The kids and I logged more time in the kayak this past weekend, exploring White's Cove (the quiet set-back where the Black River meets the Connecticut River) and scouring the bridge abutments of the Black River as we sought dragonfly skins ("exuviae"). Dragonflies begin life in water, completely aquatic. Some species live down in burrows under sandy bottom of the river, which makes their presence a good indicator of decent water quality.
The skins are left behind as dragonfly larvae climb up out of the water, attach themselves to overhanging vegetation or a bridge abutment, split open their outer shells, and emerge from inside as a fully-developed adult. The emergence process often takes hours (imagine having to unfold 3" long wings and an equally long tail from a 2" long skin!), during which time the fragile insect is a target for birds, fishing spiders, and a number of other predators.
When the air-breathing insect finally flies off, it leaves behind every vestige of its aquatic form -- the exuvia. We collect them and I'm learning to identify each species with the help of odonate specialist Pam Hunt and the fine folks at the Northeast Odonate FaceBook page.
So far, we've identified 6 species on the Black River:
And I'm just getting started!