Archive for October, 2015

Great Spreadwing (mating pairs, in tandem)

October 30, 2015

Every year I set goals for odonate hunting. One goal for 2015: spot and photograph a female Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis). Although I never saw a solo female, I was fortunate to photograph several mating pairs at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP).

After copulation, Great Spreadwings engage in a form of guarding behavior known as “contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites. Contact guarding is used by some species of odonates to prevent aggressive males from hijacking the female.

A mating pair of Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

11 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (mating pair, in tandem)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

Look closely at the tip of the female’s abdomen. Notice several anatomical structures: two cerci (sing. cercus), superior appendages that have little or no function; two styli (sing. stylus), structures that serve as sensors (like “curb feelers“) in egg positioning during oviposition; and an ovipositor that is used to insert eggs into vegetation (endophytic oviposition).

A mating pair of Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem; the female is shown ovipositing.

21 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (mating pair, in tandem)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

The female is ovipositing in two similar-looking photos, shown above and below. Look closely at the full-size version of both photos: the preceding photo shows the ovipositor hasn’t penetrated the vegetation; the following photo shows the ovipositor has been inserted in the plant stem.

A mating pair of Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem; the female is shown ovipositing.

21 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (mating pair, in tandem)

The male guided the female around-and-around a small vernal pool for at least 30 minutes, with brief stops for egg-laying at selected sites. The last photo shows the same mating pair taking a rest break. Notice the mud on the female’s wings and abdomen.

Ooooh, I need a dirty woman. Ooooh, I need a dirty girl. Source Credit: Young Lust, by Pink Floyd.

A mating pair of Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

21 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (mating pair, in tandem)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More friendly Autumn Meadowhawks

October 28, 2015

Two more “friendly” Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) were spotted recently at Huntley Meadows Park. Both of these individuals are males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

The first male is shown perching on the leg of my Columbia “Aruba IV” convertible pants.

The last male is perching on my Coleman camp stool.

Related Resource: Huntley insects endorse Coleman camp stool

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Hook-up on Aruba

October 26, 2015

Most species of dragonflies are skittish; some are “friendly.” Maybe a little too friendly! Like the following mating pairs of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted recently at Huntley Meadows Park.

The first mating pair is shown “in wheel,” perching on my leg: the male is on top; the female on the bottom.

A mating pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is shown in wheel, perching on my leg (Columbia pants).

21 OCT 2015 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, in wheel)

I’m wearing a pair Columbia “Aruba IV” convertible pants, hence the title of this blog post. And you thought I was talking about a romantic encounter on an island in the Caribbean Sea!

The pants feature “Omni-Shade™ UPF 30 sun protection” that makes the fabric reflective, and the subject was very close to my camera (remember the inverse square law of light). In order to avoid blown-out photo highlights, I needed to set my external flash unit for the lowest power ratio (1/128). The net result: slightly underexposed images of the dragonflies.

The mating pair was “in wheel” when the dragonflies landed on my leg. After a couple of minutes, the female disconnected from the male’s hamules; the pair remained “in tandem.”

A mating pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is shown in wheel/tandem, perching on my leg (Columbia pants).

21 OCT 2015 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, in tandem)

What happens after odonates copulate? Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies engage in a form of guarding behavior known as “contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites. Contact guarding is used by some species of odonates to prevent aggressive males from hijacking the female.

The last mating pair is shown in tandem, perching on my leg: the male is on the lower-left; the female on the upper-right.

A mating pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is shown in tandem, perching on my leg (Columbia pants).

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Autumn Meadowhawk (mating pair, in tandem)

The olive drab color of my Columbia pants (shown above) is less reflective than the khaki-colored pair I wore on the 21st. Net result: more balanced exposure of the subject and background.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

“Mr. Magoo” and “Bendy Straw”

October 24, 2015

Some male Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) have recognizable physical characteristics that distinguish them from other individuals of the same species and give them personality.

Regular readers of my photoblog may recall reading about “Crinkle-cut,” a very aggressive male with distinctive damage to all four of his wingtips, that I followed at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) during Fall 2014.

This year, I met two new characters at the park: “Mr. Magoo“; and “Bendy Straw,” one of Magoo’s rivals.

Mr. Magoo

The nickname “Mr. Magoo” seems perfect for this male because of the prominent dark spots in his eyes. The eye spots are always in the same place, regardless of viewpoint, therefore it is technically incorrect to refer to them as “pseudopupils.”

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (male, nicknamed “Mr. Magoo”)

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, nicknamed

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (male, nicknamed “Mr. Magoo”)

I spotted “Mr. Magoo” for the first time on 08 October 2015; I have seen him again on the 15th and 21st.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, nicknamed

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (male, nicknamed “Mr. Magoo”)

Bendy Straw

The nickname “Bendy Straw” seems perfect for the following male because of his slightly malformed abdomen.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, nicknamed

11 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (male, nicknamed “Bendy Straw”)

Notice the bend in his abdomen at the boundary between segments seven and eight (S7 and S8). Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, nicknamed

11 OCT 2015 | HMP | Great Spreadwing (male, nicknamed “Bendy Straw”)

I met “Bendy Straw” on 11 October 2015; I haven’t seen “Bendy” again, although Mike Powell photographed him on 16 October.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for more photo sets of “Mr. Magoo” and “Bendy Straw,” to be published separately in several upcoming blog posts.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Leaf-footed Bug

October 22, 2015

The following photos show a Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus oppositus) spotted along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park. It’s easy to see the origin of the common name for this insect.

A Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus oppositus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

08 OCT 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Leaf-footed Bug

Although Leaf-footed Bugs look somewhat similar to Stink Bugs, they are members of different families within a group of insects known as “True Bugs.” It bugs me that I don’t understand what it means to be a true bug!

A Leaf-footed Bug (Leptoglossus oppositus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

08 OCT 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Leaf-footed Bug

Stink Bugs and Leaf-footed Bugs Are Important Fruit, Nut, Seed and Vegetable Pests. Leaf-footed Bugs feed on Catalpa trees.

Leptoglossus oppositus feeds almost exclusively on pods of catalpa trees (in my experience). Source Credit: Eric Eaton, BugGuide Facebook group member.

Alonso Abugattas, Natural Resources Manager for Arlington County and author of the Capital Naturalist blog, confirms there are Catalpa trees at Huntley Meadows Park.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to BugGuide Facebook group members Judith Fournier, Novalene Thurston, Natalie Hernandez, Eric Eaton, and Alonso Abuggatas for commenting on my post.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Familiar Bluet damselfly (immature male)

October 20, 2015

Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) was spotted at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the blue pruinescence that is just beginning to appear on its body.

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 OCT 2015 | HMP | Familiar Bluet (immature male)

At this stage, male Familiar Bluets look similar to females.

Step 1. Be aware the same species of dragonfly may appear differently depending upon gender, age, and natural variation. Some species display sexual dimorphism; in contrast, both genders look virtually identical for some species. Finally, females of some species display polymorphism (also known as polychromatism). Source Credit: Five steps to the next level of dragonfly spotting.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another new species of spreadwing damselfly?

October 18, 2015

I’m fairly certain I discovered a new species of damselfly at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP): Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus).

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by its hamules and terminal appendages.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

The hamules are key field markers for differentiating some species of similar-looking damselflies, such as Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus).

All male damselflies have four terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers.” Male damselfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of damselflies, but their function is identical.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

Claspers are used to grab and hold female damselflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower pair of paraprocts (“inferior appendages”).

Southern or Sweetflag?

I say Sweetflag; odonate experts may/may not agree with my tentative identification. My logic is fairly straightforward: Adult Southern Spreadwing damselflies were observed at a single location in Huntley Meadows Park during the first two weeks in May 2015. Their sudden disappearance seemed to coincide with a population explosion of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) in mid-May.

The same location was scouted frequently since May; no Southern Spreadwings were observed all summer. Although it is possible the specimen spotted on 15 October 2015 is a Southern Spreadwing damselfly, I think it is more likely a Sweetflag Spreadwing.

Scrappy’s hard life

I nicknamed this guy “Scrappy” due to a couple of serious injuries he survived. The following photo shows what appears to be a puncture wound in one of Scrappy’s eyes.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

(See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.)

Also, did you notice “Scrappy” is missing three of six legs? Survival is probably a struggle although it helps that he still has his two front legs, critical for feeding in flight.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

He ain’t heavy

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. Brothers in the Spreadwing Family of damselflies, that is. The last photo shows “Scrappy” perching on top of a male Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis), nicknamed “Mr. Magoo” because of the prominent dark spots in his eyes.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on top of a male Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis).

“Scrappy” and “Mr. Magoo.”

One of my mantras of wildlife photography is “get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” I wish the preceding photo — taken from a poor vantage point with a partially obstructed view — had turned out better. Although I was able to get a shot of this unusual pairing, there was no time to refine the shot.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for high-quality photos of “Mr. Magoo” and “Bendy Straw,” one of Magoo’s male rivals, to be published in several upcoming blog posts.

Post Update, 17 November 2016: New evidence strongly suggests the male spreadwing damselfly featured in this post is probably a Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis) from another brood that emerged during Fall 2015. In 2016, Southern Spreadwing was confirmed to be multivoltine at the same location.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (female)

October 16, 2015

The following photos show a Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum), perching in a drainage ditch near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP).

A Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a heteromorph female.

11 OCT 2015 | HMP | Blue-faced Meadowhawk (female)

This individual is a heteromorph female, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a heteromorph female.

11 OCT 2015 | HMP | Blue-faced Meadowhawk (female)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Slender Spreadwing damselfly (female)

October 14, 2015

The following gallery of photos features a Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the ovipositor located on the underside of the posterior abdomen. The ovipositor is used to insert eggs into vegetation (endophytic oviposition).

A Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Slender Spreadwing (female)

See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation.

A Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Slender Spreadwing (female)

Look closely at the tip of the female’s abdomen. Notice a couple of anatomical structures: two cerci (sing. cercus), superior appendages that have little or no function; and two styli (sing. stylus), structures that serve as sensors (like “curb feelers“) in egg positioning during oviposition.

A Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Slender Spreadwing (female)

See a full-size version of the preceding photo, without annotation. Adobe Photoshop was used to remove a couple of small distracting elements from the photo.

The last two photos provide a good side view of the ovipositor.

A Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Slender Spreadwing (female)

A Slender Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

08 OCT 2015 | HMP | Slender Spreadwing (female)

Related Resource: Odonate Terminal Appendages.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The Final Four

October 12, 2015

March Madness was six months late this year. Huh? On the same day I discovered a male Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) at Huntley Meadows Park, I witnessed what could be described as an orgy of odonate mating. Common Whitetails, Great Blue Skimmers, and Twelve-spotted Skimmers — if it were flying then it was mating and mating frequently!

The following gallery of photos features several Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula pulchella). All of these individuals are mature males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages. The scratch marks on their abdomen shows they have mated many times.

As it turns out, these were the last Twelve-spotted Skimmers I saw during 2015. I was as close to these guys as I’ve ever been to Twelve-spotted Skimmers  — I think they were simply too tired to care! Please look at the full-size version of each photo in order to appreciate what it’s like to be up close and personal with a male Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly.

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

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (male)

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

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (male)

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

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (male)

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

23 SEP 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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