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March 20, 2012 / Rae Spencer

Eastern Amberwing Dragonflies

I want a dragonfly field guide, though I suspect many of my dragonfly photos would defy identification.

Dragonfly identification seems to depend, in large part, on minutiae. “Major” identifying characteristics include eye configuration and wing vein patterns, details that are hard to spot as a dragonfly zips past. Even when they perch, allowing close inspection of eyes and wings, they seldom give me enough time to catalogue the minor variations of thorax and abdomen that are key in separating related species. In some cases, identification is further complicated by differences between males and females.

The more I learn, the less I know. Now, every time I photograph a dragonfly, I want to say, “Pardon me, but could you turn to your left? Your right? Raise your wings a bit? Yes. Very good… Now, here’s a pen. Please write down your name.”

I don’t know why I haven’t given up. Even my successes feel incomplete. Every identification is tentative. I can never say, with complete confidence, “These are Eastern Amberwing dragonflies.” I’ll always need to add, “Please correct me, if I am wrong.”


  1. Sharon Poch / Mar 20 2012 4:46 PM

    Wings of crisp gold–he(she) is magnificent for one so delicate and tiny. Your photographs are phenomenal.

    • Rae Spencer / Mar 20 2012 4:58 PM

      Thank you! These are, by far, the smallest dragonflies that show up in the yard. When I first started seeing them, I didn’t think they were dragonflies at all!

  2. mike585 / Mar 20 2012 4:49 PM

    Nice images, Rae. I am looking forward to dragonflies in the UK.

    • Rae Spencer / Mar 20 2012 5:00 PM

      Thank you! I should have mentioned that these photos are from my dragonfly archive. So far, I haven’t seen any dragonflies this year, but I hope they’ll show up soon!

  3. kathrynmartins1 / Mar 20 2012 5:39 PM

    Hi Rae. In the 2nd pic, the wings look sugary. Like after you melt sugar in a pan and it cools… So beautiful.

    Yout take care.

    • Rae Spencer / Mar 20 2012 5:53 PM

      I always think their wings look like leaves. I haven’t seen the sugar in them, before now… Thank you!

  4. Jeanette Gallagher / Mar 20 2012 11:42 PM

    You may not be able to identify each but you sure can photograph them in delail and beautiful colors. I enjoy all so much and thank you for sharing!

  5. Jeanette Gallagher / Mar 20 2012 11:44 PM

    That would be deTail…

  6. Trileigh / Mar 21 2012 12:06 PM

    Wonderful dragonfly photos! Are there no dragonfly field guides for where you live, or do you just not have one yet?

    • Rae Spencer / Mar 21 2012 6:17 PM

      There are guides, but I can’t decide which one to get. My indecision is complicated by the fact that I haven’t found one in stock anywhere. I’m picky about field guides. I like to hold them and look through them and fall in love with them before I buy them.

  7. Betty Hayes Albright / Mar 22 2012 12:37 AM

    Great close-up dragonfly photos! (There’s something very magical about dragonflies….)

  8. magpiesmiscellany / Mar 24 2012 6:53 PM

    They’re lovely pictures, can’t help with identificatio I’m afraid. My knowledge of dragonflies begins and ends at ‘the little stinker with blue bits on his wings or the cheeky bugger with black bits that flew between my glasses and my face and scared the hell out of me!’ (Okay, and I embroider them on my purses sometimes too. But according to one of my aunts those are more like damselflies.)

    • Rae Spencer / Mar 24 2012 6:59 PM

      In embroidery, I don’t think it matters if they are dragonflies or damselflies. Both are beautiful! Makes me want to dig out my needles and yarn, which are buried under years of unfinished projects. Maybe this summer…

      • magpiesmiscellany / Mar 27 2012 12:02 AM

        Go for it! Embroidery seems to be a dying art. Even at craft shows you see that a lot of it is machine nowadays.

  9. bardessdmdenton / Mar 31 2012 3:39 PM

    Once again, wonderful captures, especially of such an elusive even magical creature!

    This made me smile (brightening my day as it so needed brightening):

    Now, every time I photograph a dragonfly, I want to say, “Pardon me, but could you turn to your left? Your right? Raise your wings a bit? Yes. Very good… Now, here’s a pen. Please write down your name.”

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