Amberwings

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

July 4, 2011

Eastern Amberwings (Perithemis tenera) are one of our smallest dragonflies. Look for them at the edges of lakes and ponds in mid-summer. You can often see the females hovering over algal mats, and the males are usually nearby.

You can tell males from females easily because the males have orange wings while the females wings are strongly patterned in black.

Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera

Male Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera

Female Eastern Amberwing, note patterned wings

Note the stripes on the abdomens, Amberwings imitate wasps, which I suppose gives them some protection against predation.

Reproduction can get a little odd in this species. Now, reproduction in Odonates (damselflies and dragonflies) is, in itself, a little odd. The male transfers his sperm from the tip of the abdomen forward to a his secondary genitalia near the base of the abdomen. Then he flies around until he finds a female in or near his territory. He uses “hooks” at the tip of his abdomen to grab her behind the head. Her appropriate response is to bend the tip of her abdomen forward to, ummm, grab his package; it is referred to as a mating “wheel,” and they may fly around together in wheel for quite a while.

Males compete–it is no different in dragonflies. In Amberwings, males who grab females by the neck are then grabbed about the neck by other males that are, in turn, grabbed about the neck by other males.

The result is a sort of aerial conga line. I’m guessing that getting towed through the sky by several contesting males makes it extremely difficult for the female to complete the wheel–and extremely difficult for the male #1 in line to keep his grip. So, if he lets go before the deed is done, maybe male #2 or male #3 gets lucky. If anyone out there actually knows, please drop me a comment.

I was lucky enough to grab some photos of an Amberwing conga on a local pond:

Eastern Amberwing mating chain

Three males have hooked up with a female

Eastern Amberwing mating chain

The leader chooses a new direction

Eastern Amberwing mating chain

Down we go

Eastern Amberwing mating chain

Crack the whip

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5 Responses

  1. Tim said:

    Very cool. Are they in KS too?

  2. Tom Martin said:

    What great photos, thanks for sharing.

  3. Well, what a beautiful site and great surprise. I believe I will learn quite a bit about dragonflies. I’d never known exactly what is going on with the aerial hookup. Thank you. Love the toad!

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