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Northland Nature: Dragonflies emerge in June

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 krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A dusky clubtail dragonfly, a type of gomphid, basks in the sunlight on a June morning. Note the space between the eyes on the head. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Mid-June is the time of the earliest sunrises of the whole year. Appearing at 5:14 a.m. (remaining at this time for about 10 days), sol sets shortly after 9 p.m., giving nearly 16 hours of daylight.

It is also the time of warm temperatures and frequent rains. The Northland flora thrives with these conditions and we see green growth right in front of us. But these conditions are also excellent for the insects that live here.

Anyone spending June in the region is well aware of the six-legged critters that abound at this time. We are likely to think of the lesser-loved mosquitos and black flies that reach their maturity at this time and come to us for a meal of blood, providing needed protein for their reproductive success. But the Northland is home for many other insect types.

Walking in the yard and the nearby road in recent sunlit days, I found it hard to not see active insects. Two of our largest butterflies are active now: the black-yellow tiger swallowtail and the black and orange monarch. Both frequently take nectar in our yards and gardens. Other butterflies include the orange-checkered fritillaries, yellow sulphurs and cabbage whites.

Taking a closer look, we may see tiny blues and skippers. While watching this activity, I also found a tent caterpillar nest in a cherry tree and the frothy mass produced by spittle bugs on roadside plants.

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Walking this route at night, I noticed the thick bodies of junebugs and the glows of a new batch of fireflies — always a delightful addition to June.
Visiting a lake, I saw plenty more was happening. This is the time of dragonfly emergence. Several kinds were flying, hunting and basking on this clear morning. Spending youth as predators underwater, they look much different from the flying adults as well as predators.

Young, called nymphs (larvae), survived winter in this aquatic site, but in recent weeks, that time has ended as they climbed up out of their water world and became adults. Clinging to shoreline plants, they underwent a change as their exoskeleton split open and the winged adult emerged. This radical event usually happens at night.

Now, in the day, they stretch out their wings, raising body temperature while basking in sunlight.

Many shoreline plants hold the cast-off exoskeleton that were left here when the step from youth to adulthood took place. Also called exuvia, they tell just how many there are at this lakeshore on this June day.

Now free from water, dragonflies bask on docks, rocks and an inverted canoe. But walking on trails and in the yard, I also see them at other sunny sites. Looking carefully, I find five kinds at this site: dot-tail whitefaces, chalk-fronted corporals, four-spot skimmers, green-eyed emeralds and gomphids.

One of these gomphids, a dusky clubtail, I found of interest. A medium-sized dragonfly, it has a yellow line along the back. It was a bit difficult to identify it as a dusky clubtail, but quite easy to note that it was a type of gomphid.

Dragonflies all have huge eyes that cover much of their head. These eyes reach entirely around the head touching in the back, except for gomphids. The eyes of this group are smaller and have a posterior space between them. When seen closely with close-focus binoculars or camera lens, this eye arrangement is easy to note.

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As these June days continue, we have time to see plenty more dragonflies and other insects as the new season of summer begins.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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