There are two definitions of the word Bluet. One refers to failure – as in “I had my chance but I…” – the other refers to a group of slender Damselflies. Although I am an expert in the former, I will be talking about the latter in this blog since this is a nature themed endeavor. Dwelling on failure would be a way for me to “bluet” in terms of this writing forum. No, I’d rather talk success and this is where the Damsels come in. This is the height of their breeding season and the sight of successfully bred Bluets is beautiful.
A walk down to the lake this time of year always yields dozens of Familiar Bluets. These insects are not just familiar in terms of presence, but they are actually called Familiar Bluets (Enallagma civilie – let’s all say it: En-all-ag-ma siv-il-ee). One could be un-familiar with Familiar Bluets, so as not to be accused of blueing it let me state that these insects are members of the Damselfly clan. Closely related to Dragonflies, damsels are typified by a fragile frame, widely spaced eyes, two pairs of wings which are narrow at the base and widely spaced…wait a minute, I already said that one. Anyway, within the Damsels there are those called Pond Damselflies that hang around still bodies of water and rest with their wings folded parallel to their bodies. Bluets are Pond Damselflies.
There are many kinds of Bluets and all the males are small and predominantly blue – thus the name and a potential source of much confusion. The females are not blue – they are green or pale tan. What about the ladies you ask? Isn’t naming a species group after a male trait rather sexist? Frankly yes it is, but since Greenlet or Tanlet were never proposed you’ll have to let it go. Remember, however, that members of this order are all called Damselflies and not Guyflies. If you will indulge me for one more layer of trivial information, male Familiar Bluets are identified by having solid blue 8th & 9th abdomen segments and a mostly black 7th segment preceding it.
All this segmentation banter brings us to the final segment on the male Bluets’ little blue body which is equipped with a set of handy claspers. Successful breeding, in terms of Damselfly life, depends heavily upon these devices. I will not get into the details of the reproductive process, but it involves a male Bluet grabbing a female Tanlet by her neck using his claspers. Held thusly, the female curls the tip of her abdomen up to the male in order to mate. Once this is accomplished the male does not release his mate but instead accompanies her on her subsequent egg-laying foray.
I have pictures of this egg-laying portion of the process to show you. It looks awkward, but there is method in this madness as far as the male is concerned. The freshly mated Damselfly tandem make for the weedy shallows and seek a perching place where the aquatic vegetation pokes above the surface. The female “perches” while the attached male hovers to stay in position. She lowers her abdomen into the water (often submerging completely) and inserts tiny oval eggs into the soft tissue of the water plant. The terminus of her abdomen is equipped with a knife-like ovipositor for performing this feat as she blindly feels her way along the stem.
In the terminology of the trade, the male Damselfly is said to be “guarding” his female when they are linked. It would be easy to look at this maneuver and declare that he is keeping her from going under. “I’m here to help you, honey,” he appears to be thinking (they can’t talk, you know), “you just take your time and I’ll sweat it out….I’m doing fine….you just take your time.” In truth he is actually insuring that rival males do not come along and mess up the process. In other words he is not guarding her as much as he is guarding his investment and insuring that his seeds are the ones being planted. The female doesn’t need the help – in fact, being held by the neck might even make things harder for her. “Yes, honey dear…akkk… would you let up a bit, you are choking me. If you would just trust me I ….akkk.”
Let’s not anthropomorphize this act any further lest we get into a feminine rights issue. The act of clasping and guarding is simply a part of Bluets being Bluets and nothing more.