A Fields Pond Mystery Solved: “Libellule!”
Since this past March, the Fields Pond Audubon Center has been engaging the public in a “mystery.” Each week hikers find a new set of clues along one of the Sanctuary’s trails. These clues are part of a “mystery animal trail” designed to engage and teach visitors a bit about our local natural history. The clues are written from the perspective of things that this particular mystery animal interacts with in its environment.
The following account was sent to us by Brooke Dupuy who, along with her daughter Eloise, correctly solved last week’s mystery animal. Enjoy!
My daughter Eloise and I decided to check out the Lakeshore and Brook trails at Fields Pond. We were really excited, as it was our first time there. The mystery animal clues were fun, but even after 2 or 3 clues, we still weren’t sure what it was. I was really perplexed by the first clue which was from “The Pond” and said that this animal started its life crawling along at the bottom of the pond. Eloise thought maybe it was a frog, but I explained that frogs begin as eggs, then free-swimming tadpoles. Then we came to clue #4: From a Butterfly: “I have to watch out. She’s a formidable predator who can snatch me out of the sky in an instant!” We were still stumped!
Walking on farther we found a little clearing to go down to the water’s edge, and Eloise exclaimed “Mama! Look at this? This is really weird and amazing!” I went to look and saw what appeared to be a really ugly bug. It appeared to have lots of legs at first, but then seemed to be 2 bugs actually, I wasn’t sure if it was eating something, killing another insect, mating with another insect, or what…but it looked like nothing I had ever seen before. We sat and watched it awhile, and Eloise noticed that it seemed to be changing shape, and wings started to unfurl! I looked closer and realized this was a bug coming out of an exoskeleton (not sure if that’s the right word). I told Eloise that it was some kind of insect coming out of its shell, transforming. We talked about metamorphosis, and remembered the mystery animal clues. Then we noticed that there were actually discarded exoskeletons like this one all around! We found several empty ‘shells’ from these creatures, all with a hole where the insect had crawled out and shed its old exoskeleton. We wondered if this could be the mystery animal, but still didn’t know what kind of creature we were watching metamorphose.
Then, as the wings continued to emerge and unfurl, it was clear to me that this was a dragonfly! How exciting! We thought back to the other clues, and were sure that this was our mystery animal, because we knew that dragonflies do fly very fast and that they eat lots of mosquitoes (clue #2 was from a “human” who said that they liked having her around because she eats hundreds of mosquitoes each day). We waited and watched, as Eloise wanted to stay to see the dragonfly fully emerge, and fly away. I told her it might take a very long time (I had no idea how long this process might take), and I didn’t know if we would be able to stay. She insisted on staying a bit longer, and I agreed. We saw the dragonfly crawl up the rock, away from its discarded exoskeleton. Its four wings were still stuck together on its back when it got to the top of the rock. Then we saw it rub its head with its front legs, it briefly vibrated, and with a quick POP! its wings popped out and it looked like a fully-grown dragonfly. It was really cool to witness the wings popping out. I expected it to be more gradual, so it was a surprise to see it happen all at once, and so quickly. I wondered how long it would take for it to dry its wings and feel ready to fly, and we talked about other insects that emerge from cocoons or exoskeletons that have to dry their wings (she knew about butterflies doing this). Just as I was saying that we should probably go, this might take a while (we had already watched this dragonfly for over 45 minutes!), the dragonfly flew away. We were so happy to be able to see it fly for the first time. We named her Libby, because we speak French at home, and the French word for dragonfly is “libellule”. Libby flew just a few feet and landed on some pond grass, to take a rest. That’s when we wished her well on her journey, and left to finish our walk.
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