Anything but common

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) are anything but common.

Despite its name, this species is rare in Northern Virginia. Source Credit: Common Sanddragon, Dragonflies of Northern Virginia, by Kevin Munroe, Park Manager, Huntley Meadows Park.

Kevin goes on to cite Bull Run and Goose Creek, two streams where he has seen Common Sanddragons, and speculates they may be found at two other locations in Northern Virginia. Well, you can add a third location where sanddragons have been seen and it’s right in Kevin’s wheelhouse!

Mike Powell, a fellow amateur wildlife photographer and blogger, photographed a clubtail dragonfly at Huntley Meadows Park on 17 June 2014 that he was unable to identify. Mike’s description of the habitat where he saw the dragonfly piqued my curiosity, so I asked him to send me a photo of the unknown dragon. Turns out Mike discovered a Common Sanddragon — a new species of clubtail dragonfly for Huntley Meadows Park!

Mike volunteered to meet at the park on 20 June 2014 so that he could guide me to the location where he spotted the Common Sanddragon. After a LONG, DIFFICULT WALK to a VERY REMOTE location in the park, we spotted several sanddragons as soon as we reached our destination, including two mating pairs! The following photos show several males that I spotted during what turned out to be a very productive photowalk.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

They are usually seen along sandy shores, as their larvae are highly modified as sand burrowers. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 4833). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

In this case, the sanddragons were found near sand deposits along a small stream that has carved a shallow channel in what appears to be a bed of iron-rich marine clay.

Huntley Meadows lies in a wet lowland carved by an ancient meander of the Potomac River. Source Credit: Huntley Meadows Park home page, Fairfax County Park Authority.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

The last photo in the set shows a male perching in a pose similar to the “obelisk position,” used by some dragonflies as a method of thermoregulation. Although sanddragons obelisk, especially at midday, the pose of this male sanddragon is probably intended to both attract females and communicate to other males, “This is my territory.”

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

Editor’s Note: Please stay tuned for several upcoming posts featuring more photos of Common Sanddragon dragonflies, including two mating pairs, and two emergent sanddragons and their exuviaea (cast skins) — in short, a photo-documentary of most of the sanddragon life cycle!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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8 Responses to “Anything but common”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Great posting, Walter, full of fascinating details and wonderful images of this beautiful dragonfly.

  2. Mike Powell Says:

    Reblogged this on Mike Powell and commented:
    A few days after I stumbled upon a Common Sanddragon dragonfly, a new species for my favorite marshland park, I returned to the remote location with fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford (who made the initial identification for me). Walter has a science background and his posting today of our encounter with the Sanddragons is full of fascinating scientific information as well as awesome photos of these beautiful little dragonflies.

  3. Jet Eliot Says:

    I’ve always treasured Mike Powell’s posts, at the same time wondering what kind of acrobatics he had to do to get some of those photos. Reading it from your perspective (and in all caps) answered that and made me LOL. I also really enjoyed reading some of the technical info about the sanddragons. Thank you Walter.

  4. Jet Eliot Says:

    Congrats on finding a new species in the park! Enjoyed Walter Sanford’s post, too.

  5. Robley Hood Says:

    What a pleasure!

  6. New discoveries in 2014-2015 | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] of dragonfly for Huntley Meadows Park. Mike guided me to the same spot on 20 June, where we photographed several sanddragons (like the male shown above), including two mating […]

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