© Pieter Van Dokkum
© Pieter Van Dokkum

10 Close-Up Shots of Dragonflies

© Pieter Van Dokkum
© Pieter Van Dokkum

Photographer and astronomer Pieter van Dokkum had been attracted to dragonflies for several years, but it wasn't until he stumbled across a quaint pond in New England, dotted with hundreds of dragonflies, that van Dokkum decided to make a book. The photographer waded in the pond, spent nights waiting for the right shot, and even lost a few shoes. The result is the delightful Dragonflies: Magnificent Creatures of Water, Air, and Land, which showcases and celebrates the insects' inherent beauty.

The book starts with the tiny beginnings of the dragonfly, with the transformation of the nymphs. These flightless newborns go through a transformation (similar to caterpillars) that takes an entire night to complete. Van Dokkum then follows the full life of dragonflies, up until the end of dragonfly season in fall. About a third of the pictures come from that New England pond, while the others come from different parts of America and the Netherlands. 

Van Dokkum compares the dragonflies to fairies, and it’s not hard to see why. The delicate creatures exhibit amazing colors and beauty that almost seems otherworldly. Here are some select images from Dragonflies

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Stained glass wing. The Wings have a complex, rigid surface that is maintained by a network of veins. The subtle colors of this immature Black Meadowhawk are caused by sunlight reflecting off the still not quite transparent wings."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Thermoregulation. Dragonflies regulate their body temperature by angling their bodies to maximize or minimize the area exposed to the sun. When temperatures are high around midday, perching dragonflies such as this Halloween Pennant may point their abdomen straight up, to absorb as little heat as possible ('obelisking')."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Calico Pennant, female."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Hide and Seek. Damselflies are light sleepers—insofar as insects sleep at all. Even when they are cold and covered in dew, they tend to move away from whatever is approaching them and hide behind the plant they are clinging to. A curious eyeball may be the only part of the damselfly that is visible to predators—and cameras!"

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Common Green Darner. This large dragonfly is perhaps the most iconic of American species. They spend a lot of time on the wing, patrolling over ponds and hunting above meadows. Some populations of Common Green Darners are migratory, flying from the southern to the northern United States and Canada in the spring, with their offspring returning south in the autumn."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Flame Skimmer, male"

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Flame Skimmer, male."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Female Seaside Dragonlet. Dragonflies typically require fresh water to reproduce. The Seaside Dragonlet is the only American dragonfly that breeds in salt water. It does not venture far from the coast, and may be found in salt marshes and tidal flats."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Variable Darner, eating a butterfly."

© Pieter Van Dokkum

"Damselfly nursery. Some plants are very popular with egg-laying damselflies."

For more pictures, purchase the book here. 

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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