A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many more words lurking behind the photo which tell a much more interesting story.
What do you see in the photo above? The primary subject is a dragonfly—a female Grappletail (Octogomphus specularis) to be exact, a species of clubtail in the family Gomphidae. What is the slender blue “stick” that this Grappletail is grappling? That is the abdomen of a male Vivid Dancer (Argia vivida)—a damselfly, his head and thorax in the dragonfly’s digestive tract by the time this photo was exposed. Odonate-on-odonate predation is always interesting when you see it, but not so uncommon that it’s ever a surprise—especially in cases like this when the predator is significantly bigger than the prey.
That photo was taken at Gold Lake in the central Oregon Cascades—a special place for a number of reasons. One of them is the large numbers of Grappletails that congregate where the waters flow out of the lake and become Salt Creek. Dozens and dozens of them can be seen sitting all over the place—on boulders, on logs, on the bridge over the creek, on the surrounding vegetation, and on you. I have photos of up to 13 of them perching on a single boulder. It is really odd to see so many individuals of any clubtail (or any dragonfly species, for that matter) together at one place. It’s also a very enjoyable place for photography since there is at least one Grappletail everywhere you look, and they are often very approachable.
|Here's a better view of a different female Grappletail (Octogomphus specularis) at Gold Lake.|
I know, I know, this seems pretty fantastic, but each time the damsel dropped down, he curved his abdomen forward as though he intended to clasp her behind the head with his abdominal appendages. I can’t imagine what else could have possibly motivated him to do such a thing. The mere notion that a damselfly would even attempt to go into tandem with a dragonfly—one twice his length, really blows my mind. It’s unheard of as far as I know. Assuming that I correctly assessed the dancer’s intentions (I concede that I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine what else was going on), it raises some interesting questions such as, Can a damselfly really know whether a dragonfly is a male or female, and if so, how?
|An intact male Vivid Dancer (Argia vivida) wisely|
copulating with a female of his own size.
Naturally, the Grappletail was having none of it! She chased the little dancer away four or five times, returning to her log after each flight. Unfortunately for him, he made one too many attempts. The last time he dropped down, she flew up, chased him, grabbed him in mid-air, and perched in streamside trees to make a meal of the little love-struck damsel. That was when I snapped the photo at top, and that’s the rest of the story.