Collaboration in the Reeds
Using his insect net and 30 years of experience as an entomologist, Mark O’Brien swiftly caught a dragonfly with thick black and white bands on its wings. He identified it as a Widow Skimmer while standing there in hiking boots, khaki pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a pocketed vest. Compared to the seven students helping him collect dragonflies in the native reeds, he stood out like a sore thumb. The students, wearing shorts and walking barefoot in the silt sediment of Douglas Lake, wandered away from Mark to try and capture one of the dragonflies nearby.
Standing still in ankle deep water, the students observed the flight behavior of a red dragonfly. Its arbitrary patterns of flight befuddled them. Mark watched in amusement as they swung wildly at the dragonfly with their collecting nets. “That’s a Calico Pennant,” he said. “None have been caught during the surveying yet.” This fact motivated them to try even harder. The hurried motions of the collecting nets were no match for the dragonfly’s virtually 360-degree field of vision.
In flight, the dragonfly appeared only as a red haze. When it stopped to rest on the tip of a bulrush reed, the wing pattern of the Calico Pennant became visible. Like an ornate piece of stained glass, the detail of the wings contrasted sharply with the bold flames of reddish-orange on the abdomen.
One student tried to catch the perched dragonfly, but with unlimited space in the sky, the Calico was anything but cornered. It flew around like a loop stunt plane while the students gathered their wits. As it whizzed past them, the students chopped at the Calico with their nets. Attacked from all sides, the dragonfly collided with the path of open mesh. Brains triumphed over brawn – it took only seven of the world’s smartest species to bring down the world’s fastest insect.
By Janee Kronk