Green Darner Dragonflies at Rosetta McClain Gardens
Green Darner Dragonflies at Rosetta McClain Gardens
When Bob and I dropped into Rosetta McClain Gardens for a brief walkabout, the last thing we expected to see were hundreds of Green Darner Dragonflies (Anax junius) darting in and around the expansive flower beds. When one such dragonfly lit on a flower head, we had the opportunity for a very close look at its anatomy. The Green Darner Dragonfly can be positively identified by the black bulls-eye in front of its large brown eyes.
Rosetta McClain Gardens, situated in Scarborough, Ontario, is a gem of a park with formal gardens and a central water fountain that features a massive upright boulder.
At the south end of the gardens, situated on the Scarborough Bluffs, we had a lovely view of Lake Ontario. As we looked out over the water, a large number of Green Darner Dragonflies were flying just offshore.
This 23-acre park was originally created by Robert Watson McClain, his wife, Rosetta, and her brother, Joseph McDonald. It was later donated to the City of Toronto in memory of Rosetta. As a matter of fact, a portion of the original McClain home is still standing on the property, a reminder of the family’s generosity.
Bob and I actually were looking for butterflies the day we visited the gardens, so we headed straight for the rose gardens as they are bordered by Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia) that reliably attract butterflies.
A vast array of plants were in bloom so the whole area was abuzz with bees that were gathering pollen or perhaps nectar…
and the Joe Pye Weed plants were drooping under the weight of masses of flower heads.
It wasn’t until we looked very closely that we spied a Green Darner Dragonfly taking a much-needed rest where it was carefully camouflaged atop the delicate feathery flowers.
The purple colouration of the abdomen of this Green Darner Dragonfly indicates that it is a female. This species of dragonfly is dimorphic which means that the male and female differ in appearance. They both have a green thorax (the middle part of the body), but the abdomen of the male is blue.
On a different occasion, when our family was camping at The Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron, another female Green Darner Dragonfly decided that my straw hat made a good place to take a break.
An alternate name for these beautiful insects is Common Green Darner because the body shape resembles a darning needle. As children, my sister and I used to call them darning needles, and that was before we had any knowledge as to their true scientific name.
For whatever reason, large-scale insects seem to find me attractive. While hiking in Frontenac Provincial Park a couple of years ago, I was alerted to the hitchhiker on my back by my slightly alarmed daughter. A Praying Mantis of gigantic proportions met me eye to eye when I looked over my shoulder for a peek at the interloper.
Perhaps my light green shirt played a role in this close encounter of the insect kind even though this Praying Mantis was of the brown variety. These fascinating insects can be up to 6 inches long, and are formidable predators in the insect world, even having been known to capture and consume a hummingbird.
The Praying Mantis was likely using its advantage of extra height to survey the surroundings for possible prey. With their 5 eyes, 3 simple eyes between 2 compound eyes, and a head that is capable of rotating almost 180 degrees on a very flexible neck, these capable insects can see a distance of 20 metres.
Bob and I weren’t too concerned about the mantis as we were preoccupied with observing a young deer that had stopped to check us out.
But back at Rosetta McClain Gardens, we were mesmerized by yet another inactive Green Darner Dragonfly that had come to rest on the leaves of a rosebush. These dragonflies can grow to be 3 inches long with a wingspan of up to 4 1/2 inches. Besides being one of the largest dragonflies, they are also some of the fastest.
Most of the dragonflies that Bob and I saw that day were airborne, darting here and there like miniature helicopters navigating amongst the various garden structures. The reason for so many gathered in one place is that they actually come together into swarms before migrating south, much as birds do, and they use the same flight paths.
The delicate structure of their translucent wings belies the fact that they are capable of flying great distances, making their way as far south as Mexico at the onset of cold fronts in the fall. It is not these adult dragonflies that will return in the spring, however. It is their offspring, for those that breed once they reach their winter grounds, that will make the return trip.
The Gardens settled into the silence of a late summer’s day as the afternoon waned, and soft breaths of wind stirred the tall flower stalks while pollen-clad bees busied themselves at what bees do.
Although we saw only a couple of species of butterflies that afternoon, the visit to Rosetta McClain Gardens had been well worth the trip.
With its central fountain, ivy-clad trellises, historical ruins, and sprawling gardens, it is worth a visit at any time of the year.
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