Legendary nature in Grey and Bruce

Submitted by Nikki May

Damsels and dragons, and Shamrock Orbweavers. The stuff of legends, not to be found in Grey and Bruce Counties, you will say. But yes, they are found here, and without too much difficulty. Members of Saugeen Nature observed all three on a recent trip to Noisy River Provincial Park. And all three can be seen in the fields and along the streams of Grey and Bruce.

Damsel- and dragonflies can charm you with their gorgeous looks and romantic names – Ebony Jewelwing and Calico Pennant are two that were seen flying in July.

The former has pure black wings and a sleek metallic blue or green body, while the Calico Pennant sports red (male) or yellow (female) hearts along its abdomen, wings that look like stained glass, with little red or yellow stigmata on the leading edges of their forewings. These creatures also impress with their awesome flying abilities – backward, forward, hovering and
swooping. The speed of a dragonfly can be so great that sometimes you can’t even follow it. You see a flash of light in front of you, and the creature is gone. They are the flying aces of the insect world. This is what gives them their terrifying advantage over other flying insects. That and their mandibles, that are built like curved rakes, to tear their hapless prey apart.

The mating practice of a dragonfly is the opposite of romantic. The male flies up behind the fe- male and grabs her by the back of the neck. The end of his abdomen, (which looks like a tail) has a complex gripping mechanism, that fits like a key into the ‘lock’ which is positioned near the neck of the female. Each dragonfly species has a unique ‘lock and key’ formation, so that two different species cannot connect. Once the pair is locked together, the female brings the end of her abdomen up to the underside of the male’s abdomen forming a wheel while they mate in mid-air. In some species, the male then retains his grip on the female while she lays her eggs. We were able to watch this behaviour of a pair of Darner dragonflies. The female dipped the end of her abdomen repeatedly into the surface of a pond, seeming to skip along the surface. All the while, her mate hung grimly on, to prevent other males from mating with her until all the eggs were laid.

Finally, what is the Shamrock Orbweaver? This is a fairly common spider found near streams of Grey and Bruce. A large furry spider, yellow green in colour, with legs that are coloured alternately yellow and black. It is an impressive creature indeed.

Members of Saugeen Nature regularly go out into the fields and woods of Grey and Bruce counties to seek out the stories that nature has to tell. Come and join us. Outings and events are free and open to the public. Go to www.saugeenfieldnaturalists.com to find out more.

Photos by John Reaume

Kim Saunders (center) of Saugeen Nature our Junior Naturalist’s leader wins the Richards Education Award from Ontario Nature for her role in teaching young people about the environment.

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