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Wonderful winter wigeon

Pelagic cormorant with its touches of mating season bling (red face, white haunches, wispy white neck feathers). Photo: Jeff Adams

I love spring! However, some of my favorite winter commute companions will soon be departing. Our Salish Sea feathered friends are turning their focus from sitting out the winter in our  relatively calm and rich inland waters to getting busy on this summer’s crop of young’uns. For many birds, that means leaving central Puget Sound for points north or inland. Many are changing dramatically into their winter plumage (the flashy reds, blues and whites of grebes and cormorants are some of my favorites). The winter birds of which I am most fond, however, are the wigeon.

The large overwintering flocks can be appreciated day and night from September through April. Many grassy shoreline parks host their own band of wigeon that offer you a good look during the day. During the long dark hours of winter, the large flocks rest on quiet waters. Waiting for a foot ferry to shuttle across Sinclair Inlet to Bremerton on a dark, wet morning may treat you to a  chorus of peeping and whistling. (YouTube video of whistling wigeon.)

Many nearshore homeowners may disagree with my attraction to wigeon. Wigeon love short green grass and can poop, stomp and nibble a manicured lawn all winter long. I’ve seen flashy objects in some shoreline lawns that I imagine are intended to keep wigeon off (if you have experience with this, I’m curious how well it works).

Eurasian and American wigeon at Evergreen Park, Bremerton. Photo: Jeff Adams

A large flock of wigeon typically affords an ornithological treat. Actually, it’s more like a treasure hunt. When you find the treasure, you get the treat.

Like a needle in a duck down pillow, a male Eurasian wigeon (rust colored head) can often be found among the hundreds of American wigeon (speckled head with a green stripe) in a large flock. This winter guest to our shores typically breeds in northern Europe and Asia. Then flies far to the south to enjoy more temperate winters. Those that we see just happen to migrate down through Alaska instead of Siberia.

In mid-March, the flock of wigeon at Evergreen Park in Bremerton made it a little easier to find the needle. At least 4 handsome, brown headed lads were pulling up grass with gusto. If you wish to see them, you might head down to Evergreen Park to scan the flock and wish them well on their long flight to the breeding grounds. However, it’s possible that some Eurasian wigeon temporarily defect to North America.

American, Eurasian and hybrid? wigeon at Evergreen Park, Bremerton. Photo: Jeff Adams

There’s some debate among birders that a few wigeon ladies might find themselves swooning for the fancy feathers of a male from the other species, resulting in hybrids that share some characteristics of each. There also appears to be some variability in each species that may lead to the speculation of hybridization.

Wherever they go, these large flocks will soon depart, and I’ll just have to look forward to September when the wonderful wigeon return. In the meantime, my arguably less charismatic commuting companions of summer are just around the corner… Go big jellies!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife Twitter, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Become a Kitsap Beach Naturalist!

Below is a plug for the upcoming Kitsap Beach Naturalist training. This program is a lot of fun, and you walk away having learned from some great speakers and carrying very helpful materials for identifying and understanding the creatures on our region’s beaches. You also get a great hat! Once you’ve completed the class, you can join as a Beach Naturalist on events coordinated during the summer daytime or winter nighttime low tides.

Explore & Learn, a Kitsap Beach Naturalist sign ready for action. Photo: Jeff Adams

Speaking of low tides… Today marks the first full day of spring AND the first daytime minus tides of 2011!

Bremerton minus tides
Monday (3/21) – 1:15PM, -0.7
Tuesday – 2:00PM, -1.3
Wednesday – 2:45PM, -1.4
Thursday – 3:30PM, -1.0
Friday – 4:30PM, -0.4

Join the Kitsap Beach Naturalist Class of 2011. Kitsap County has extraordinary beaches and a lot of people interested in enjoying and learning more about them. You can help while enriching your own experience. In the classroom and on field trips, Kitsap Beach Naturalist volunteers learn about seaweed, fish, invertebrates, clams, crabs, anemones, and friends). Marine riparian habitat and conservation, beach etiquette and beach walk coordination are also covered.

We ask that you attend 4 of the 5 classes and 3 of the 4 field trips to graduate (and receive your nifty KBN hat!) and give back 20 hours of related volunteer service to the community over the following year.

Kitsap Beach Naturalists sharing with beachgoers at Kitsap Memorial State Park. Photo: Jeff Adams

The Kitsap Beach Naturalists Program is coordinated by WSU Kitsap County Extension and Washington Sea Grant.

2011 Class schedule
When:   March 31;   April 7, 21, 28;   May 5
Time:  9:30a.m.-12:30a.m. OR 6p.m. – 9p.m.
Where:  Norm Dicks Government Center, Bremerton

2011 Field schedule
April  7 – Illahee State Park
April 9 – Kitsap Memorial
April 21 -Lions Park, Bremerton
April 23 – Silverdale Waterfront Park
May 21 – Fay Bainbridge

Cost:  $55 – to offset book and field guide costs

For more information on joining the training you can download the flyer or contact Peg Tillery 360-337-7224, ptillery@co.kitsap.wa.us

Thanks and happy spring!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Emperors of the air, stuck in the mud

Albatross in flight off Washington coast. Photo: Jeff Adam

Albatrosses are birds that few of us ever get to see or fully appreciate. They avoid the mainland, nesting on remote islands, and foraging in the open ocean. We certainly don’t find them in the Salish Sea. A Puget Sounder’s best bet is to head out to the Washington coast, jump on a boat (Westport has a great pelagic birding charter) and ride the waves for a few dozen miles out to sea. Once out of sight of land, you may be in sight of albatrosses.

These unique birds are build for long trips at sea, soaring so efficiently that their hearts beat about the same when they’re soaring for hundreds or thousands of miles as when they’re resting. And these are big birds! Wingspans of North Pacific albatross are between 6 and 7′.

Ironically, the wings that makes them soaring superstars also makes them pretty poor flapping fliers. Relatively stiff wings aren’t very effective when winds that are essential to their flight are calm. While we sit out a storm, albatrosses sit out the calm, floating on the sea’s surface until the wind picks up.

Amid the devastating human tragedy of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami, albatrosses and other island nesting birds in the Pacific have also faced challenges. I thank John Williams of Still Hope Productions for turning me onto Midway Atoll wildlife biologist Pete Leary’s blog. In a March 12, 2011 posting Pete shared experiences and dramatic images of the tsunami displaced birds he and many others rescued from debris, mud and open water. It’s amazing that the birds captured in his images were the survivors, some buried with only their head above the debris. Unfortunately, Pete suggested 10’s of thousands of albatross chicks were washed out to sea.

Albatross species, most of which are considered threatened, face a number of other, more chronic threats.

  • Albatrosses see an easy meal as bait in longline fisheries sinks slowly behind a boat. The result is 10’s of thousands of albatross bycatch deaths each year. Washington Sea Grant staff and others are working with longline fisheries to reduce seabird bycatch. Just distracting birds until the bait sinks below their diving depth can reduce seabird contact with the bait by 70%.
  • Invasive rats and cats prey easily on eggs and chicks and may attack adults. These birds evolved to breed on islands without terrestrial mammals and lack the necessary defenses. Invasive plants and overgrazing have impacted habitat for some species.
  • Plastic garbage is a problem of deepening concern. Plastic debris is now a prominent component of the oceans’ surface water. Mistaking these materials for food, albatrosses pack their gizzard and stomach with the undigestible plastic, creating blockages or reducing the space that should be taken up by food. They also regurgitate plastics for their own chicks, likely causing the chicks to feel full and increasing physiological stress. Steps to reduce plastic consumption and increase proper disposal are worth taking.

When even the emperors of the air are unable to avoid the crushing force of runaway water, the consequences of a tsunami for those held firm by gravity become all the more sobering. My heart and hopes for recovery go out to all. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Suitable for a plate but has no place in the Salish Sea

Thanks to Jim Aho of Illahee for sharing a report of an Atlantic or Maine lobster caught from the community dock. It’s third hand information, but wouldn’t be the first time an Atlantic lobster has been found in the Puget Sound – 1999, 2008. The 2008 discovery lead to some interesting exchanges between divers who liked the idea of seeing something unusual on their dives, and those who understood the risk non-native species pose.

People with good intentions buy and release lobsters. Someone even wrote about their dilemma to buy and release lobsters and in the end how they did the right thing. But the fact that someone is putting that much thought into it means that it’s on the minds of many. The presence of lobsters in the our marine waters clearly shows that some follow through with their thoughts. Maybe well intentioned, but a horribly dangerous habit to get into.

Releasing one may help that individual live a little longer, but just one can cause direct harm by eating and out-competing our native species (they’re opportunists eating fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins…) and can have even greater impact by spreading disease. I don’t know if conditions are suitable here for lobsters to successfully reproduce, but it’s just not worth the risk.

Should you ever find an Atlantic/Maine lobster, please snap a photo and send a message with location and date to me (jaws@uw.edu) and/or to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator, or call 877-9-INFEST. We may just continue to catch these odd individuals here and there, but should we start to see reports clustered in an area, this may be a species we would have a chance to eradicate. Thanks for keeping your eyes peeled and reporting the unusual! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Just outside the beam

The ochre star (Pisaster ochraceus) is sometimes called the purple sea star and is probably what comes to mind for most of us in the Puget Sound when we hear "starfish". Photo: Jeff Adams

A couple weeks in but happy new year! Every year, I enjoy new shoreline experiences and marvel at all there is to know and all that is unknown. 2010’s treasures were a couple octopus. I wonder what this year will bring?

I wanted to write a short note to  draw your attention to a pair of upcoming (this Saturday!) beach walks and share a couple images from January beach walks past.

Please join the Kitsap Beach Naturalists at one of two locations Saturday (January 15) evening from 7:30-8:30pm (click here for flier). Dress appropriately and bring some form of portable light.

Bainbridge Island, ferry dock – meet @ BI Senior Community Center on Brien Drive

Bremerton, Evergreen Park – meet at the park boat ramp

Our final winter beach walk for the season will be February 15, 7:30-8:30pm at the Manchester boat launch. We’ll meet at the library and head down to the beach from there.

Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) cruising the beach on water powered tube feet. Photo: Jeff Adams

I always rave about how fun and fascinating these events are. Winter minus tides are pretty smooth sailing for intertidal organisms – no sun, no heat, no light (for predators), little activity on the water and beach. With waves and cold as their biggest concerns, they’re generally just care free chilling until the tide returns.

For the next week, we’ll have good low tides between 6:pm and midnight (the low gets progressively later each night) so take an evening stroll on the beach whenever you get the chance. Don’t forget to go slow, look around and enjoy the nightlife. You never know what lies just outside your beam.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: The Blob

You know how images and thoughts evoke emotions or sensations? Well, considering La Nina’s recent fury and the approaching dark of the winter solstice, I figured I’d share a creature that takes me back to the heat and sun of August.

Football-sized Pectinatella magnifica bryozoan colony. Photo: Jeff Adams

One of the more common summertime unknowns (often presented with concern or disgust!) is a freshwater colonial invertebrate called Pectinatella magnifica, the magnificent bryozoan. Magnificent is part of its scientific name, but dragon boogers seemed more appropriate to my 5 year old.

These gelatinous blobs feel kind of like a jellyfish, can grow larger than a basketball and are made up of thousands of tiny individuals living on the surface. At their healthiest, they tend to be a beautiful purple color with hundreds of white-speckled groups of living individual called zooids. These clusters look like snowflakes or rosettes.

Like a jellyfish, much of the blob’s mass is water. In this case, that mass is a non-living part of the colony in which the living zooids are embedded and contribute to its formation. The tiny individual zooids are ecologically similar to corals or hydra, in that in that they have delicate tentacles that they expose to the water and use to capture fine, drifting organic material (the hydra are after tiny animals). They can also pull those tentacles into the protective, non-living body of the colony when disturbed.

Close up of Pectinatella colony and clusters of individuals. Photo: Jeff Adams

These large gelatinous blobs form in warm (>16°C or 60°F) slow or still water (the images to the right and below are from the Columbia Slough in Portland, OR).  Smaller blobs may be free floating, but larger ones usually grow on branches and vegetation. Those growing on plants may also float when plants begin to die off and drift in the late summer and fall. Sometimes, the blobs become so numerous they clog water intakes and requiring 24 hour attention.

By the time vegetation starts breaking down, the colony is probably dying off as well.  However, they leave behind an unusual reproductive structure that can withstand cold, heat, drying, and time. These seed-like statoblasts are a collection of cells inside a protective shell, and they carry on the lineage of the parent colony. The statoblast is formed out of a connection to the parent zooid’s gut and can either cling to the colony or drop to the sediments or be transported to new locations by other wildlife. Each little survival pod can start a new colony whenever and wherever conditions are favorable.

Microscope photo of Pectinatella statoblasts. Each is only slightly larger than the thickness of a dime, but can produce an entire colony. Photo: Jeff Adams

Statoblasts are a specialized characteristic of freshwater bryozoan species. Marine waters are where bryozoans are truly diverse with thousands of ocean dwelling species, while there are only a couple dozen species known in freshwaters of North America. The magnificent bryozoan is certainly the most… magnificent among them.

The magnificent brozoan is classified by the USGS Non-indigenious Aquatic Animal database as a native transplant – native to the warmer water east of the Mississippi and transplanted out west. Though it may have just been widespread and no one gave it much attention. Maybe climate change will allow it to be happier in our usually colder waters?

Now when you take a break from your winter labors, close your eyes and imagine yourself floating on the surface of a warm lake or down a slow river… Please forgive me for the slimey blobs that start bumping up against your imagination, leaving you speckled with statoblasts, and cursing me for having wrecked your perfectly good escape. Happy daydreaming!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Genesis and the Lancet

Inspired by “Amusing Monday” on Christopher Dunagan’s Watching Our Water Ways blog, I’m officially launching “Thingy Thursday”!

Once in a while, folks send pictures or questions about aquatic life to me or to groups I’m affiliated with. Some are relatively straightforward. Some seem alien. Others confound the experts.

I’ll start with those that have come across my desk and add a few mysteries I’ve personally encountered. I really hope, readers will start sending questions and images (jaws@uw.edu) to help Thingy Thursday grow from a tiny larva to a full blown sea monster! … A bit overblown there,… but if you do happen to find a sea monster, please grab your camera.


Longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). Photo by: Kim Esterberg

One of my favorites washed up on Bainbridge Island’s shoreline in October 2008. The pictures wound up on my desk, so I forwarded it to folks in the know. Several identified it as the longnose or long snouted lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). This is more of a reminder than an original story since it was blogged about at the time: Watching Our Water Ways: Another Strange Creature shows up in Puget Sound. Still I’ll add a couple extra elements.

What you can’t see in these pictures are the huge fangs (a pair on top and 2 pairs on the bottom) and the large, sail-like fin this deep sea predator sports. (Click here for good pictures of those features from a specimen in California).


Longnose lancetfish closeup of head. Photo by: Kim Esterberg

The musculature of these fish is described as “watery”, suggesting they ambush prey instead of actively chasing it down. They’re known to eat fish (including their own species), squid, crustaceans, and salps (free-floating sea squirts, highly evolved invertebrates). I wonder what the watery muscles mean for the fight they put up at the end of a fishing line? Very few people would know.

Another specimen washed up on Vancouver Island in April 2008. The article reported three other beached lancetfish sightings in the Northwest that month, as well as a barracuda and six-gill shark on Vancouver Island. The Bainbridge fish was found 3 months later.

More on lancet fish at… Wikipedia and FishBase

The oceans are full of amazing creatures, and once in a while they appear on that thin boundary between our world and theirs – the beach. I’ll offer up beach walk to the first person to find a giant or humbolt squid on a Salish Sea beach, and either send pictures or pull out the beak for me. You’re more likely to find them on the outer coast, but strange things show up in our inland waters from time to time.

Feel free to send along anything exciting or unusual. Here’s to life’s mysteries! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Knot your average flight

You’ve probably seen different shorebirds flit short distances here and there on the beach, walk the mudflat probing unceasingly or do their funny little dance up and down the beach just at the wave’s edge. There are a lot of different species, most relatively small and most not overly flamboyant.

Now imagine a flock of shorebirds taking off from southern Brazil for a seemingly non-stop, 6-day flight to their first layover in North Carolina. That’s about a 5000 mile trip – an average of 35 miles per hour, for 144 hours. Red knots (Calidris canutus rufapictures) do this year in and year out, many flying a distance farther than the Earth to the Moon during their lifetime.

If we were to take a trip to southern Brazil, it would probably be an 8 or 10 hour flight. We would have been fed two meals and had a several drinks. We’d still be tired and a little cranky, but thrilled to hear the pilot put down the landing gear. A red knot would probably have knotted muscles or a knot in its stomach, but would surely share the thrill of the landing…

Maybe knot a thrill, but that moment of seeing the coast emerge from the Atlantic blue means likely survival. These birds weigh less than 1/2 pound when well fed. They arrive at their eastern US feeding grounds sometimes less than half that weight! Their little bird brain and emaciated body must be dreaming of horseshoe crab eggs. The forage for which their flight is perfectly timed. Red knots typically forage on shellfish spat, but the high energy horseshoe crab eggs allow them to really pack the ounces back on before heading to their arctic breeding grounds.

Not sure why a bird would subject itself to such a tortuous migration (maybe it brags to the other subspecies of red knot who opt for slightly shorter distances). Still, it is a great example of how critical certain marine shoreline habitats can be and how complex the relationship can be between multiple species, habitat, water quality, environmental conditions and global human communities.

The population of the birds that travel to Argentina dropped by more than half between the mid-1980’s and early 2000’s. International efforts are underway to conserve these travelers and this remarkable life history that connects people from the entire Western hemisphere.

The subspecies Calidris canutus roselaari migrates down the West coast from the Alaska’s north coast. Apparently they aren’t many of them, but you might have a chance of seeing them on the outer coast in the spring.

I’ve included a few links below if you’re interested in more info… Here’s to a lifestyle that does knot require me to lose and gain 100 pounds every year! JEff

Red Knot – The Birds of North America Online
US Fish and Wildlife Service – Red Knot factsheet (pdf)
Red Knot – An Imperiled Migratory Shorebird in New Jersey (amazing before/after photos of weight gain in Delaware Bay)
Shorebird Researchers Document Red Knot’s Record-breaking Flight

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Smack!

Squid at the surface of Bremerton Marina. Photo: Jeff Adams

The Port Orchard to Bremerton foot ferry is a great way to avoid driving or biking around Sinclair Inlet when you just want to get to downtown Bremerton from south Kitsap. As a bonus, you get a few moments on each side for sea creature viewing. You’re almost guaranteed to see plumose anemones, giant pink stars, mussels and barnacles on pilings and floating structures. You’re likely to see a kelp crab and a seaweed or two.

On one occasion, I thought I was watching a sick/disoriented smelt or herring in its death throws. That turned out to be a half truth. It was actually a squid working on a recent catch. It’s unusual to see them at the surface in the daylight.

To ring in October, I peered over the ferry pier on the Bremerton side to see my first big marine jelly smack! As I watched, the flood tide propelled hundreds of moon jellies over, under and around the man-made structures of the Bremerton ferry docks and marina.

Kris Brander saw this fabulous smack of moon jellies (Aurelia aurita) boatside at the Brownsville marina on August 11, 2010. Photo by: Kris Bradner

The animals are beautiful. They are nearly clear except for the four leaf clover shaped reproductive organs at their center. The characteristic jellyfish pulse is also gracefully mesmerizing.

An observant and curious boater took a great picture of a dense smack of moon jellies at the Brownsville marina on August 11th of this year. The image worked its way around UW Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences department, and received several responses. One referred to the recent (July, 2010) conference… Third International Jellyfish Blooms Symposium.

Our region’s own Jenny Purcell of Western Washington University organized the first session listed on the conference page and provided a session summary that really hits on the complexities of jelly blooms.

Globally, blooms impact economies and the environments that support them. Lots of factors can go into creating blooms, including climate change, altered salinity and excess nutrients/food. Murkier water and low oxygen can also favor jellies over their fish competitors. Even manmade structures in the water can create extra habitat for to support the jellyfish life cycle. Fishing can also remove some of their predators and competitors.

The life cycle of a jelly is a strange (though not uncommon) combination of sexual and asexual reproduction and of planktonic (floating in the water) and benthic (attached to a surface in the water) forms. The jellies we see floating around are the adult male or female medusa. The boys put their sperm into the water (like many marine critters). The girls use the sperm to fertilize eggs that they brood until the larvae are released into the water. The larvae soon find a shaded place (that’s why man-made structures come in handy) to settle and grow into a polyp – like a tiny anemone. That polyp divides into a budding colony and each bud breaks off to grow into a new medusa. You might check out the Jelly Zone for more about jellies.

Part of a smack of lion's mane jellies (Cyanea capillata - red means don't touch!). There were about 20 lion's manes on the beach at Friday Harbor on September 24th, 2010 with more washing in. Photo: Jeff Adams

But why is an aggregation of jellyfish called a “smack”. I don’t know, any ideas? Sarah Asper-Smith of Alaska found odd group names so intriguing that she illustrated an ABC book with unusual names for each letter called Smack of Jellyfish. It comes out in November. Good stuff.

With my wife and oldest son’s help, we came up with a few aggregation names we feel should catch on…

bull kelp bed –> a flogging
sand dollar bed –> a treasure
urchin bed –> a thorn
crab aggregation –> a drool
dogwinkle snail gathering –> a pound

Is anyone with me? Please comment with your own inspired new name for an aggregation of something. Have a jolly jelly day! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Lethal libelulas


Adult darner dragonfly head on in flight. Photo by: Jeff Adams

I was enjoying a beverage and good conversation at a friend’s house last weekend when I couldn’t help but interrupt to marvel at a darner dragonfly’s aerobatics in the late afternoon sun. The dragonfly glowed as it flew this way and that, then instantly dropped a foot or two to pluck a tiny glowing speck from the air. Without missing a beat, the aerobat continue its remarkable hunt.

The time for dragonfly watching in 2010 is nearly over. The last dragonflies on the wing tend to peter out in October, but if you’ve got a break and a sunny day, your may still be rewarded on a field trip to your local pond or wetland.

I’ve no evidence for it, but I’d wager adult dragonflies take a back seat only to butterflies as North America’s most popular insects. Many bird watchers are now turning their binoculars toward these denizons of the sky with their pursuits fed by such books as… Dragonflies through BinocularsDragonflies of Washington, and our local dragonfly expert’s recent tome Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West. Those who really get into it can visit OdonataCentral to find checklists, maps and even report sightings.


An emerald dragonfly nymph opens it's formidable labium - in front of its head. Photo: Jeff Adams

Though not as strikingly colorful, or as likely to be encountered in daily human life, the aquatic dragonfly nymphs arguably exceed their adult forms in their predatory prowess and unique anatomy.

The predatory weapon of a dragonfly nymph, called a labium, brings to my mind the notorious extra terrestrials Alien and Predator. Probably not just by coincidence. As they create terrifying big screen OMD’s (organisms of mass destruction), cinematic monster makers regularly draw inspiration from small products of nature.


Spiketail dragonfly nymph showing toothed labium used for catching food. Photo: Jeff Adams

Anyway… once prey is within striking distance, this labium is propelled forward by hydrostatic pressure to either spear or grab and scoop prey. The labium then reels the prey in to the mandibles, where it is chomped and swallowed.

Perhaps more intriguing than frightening, is a dragonfly nymph’s butt. A nymph’s rectum actually has three jobs to do. First, as might be expected, it’s the end of the digestive tract and is where poop comes out. However, it also has gills and is water’s port of entry to a specialized respiratory chamber in its abdomen. Finally, the water it draws in to breathe can also be expelled with force as jet propulsion resulting in rapid movement through the water. Pooping, breathing, swimming – not bad for a single part of the anatomy, in an organisms that evolved to something near its modern form 250,000,000 years ago. Enjoy October! JEff

PS – Libelula is Spanish for dragonfly and is no doubt related to Libellula, the Latin genus name for the skimmers – some of our most striking dragonflies.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.