Here there be dragons

Wow, a record for me. Three days in a row at the Yamato Scrub! My older son, Eric, surprised me midmorning on Labor Day by suggesting that we go to Yamato Scrub. I seized on the suggestion, and off we went. I brought snacks and a drink to keep him occupied, and it worked! I was able to install him on a bench with a good view of the pond while I wandered off to take a few more pictures of the insect life around the wetlands, and found some new (to me) creatures and behaviors. It wasn't long before he grew hot and bored and "suggested" that we head home, but when a place is this teeming with life, it doesn't take long to get some pictures of it, either. One of the more common insects around the pond at this time of year is a tiger beetle; I'm not entirely sure which one it is, but I believe it to be the punctured tiger beetle, Cicindelidia punctulata. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of them flying around from spot to spot around the sandy margins of the wetlands, so if I get back there anytime soon I'll be sure to take more photos to get the ID. Here's the one shot from this trip that sort of turned out:
Tiger beetle, presumed Cicindelidia punctulata. Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014

Tiger beetle, presumed Cicindelidia punctulata. Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014

While not as showy as other tiger beetles (seriously, do an image search on tiger beetles and you'll see some amazing walking jewelry), it has a certain charm in the metallic sheen from its hard wing covers (elytra). Tiger beetles, true to their name, are predaceous, using their impressive speed, large eyes, and hefty mandibles to attack and consume their prey. I haven't seen them catching or eating anything, but by all accounts, it's impressive. However, and as sort of a follow-up to yesterday's post that featured a damsels in distress (that is, a damselfly eating another damselfly), today's post features a truly impressive feat of predation: a dragonfly, Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) feasting on another dragonfly, Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis):
Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) enjoying a repast of Blue Dasher (). Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014.

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) enjoying a repast of Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014.

It was a bit windy, and I couldn't get as close to the subjects as I'd have liked, so the picture's a bit blurry, but it's pretty easy to see what's going on here. Like any good predator, the pondhawk here is feasting on the tastiest bits of its captured prey first—in this case, the face and brains. The dragonfly that's being eaten is a bit blurry in the shot above, so here's a shot of one of its brethren (who knows? maybe it's the exact same animal, as I didn't follow this one after I'd photographed it) displaying the same markings on its tail (what dragonfly people call its "abdomen") and thorax (that part of the insect where the four wings and six legs attach):
Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis), Yamato Scrub, September 1, 2014.

Come on out to the Yamato Scrub if you want to see some amazing examples of nature, "red in tooth and claw." Because, unlike on the maps of antiquity or the Renaissance, here indeed, there be dragons. (Well, dragonflies, at any rate.) And tigers. (Well, tiger beetles.) Etymological note: the genus of the tiger beetle pictured at top (Cicindelidia) appear to be derive its name from the latin word for glow-worm, cicindela. (There are two North American genera with similar names, Cicindela and Cicindelidia; presumably they are named so similarly because they are suspected to be closely related.) Tiger beetles do have a bit of a metallic sheen to them, which might account for the genus name, but I really have no idea...

Blue Dasher bonanza [updated Feb 2012]

pachydiplax_longipennis_obelisk_20101001
It was a lot of fun sitting out back proofreading this morning. The humidity is down, so the temperature, while "the same" according to the thermometer as it was before T.S. Nicole/T.D. 16 blew through, is a lot more livable. (It's starting to feel like fall; the typical way it arrives here in south Florida: an inch at a time, with lots of backsliding and sweating a la summer.) I'm not sure whether it's connected to the nicer weather, but we had what I would almost call an infestation of dragonflies today: mostly Blue Dashers, but a few larger skimmer species as well. They were dripping from every available perch in the backyard: shrubs, trees, telephone wires. They were in the oak trees in the front yard, on the streetlight (boo! hiss! light pollution!) wires. It was astonishing! Here are a couple of photos (male Blue Dashers, Pachydiplax longipennis) that turned out nicely: If you want to see what a real swarm of dragonflies looks like, or find out more about how and why they swarm, see this post on the dragonfly woman's website. All I know is today it was a lot of fun to be a backyard naturalist! [UPDATE: I'd been meaning to look up the origin of this species' name, which I keep misremembering as Brachydiplax. Turns out that pachy, which we all recognize from pachyderm, is Greek for thick. Plax, placos, is Greek for plate, tablet: anything wide and flat. Longipennis is Latin for long-winged (yes, 2 n's, people). So this species' name translates to "thick double-plated long wings." I'm not really sure if Burmeister, who named it in 1839, had that exact meaning in mind, but, since I haven't been able to get to a source telling me otherwise, this is what it means to me. If anyone out there has a better translation for me, I'd love to hear it. If you go to Needham and Westfall (1955; thanks, M!) or Needham, Westfall, and May (2000; I wish!), you can find this: "the genus is easily recognized by a single venational character: the single crossvein under the distal end of the [ptero]stigma has a vacant space, about as long as four normal cells, between it and the four postnodal crossveins of the second row. ... Length of wings not remarkable, though the specific Latin name makes reference to it. Shortness of abdomen in female gives impression of long wings." So the generic name might refer to that long empty spot under the pterostigma; I'm not sure if that's what Burmeister had in mind, but it's my working hypothesis.] [Update, February 2012: Thanks to the North American Odonata checklist of Dunkle and Paulson, I can now update the etymology of the generic and specific names: Pachydiplax means "thick Diplax," referring to the "stout female abdomen in comparison with members of the old libellulid genus Diplax"; "longipennis" does indeed mean long-winged, but D&P specify that it is in relation to the relatively short female abdomen." It's so nice to have an authoritative starting point for etymological information about these creatures!]