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June 28, 2011

Sometimes you have to wonder about entomologists. Now, the scientific name for the Comet Darner is Anax longipes—long-legged anax (Anax is from the Greek—it means master or king). Okay, the legs are, indeed, relatively longer than other darners in the genus. Still, when you look at a Comet Darner, is it really the first thing you notice?

How about that bright-red back end?

Male Comet Darner (Anax longipes)

Male Comet Darner in flight

Why isn’t it Anax rubicauda, which could be translated roughly as “the king with the red butt”?

One suspects a lack of a sense of humor.

Comet Darners are pretty darned uncommon. In fact, there are only a few records for Pennsylvania. For the last four years, I have seen at least one, every year, at Little Buffalo State Park, in late June and into the first week of July.

I have tried hard to get a quality photo of the male, but to date, I have failed. These are the best so far.

Male Comet Darner

Male Comet Darner, Little Buffalo State Park

The problem is, like most Darners, they seldom light, and I have not been lucky enough to be there when one has lit.

Anax darners are big dragonflies, and Comet Darners are no exception. They are really quite a sight as they make long patrols along the water’s edge. Other dragonflies generally stay well away.

They are also creatures of habit. Not only do they have a fairly short (2-3 weeks) flight period, but I have never seen one before 10:00 AM, nor after 4:00 PM. In fact, you can almost set your watch by when they disappear in the afternoons—at least hereabouts.

I have seen Comet Darners over the shallow end of the lake (Lake Holman), over a small pond, and over an even smaller pool. In all cases, there is an abundance of Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum spp.). Some reports indicate that Comet Darners prefer waters free of fish large enough to eat the nymphs.

The question, of course, is do they breed here or do they wander in from elsewhere.

Sometimes, it is better to be lucky than to be good. One summer day, as I was patiently trying to photograph the male in flight, a female slammed into the water practically at my feet and began the process of laying eggs.

Female Comet Darner laying eggs

Female Comet Darner ovipositing

Yep, they breed here, in at least one small pool.

Couple of problems: although there is a native Water Milfoil, there are a also some species of Water Milfoil that are invasives—which means that natural resource folks work very hard at eliminating them as they find them; secondly, the presence of “catchable” fish is, in general, encouraged in State Parks.

I was concerned this spring to find that some process had removed almost all of the Water Milfoil in the small pool where I most often see Comet Darners; some other process had introduced a number of pan-sized Sunfish. I was afraid that might have eliminated the population.

I am happy to report that on 23 June, I saw my first Comet Darner of the year, at the usual pool—despite an absence of milfoil and a presence of fishes. I suspect that the milfoil will return—it is very difficult to eradicate. As to the fishes, well, there just might be a fish fry in my future.

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4 Responses

  1. Excellent photos. I’ve been studying these for years and have a few articles in Argia. What is the precise location of this pond, for how many years and at what times have you seen longipes, have you found any exuvia of this species (if you did you would see why the longipes, it also has a very long prementum),????

    Glad you posted this as it adds to our knowledge which was one pond near state college, ours and one other further upstate.

    John

  2. Glenn said:

    Maybe the common names committee didn’t want that appear biased by naming the species based on the appearance of the males.

  3. Dennis Murphy said:

    These are actually amazing pictures…and now I know what “ovipositing” means.

  4. Yeah, that photo of a Comet Darner frozen in flight just isn’t very good. I guess we have different definitions of “quality.”
    Keep an eye on those “processes.” They’re always at work.
    Nice oviposition photo! Now that’s quality.

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