Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the Futility of Questing for Migrating Dragons

I'm back from Mexico. We didn't see any dragonfly migration, however the trip was not wholly unsuccessful. I think that we returned with a much better idea of what it will take to learn more about the phenomenon as it occurs in Mexico.

Monday was a challenging day. We began early in some wetlands about 20 miles north of the city of Veracruz. That's just about where Hurricane Karl made landfall a month ago, and there was still lots of damage visible. We saw fewer dragonflies than butterflies. Normally that would be fine by me, except that this time around I was being paid to find migrating dragonflies and wasn't having much luck. I was particularly enjoying seeing other species in the same genus as the Silver-spotted Skipper. I also found some tiger beetles. I'm pretty sure that they were Western Red-bellied Tigers (Cicindela sedecimpunctata) a species that's very common in the western US.

Karl's Calling Card

Broken Silverdrop (Epargyreus exadeus)

Mexican Tiger Beetle! (Westerm Red-bellied?)

As we were headed off to the next site, I expanded my Spanish vocabulary. Elisa's car began making a dreadful noise and I learned the words freno (brake) and grúa (tow truck). We made it as far as the city of Cardél where we watched a river of migrating raptors from the roof of the big hotel, then had lunch downstairs in the coffee shop. Celeste and I then took the bus back to Xalapa and got some work done at the hotel there while Elisa had her car tended to. Fortunately the car problem was minor (a stone stuck in a wheel assembly). Unfortunately we lost a whole afternoon of field time.

Tuesday we went to an organic farm near the mountain town of Coatepec. There were plenty of dragonflies in the artificial pond, but little species diversity and no migratory activity. Some of the Mexican dragonflies are stunningly beautiful.

Hercules Skimmer (Libellula hercules) at the organic farm

There were lots of butterflies like this Blomfild's Beauty (Smyrna blomfildi)
on rotting fruit at the farm

Glasswing (Episcada salvinia)

Wednesday it was back to the dunes at Cansaburro. Thew weather was marginal, which probably put a stop to any migratory activity. Once again we saw lots of butterflies. Mexico has some amazing and beautiful skippers.

Blue-studded Skipper (Sostrata bifasciata)

Fantastic Skipper (Vettius fantasos)

Thursday was the last day of field work. We were hosted by Eduardo, who is also an employee of Pronatura. We visited the ecological field station at La Mancha, and later wandered along a dirt road where Eduardo sometimes takes visitors bird watching. We saw some very cool dragonflies at the bird watching site, but once again saw no migration activity.

Tropical Dasher (Microthyria sp.) at the field station

It's too bad that our visit did not coincide with obvious dragonfly migration activity. On the other hand, I met a bunch of new colleagues with whom I genuinely enjoyed spending time. I saw a beautiful part of the world and got to photograph lots of species of insects that I have never seen before. I believe that we learned a lot about what it will take to better study dragonfly migration, and look forward to presenting our results in December at a meeting that will take place in Austin, Texas.

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At 23:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Hercules Skimmer is really gorgeous. So is the Glasswing.

I don't know the Mexican tigers quite so well, especially way down south like that, but it sure does look like a western red-bellied.

I had a run of Mexico trips every year from 2004-2006 - all down to Oaxaca, Puebla, and Michoacan. I haven't been able to get back down there since and am really missing it. I do, however, have a paper in prep. containing all the new host buprestid records we gathered and the description of a new species (and not some dinkly little thing, but a large, spectacular jewel beetle!).

At 23:39, Blogger Ur-spo said...

nevertheless, it sounds good. it looks like you had good photographs and expanded your colleague base.

At 16:34, Blogger Will said...

The glasswing is my favorite -- I had never seen a transparent butterfly before well, the wings, that is).

At 11:20, Blogger Kathie Brown said...

Bravo Doug! How awesome for you! Sorry you didn't get to see the migration but what a great experience and opportunity! I hope your talk goes well. Does Troy know you will be in his neck of the woods? Have you ever met him? Have fun in Austin.


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