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14 July 2010 @ 09:07 pm
Mud Lake Part II: The Dragonhunter  

As I described in my previous entry, one of the reasons I went to Mud Lake was to look for some Horned Clubtails. While exploring the northeast shore of the lake, I came across a man photographing dragonflies. I mentioned to him that I was looking for a particular type of dragonfly and asked if he had seen any clubtails.

He asked, "What do they look like?" and I replied, "Big black and yellow dragonflies with a large clubs at the end of the abdomen".

Then, to my utter astonishment, he showed me an image on his camera of a large black and yellow dragonfly which he had just photographed! He asked me if I was looking for something like this, and I said yes...and asked if he could show me where he found it!


He told me that he had photographed the dragonfly about 15 minutes ago, but that as it was busy devouring another dragonfly he thought it would be still be there. And, when he led me to the spot, it was! I looked up and saw this huge, beautiful dragonfly perched on a branch above the water. He was still eating the dragonfly, which I identified as a Widow Skimmer from the pattern on its wings.

The hunter becomes the prey

The Widow Skimmer is no small dragonfly, which meant the clubtail eating it was massive...too large in fact to be the Horned Clubtail I was looking for. It took a long time for this dragon to eat the Widow Skimmer, and, curious to see just how long it would take, I decided to hang around that corner of the lake and take photographs to document its progress.

9:15 am - the skimmer's head is gone (dragonflies tend to eat things head-first).

9:19 am - at this point, the Widow Skimmer's legs have been eaten.

9:33 am - the wings are about to fall off.

The wings are the only part which are not eaten and are discarded. They land in a spider web, the only evidence that this poor dragonfly ever existed.

Widow Skimmer Wings

9:34 am - only the abdomen is left.

9:58 am - finally, he is finished; it took well over half an hour for him to consume the Widow Skimmer entirely.

I was excited to have found this wonderful dragonfly, although I wasn't able to identify him until I got home and checked my field guides. Fortunately, he was very easy to identify, with his huge size, those long legs, massive thorax and relatively small head. No question, it was a Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus), a species which eats other dragonflies as well as other large insects such as butterflies and moths.

The Dragonhunter was a new species for me and unquestionably my best find of the day at Mud Lake. However, when I checked the annotated list of the odonata of the Britannia Conservation Area published by Chris Lewis and Bob Bracken, I realized that its presence at Mud Lake had an even greater significance: the Dragonhunter I photographed is the first adult of this species to be found at the Britannia Conservation Area! Chris and Bob's list mentions that two exuviae (larval skins) were found on June 19, 2006 clinging to the permanent vegetation along the shoreline east of the Filtration Plant. While these exuviae indicate that two adult Dragonhunters emerged here, no adults have been documented in the BCA until I photographed this one. When I read that I immediately sent Chris a couple of photos for her records.

While the Dragonhunter was eating, I took the opportunity to photograph a few other species that were hunting nearby. Notice the damage to the wings on this Widow Skimmer....perhaps he was he was an intended victim of the Dragonhunter that got away!

Widow Skimmer

I also photographed this Twelve-spotted Skimmer in the same area. I find it difficult to photograph these fellows, as they never seem to sit still for very long. In flight, however, the males are very distinctive with the alternating patches of black and white on the wings.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

I enjoyed my visit to Mud Lake immensely; in fact, it was one of the best outings I've had in a while. There were lots of birds and bugs around to photograph, including some very unexpected species. If there is one place I never get tired of visiting, it is Mud Lake, because there is always something interesting to be found!

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on August 21st, 2010 02:14 am (UTC)
Wow, congratulations on the unusual find! I'd love to see one of those.