Volume 14 - No. 2 - Spring 2004

· Back to Home

· Habitat funding in San Diego: Gold at the end of the rainbow?

· Pocket mice find a home in Dana Point

· Beasts and Botany by Jess Morton

· NCCP falls behind schedule in Orange County

· SANDAG’s Regional Comprehensive Plan released for public review

· EHL in the News

· Poetry by Jess Morton

The Endangered Habitats League is dedicated to the protection of the diverse ecosystems of Southern California and to sensitive and sustainable land use for the benefit of all the regionís inhabitants. The EHL Newsletter is published quarterly to chronicle our plans, activities, and successes.

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Beasts and Botany by Jess Morton

Dancer
It wasn't much of a motion. Something slender, like seed of needle grass, that went oddly sideways as my feet passed by. Just enough to draw my attention.

The sky above and the hillsides around me sparkled in the March-early light. The sea beyond was silver and the sun delicious in the cool air. Birds sang, among them the high notes of gnatcatchers filtered through thelimbs and leaves of sagebrush and sunflower.

How easy it would have been to ignore that movement! A trick of the eye,perhaps. A stepped on twig snapping away.

Still, I stopped. If nothing else, birding has trained me to pay attention to what my eyes tell me I have seen. Motionless, I searched the ground nearby. And there the damselfly was.

A Vivid Dancer!


I had not expected to see one so early in the year. Nor here, high in the scrabble hills, far from water. Yet, there my dancer was, a slim tan creature perched on a stone, with its trim wings raked back over its abdomen. Scarcely an inch and a half long, but now, as one says, big as life!

The paleness of its color suggested that it was newly emerged. The females remain tan, though the color becomes richer with age. But it is the male that is spectacular--a brilliant blue that all by itself justifies every minute I have ever spent looking at wildlife.

Damselflies and their larger cousins, the dragonflies, are hunters. Each species has its own preference in food, hunting space, and time. Vivid dancers hunt small insects, making their forays from low perches--a stone, a bit of twig or leaf. In that, they are rather like flycatchers. And like flycatchers, telling one species from another can be very difficult. Fortunately for me, Vivid Dancers have dark dagger-shaped marks along their abdominal segments, even when not fully mature.

The adults capture their prey either by trapping it in the basket formed by their spiny legs or by plucking it from vegetation, ground or water. They may return to their perch to consume their food, or they make eat on the fly, as it were. Either way, a close-up look at their faces will easily convince you that this is serious eating machinery.

But the adults are not nearly as ferocious as the young. These larvae really are dragons, flying jet-propelled through their watery habitats, or lurking on some mucky pond bottom. Their lower lip is hinged and prehensile. When prey comes in range, the lip shoots far forward, hooking and grabbing it back to the larva's mouth. In waters where there are no fish, dragonfly young are often the top-level predators. If they were bigger, Jaws would not have been about sharks.

Although odonates (damsel and dragonflies) are often gorgeous, most are cryptically marked. Even very colorful ones can disappear the instant they stop moving. Young adults, like the one I was looking at, are invariably hard to spot. Mine danced away as soon as I moved in for a photograph. I didn't think it had gone far. But it was enough. I never saw it again.

 


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