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Tonight’s image is of a Roseate Skimmer, a species of dragonfly that I see from time to time, either at Sabino Canyon or at Sweetwater Wetlands. I photographed this one last week at the wetlands.
This cranberry-colored dragonfly is one of the more flamboyant species of dragonflies that I see. It’s not all that common — I may see, at most, a half-dozen individuals of this species per summer. The individual depicted here is a male (females are much less brilliantly colored) and it is probably aged, given the wear and tear on his wings.
Dragonflies and their cousins, damselflies come in an extraordinary range of colors and patterns. Those colors and patterns obviously are important — to the dragonflies, at least. I’ve read that dragonflies have far more sensitive color vision than humans and I’m guessing that they’ve evolved into these exotic colors and patterns as a way of attracting members of the opposite sex of the same species. There are other species of skimmers — Neon Skimmers and Flame Skimmers — whose males are colored in hues of brilliant orange and red, and perhaps these bright colors make it easy for females to decide, literally on the fly, which individuals are worth paying attention to.
But, I also wonder if there’s a price to be paid for all of this flamboyance. Birds have excellent color vision and there are species of birds who specialize in hunting and eating dragonflies. American Kestrels, for example, are dragonfly hunters par excellence. Wouldn’t these brilliant colors make the male skimmers easy pickings for hungry kestrels? It would seem that way. Is it possible that the males sport such brilliant colors not only as a way of attracting members of the opposite sex but as a way of decoying predators away from the much drabber females? If true, that would be a dramatic and romantic sacrifice on the males’ part.
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, ISO 125, f13 @ 1/160.