Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum)

Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum)

Last night the temperature dropped below freezing for the first time this season – down to 18 degrees, in fact. Although there wasn’t as much frost as I would’ve imagined, there was ice. (Last year’s first frost happened ten days earlier – October 31.) While taking a walk this morning near Santuit Pond in Mashpee, with the temperatures still hovering around 32 degrees, I observed frozen ditches, puddles and ponds.

The surface of this small pond had frozen.

Interesting ice formations at the base of these cattails.

The last thing I expected to see was an active dragonfly, but I not only saw one, but three. These dragonflies I was seeing were most likely Autumn Meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum). This species is often observed later into the fall than any other species in the northeast.  In fact, the aptly named Autumn Meadowhawks don’t even emerge until mid- to late-summer, and are able to remain active well into the fall despite cold nights by basking in the sun and warming their flight muscles the following morning. In fact, the Latin name for this genus, Sympetrum, means “with rock,” referring to their habit of basking on rocks to warm up. They will be able to survive until there have been several hard frosts.

Mature males are brownish black on the face and thorax and have a bright red abdomen, like the one photographed here. Females, on the other hand, are much lighter and are have an abdomen more brownish-yellow in color. In both sexes, the wings are mostly clear but have a small patch of orange clouding towards the base of each hind wing.

Have you seen any interesting late season insects?

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