Sunday, July 14, 2013

Acrobatic insect sex in an Oakland County osprey nest!

photos by Jonathan Schechter 7/12/2013
Nature is full of surprise and ever once in awhile the lens captures an unexpected event.
This was one of those times, an unexpected encounter in the natural world.  The setting was Kent Lake,  located at the northern end of Kensington Metropark in Oakland County, Michigan. 
The date: July 12, 2013.  It was mid-morning; the time will become significant as you read on.

I met with wildlife biologist Julie Oakes from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources
to  witness and document a new first in the State of Michigan; the outfitting of a seven week
old male osprey with a GPS enabled satellite transmitter. All went well as Independence,
the osprey was removed from his nest and the one ounce high tech transmitter attached. The
 data to be gathered will enhance our understanding  of the habits and migratory travels of
 osprey, amazing fish-eating raptors that dive into the water to catch their prey.

The paddle back to the nest located about 10 feet above the lake surface was uneventful. 
I maintained my position in my kayak and took one last photo as Independence and one his two 
 nest mates peered over the array of nest sticks at the intruding humans. But just as I depressed 
the camera's shutter button I noticed a blur of movement; and then forgot about it. Back  home I became intrigued  by the mystery object ( enlarged below) and quickly discovered I had captured
 an image of a pair of mating dragonflies.  That in itself was kind of neat, but after positive ID 
was made by a friend with a passion for and great knowledge of  insects, especially dragonflies,  
the story became more intriguing.  I had captured an image of Halloween Pennants mating. 
 She had long hoped to even photograph one. She was thrilled that I captured them in their 
sexual acrobatics perched on a stick in an active osprey nest.  But there is more to this tale ----

THE FACTS:  The Halloween  Pennant (Celithemis eponina) is so named for its orange tinted 
wings with black bands and the fact that when perched on a stick they sway in the wind like a pennant.  The species is a year round resident of Florida with Michigan and  Ontario being
 their northern range.  But it is the mating habits and natural habitat that caught my attention.
 Published research shows that " Sexual activity normally occurs between 8 and 10:30 am and males will normally  wait for for females to come to them around the edges of ponds."  

My pair was right on time and in the perfect wetland habitat to carry on the species!

The female is lured into the male's habitat by his flight pattern. They then begin the mating
 process. The male grasps the female by the head with clasping hooks at the end of his abdomen. 
 So connected they fly together to find the perfect location practicing this lock-and-key technique with the  male on top.  According to the University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web:

"The attached partners form a mating chain with the male in front and 
the female in back.The female bends her abdomen to reach the male's abdomen. 
This is when the mating chain becomes the mating wheel. 
After this, the male and female reproductive organs separate but 
the dragonflies stay interlocked. The female is now ready to lay her eggs.
 The female  lays her eggs in dead vegetation in the water. 
She descends into the water, with the male still attached and breathes via
 a protective coat of air which is trapped by the fine hairs on both groups of legs."

As a naturalist  I look at the image my lens captured and I do not see what entomologists call a "mating wheel".  I see a heart. Take a look!  Be it love or lust in the osprey nest the lucky  photographic capture of these dragonflies mating next to the osprey will long be remembered.


Anonymous Kathleen said...

Fantastic Johathan!

July 15, 2013 at 9:25 AM 

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