Rare Dragonfly ID’d By Dave

Gray Petal Tail photographed by Jeff Zablow at Davis Memorial State Prairie Reserve, Ohio

Our group was searching for orchids and other rare plants. I was more than Happy to be with them, Dave, Angela, Barbara Ann (A”H), Joe and one or two others. We went to Davis Memorial State Prairie Reserve in Ohio, and it did not disappoint, with its many unusual and uncommon and just rare plants and animals.

As we moved on the trail, an especially large, near giant dragonfly flew by and landed on the tree you see here. Dave would not let this one go unnoticed. He ID’d it as a rare, very ancient species of dragonfly, known as the Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi). It’s a huge northeastern dragonfly that was unique in many ways.

It’s unusual in that it’s the only northeastern dragonfly whose larvae is not aquatic. it’s larvae develop in wet, mossy seeps. When developers build on wild land, they destroy seeps, and reduce the presence of this fascinating dragonfly.

A Big dragonfly that is believed to have not changed since the time of the dinosaurs. When you set out to find butterflies, you also find so, so much more.


William Bartram & Palamedes


Palmed Swallowtail Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida

Palmedes Swallowtail Butterfly, photographed by Jeff Zablow at Big Bend Wildlife Management Area, Florida

I think it was Sylbie who put me on to this book. I’m pretty sure it was her. I had always, going back to that’d empty Brooklyn lot at the corner of East 57th Street and Clarendon Road, wondered what America was like back then. Way back then. What did my East 58th Street look like before they built those brick row houses in 1940?

When my interest in butterflies grew, I wondered what butterflies flew there in say 1750? Facts like, Regal Fritillaries flew in my Brooklyn in 1750 mesmerized me. A strong word, “mesmerized,” but I can’t think of a better word for how I try to squeeze my brain to force out a vision of Regals seeking Butterflyweed in East Flatbush.

The book Sylbie had? Travels of William Bartram. His manuscript went unpublished here, and when found again, it was published in 1928. I’m telling you, he wrote that book for . . . me!

He was a Brit, university trained in Botany, and like his father, he travelled to the Southeast, and scoured Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina for rare plants that he would send back to Britain, to be studied and to be researched for medicinal use.

He writes with great ease, utilized his expertise in botany and wildlife throughout, and finds many, many heretofore unknown plants, flowers and animals. He deliciously tells of the Native Americans he meets. His descriptions of those first residents is the best I have ever read. He admires them, wanted to learn from them, and at times hints of an attraction to them.

Palamedes? He loved Palamedes butterflies back then in the 1770’s. Count him together with Roger Tory Peterson, William Audubon, Robert Michael Pyle and one or two others, who I would love/would’ve loved to work the trails of the amazing Southeastern United States of America . . .  especially in the 1770’s.