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November dragonfly love

A male autumn meadowhawk, at the top of the frame, has secured a female by cerci at the tip of his abdomen. Some Odonata species mate while in flight; coupled autumn meadowhawks are usually observed perched.
TRR photos by Scott Rando

November 13, 2013

The first few days of November yielded a couple of mild days before a cold front brought some brisk northwest winds and nighttime temperatures that hit the teens in many areas. Some flights of avian harbingers of fall such as the migrating golden eagle and the first flocks of bufflehead had already made their appearance; however, it was the flight of another critter on a couple of local lakes that drew my attention on these first mild days in November.

The aptly named autumn meadowhawk is the last dragonfly to be seen during the year, and when most species of animals are migrating, hibernating, or making other preparations for the arrival of winter, these brilliant red dragonflies are still in the midst of mating as part of their reproductive cycle, which will produce next year’s emergence of autumn meadowhawks.

The mating ritual of the autumn meadowhawk, as with all dragonflies, is a complex affair. The male must first find a suitable mate. Just before mating, the male must transfer sperm from production glands (gonopore), located at the tip of his abdomen, to his own seminal vesicle located under the second abdominal segment. The male attempts to grab a female by her neck with a pair of appendages (cerci) at the tip of his abdomen. Having established “tandem linkage,” a receptive female bends the tip of her abdomen, where her genitalia and oviduct are located, to the freshly charged seminal vesicle of the male previously described; the male transfers his sperm to the female at this time. This is called the “wheel” position as the coupled pair now resemble a wheel or heart.

This can be a rough affair, especially for the female. Scratches and puncture injuries are often incurred by the female by the cerci of the male at the initial coupling, but the female usually is able to complete her ultimate goal: laying her freshly fertilized eggs for next year’s emergence of dragonflies.