Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 19, 2012

Hung out to dry

A Common Drater from below. Ross Gardner 2012

A Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) took a liking to our washing-line this evening.  The sun had moved round, so that its rays shone only between our house and the next door neighbour’s.  The clothes line provided the perfect platform to position itself towards the sun for optimum basking.  It also offered an opportunity to snap some slightly more quirky photographs of a familiar insect.

This darter is among the most common and widespread of British Odonata (the Dragonflies and Damselflies).  Not that their presence is ever a dull one for all their familiarity.  They can occur in a range of freshwater habitats: large or small, still or moving, even slightly slightly brackish.  Our modest garden pond is rather too small to attract breeding dragonflies on a regular basis (we are more than happy to have a couple of resident damselfly species), although the Common Darter has previously done so.  But dragonflies may wander a distance from water foraging for prey, as indeed this one had presumably done.

Ross Gardner 2012

It was a straw-yellow female – the males are a bright red.  The southern half of England is frequented also by the Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum).  The male Ruddy is a deeper red and (unlike the Common) with a pinched, so-called ‘waisted’ abdomen.  The females of each species may be harder to tell apart, although the yellow and black legs of the Common distinguish the all black legs of the Ruddy.

She seemed more than content on her perch.  Dragonfly eyes don’t miss much.  Her head twitched almost to every movement: the Woodpigeon passing overhead, the foolhardy butterfly fluttering past, the human circling with his camera.  She would occasional take flight, in one instance to strike successfully at a passing fly, before settling once again to absorb the heat of the evening sun.

A familiar creature, yes, but always a fascination.  And I never realised that when dragonflies eat they look like they are laughing.

The Darter with a ‘laughing face’ whilst tucking into its supper. Ross Gardner 2012

Close up. Ross Gardner 2012

And the smiley face after it had finished. Ross Gardner 2012

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