The dragonflies and damselflies make up an integral part of the fauna of the Sacramento Mountains. These insects belong to the Order of insects known as Odonata. The dragonflies make up the Suborder "Anisoptera" and the damselflies are of the Suborder "Zygoptera." These insects are aquatic for most of their lives, hatching from eggs laid in water or in the tissue of plants. They live in the water as nymphs from one to three years and go through a succession of moltings before climbing out of the water and emerging as the beautiful winged adults we see along the mountain streams. These are some of the most interesting and colorful insects in the world, yet almost nothing is known of the diversity of species found in these mountains.
There has never been a single concerted effort to survey and document the biodiversity of these insects in the Sacramento Mountains. Other than an early survey made of the upper Pecos Watershed in 1945 no long-term systematic surveys have been made of any geographic area within New Mexico. Even more incredible is the fact that half (50%) of the aquatic nymphs in this region are still unknown to science. The Sacramento Mountains are a biogeographic "island" that contains relict Pleistocene taxa, including several endemic butterflies and other animals like the little Sacramento Mountain Salamander. As critical systematic inventories started to be made of these aquatic insects we start to see a glimmer of the richness and great diversity in these insects in the mountains.
Probably the most easily recognized dragonfly in the mountains is the "Flame Skimmer" often called the "Firecracker Skimmer" Libellula saturata. This is a bright reddish-orange dragonfly with bright flame red markings extending out on the wings. Another dragonfly is the "Common Green Darner" Anax junius with large bright-green eyes, head, and thorax with a very long blue abdomen. Yet, there is another rare darner that lives about the fresh water seeps and springs in these mountains which is considered the largest dragonfly in the world. This is the giant darner known as Anax walsinghami and is found about the numerous springs that feed the Rio Penasco west of Mayhill. This great darner is somewhat secretive, often roosting in the dense vegetation about springs in the forest. The female was observed placing her eggs into cattail stems along the Rio Penasco.
The beautiful "Twelve-spotted Skimmer" Libellula pulchella had never been reported in southern New Mexico until found along the Rio Bonito and Timberon Lakes. It has beautiful wings marked with ten white spots and twelve black spots. Two species with golden wings are found in these mountains. One a very small dragonfly known as the "Eastern Amberwing" Parithemis tenera was found along the Rio Hondo. The other species is Celithemis eponina who's golden wings are marked with red and orange crossbands, it's common name the "Halloween Pennant."
Of the big blue darners there are two now known for these mountains - one the "Blue-eyed Darner" Aeshna multicolor and a rare blue darner found only this year. This dragonfly is the rare darner Aeshna dugesi found on the Rio Penasco at Mayhill. Generally this species was only known from the Big Bend area of Texas along the border with Mexico and was quite unexpected for the mountains. The "Yellow-Legged Medowfly" Sympetrum vicinum was found along the Sacramento River at Timberon and along the Rio Penasco. This find at Timberon may the most southern and western record known for this species.
The most beautiful and rare species known for these mountains is a lace-winged black skimmer known as Pseudoleon superbus. This black winged skimmer is considered by many naturalists and biologists to be the most beautiful dragonfly in all the world. The female shows a jet black lace pattern in the wings with the male having almost totally black wings. The eyes are marked with tan and black stripes having a jet black thorax and abdomen. The abdomen is marked with yellow chevrons above. This species was thought to be restricted to Sabina Canyon in Arizona until reported in the Sacramento Mountains by Dr. Mary Alice Evans in 1995. Another very beautiful dragonfly is the little green and blue "Lake City Emerald" Epitheca petechialis. The common name comes from it's collection sites in Santa Rosa (City of Natural Lakes), New Mexico where this species can be found along the overflow waters from the Blue Hole.
The largest known damselfly, the "Great Spreadwing" Archilestes grandis has been found along the Sacramento River and along sites on the Rio Hondo and Rio Penasco. A form of this species has been found at Bonito Lake with red stripes on a pure gold thorax and abdomen looking more like an Aztec trinket than a damselfly, absolutely stunning. A rare damselfly, thought by many to be the world’s most beautiful, Hesperagrion heterodoxum was found at the Rio Penasco RV Park in Mayhill. The head is marked in green and black with two bright red spots behind the eyes, a thorax of blue and green marked with black stripes, and a black abdomen ending in flaming red. Also from that same site, a damselfly, the beautiful metallic green and black "Ebony Jewelwing" Calopteryx maculata.
Two ruby wing damselflies are now known for these mountains - the "American Rubyspot” Hetaerina americana with bright jewel red markings in the wings, and the "Smoky Rubyspot" Hetaerina titia with jewellike amethyst markings on the wings. On warm summer evenings toward sunset these rubyspot damselflies gather at roosting sites along the streams. If one catches the setting sun just right, at one of the roosting sites, it looks as though someone had sprinkled glitter down through the trees of the most brilliant red, gold, and amethyst - absolutely spectacular.
This dragonfly and damselfly survey of the Sacramento Mountains is a cooperative effort coordinated between Private Landowners, the U.S. Forest Service, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the Department of the Interior's New Mexico Ecological Services Field office. Greatly appreciated is the assistance of the landowners in both their observations and access to private lands.
Currently, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is working on a spectacular all-color poster of the dragonflies through it's privately funded non-game species program, Share with Wildlife. The poster, due out in late December, will contain color photographs of dragonflies - all taken from these surveys here in southeastern New Mexico.