¬†¬†¬†¬† Yesterday my husband Andy and I had the pleasure of canoeing on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.¬† While the river is, unfortunately, not in good health, it was nonetheless a pleasure to ply the still waters between the river’s forested banks.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† So much wildlife!¬† We delighted to see turtles sunning themselves on¬†logs.¬† And it was a thrill to stare, as a green heron, semi-hidden in riparian¬†foliage, puffed out its feathers and became for a few moments a much larger bird.¬†¬†And we saw¬†what I think was a mink, scampering along the ground, high above the water.
¬†¬†¬†¬† And all around us, flying hither and¬†thither above the water, were damselflies.¬† I have long admired these dainty, gauzy-winged, romantically-named dragonfly species, with their touches of¬†brilliant¬†blue.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† And it was obviously mating season for these insects;¬†¬†most¬†were not flying solo!¬†¬†While I have often seen insects joined together, or mated,¬†in flight, what¬†amazed us yesterday was the way these creatures looked at rest.¬† Just about every floating leaf we paddled past seemed to be a resting¬†spot for¬†damselfly duos.¬†¬†As many as three or four of the insect pairs might be resting on a single leaf .¬† And what a sight they made–gauzy jumbles flecked with¬†azure.¬† Had we not¬†observed individual pairs, we could not have guessed what comprised these translucent masses.
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Even more amazing to behold were those ‘couples’¬†who were not sharing ‘their’ leaf with any other damselfly pairs.¬†¬†A single¬†mated pair on a leaf held the strangest looking pose.¬† It seemed as if one of the two rested in a ‘normal’ posture on the leaf, while its mate¬†’stood’ vertically, with its back end appearing embedded¬†in the other’s thorax, just behind¬†its head.¬† Sticking up straight in the air, the latter damselfly¬†appeared poised to take off!¬†¬†(Please see my photo below).
¬†¬†¬†¬† Of course I was curious to learn more about what we were seeing, so I did a little Internet research on the mating of damselflies.¬† I learned that the male produces packets of sperm from the tip of his abdomen (hindmost segment of his body).¬† He then bends his abdomen forward and deposits the sperm packets into a depression in the second segment of his abdomen.¬† Once he has filled his sperm receptacle, the male uses the claspers at his hindmost tip to grasp a female just behind her head.¬† Then the two fly joined together for some time.¬† And each takes its turn¬†flying while the other rests.¬† After awhile, the female bends her abdomen under and reaches it¬†up to the abdomen of the male.¬† She grasps¬†the second segment of his abdomen and¬†picks up a sperm packet, or spermatophore, he has deposited there.¬† The two remain in this joined position for 15 minutes or more, afterwhich she lets go and they resume their joined position with the male still grasping the female just behind her head.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The two may continue¬†flying, joined, as the female lays her eggs on submerged plants, or the two may separate, with the male remaining close to the female as she deposits her eggs.¬† It’s all pretty amazing!–April Moore