Staying Cool

Do you find it difficult to get motivated for outdoor activities when the temperature is too high? And what is “too high” for you? I’m uncomfortable whenever it’s over 85 degrees, as a general rule. Well, if I’m being totally honest, I’d prefer it under 80, but that’s too restrictive and wimpy. It’s quite often over 90 these days. My low tolerance for sweating has meant that I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors, or at least not too far from a fan, and I’m not able to satisfy my usual appetite for dragon hunting. Normally that would make me miserable, but since I’ve been gradually returning to my introvert ways, it’s actually working out okay. I need a break from the world for a while. So I’m catching up on reading escapist novels (because vampires are less scary than many people these days). And I’m writing…and drawing…and just being. I’m also cleaning my house more thoroughly, which is great therapy for releasing stress when world events are overwhelming. (By the way, did I tell you about how I invented exercising in the shower so the sweat is rinsed off immediately? Genius, right? You’re welcome. But be careful!)

Meadowhawk species in obelisk pose

Last week I spent a day hunting dragonflies with a friend around Lansing, Michigan. It was an uncomfortably hot day, and while I had to change my shirt halfway through it, my friend seemed cool as a cucumber. And while that may just reflect the fact that I have the body chemistry and hormones of a 60-ish woman and he’s got those of a 30-ish man, it made me start wishing I had better ways of staying cool. I recently came up with a fun way, but I’ll get to that later.

Eastern amberwing in obelisk pose — looking like a ballerina

And of course I thought about the unique way that dragonflies have of cooling off on a hot day. I’ve touched on this topic briefly before, but let’s quickly run through it again for those of you who maybe haven’t seen those posts.

Like all insects, dragonfllies are ectothermic, which means that they can’t generate their own body heat like we can (we’re endothermic). They need the warmth of the sun to give them the energy for their acrobatic and exhausting flight, so they aren’t usually very active early in the morning or when it’s cool and/or cloudy. But they also have limits to their heat tolerances and they can’t sweat like we can, so if it gets too hot they risk death. It’s very important for them to do whatever they can to keep their bodies in the optimal range of temperatures.

Flag-tailed spinyleg in obelisk pose

One way they stay cool is to fly into the trees to rest on a hot day, just coming out long enough to feed or mate, and then going back into shelter. But another, more interesting, way is to strike a pose. No, not Madonna style. I’m talking about their technique called obelisking. In this pose, a dragonfly will point his abdomen toward the sun to minimize the surface area of his body that is exposed to the direct rays. It’s my favorite way to photograph them.

Unicorn clubtail in obelisk pose
Blue dasher in obelisk pose
Swift setwing in obelisk pose

As an upright human, I suppose I’m always naturally in the obelisk position, but even with my body’s (supposed) ability to temperature regulate, that’s not enough to make me comfortable. So as I mostly cocoon here at home for the rest of the summer, I’ll be taking breaks from garden chores by sitting on my swing and cooling my feet in my new rubber duckie pool (it’s actually a baby bathtub). Doesn’t that just make you smile? If not the duck itself, then the image of me sipping iced tea with my feet in cold water inside the duck. I tell ya, these days it’s the little whimsical things like this that make me happy.

My newest way to stay cool — with my feet in a baby bathtub – quack quack!

I hope you find some pleasant ways to stay cool and sane as the world seems to be doing the opposite of both. Be well.

8 comments

  1. Thank you for teaching me something new – obelisk pose! I’ll look for it from now on. Your photos are stunning, as always.

    I’ve always said I start to melt at 75F.

    Love the duck! Just add ice cubes as necessary and you’ve created a bit of whimsical nirvana for your deck!

    • Ironically, since the duck pool arrived, we’ve had a couple overcast and cooler days, so I haven’t used it yet. And my gosh, that sucker took me more than an hour to blow up — I guess my lungs aren’t what they used to be!

  2. This is a fun and interesting post, Kim! I did not know about the dragonflies in obelisk pose! We have them here in summer but I’ve never noticed them doing this, and we have some fierce heat, so I’ll take more notice when the weather warms, but not for a while yet. It was 24F here the last two mornings–lots of frost and frozen water pipes. I am exactly as you describe in the heat, and especially in places that also have humidity that is above about 20%. I feel like I’m melting and my energy levels take a dive. I get my daily exercise and physical chores in early while it is relatively cool, then stay indoors for the rest of the day. I can hardly even stand to cook or eat hot food. I do feel like a wimp, especially living here with all these hearty Aussies, but I really can’t help it. Sorry it took me so long to get to your post, I was one of those taking care of a burst water pipe! Stay cool! xx

    • Ardys, I bet you’ll notice the obelisking dragonflies often now that you know about that behavior. And sorry about the burst water pipe…I didn’t realize it could get that cold down there. Hopefully it’s a rare problem!

  3. Love your obelisking dragon photos! I totally understand about the heat & humidity woes. Stay as cool as you can and keep snapping those awesome photos!!

  4. I don’t deal with a blazing sun anywhere as well as I used to. These days, when I have to mow the lawn or do other yard work, I do it in stages. I’ll mow, for instance, for 30 or 40 minutes. Then I’ll go inside, drink water, and rest for a nice while. Then I’ll head out again and finish the job. Stay cool!

    • That’s a good strategy, Neil. Doing my gardening chores with frequent breaks has given me more time to sit and enjoy the fruits of my labors without being exhausted.

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