Messin’ With Texas
Chasing Six-Legged Stars Across the Lone Star State
- Being Human
- Being Outside
- Boston Globe
- Earth and Sky
- Photography and Optics
- What's This?
To leave Vermont in summertime is to take leave of your senses. To abandon the comfort and kindness of our short summer season for the brutality expressed in heat and humidity here in Texas … well, you had better have a damned good reason for doing something like that.
There’s your reason above: Blue-faced Ringtail (Erpetogomphus eutainia). We met beside the Guadalupe River in south-central Texas on Monday. This diminutive and festive insect, no longer than your pinky, is one of the rarest dragonflies in the U.S. When he landed on that stem of grass, in the relative comfort of an 86-degree, dripping-humid morning, I dropped to my knees in adulation — and in a burst of photography so that I could share this spectacular animal with all of you.
Blue-faced Ringtail alone might have been enough to get me to Texas in summer. But on this lone star journey of mine, an adventure in the frontiers of exploration and perspiration, in strange roadkill and roadside gun shops, in shocking commercial sprawl and endemic rural poverty, I’m discovering profound natural beauty in a harsh American state.
I’m not the only foreigner chasing dragonflies in the heat of Texas, which is hosting the annual meeting of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas (of which I am president) and the International Congress of Odonatology, put on by the World Dragonfly Association. I’ll also point out that some international and American biologists and dragonfly enthusiasts are skipping or boycotting these Texas meetings because of Donald Trump as well as U.S. and Texas policies on immigration and human rights. I support their actions (even though they have not asked the rest of us to skip these meetings in solidarity).
As it turns out, my home state of Vermont has a fine record of messing with Texas. Back in 2001, when Vermont Senator James Jeffords left the Republican party (then quaint by today’s low political standards) he single-handedly flipped the U.S. Senate (at the time split 50-50 with Dick Cheney presiding) from Republican to Democrat control. I recall that Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who as a result lost his chairmanship of the Banking Committee, was particularly incensed and strident and critical of Jeffords (even though Gramm himself had once been a Democrat). I’m pretty sure that’s when we started to see “Don’t Mess with Vermont” bumper stickers proudly displayed.
Vermont and Texas do have a few things in common. Well, sort of. Texas has both kinds of beer: Bud and Bud Lite. Vermont’s got IPA and IPA. They’ve got both kinds of music: Country and Western. We’ve got VPR and everything we need on WDEV. They’ve got Ted Cruz (ick) and we’ve got Bernie Sanders.
Insects know of no such chasms. They just fly around and make me forget the heat and the chiggers. So, in tribute to Jim Jeffords and to you, I’m messin’ with Texas in my own way. Here is but a small sampling of what I’m seeing. Click on any image to start your slide show or for a more complete view of each critter — you know, bigger … like Texas.
Bryan the colours of that dragon (and the others) are out of this world! I too would have fell to my knees! Brilliant.
Despite the heat and humidity, it really was incredible in Texas. I hope to go back (and sweat a lot once again)!
Spectacular dragonflies — but I’ve been in Texas in the summer (114 degrees) and wouldn’t go back, not even for photos like yours.
Sometimes insects make me forget all the discomforts — even the biting varieties. Sometimes. 🙂
Great writing and stunner photos! It might even get me out of the A/C and into the humidity!
Yeah, it was a “wet heat.”
Damn., Bryan, I think you are getting better with age. We need to talk when you get back! Spectacular photos.
We will indeed. Thanks, Andrew.
Even in Texas two thumbs up to you and those fascinating creatures
Amazing photos and they are so beautiful and delicate creatures. Yes Vermont and Texas do have things in common and being independent republics is a shared history.
We do share that history! Wasn’t Hawaii also independent at one point?
Bryan – Congrats on the Blue-faced Ringtail!! Have a great meeting and hope you find a bunch of great dragons and lifers.
Thanks, Rick. Glad to know that you’ve been finding your share as well.
Brilliant on all levels, Bryan. Thank you for your exciting posts from the beautiful world!
Frost! Yes, I could use some! 🙂
Beautiful photos! Thank you.
Stunning photos and such a delight to read. Thank you for sharing your “Texas” with us.
You would be loving these, Shirley!
Maybe I should have been thinking about your winter photography!
Stunning animals and stunning pictures! No wonder you are braving the heat, humidity and chiggers. I was down there myself in April chasing birds and got a fine crop of chigger bites. They still itch.
I cannot for the life of me determine how I avoided chiggers on this trip. (Maybe too hot for ’em. 🙂 Uh, probably not!
Thanks for sharing your own personal way of “messing with Texas” and for sharing some pretty amazing photos with all of us!
Thanks, Karen. Sorry to everyone about my late replies to all the kind comments.
You are most welcome, as always, Judy!
Great pictures and article! Sometime you to work hard to get some good stuffs!
Sorry to miss you down there, Meena! Maybe I’ll see you at the NE meeting!
Great essay and images Bryan. For a taste of Texas politics and contemporary culture, see Lawrence Wright’s book “God Save Texas.” It’s a sobering take on what the rest of America could be like save for places like Vermont.
Thanks, Rick. More and more, Vermont becomes sacred in my life.
Don’t your hands start to shake when something like that blue faced ringtail sits down right in front of you? I have to put the speed way up to cover for my excitement.
The creatures are exquisite but it’s your pictures that blow me away.
They are unbelievable!
Yeah, it’s a bit like “buck fever.” I remember seeing my first Comet Darner. So spectacular that it made me shake.
Bryan, we’ve seen dragonflies in Kerrville, but not close enough for details or cameras. We do think of you every time we see one.
Thanks, Connie. We miss you!!! Best to Bruce!
Great essay and beautiful photos, Bryan. Thanks!
Steer clear of those chiggers!
Thanks, Ann. I somehow managed to avoid chiggers. No clue why.
Bryan: Great photos. I’n new to bird photography and am looking to buy a replacement camera for my Panasonic ZS50. I’m looking for a budget camera that will take sharp and not blurry photos from about a 40 foot distance. I have my camera on a tripod in my home that is about 40 feet away from the bird feeders. Thanks for any help.
This might help, Harold: https://bryanpfeiffer.com/photography/photography-resources/point-and-shoot-cameras-for-wildlife/
As always: Wow.
Even more inspiring now that I’ve been attempting to take my own. I like the Common Sanddragon hanging out on common sand. And the three winged one–Five Striped Leaftail. Still flying! Didn’t know about Leaftails.
Keep me posted on camera progress!!! 🙂
Wow these dragonflies are truly stunning and worth the sweat and trouble !
Thanks for sharing nature’s beauty.
Yes, and easier to photograph than those elusive birds! 🙂
Not to be too much of a curmudgeon Carol, but unless we remember politics, there may be no more “perfect spots” to sit in … not to mention good bugs to look at!
Yes, indeed. And you’re whereabouts these days?
WOW that unbelievable ringtail! Fantastic pix & amusing article. So jealous: I was hoping to get to that meeting, but life intervened. I’ll be at NEDSA later this month tho, at least!
Yay! Then I’ll have to attend!
Outstanding, Bryan. Incidentally, back about 45 years or so ago, I canoed a 20-mile stretch of the Guadalupe with friends. Had pretty good whitewater, as I recall—although I wasn’t paying much attention to dragonflies back then. A memorable trip regardless.
I wonder how many landed on your boat!
It’s a bit difficult to say that these flies are “beautiful” but the colors are unbelievable ! My favorite is the blue and black one ! Do any of them “bite”? Just find a perfect spot to sit and watch these beauties fly around ….and forget politics ! Life is too short !!
Yes, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. I’ll agree with that. They don’t bite (unless you “mess with them” in the hand)!