Crawlies with Cri: by Christy Solo

(Photo by Christy Solo, Illinois Valley News)

Female Anna’s hummingbird, frog, female house finches, Emma’s dancer damselfly, moths

Color me a Crawlies Rainbow: Part I
One thing we’ve learned on our Crawlies journey so far is that it can be tricky to ID many of our local critters. Whether arthropods, amphibians or birds, nature likes to keep things creative and break the rules, so there are always unique exceptions to “standard” identifying marks and colors.
In the case of this week’s crawlies – they are both unique and colorful.
Nature loves a rainbow, and we’ll learn that some species come in an array of colors, some change color and some acquire color – all for different reasons.
We’ll kick this off with our dazzling duo of damselflies (center right block of our photo).
Pictured are a young male Emma’s dancer damselfly, an older male, a young female and an older female. Emma’s all start life a uniform tan color, though males have a bright blue tail tip and are a slightly darker shade.
As Emma’s age over the course of one to four months, they become more colorful. The males become an eye-popping purple and the females a cool aquamarine blue. Those who survive into late summer and early fall become increasingly dark in color.
Not all Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) change color as they age, but several species do, while some species’ color fades as they age.
How lovely it would be to become more vibrant the older you get!
Speaking of age, that’s also the reason why our two female birds (left of photo) are rocking a pop of color typically only seen on males of their respective species.
In the majority of sexually dimorphic (males and females have different coloration) bird species the males sport the more vibrant colors. This is the case for our featured ladies.
Male Anna’s hummingbirds shine with a full throat and hood of refractive fuchsia feathers. Meanwhile, female Anna’s often have a bit of bling in the form of a throat patch of fuchsia. Generally, females add more bling as they mature (the oldest known Anna’s was eight years old).
However, as illustrated by our grand dame Ms. Anna’s, a mature female who has lived a rich and full life can acquire a sparse but sparkly crown of fuchsia feathers on her head along with a very impressive throat patche.
It’s a rare sight because it’s a rough life out there for a hummingbird and few will live long enough to have a chance at an extra POP! of color. Even if all Anna’s females lived to 10 years, not all the ladies would become extra colorful as hormones factor into increased color as well.
In the case of our “a wash of red” female house finch, her coloration may also be due to age, but might be a result of youth or maturity. There is a huge color variation among house finches. While a vibrant red color in males is generally due to a healthy diet, there are exceptions, with some subspecies displaying a paler color even with the healthiest of diets.
Fun fact: While pale males have a less healthy diet, females often prefer them over the more vibrant males because the pale males work harder at partnering and parenting. A nifty trick the “last ones chosen when teams are picked” males developed to win out over their racy red competition.
Young females often have a wash of red on their rump, but it fades to tan when they fully mature. To date it isn’t known whether ruby-crowned ladies like our pictured finch are showing the blush of youth or a fiery response to a hormonal drop as they age. Whatever the reason, this Ms. wears it well.