Northland Nature: Ebony jewelwings flutter by streams

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at

An ebony jewelwing damselfly sits on a plant near a stream on a July morning. (Photo by Larry Weber)

July, especially one with above-normal temperatures, is a good time to see insects. Though we may not always appreciate the heat, these six-legged critters that share the region with us do quite well.

Perhaps it is a couple of the lesser-loved ones that we are most aware of. Mosquitoes continue to be with us, mostly at dawn or dusk, while the larger deer flies circle us during our moving about in the daylight hours. But there are myriad other insects here, too.

In the sunlight on these summer days, we can see many butterflies as they visit flowers. The large and well-known monarchs take nectar from a variety of flowers, but they select milkweeds, now in bloom, for egg laying. Those flying at this time will die by the end of the summer; their young will make the long flight south.

Another large butterfly of the Northland, the tiger swallowtail, is unlikely to be seen now, as it is more common in June. Others out among the flowers of yards, gardens, parks, roadsides and fields include fritillaries, crescents, checkerspots, white admirals, yellow sulphurs, cabbage whites, brown ringlets and wood nymphs.

Tiny, but abundant, are the orange skippers. A few moths fly in the daytime, but they are much more diverse after dark.


Bees, wasps and flies abound now, and of course, taking advantage of this scene are the predacious spiders, with more and larger webs each day.

Also feeding on insects, but not as the sedentary spiders hunt, are species of dragonflies that use aerial patrolling and excellent eyesight to locate and catch prey. Spending nights in plants, they bask with open wings in the early morning.

During my walks, I have seen darners, whiteface species, gomphids, emeralds, pennants and the dazzling whitetail and twelve-spot skimmers. I expect to soon see meadowhawks as the season progresses. But their cousins are here, too.

Not as big or as well-known are the damselflies. Dragonflies and damselflies make up the insect order of odonata. A simple rule (with exceptions) is that when the dragonflies rest with wings sticking out perpendicular to the body, damselflies hold wings parallel to their thin bodies.

The damselflies we are most likely to see are probably the small bluets as they fly along the shoreline. They may land on a dock, boat or even us in these flights. These pond damselflies may be the first ones that we see in summer.

The exception to the rule are the spreadwings that hold wings out from their body at about a 45-degree angle. They are usually later in the season.

Recently, during my morning walks, I have located a site of broad-winged damselflies. Along a small stream, they sit in the morning light. Known as ebony jewelwings, they have black wings and a head, thorax and abdomen of bright metallic green that reaches about 2 inches long. They are a delight to behold.

Instead of quick flights as seen with dragonflies, ebony jewelwings flutter about almost in the manor of butterflies. But unlike butterflies, these beautiful and delicate-looking damselflies are predators and seek meals of other insects.


While the wings of the males are all black, females have white marking on the tips of wings. Though a regular part of the summer insect population, they are more confined to these stream habitats and not seen as often as their cousins.

I was fortunate to observe these delightful insects.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
What To Read Next
Get Local