A Southern Fortnight, Part 4 – Southern Spreadwing damselfly (female)

June 30, 2015

The Backstory: A Southern Fortnight

For the first two weeks during May 2015, Southern Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes australis) were observed at a vernal pool and nearby drainage ditch in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. I spotted approximately six males and several females during the fortnight. Their sudden disappearance seemed to coincide with a population explosion of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) in mid-May. Eastern Pondhawks, especially females, are voracious predators with a penchant for preying upon damselflies.


A Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This is the female member of a mating pair, resting after laying eggs (oviposition).

07 MAY 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Southern Spreadwing (female)

A female Southern Spreadwing was spotted perching on vegetation alongside a drainage ditch in the forest. She was resting after laying eggs (oviposition) in tandem with a male Southern Spreadwing.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (female, laying eggs)

June 28, 2015

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies. Females lay eggs (oviposition) by skimming the water surface repeatedly, hence the family name “Skimmer“; two flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment (S8) scoop water that is used to flick fertilized eggs toward shore, as illustrated in the following annotated image. Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature female member of a mating pair.

10 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (mature female)

The preceding still photo shows a mature female Slaty Skimmer dragonfly resting immediately after copulation.

The following movie shows the same female laying eggs in a large pool of water downstream from the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 10 June 2015.

Tech Tip: The preceding movie looks better viewed in full-screen mode.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly terminal appendages

June 26, 2015

Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus) is a member of the Clubtail Family of dragonflies that is spotted during June and July in mid-Atlantic United States like Virginia. Common Sanddragons are habitat specialists that prefer sandy woodland streams, so don’t look for them in wetland areas like the hemi-marsh at Huntley Meadows Park.

Male and female Common Sandragons look similar, especially their coloration. Terminal appendages may be used to differentiate males from females.

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. (See a full-size version of the following image, without annotation.)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (female)

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

20 JUN 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

Look closely at the full-size version of the following composite image contrasting the terminal appendages of a male and female Common Sanddragon dragonfly. One look at the individual with the distinctive large yellow cerci and you know which one is the male!

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Wickford Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

Composite image: male (background photo); female (inset photo).

The preceding male Common Sanddragon dragonfly was spotted on 26 June 2014 at Wickford Park. The female shown in the inset photo is the same one spotted on 17 June 2015 at Huntley Meadows Park.

Related Resources: Odonate Terminal Appendages.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (males)

June 24, 2015

On the one-year anniversary for Mike Powell’s discovery of a new species of dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park, I revisited the same location where Mike found the first Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) at the park.

On an overcast, rainy day I was pleasantly surprised to see several male Common Sanddragons and a single female. A few photos of the males are featured in this post; a photo of the female will be published in a follow-up post.

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

A Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

17 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Sanddragon (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (male)

June 22, 2015

The following dragonfly was spotted on 10 June 2015 during a photowalk alongside the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park. One look at those widely-separated eyes, …

A Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

10 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Unicorn Clubtail (male)

those distinctively-shaped yellow terminal appendages, …

A Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

10 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Unicorn Clubtail (male)

plus the profile of this dragonfly perching horizontally on the ground, …

A Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

10 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Unicorn Clubtail (male)

and you know this is a male Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes). OK, Lilypad Clubtail (Arigomphus furcifer) looks similar to Unicorn Clubtail, but my location in Northern Virginia is far outside the range map for Lilypad Clubtail.

The Backstory: How the Unicorn Clubtail got its name

All members of the Clubtail Family of dragonflies, including Unicorn Clubtail, have widely-separated eyes; the space between the eyes, on top of the head, is called the occiput.

occiput: posteriormost area on top of head, behind vertex and ocelli. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 11671). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Look closely at the full-size version of the following annotated image. Notice there is a small “horn” located in the center of the Unicorn Clubtail’s occiput, hence the first part of its common name. Also notice the tip of its abdomen is slightly club-shaped  — now you know the rest of the story.

A Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

10 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Unicorn Clubtail (male)

The occiput and “unicorn horn” are clearly visible in the following photopraphs of a captive Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly.

P1200042

Photo used with permission from Molly Jacobson.

See more photos by Molly Jacobson at BugGuide.com.

P1200043

Photo used with permission from Molly Jacobson.

Editor’s Note: Collecting specimens is prohibited at Huntley Meadows Park.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (mature male)

June 20, 2015

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula axilena) look similar to Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans).

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

10 JUN 2015 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Several key field markers can be used to differentiate the two species of dragonflies, as shown in the following annotated images.

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

10 JUN 2015 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Bar-winged Skimmers have dark reddish-brown eyes and a metallic black face; Great Blue Skimmers have blue eyes and a white face. Also notice the Bar-winged Skimmer has a small black bar along the “costa” (the leading edge of both the fore- and hind wings), located between the nodus and pterostigma — hence its common name, “Bar-winged Skimmer“; the Great Blue Skimmer does not.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

31 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (mature male)

Side view of Great Blue Skimmer (shown above); dorsal view (shown below).

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a young male.

31 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young male)

The following gallery features several more photos of the same Bar-winged Skimmer spotted at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) on 10 June 2015.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly terminal appendages

June 18, 2015

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies that is spotted during the summer and fall months at many water bodies in the mid-Atlantic United States, such as the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park and ponds at Meadowood Recreation Area.

Widow Skimmers display sexual dimorphism. Although mature males and females look different, immature males and females look similar. Terminal appendages may be used to differentiate immature males from females.

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function.

Immature male Widow Skimmers and immature/adult female Widow Skimmers are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages.

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

June 16, 2015

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) was spotted on 06 June 2015 during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Immature males look similar to female Widow Skimmers.

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

As a mature male, this specimen will develop white pruinescence on its body as well as white wing spots (located between the dark wing spots and pterostigmata). The white wing spots are faintly visible in some photos, such as the one shown below.

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

I’m especially fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality. Sometimes I tend to project my thoughts into the mind of the dragonflies I photograph. After following this guy from perch-to-perch, I’m guessing he was thinking, “Hey pal, please stop following me!”

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

A Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 JUN 2015 | HMP | Widow Skimmer (immature male)

Digital Dragonflies: presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula luctuosa | Widow Skimmer | male | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula luctuosa | Widow Skimmer | male | side view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula luctuosa | Widow Skimmer | female | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula luctuosa | Widow Skimmer | female | side view

Editor’s Note: With no disrespect intended toward Kevin Munroe, whom I admire and respect, I feel compelled to point out an error on Kevin’s Widow Skimmer page. In the lower-right corner of page 2, an immature male is misidentified as a female. Believe me when I tell you Kevin’s expertise far exceeds mine, but hey, only someone like me with a fixation on odonate terminal appendages would have recognized the immature male’s claspers!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slaty Skimmer dragonfly terminal appendages

June 14, 2015

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta) is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies that is spotted during the summer and fall months at many water bodies in the mid-Atlantic United States, such as the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park.

Slaty Skimmers display sexual dimorphism. Although mature males and females look different, immature males and females look similar. Terminal appendages may be used to differentiate immature males from females.

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

06 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (female)

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. (See a full-size version of the following image, without annotation.)

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

06 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (female)

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding annotated image. Female Slaty Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment (S8) that are used to scoop water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Immature male Slaty Skimmers and immature/adult female Slaty Skimmers are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages. (See a full-size version of the following image, without annotation.)

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Little Hunting Creek, Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

07 JUL 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (immature male)

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”). (See a full-size version of the following image, without annotation.)

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a young male with a slightly malformed wing.

06 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (young male)

This individual is a young male, as indicated by the blue-black partial pruinescence covering his body. He has a slightly malformed wing that is more noticeable in the preceding side view and less noticeable in the following dorsal view.

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a young male with a slightly malformed wing.

06 JUN 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (young male)

Black pruinescence that completely covers the body of following mature male Slaty Skimmer makes it look quite different from the immature male (shown above), other than its terminal appendages.

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

10 SEP 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park | Slaty Skimmer (mature male)

Digital scans by G & J Strickland:

Digital Dragonflies: presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula incesta | Slaty Skimmer | male | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula incesta | Slaty Skimmer | male | side view

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (young female)

June 12, 2015

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) was spotted on 20 May 2015 during a photowalk alongside the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a young female, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

The young female was sheltering in vegetation close to the ground.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

She was quite skittish, flying to a new location whenever I violated her comfort zone.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

Look closely at the full-size version of the following annotated image. Female Great Blue Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment (S8) that are used to scoop water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

A Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature female.

20 MAY 2015 | HMP | Great Blue Skimmer (young female)

Immature Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies and immature Slaty Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula incesta) — including both females and males — look very similar. In my opinion, the best field marker for differentiating the two species is femur coloration: Great Blue Skimmer femora are mostly tan; Slaty Skimmer femora are mostly black.

The following female Slaty Skimmer was spotted along the “Hike-Bike Trail” at Huntley Meadows Park. Contrast the difference in coloration of the Slaty Skimmer femurs (below) with the Great Blue Skimmer femurs (above).

A Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) spotted along the "Hike-Bike Trail" at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

04 JUN 2012 | HMP | Slaty Skimmer (young female)

Related Resources:

  • Great Blue Skimmers – “The femora are pale over their basal half with the remaining length, tibiae and tarsi black.”
  • Slaty Skimmer – “The legs are black with brown only at their extreme bases.”

Digital Dragonflies: presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula vibrans | Great Blue Skimmer | female | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula vibrans | Great Blue Skimmer | female | side view

Digital scans by G & J Strickland:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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