Friday, March 27, 2009

Rare Jewels to searching for...

River Jewelwings are classified as an endangered species in Ohio. And once again, why should we care about some bug? Dragonflies are a bioindicator, and their presence or abscence can signal a change in water conditions. These water-born wonders are nearly extirpated from Ohio, and I have to wonder, why? It may be because we are on the edge of their range, as their numbers seem secure in other states. Or are there other factors in play?

River Jewelwing photo by Dr. Dennis Paulson, one of the nation's leading experts in dragonflies, he is also a scholar and a gentleman. And did I mention he is great fun in the field?

This may well be Ohio's most interesting odonate (dragon or damselfly), the River Jewelwing is endangered in Ohio and has only been seen in the North-eastern quadrant of the state. All damselflies tend to be smaller than their dragon counterparts, but the major difference is the position of wings while at rest. Similar to the Ebony Jewelwing, R-Js show a dark tint on only the last third of their wings.

River Jewelwings are especially noteworthy as the males have a interesting courtship flight to impress the females. Add in the underwater stunt she preforms to lay the eggs, and your understand why this particular species is so fascinating to me.

Our insects should be important to budding naturalists, especially folks interested in botany. The direct "host" relationship many insects have with a particular plant, makes them easier to identify correctly. Seeing orange and black butterflies at a milkweed plant? You can be 95% certain it is a Monarch, not a viceroy, since milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly.

So let's get to that botany. You see, River Jewelwings have a direct relationship with Eel Grass, Vallisneria americana sometimes known as celery grass. Since River Jewelwings only lay their eggs in this plant, botanists will have a distict advantage in locating a new populations of this incredible species. Perhaps we can strike it rich, and find a new population of these rare jewels.

To learn more about the River Jewelwing and its unusual mating ritual, the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Northeast Ohio has a complete life history. The folks at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History penned it, and no nature library is complete without it.

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