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The Year in Flight
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They dwell on northern bogs and at ponds, and do what damselflies do: fly around, kill things and have sex. To casual observers, this pair of Subarctic Bluets (Coenagrion interrogatum) may appear no different than many other little blue damselflies we see around the planet. But this pair, at one of the aptly named Gem Lakes in central Saskatchewan, is my featured pick for The Year in Flight, a slideshow of images from 2013.
That’s the male “on top.” With a specialized clamp at the tip of his abdomen (cerci and paraprocts), he’s holding the female by what we vertebrates might call the scruff of her neck. She has nonetheless bent her abdomen forward to receive sperm at his midsection. Joined in this “copulatory wheel,” the male uses his penis (more like a tool kit) to remove or displace sperm left in the female from a previous copulation with another male. It’s insurance that this male’s genome will live on when she lays eggs. At least that’s the hypothesis – a good one. And this pose, which might make writers of the Kama Sutra blush, is unique among insects.
Ranging across Canada and barely into the U.S., Subarctic Bluets have turned up only twice in my home state of Vermont – once at a bog in the southern Green Mountains and once at a bog in the Northeastern Highlands. And I have not been the entomologist who found them (a minor annoyance). I had not, in fact, found them anywhere – an odd gap in my dogged pursuit of northern insects. So it came as particular gratification when my first encounter (a lifer for you birders) featured copulation. On a warming planet, we may never again see Subarctic Bluets in Vermont; my suspicion is that they have blinked out. Onward in the struggle for existence.
So we end 2013 and begin 2014 with a pair of copulating damselflies.