Posted on August 1, 2016 by Jim MacDougall
Odonates, Swallows and Ants
If you want to become a nature expert in something easy, pick Dragonflies. There are 3 good reasons for this: a great book with all of them in it, you don't have to get up early to see them, and they only fly on nice sunny days. All you need is a net and a 15X hand lens. Bioquip has the best of both. The book is called the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts and its readily available ($20) at the book shop at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.
August is known for its dog days and Dragonflies love the dog days. Its on these hot muggy afternoons, as the rain clouds gather in the west, that ants send forth their squadrons of newly hatched flying queens to colonize the landscape. If you watch your lawn closely, you will see a delicate plum of ants rising into the air from the little sand castles formed by the workers. These flying bags of eggs are so nutritious that animals like dragonflies time their adult existence, swallows congregate to fuel up for migration and nighthawks risk daylight feeding. The ant hatch is synchronized by scent and all the colonies send up their queens to overwhelm the waiting mouths.
The waiting predators stack up like planes waiting to land at Logan. The dragonflies swarm the ants from knee height to tree-top, the swallows from the tree-tops to 500 feet and the Nighthawks above that. At the edge of the ocean with an offshore breeze, the hordes of flying ants feed hawking gulls, and those that fall to the ocean will be corralled by schools of hungry Mackerel.
The dragonflies that take part in this frenzy are the darners. The large bodied blue and green insects that hatch from vernal pools, ponds and slow rivers by July 10. They amass on hill tops and wait for midges and ants to hatch. Visit Bald Hill Reservation, Indian Hill, Cox Reservation and Seine Field on July and August evenings and see if you can catch a Shadow Darner, or a Canada Darner, or a Mocha Emerald.
"Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts", Nikula, Burne and Ryan.
"A Field Guide to the Ants of the NewEngland", Ellison, Gotell,