Sunday, August 22, 2010

It's a Bug Eat Bug World

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon: Aug 19, 2010

Hot sun on my back. Tepid muck oozing into my shoes. I’m frozen in one spot watching a soggy pool of water about the size of my bathtub, but much shallower. Last week this pond was a big as my house and earlier this spring the wet meadow held a pool of water as big as the block I live on.

Drying out is expected and many creatures are adapted to the ephemeral nature of the pool. Hundreds of western toads have recently become land based. Several large ‘beds’ in the lush, grassy area show me where a large animal rested, probably elk. The areas that have dried out recently are still alive with dragonflies and damselflies. I came out here looking for some elusive damselfly species. We’ve been seriously hunting odonates (dragonflies and damselflies) for six years. Several that have been reported for Douglas County still elude us. There is a chance of finding one or two of them out here.

I thought all the water had dried in this meadow, a little opening in the lodgepole forest high in the Cascade Mountains; but after wandering about I’ve been sidetracked by this little pool of water. It holds life concentrated. A bright red ‘white-faced meadowhawk’ floats dead on this dab of water. Already a water strider straddles the little dragonfly. The water strider has inserted its proboscis into the thorax of the dragonfly. First he pumps his own special formula of juices in, which dissolves the dragonfly’s innards. The water strider can then suck up dinner, leaving just a shell of the dragonfly.

I’m a little surprised the water strider has this choice meal to himself, but not for long. Soon another strider comes over and sinks his proboscis in too. Not to be outdone, two backswimmers swims up from underneath and start chewing from underneath. Meanwhile I’ve been standing still and the little pool I’ve disturbed in coming back to life. Two emerald spreadwings (damselflies) move from one sedge perch to another, often so close I can’t focus my camera. Several other water striders are in the area and the shallow water fairly wiggles with backswimmers. One has nearly finished eating a damselfly and another is chewing on a salamander hatchling. First I thought the backswimmer was chewing on a tadpole, but little gills and a small head made me realize it was a salamander.

Even baby western toads, about one half inch long, are showing themselves and crawling up to where they can hope to catch little flies and mosquitoes. This whole area is rather trampled, probably by the elk coming for a drink, and provides lots places for the toads to crawl out.

Another and another water strider finds available space on the dragonfly, until there are five busy eating, plus the back swimmers underneath.

Nearer to me a water beetle crawls out onto the broken over sedges. I wonder what he eats. I think he is a predator too.

In the muck right by my foot I see movement and find a dragonfly nymph. I pick it up briefly and then let it disappear into the muck again. I’m thrilled to have seen it. It is only the second time I’ve seen a dragonfly nymph before it crawls out to emerge into a dragonfly.

I’ve been away from Dale and our friend, Eleanor, for an hour and a half. Time to wander back to where they can at least see me. A few minutes later I’m in the next forest opening and walking along the edge of a permanent pond. I’ve been told sedge sprites have been found somewhere around here, and read that in order to find them , I must look carefully into the sedges where they like to hide.

Sure enough! I see a sedge sprite. It is the tinest damselfly I have ever seen. No wonder I’ve had a hard time finding them. I holler to Dale and Eleanor …. “Wham!” Drat! (Maybe I thought something stronger than that!) I had just time enough to take one fuzzy photo and a great big darner came crashing into the sedges and grabbed my sprite! End of sprite.

But, not to worry. Now that I’ve discovered how hard sprites are to find, I’m finding more and holler to Dale and Eleanor again. Soon all three of us are owwwing and ahhhhhing over the little jewels. I’ve walked past this patch of sedges at least a dozen times during the past few years. How could I have missed them all this time?


  1. Goodness, how interesting to be an observer at a strider buffet. I have never seen such a sight. I will be looking. That sprite is adorable. I am glad to see you got to have such a good look.

  2. Absolutely fascinating looks at nature!!!