No antifreeze for dragonflies

Northwoods Notebook

Autumn meadowhawks are well-named, as they tend to be among the last dragonflies seen in the region each year and can linger into November, even through a frost or freeze, if daytime temperatures and sun warm them enough and nights don’t get too cold. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

Some of the final insects still standing — or flying — may not make it through the next week.

Freezing temperatures, which are in the forecast for overnight through at least Monday night, pretty much signal an imminent end to insect activity. The numbers already have thinned considerably.

Some, like queen bumblebees and wasps, will tuck themselves away in a place sheltered enough they will not freeze, going into a torpor for the cold winter months. Certain butterflies, such as mourning cloaks and commas, will do the same in leaf litter or cracks in trees, and have the ability to create their own antifreeze that protects them further from severe cold. This is why when spring sets in, these butterflies may be seen out foraging on warmer days even while patches of snow remain on the ground.

But those are the exceptions. In most cases, while eggs, larvae or pupae may survive the winter, adult insects perish when the season changes in earnest.

It likely means bidding goodbye to the autumn meadowhawks that have persisted down on the dock, along with the single lake darner dragonfly that apparently decided Six Mile Lake was the end of the line rather than migrating further.

This photo, taken off a video, shows the hummingbird that turned up Wednesday morning at the Norway home of June Maynard and Bill Beckerson. It fed off their fuchsia hanging planter before moving on, Maynard said. (Photo from a June Maynard video)

“Freezing kills most adult insects … There are no adult dragonflies or damselflies in Wisconsin that have that (antifreeze) capability,” said Dan Jackson of the Wisconsin Dragonfly Society, though he added that northern Europe and Asia has one species, the winter damselfly, that can pull off that trick.

Really, the meadowhawks have no need to continue through winter, Jackson explained. This late in the season, they are fully mature, ready to mate and deposit eggs in the water that will not develop until next spring.

Adult odonata — dragonflies and damselflies — “die after they are done with their procreation duties,” Jackson said, “so even without a frost they are already dying out.”

The main reason the well-named autumn meadowhawks are still around while most other species have long since disappeared for the year is most of them didn’t emerge as adults until late July and early August.

And they might be able to hang on for a little while longer. They are known to be one of the most cold-tolerant dragonflies in North America, capable of withstanding the first frosts and freezes if not prolonged or severe, experts say.

A few years ago, they lingered well into what was an unusually warm November.


I’ve resisted taking the hummingbird feeders down, even though it’s been weeks since I’ve seen one, on the off chance one still strays through. So I felt a little validated when a reader in Norway called Wednesday morning to report a hummingbird drawn in by a still-blooming fuchsia plant hanging just outside their front door.

June Maynard later brought in video she shot of the tiny bird working through the blossoms.

Her companion, Bill Beckerson, was first to spot the visitor. “He said, ‘There’s a hummingbird.’ I said, ‘Oh, shut up,'” Maynard said.

Maynard regularly records the first and last hummingbirds each year at their home, and had thought the two she saw the evening of Sept. 16 were the final ones, enough she took the feeders down. They’ve never had one as late as Oct. 9, she said.

Hummingbirds often have some late migrants, and the winds this past week were favorable for bringing them in from the west, enough that I’d hoped this one might be a rufous, a western species that during fall migration regularly turns up in the Midwest and East.

Further review of the video seemed to indicate it was a female or immature ruby-throated hummingbird. Still, a rare sight this late in the year.

I have no idea how much nectar a fuchsia can produce, but hopefully it was enough to provide the bird an energy boost on its journey.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.