July Nature Notes: One of the easiest dragonflies to distinguish in Illinois.
Shafts of sunlight filtering through the canopy highlight leaves festooned with little black velvet bows—the jet-black wings of ebony jewelwing damselflies, each claiming a patch of sunshine along a woodland stream. Large and showy, males glitter like emeralds, their slender bodies metallic green with a teal blue iridescence that shifts with the light. Easily distinguished by bright white squares that decorate the upper wingtips, females are brassy green with smoky-brown wings. Like woodland fairies, they flicker through the sun-dappled forest.
With long black legs, they cling to their conspicuous perches, bulbous, wide-spread eyes searching the air for their insect prey. Hungry damselflies flit out from their perches, capturing midges in mid-flight with the basket of their legs. Flapping both forewings and hindwings simultaneously, they bounce like butterflies in fluttery flight.
When males are courting females, the flight pattern changes; the wings are flapped alternately and quickly. Males drive away competitors with wings outspread and abdomens raised, vigorously competing for prime territories with a series of whirls and chases, wings clattering, until one concedes by departing. Females are attracted to territories along shaded stretches of stream with submerged plant material for egg-laying. Dipping just the tip of her abdomen underwater, she inserts her ovipositor into a plant to deposit her eggs while the male guards her, chasing off rival males.
The naiads grow and develop in the stream, feeding on insect larvae. Overwintering as nymphs, they emerge in early summer to enchant the woodland forest again.
Carol McFeeters Thompson is a regular contributor to OutdoorIllinois and the site interpreter at Weldon Springs State Recreation Area.