Damselflies, Dragonflies, Beetles and Grasshoppers
In this final photo essay about local insects, we’ll look at Damselflies, Dragonflies, Beetles, and Grasshoppers.
Years ago, as a beginning birder, I was surprised to meet ornithologists who were also passionate about dragonflies. Since then I’ve learned that Odonata, or dragonflies and damselflies, are considered “birders’ insects.” Dragonflies can fly as fast as small songbirds (30 mph), stop suddenly and hover, make immediate right-angle turns, and fly straight up in the air. And did you know some dragonfly species migrate? Some fly hundreds, even thousands of miles, up to 90 miles in one day, and even across oceans. I’ve found many species locally, but not yet the Washington State Insect since 1997, the Common Green Darner, which migrates from here to Texas and Mexico. Odonata expert Dennis Paulson says by 2018, 6,299 species were described worldwide, and there may be 7,000 living species. We are lucky to have 117 species right here.
In his field guide, Pacific Northwest Insects, entomologist Merrill A. Peterson says that Beetles, or Coleoptera, “form the most diverse order of organisms on earth.” There are 350,000 species globally, and about 5,000 in the Pacific Northwest. All have armored bodies with front wings meeting in a straight line above the abdomen, and some are beautifully patterned, even metallic. They live in every habitat in our region, including salty water. Many beetles are beneficial insects who eat pest insects, and some pollinate flowers. Unfortunately, others damage crops and forests.
Grasshoppers belong to the Orthoptera order of insects, along with crickets and katydids. Of the 26,000 global species, we have almost 300 in the Pacific Northwest. Most have front wings described as “leathery,” and large hind legs perfect for hopping. We only have space for a couple of grasshopper photos here, and one is a rare flightless species.
When I told Port Townsend entomologist Richard Lewis that this photo essay would feature dragonflies, beetles, and grasshoppers, he wrote me that an interesting thing about these three is that they have different forms of metamorphosis. “Beetles have complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult) in which the immature stage is radically different from the adult and they transform during a separate/true pupal stage. It is the most advanced, complex and successful form. Grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis or Paurometabola (egg, nymph, adult) where the young look like and live with the adult and get bigger with each molt; there is no true pupal stage as the adult emerges from the last nymphal instar (developmental phase). Dragonflies also have incomplete metamorphosis or Hemimetabola (egg, naiad, adult), but the immature insect looks different from the adult and lives in a different habitat (aquatic); again there is no pupal stage, the adult emerges from the last immature instar.”
Pacific Forktail damselfly (Ischnura cervula)
How can you tell the difference between dragonflies and damselflies? Damselflies are smaller and thinner, usually holding their wings closed, and with a wide space between their eyes. This green-eyed damselfly, a female Pacific Forktail (Ischnura cervula), clings to a blade of grass for camouflage from predators.
Boreal Bluet damselfly (Enallagma boreale)
This Boreal Bluet damselfly (Enallagma boreale) is easy to find at Anderson Lake in summer when dozens often fly close to shore. Damselflies aren’t as strong fliers as dragonflies, which can fly quite high. Male Boreal Bluets are blue and black, but sometimes females are brown and black.
Cardinal Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum illotum)
Dragonflies are the insects with the best vision, seeing in every direction except right behind their head. Each of their huge compound eyes has up to 30,000 simple eyes that give a mosaic view, helping them detect movement. This Cardinal Meadowhawk (Sympetrum illotum) let me sneak up close on Marrowstone Island.
Eight-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula forensis)
Dragonflies can be every color of the rainbow. The Eight-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula forensis) is one of a few spectacular black and white dragonflies we can find around here. This one sought the only sunny spot at shady Miller Peninsula State Park.
Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Rhionaeschna multicolor)
This blur shows wings in action on the Blue-eyed Darner dragonfly (Rhionaeschna multicolor). Dragonfly wings are very complex and perfectly structured for their amazing flight maneuvers. Each pair of wings works independently of the other, and so does each wing.
Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata)
Dragonflies can be an indicator species for the quality of a wetland. This Paddle-tailed Darner dragonfly (Aeshna palmata) is ovipositing, or laying eggs at Anderson Lake, undisturbed by the toxic algae. Young dragonflies inhabit wetlands, ponds, and streams, and all but one North American species breed in fresh water.
Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle (Cicindela tranquebarica)
My favorite insect ever is the Wealed Tiger Beetle (Cicindela tranquebarica ssp. vibex) at the top of this page, an inch long with rainbow metallic colors, which I found one day at Kala Point on Yellow Sand Verbena. Here’s its cousin half the size, the Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle (Cicindela tranquebarica), which flew ahead of me one hot day on the Larry Scott Trail by the Boat Haven. Watch your step, as there are many there trying to stay out of your way!
Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta)
I’ve only seen my second most spectacular insect once, the Golden Buprestid beetle (Buprestis aurulenta), and sadly it was dead beside the trail up Mt. Walker. I stopped to pick up what I thought was a piece of litter, and realized it was an insect. My only image is blurry in that dark forest, and I hope to find another alive for better photos.
White-spotted Sawyer beetle (Monochamus scutellatus)
The award for favorite antennae goes to the White-spotted Sawyer beetle (Monochamus scutellatus), a large and, I suppose, friendly insect that has flown up to me and landed on my jacket more than once by Hurricane Ridge. This one is a female, with “ringed” black and gray antennae. The male’s antennae are all black and even longer! Males seem friendly, too, as they have also landed on my clothing.
A Soldier Beetle (Podabrus conspiratus)
More fabulous antennae on this Soldier Beetle (Podabrus conspiratus). Soldier beetles were named for their red and black patterns that look a bit like the red coats of British soldiers. I placed some photos on iNaturalist for this ID, and was told it’s quite similar to others in this poorly known genus. I’m constantly impressed with the expertise and generosity of scientists on iNaturalist. In this case, the entomologist who identified my beetle works at the Natural History Museum in London, specializing in Coleoptera.
Ten-lined June Beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata)
I’m sorry the magnificent fluffy orange antennae can’t be seen on this Ten-lined June Beetle (Polyphylla decemlineata), as it might tie for first place in the antenna contest. This is the only one I’ve found, on the beach at high tide at Fort Worden. In Pacific Northwest Insects, Dr. Peterson notes that this beetle “makes squeaking sounds when handled.”
Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens)
One September day while walking by the cliffs at Ft. Flagler, my husband noticed this large, long beetle with what looks like a tiered abdomen and front feet that look like a stack of reddish beads. The Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens) is a Rove Beetle, of which there are over 1,000 species in the Pacific Northwest. Its huge mouth parts are called mandibles. I’m glad this insect didn’t feel threatened by us, because Dr. Peterson writes that if so, it “holds its mandibles open in formidable posture, curves its abdomen upward, and sometimes emits foul smell from glands at tip of abdomen.” Yikes!
Clear-winged Grasshopper (Camnula pellucida)
Here’s one of many grasshoppers with beautiful yellowish-brownish patterns on their bodies that fly ahead of hikers on trails. This Clear-winged Grasshopper (Camnula pellucida) was well camouflaged on a dry mountainside of Klahhane Ridge one August day. It’s found throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Olympic Grasshopper (Nisquallia olympica)
It’s always a thrill to find the wingless Olympic Grasshopper (Nisquallia olympica), or maybe a pair pf them, high on the slopes of Mt. Townsend or Heather Park. The female is much larger. This endemic species only lives in the Olympic Mountains above 5,000 feet on scree slopes, which create an island existence. Charles Darwin noticed that insects on islands have “a curious tendency to be flightless, perhaps because flying is dangerous when you are tiny and winds are strong.”