|Halloween pennant dragonflies, Celithemis eponina.|
This dragonfly couple was mating by the side of a pond in Cape May, New Jersey. It is not immediately clear what’s going on or who is doing what. Which one is male? Female? What’s with the head-grabbing?
They are in a common dragonfly reproductive pose called a mating wheel. The male is the one holding on to the stick. He prepares to mate by producing sperm from genitalia at the tip of his abdomen, and then transfers it to receptacles under his belly.
Then he flies off to find a female. He grabs her by her head with clasping hooks at the end of his abdomen that precisely fit females of his species. They fly around at this stage, attached claspers-to-head, in a position called a mating chain. (The male flies while the female dangles.)
Eventually they land. In the photo, the female is curling to pick up the sperm with genitalia at the tip of her abdomen. They remain in the wheel (some call it a heart) for about 15 minutes.
The Halloween pennant is a common dragonfly in eastern North America. It is named for its colors and for posing with its bright wings streaming behind. It eats mosquitoes, gnats, and flies, which it catches in the air in a sort of basket formed from its six spikey-haired legs.
There is more information about urban insects in my book, Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011.