Dobsonfly

We went fishing the first morning. I felt the same damp moss covering the worms in the bait can, and saw the dragonfly alight on the tip of my rod as it hovered a few inches from the surface of the water. It was the arrival of this fly that convinced me beyond any doubt that everything was as it had always been, that the years were a mirage and that there had been no years. The small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat under the chin as we fished at anchor, and the boat was the same boat, the same color green and the ribs broken in the same places, and under the floorboards the same fresh-water leavings and debris--the dead hellgrammite, the wisps of moss, the rusty discarded fishhook, and the dried blood from yesterday's catch.
E. B. White
"Once More to the Lake"

This is one of the great nature essays, in my opinion. But when I first read it, I had to wonder: What the heck's helgramite?

I looked up the answer and then forgot it, but living in Wisconsin has made me much more interested in helgramite, the aquatic larvae of the dobsonfly. You see them in ponds and rivers, these wriggling segmented things that eat other buggy things in the water. They're used for bait. I've read that they sometimes bite unwary fisherman.


It was the adults that really impressed me, though. We caught one somewhere or other and, after looking it over, decided it would make a good meal for our beloved pet toad, Soil. Soil didn't agree. He retreated from the much smaller creature as far as he could, shrinking into himself. The dobsonfly climbed onto Soil's head and bit him. Soil twitched and clawed at himself, but didn't try to run any further. It almost seemed as if he were willing to sit there and be eaten like the pudding he resembled. We were forced to rescue him.

A couple of years later, we were headed into the library one evening when we saw what appeared to be a dragon guarding the door handle. We hid behind the car, but since it only milled around flexing its wings, we approached and made the capture. By tossing a ruler into its jar, we found that it measured five inches. We took a few photos of this monster. This is a male, which, my reading tells me, has mandibles meant for clasping his mate. Supposedly they are too large and unwieldy to use for biting. There's mention, though, of a stinging repugnatorial fluid sprayed from the rear. I took no chances: I kept my hands to myself.

Parker also photographed this big male for his slideshow "Wildlife Close to Home." I've run that show here before, but for those who haven't had a chance to see it, here's the rerun.


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