|Aeshnidae ~ Darners|
Although this is not a small family, there is only one species frequently found in our area. The Common Green Darner (Anax junius) definitely deserves its name. This large dragonfly can be found in a variety of habitats, where it can be observed patrolling, perching, mating, and ovipositing. It frequently hovers while flying, and usually perches hanging vertically, although it might also just sort of lie on the ground. It occurs throughout the entire U.S. and is one of the most familiar of all dragonflies. It is also one of the few dragonflies that migrates.
The larvae of the Common Green Darner are also large, with a longer abdomen than most other kinds of dragonflies. They are not particular about habitat, and can be found by small ponds, slow-moving streams, and larger bodies of water. The molted shell of the larva, called an exuviae, provides a good representation of how the living animal appears.
I've seen this species mating more than any other dragonfly, perhaps because of their numbers or it could be because they stay in tandem for a long period. They usually hang in trees or even in very low vegetation while mating, as if they have just fallen out of the sky. Pairs can be found lying on the ground in grassy fields, where they draw attention when the male starts to rattle his wings in alarm as one approaches. They will often then separate and the male will fly off, followed by the female.
Males sometimes remain attached to females while ovipositing, but the female can also do this job just fine (and probably better) unencumbered by her partner. Unlike skimmers, which hit the water to deposit their eggs in flight, the Common Green Darner perches on vegetation and carefully attaches her eggs just below the water surface.
Size and shape are usually enough to identify the Common Green Darner, but the colors are also distinctive. Males have a green body and a bright turquoise abdomen with black markings. Immature males are colored more like females, which have duller abdomens, often a sort of purplish brown color. Both genders have a black spot surrounded by white on the center of their head, just in front of the eyes. It looks amazingly like a stylized painted eye.
There are other darners in our area, but they are not at all commonly seen. The only other one I've found is the Blue-eyed Darner (Aeshna multicolor). Members of this genus are called mosaic darners, probably because of the pattern on their abdomens. The gorgeous eyes do make the Blue-eyed Darner stand out even when it is found with numerous Common Green Darners.