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Bob Henke column: The difference between damselflies and dragonflies

Bob Henke column: The difference between damselflies and dragonflies

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An article in one of my scientific journals proclaims research determined that humans are genetically programmed to believe bad news and react to it strongly without question, whereas good news is met with a bit of nonchalance.

This is not much of a surprise. From an evolutionary perspective, those who reacted strongly to bad news (Look out! There is a saber-toothed cat behind that rock!) probably passed their genes along more frequently than those who looked up and said, “Are you sure it isn’t just Thog in a new fur coat?” Even if, for the past nine times, it has always turned out to be Thog, not reacting the 10th time removes you from the gene pool.

While this explains why people are so easily sucked into the latest social media “fact,” as well as why they get so mad if anyone questions this belief, I believe it goes further. Although it will never happen, I think there is more research needed to see just which chromosome carries the crepe-hanging gene. At risk of yet another attack for insensitivity, I am betting on the X chromosome.

I presume the strongest evolutionary driver was child-rearing. A mother is without equal when it comes to dwelling on potential bad news. From Thog’s wife, with her double compliment of X chromosomes, you might hear, “You kids quit throwing hedgehogs at each other. Someone is going to lose an eye!” Thog, on the other hand, having but a single X might simply comment, “Oh let him keep heckling that warthog. He will probably figure out it is a dumb idea.”

This hit in classic fashion vis-à-vis the men’s room toilet at the Town Hall. The bolt on one side of the seat broke, which mattered little to the men since we never put the seat down anyway. On the other hand, the pressure built strongly from my female co-workers. If I did not replace the seat, “someone” would probably fall off the toilet, be injured or killed, and sue everyone involved. It would be horrible. I finally gave up arguing and bought a new toilet seat, thinking this would give some relief.

It did not. I was attacked as soon as I walked in carrying it. It probably was not going to fit. I assured them it would and even held it in place to demonstrate. Toilet seats, they averred, are tricky. They often look right but do not fit when you take them out of the package and it would look wrong. They even went so far as to predict some hideous amputations by this dangerous commode seat. I recommended they stop going in the men’s room.

Undeterred, they moved right along to the seat itself. It was padded! This would be horrible. It would feel all squishy when you sat on it. I said that was the point and they should stay out of the men’s room. They forbade me from installing the seat because what if it got a crack in the covering? Then when you sat down it would open but when you tried to stand up it would slam shut, painfully pinching and maybe even opening a femoral artery so you bleed to death.

Things were reaching the point at which I would be attacked for my part in the hypothetical deadly butt-pinching trap, so I just pretended to need the Xerox machine and slipped out the side door. I will put the seat on over the weekend and they will all start using the men’s room because the seat is nicer.

Apparently, my coworkers were not the only ones concerned with potential toilet seat mayhem last week for I got an email, text message, Facebook message and phone call, all from a woman in a great state of panic. Her family rents a camp on Lake George and, when one of her children went to the use the bathroom, he discovered six — count them — six giant “darning needles” sitting on the toilet seat. Darning needles, she had learned in girl scout camp, would land on sleeping campers and attempt to stitch their nostrils closed. What, she wanted to know, was the intention of these dangerous creatures on the toilet seat and what could be done about it?

I had to admit being at a loss as to why they came in through the bathroom window and recommended shooing them out and closing the window. I am not sure I convinced her they did not sew any orifices closed and were probably just hunting mosquitos.

She did send me a picture, which showed the BIQs were damselflies. These smaller cousins of the dragonflies share all the local names the dragonflies also carry. Depending on your location, they might be horse stingers, Devil’s darners, snake doctors, bog dancers and mosquito hawks.

Like their larger cousins, damselflies are carnivorous and prey on flying insects. Like the dragonflies, they are not adverse to picking their prey out of the water or snatching it off vegetation either and they sometimes take insects as large as 60% of their own bodyweight.

Damselfly mating is interesting. Competition for females is great and when a male finds a receptive mate, he grasps her around the neck with a pair of claspers on the end of his tail that fit perfectly into the neck notch. Locked together, the pair fly off to a place of seclusion where the female bends around underneath for mating to take place.

Before breeding, the male cleans out her canal, removing sperm packets from any previous male. In spite of the fact the mating posture generates the “love-you” heart shape, females can be a bit fickle. Eggs are laid on underwater vegetation. When the larvae hatch, they have three feathery appendages sticking out the back of their abdomen. These are gills. Damselfly larvae breathe through their butt.

Apart from size, there are a couple of ways to tell damselflies from dragonflies. If they are close, the eyes are a tip-off. Damselflies have compound eyes set on the side of their heads. Dragonflies eyes are proportionately larger, coming right up over to meet at the top of the head. The wings are also much different, damselflies having both pairs of wings roughly similar in size and shape while dragonflies often have the back wings wider and not tapering, much like airplane wings. When at rest, dragonflies leave their wings extended out to the side while damselflies fold theirs together over their back.

Wish I could figure out how to get them to come sit on the new toilet seat. ...

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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