants while perched or hunting near you.

John Weber is a local butterfly and dragonfly enthusiast. Since 1997, Weber has been meticulously recording every dragonfly sighting. He’s counted butterflies since 1993. “Leps” is short for the insect order of lepidoptera, meaning butterflies and moths. “Odes” is short for odonata, or dragonflies and damselflies.