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Who wins the prize for the most flamboyantly colored dragonfly? There are a lot of competitors for that award. Male dragonflies and their cousins, damselflies, come in every color of the rainbow and many come in combinations of brilliant colors. Just when you see one that is completely over the top when it comes to hue and/or pattern another comes along that is even more garish and bright.
Here’s one that is certainly in the running for the gaudiest — at least in southern Arizona. This is a Roseate Skimmer.
This incredibly colored dragonfly comes in tints of pink, cranberry, and mauve. It’s a not-uncommon sight in this area. Look for it at the borders of ponds and sluggish streams, especially in areas where there is unobstructed sunlight.
There is no question that dragonflies are among the most brilliantly colored fauna. The question that intrigues me is: why are the males of most species so spectacularly tinted? I can think of two likely reasons and they both have to do with sex and reproduction. There are a lot of dragonfly species, dozens of them in Arizona alone. Many species resemble others very closely but for their colors. When the males of each species sport distinctive colors it may help the females pick prospective mates out of a crowded field. Second, the males within a given species may utilize their brilliant colors to compete for females within that species. Perhaps the females go for bling and the males sporting the most bling have a competitive advantage over others of their species who come adorned in more subdued hues.
I’ve thought of a third possibility — very speculative, I suppose, but not out of the question. There are several species of birds that prey on dragonflies. American Kestrels, Mississippi Kites, and many others go after these insects. I’m certain that the brightly colored male dragonflies are a lot easier for these predators to spot than are the almost invariably drab females.
Here’s an example of a female, an individual that I think may be a female Roseate Skimmer. She’s very plain compared to the male, so much so that she blends into her background.
Perhaps, by being so brilliantly colored, male dragonflies serve as bait for predators, sparing the females (or at least, some of them) and enabling the females to lay their eggs in relative security.
First image made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/2000. Second image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180mm f3.5L Macro Lens+1.4x telextender, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite and stabilized by monopod, M setting, ISO 320, f18 @ 1/160.