Readers’ wildlife photos

June 16, 2014 • 5:00 am

Reader Richard sent a photo that is very likely to be Satao, the huge-tusked elephant recently slaughtered by poachers who wanted his ivory; I posted about his tragic murder yesterday. You can see the big guy in the lead here, with his tusks almost touching the ground, and the photo was also taken where Satao lived. Richard gives details:

I believe that the front elephant in the attached photograph might have been Satao. I have seen many elephants, but never tusks bigger than this. It was taken near Voi in 2005. We had to follow him and his companions for about 30 minutes; you do not overtake elephants! They then turned off into the bush, and we were never able to get photographs from a better angle. The photograph above gives no real impression of just how enormous he was. It is shocking to hear of his death.


I asked for details:

I took it, near Voi in Tsavo East in early April 2005. Bing maps gives the location as -3.335340, 38.551696. At this point, the main Mombasa-Nairobi road is only about two kilometres away, providing easy access for poachers. Tsavo East is about the size of Connecticut, so far too large to patrol adequately.

On a happier note, reader Pete Moulton sent four lovely pictures of dragonflies from Arizona. (Click to enlarge)

The dragonfly season has started a little slowly in central Arizona this year, so here’s a selection of western and southwestern species from the last couple of seasons. These are all members of the skimmer family Libellulidae. They hunt from perches, darting out to take flying prey, and returning to their perches to feed, much like flycatchers or Accipiter hawks. This behavior makes them a bit easier to photograph than some of the other families, which seem never to perch during daylight hours.

Erythrodiplax basifusca also goes by the name Plateau Dragonlet. This is mainly a Mexican species, which reaches the US in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. It’s the other candidate for Arizona’s smallest dragonfly, slightly longer than the Mexican amberwing (up to about 30mm total length), but more slender. This one’s a male. The pale blue-gray abdominal coloration is called pruinescence (sometimes pruinosity–the jury’s still out on this). It’s a waxy coating secreted by the males, and occasionally the females, of certain species of Odonata. I haven’t learned what, if any, selective advantage this confers.

Erythrodiplax basifusca_10-7-12_Papago Pk_9568

Libellula saturata is the flame skimmer, another widespread western species. Of all the Arizona dragonflies, this one is probably responsible for attracting more photographers to the Odonata than all our other species combined. The big orange males are real eye-catchers.

Libellula saturata_5-26-13_Papago Pk_8270

Perithemis intensa is commonly known as the Mexican amberwing. A very small dragon – Arizona’s smallest, in fact, at least in overall length (23-26mm)—but easy to see because of that glowing golden coloration. This one’s a female; males have uniformly amber wings.

Perithemis intensa 6-22-08 GWR 5151

Sympetrum corruptum is commonly known as the variegated meadowhawk. Like several other species of dragonflies, this one is migratory, so while its breeding range is mainly western, vagrants can be found almost anywhere in North America from the southern Canadian provinces southward, especially in the fall.

Sympetrum corruptum_9-29-13_Papago Pk_0459


14 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Beautiful pictures. The pruinescence seen in many dragonflies might be for communication. It might indicate condition to the females, or ‘scram’ to the other males. The latter might be testable with dummy dragonflies with and without the marking, dangled from a fishing pole through a male dragonflies territory.
    Another possibility is heat regulation, since it presents a reflective surface.

  2. Is there any color NOT represented in the critter world? I’m always amazed at the variety of hues in nature.

  3. Nice dragonflies, Pete! I think I might have spotted one out of the corner of my eye in Pima Canyon yesterday morning.

    I’m still furious about Satao’s murder. I would actually seriously consider supporting Western military intervention to eradicate poaching. Alas, there’s no profit for Halliburton in such a venture, and it would never even be considered….


    1. Around here the last week or so is snapping turtle nesting season. They haul themselves out of the water to find some sand or gravel to scoop out for their eggs. Unfortunately the best place for that is the shoulder of the road where the local gomers in their guts ‘n glory things like to exercise their god given dominion.
      Oh well, feeds the crows.

    2. For some years now the Kenyan government has been very aggressive against poaching. Wardens are heavily armed, authorised to shoot on sight against poachers, and the overall effect is that poaching in Kenya is much less prevalent than it was. The problem is that the area to be covered is so enormous. Perhaps our governments might provide finance specifically to employ more wardens, but that might well be seen as an infringement of Kenya’s sovereignty.

      There are some positive aspects. Most Kenyans appreciate the importance to the economy of their wonderful wildlife, and are against the poachers. In the specific case of Satao, such a dominant male would have already widely spread his genes for huge tusks before he was murdered. In 2005 the southern part of Tsavo East appeared to be undergoing a large elephant population explosion, and I would bet that more than a few were Satao’s offspring. In little more than a day in 2005 we saw well over a hundred elephants in the area in which we saw the elephant that I think was Satao. Encouragingly, about four out of ten were juveniles, compared to about one in ten that I have seen in other times. The population growth was endogenous. If the situation has not seriously deteriorated since 2005, and if the Kenyan government can tighten its grip further on the poachers, the future of the Tsavo elephants could well be assured.

      That does not lessen the anger that I feel about Satao.

      1. Thanks for the picture and the story, Richard. For a happy moment my head was no longer in Michigan but imagining what it would see/feel/smell like to follow two humongous elephants for 30 minutes down a dirt road in Kenya.

  4. Yesterday there was a picture that I missed since I didn’t have my camera.
    I stopped my car on the road by the marsh to admire a large bittern standing in its characteristic pose, stock still, bill pointed straight up. After a minute or so a great fat dragonfly buzzed up looking for their favourite type perch. Something tall, solid and vertical looks good. Just as it tried to alight on the tip of the birds beak there was a quick snap followed by fluttering throat feathers and the bittern resumed its pose.

  5. Great photos, Pete. I didn’t know the Southwest had such colorful species. The Flame Skimmer is particularly unlike any Midwestern dragonflies I may have seen.

    Now let’s see you catch a dragonfly flying, like the swallows we’ve been looking at here in recent days.

    Your first photo, of the Plateau Dragonlet, instantly reminded me of what made me realize I wasn’t destined to be a research scientist! My first basic biology course in college and the assignment was to read a 40-page professional paper on thermoregulation in dragonflies. Forty pages on angles and wings and temperature… I got through about 4 or 5 pages (or was it 10 or 20?) and realized I was never going to make it. 🙂

  6. Love those dragon flies and the elephant shots are good too. Imagine your commute to work was behind elephants like that!

  7. It’s fascinating to study those superb pictures of “odes.” I’ve never seen one with wing architecture like that Flame Skimmer’s!

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