Shadow Darner

When considering the different predatory species of Western New York, most people would first think of our larger animals, such as coyotes or Red-Tailed Hawks. However, New York is also home to the most efficient predator in the world: the dragonfly. Our native dragonflies, including species such as the Shadow Darner, represent a group of insects that have a success rate greater than 95% when hunting. In comparison, Great White sharks have a 50% chance of consuming prey that they attack. Despite being considered apex predators, African Lions have an even worse success rate, only being successful 25% of the time after initiating a chase. The Shadow Darner (and other dragonflies) would absolutely be considered the most effective hunter in the world, and by a fairly large margin too.

Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) male-9218

Meet the most lethal predator in the world, the Shadow Darner. Photographed by Twan Leenders.

The Shadow Darner is one of our largest dragonflies, often reaching over three inches in length. The body is mainly colored a dark brown color, with a series of brightly colored spots running down the length of the insect. The spots are different combinations of greens, blues, and yellow. These dragonflies can also be identified by their powerful flight, which is visibly stronger than smaller dragonflies and damselflies.

Like all dragonflies, the Shadow Darner goes through an incomplete metamorphosis, in which a larval stage is present but has many of the same features as the adult stage. The larval stage is called a naiad, and spends several years developing in an aquatic environment. During this time, it is an effective underwater hunter. By squirting water out of the end of its abdomen, it uses jet propulsion to move rapidly through the water. Eventually, the naiad will leave the water (during night to evade predators) and changes into the more familiar adult form.

Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) male-9209

Another fantastic image of a Shadow Darner taken by Twan Leenders.

This species of dragonfly is fairly common along both ponds and slow-moving streams. This is the kind of habitat that is ideal for the Shadow Darner to survive and reproduce. Their population has remained stable, which is good news for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Not only are the dragonflies a welcome sight, but they help keep the populations of other insects under control. If it wasn’t for the Shadow Darners, there would be many more mosquitos, flies, mayflies, moths, butterflies, and stoneflies present in these habitats.

Great Times on the Riverwalk

When I arrived at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute on the first day of the project and learned about the game-plan for the next six weeks, I felt a few different ways. I felt curious about what we would find, excited to be working on the river for a large portion of our time together, and ready to get going. During the first day, we got rolling pretty quickly as we hopped right into making two turtle traps and minnow traps out of bottles. And ever since then, it has been a major learning experience but has been very fun nonetheless.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

We built bottle traps to trap small fish and macroinvertebrates.

 

There is just so much to learn being on the Riverwalk even for a day. We noticed many different species of birds that I am still working on learning, countless macro-invertebrates, a few turtle species, some fish, and seemingly endless amounts of plant-life. I still can’t say I know all of the species, or even most for that matter, but I have certainly improved in that area from when the project began. One specific thing that surprised me the most was learning and identifying invasive species when we were at the Riverwalk. They were almost everywhere; at times you could see Japanese Knotweed wherever you looked. The invasives usually take a large toll on the environment that they live in, for example, Multiflora rose will take over the area that it grows in so almost nothing else is able to grow in the same area.

Multiflora rose

Multiflora Rose bush

 

The fun on the Riverwalk doesn’t end at just identifying species, people enjoy their time on the river by kayaking, fishing, boating, and even swimming. We have trekked up and down the river, that forces us to swim at some points, in hopes of finding turtles. That was an experience to remember even though we didn’t catch any Spiny Softshell Turtles. Throughout the entire time, there were many citizens of Jamestown who were more than eager to share their wisdom with us about the turtles, and whether they were actually correct or not, it was still a good feeling to know that they were interested in the river flowing right through the city, seemingly undisturbed by the cars that pass all day and the tall buildings near it. As many people told us what they thought as there were people who asked us “What are y’all doing?,” “You can actually get in this water!?” and questions like that. We would go on to tell them that we’re from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and we were working on the Riverwalk and collecting information on it, especially the Spiny Softshell Turtles. It was fun to talk to people about what we were doing because they all seemed so interested in it. My advice to anyone that hasn’t walked along the Riverwalk is to simply visit if it for a few hours on a sunny day. You’ll be amazed with everything you see, dragonflies buzzing around you and turtles paddling in the water are just a couple of the jaw-dropping reasons to adore the riverwalk.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.

Male Spiny Softshell Turtle swimming near Warner Dam.