Archive for June, 2016

Identifying clubtails by the calendar

June 30, 2016

Much to my surprise, a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) was spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

26 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) and Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis) are two species of dragonflies from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails) that are similar in appearance.

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

26 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Kevin Munroe, author of the excellent Dragonflies of Northern Virginia Web site, explains how to identify Ashy Clubtail versus Lancet Clubtail on the page for Ashy Clubtail (see the section entitled “Notes from the field”). In this case, item No. 5 explains how to use a calendar to differentiate the two species.

Lastly, use the calendar: April = Ashy Clubtail; June or July = Lancet Clubtail; May = could be either one. (These dates work in Northern Virginia.) Source Credit: Ashy Clubtail, by Kevin Munroe.

Since the specimen shown in the preceding photographs was spotted on 26 June, Lancet Clubtail is almost certainly the correct identification. Further, the physical characteristics described in item No. 3 on Kevin’s checklist confirms what the calendar tells us.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Pondhawk (female, eating prey)

June 28, 2016
An Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, shown eating prey (an unknown winged insect).

09 JUN 2016 | HMP | Eastern Pondhawk (female, eating prey)

An Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis) was spotted at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a female, as indicated by her coloration and white terminal appendages. Notice the dragonfly is eating an unknown winged insect.

The Backstory: While I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool waiting for Unicorn Clubtail dragonflies to come to my location, I spotted an Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly perching on the ground a few feet to my right side. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the dragonfly suddenly flew up and made a short loop back to its former perch. Thinking the Pondhawk probably captured some sort of prey, I turned to take a photograph. I was able to take two photos before the dragonfly flew away. I guess she didn’t want to share her mid-morning snack with me!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Needham’s Skimmer dragonfly terminal appendages

June 26, 2016

Several Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) were spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Mature male

The first individual is a mature male, as indicated by his red coloration and terminal appendages.

A Needham's Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Needham’s Skimmer (mature male)

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

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”).

Female

The next individual is a female, as indicated by her mostly yellow coloration and terminal appendages. I love a good head-tilt!

A Needham's Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Needham’s Skimmer (female)

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

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

Immature male

The last individual is an immature male, as indicated by his mostly yellow coloration and terminal appendages. Immature males and females are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages.

A Needham's Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula needhami) spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Needham’s Skimmer (immature male)

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

June 24, 2016

I’ve spent a lot time looking for Dragonhunter dragonflies (Hagenius brevistylus) in their preferred habitat with limited success. Imagine my surprise and delight when I spotted one in a less than ideal habitat! I could tell you where I found the Dragonhunter, but then I’d have to give you a cyanide capsule, so let’s just call the location “Northern Virginia.”

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages. Thanks to Michael Moore, member extraordinaire of the Southeastern Odes Facebook group, for verifying my tentative identification.

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

I love a good head-tilt. This girl has a grill as big as a Mack truck!

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) spotted at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 June 2016 | Dragonhunter dragonfly (female)

Related Resource: Dragonhunter dragonfly exuvia, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Calico Pennant dragonflies (females)

June 22, 2016

Several Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) were spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA.

All of these individuals are females, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages.

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

In my opinion, female Calico Pennants are one of the more beautiful dragonflies found in the mid-Atlantic United States.

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (female)

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Calico Pennant dragonflies (males)

June 20, 2016

Several Calico Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) were spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA.

All of these individuals are males, as indicated by their coloration and terminal appendages. (Editor’s Note: Photos of several female Calico Pennants will be featured in a follow-up post.)

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (male)

Regular readers of my photoblog know I’m fond of head-tilts in which the dragonfly seems to display some of its personality, especially when the individual is looking at me. All of the photos in this gallery show head-tilts.

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (male)

The following photo is my favorite in this set, although I like all of the photos almost equally.

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (male)

Look closely at the full-size version of the last photo and you will see “ghosting” along the leading edge of the wing tips. In this case, the slight blurring was caused by movement of the dragonfly rather than movement of my camera (camera shake).

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

18 JUN 2016 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (male)

The Backstory: Calico Pennant is listed on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Odonata species list. I have neither seen one at Huntley Meadows Park nor do I know anyone who has. After years of fruitless searching at my favorite local wetlands park, I decided to visit Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge — a venue well-known for Calico Pennants, among many species of odonates that can be found at the refuge. I’m glad I made the effort to drive a little farther than usual!

Addendum: Since this post was published, I learned that Fred Siskind spotted a Calico Pennant dragonfly along the Hike-Bike Trail in 2005. Do the math — that’s 11 years since the last confirmed sighting of the species at Huntley Meadows!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Beware of look-alikes!

June 18, 2016

Several Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula axilena) were spotted on 10 June 2016 at a vernal pool located in Huntley Meadows Park (HMP).

The first individual is an immature male. Notice the white “frosting” at the base of his hind wings — one of several key field markers for Bar-winged Skimmer.

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

10 JUN 2016 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (immature male)

The last individual is a mature male. His body (thorax and abdomen) is covered completely by blue pruinescence that masks the coloration he displayed as an immature male.

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

10 JUN 2016 | HMP | Bar-winged Skimmer (mature male)

Related Resource: Bar-winged Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula axilena) look similar to Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans). Several key field markers can be used to differentiate the two species of dragonflies, as shown in the following blog post by Walter Sanford (featuring several annotated images): Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (mature male).

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Changing of the guard

June 16, 2016

Several Prince Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca princeps) were spotted on 14 June 2016 at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR).

Mulligan Pond is relatively small. The shoreline seemed to be subdivided into imaginary segments of valuable real estate; each segment was patrolled by a single male Prince Baskettail dragonfly. There were frequent aerial skirmishes when one male strayed into the territory of another. During nearly three hours of observation, I never saw one of the males land!

A Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, shown in flight.

14 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Prince Baskettail (male, in flight)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages (see annotated image, shown below). Notice the male’s bright blue-green eyes. It’s easy to see why Prince Baskettail is a member of the Emerald Family of dragonflies!

The shoreline of Mulligan Pond was patrolled by Common Baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca cynosura) during May 2016. A changing of the guard occurred sometime since my last visit: same family; same genus; different species.

Prince Baskettail dragonfly terminal appendages (male)

All 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 Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, shown in flight.

14 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Prince Baskettail (male, in flight)

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

  • Genus Epitheca | Epitheca princeps | Prince Baskettail | male | top view
  • Genus Epitheca | Epitheca princeps | Prince Baskettail | male | side view
  • Genus Epitheca | Epitheca princeps | Prince Baskettail | female | top view
  • Genus Epitheca | Epitheca princeps | Prince Baskettail | female | side view

See also Uncommonly cooperative Common Baskettail, a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

A day at the beach

June 14, 2016

Two captions came to mind when I looked at the following photo.

  1. Hey Bob, let’s move to the beach. We won’t have to eat each other because of the free sand which is there. (There’s a joke in there somewhere!)
  2. If I don’t move, then maybe it won’t notice me/eat me.

Question is, which animal was in greater danger during this close encounter — the dragonfly or the spider? As I understand dragonfly feeding behavior, they catch prey by flying rather than crawling. So I’d say the dragonfly was in greater danger of being eaten by the spider than vice versa.

For those of you keeping score at home, neither the dragonfly nor the spider was harmed in the making of this photo. I don’t remember what caused the dragonfly to fly away, but it did so soon after this photo was taken.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus) was spotted during a photowalk along Dogue Creek at Wickford Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. The spider appears to be some sort of fishing spider, but that’s an educated guess.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dragonhunter dragonfly exuvia

June 12, 2016

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) exuvia was collected along the Little Patuxent River by Richard Orr, renowned expert on odonates of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States, during an Audubon Naturalist Society adult class and field trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge on 15 June 2014.

Dragonhunter [nymphs] crawl out of the river and often cling on wet wood or roots/vegetation. I have seen them on mud but they seem to like vegetation or wood to cling to during emergence. I took a photo…of a cast skin at the same area [where this specimen was collected]. Source Credit: Personal communication from Richard Orr.

The decision tree used to identify the exuvia as a member of the Gomphidae Family (Clubtails) is fairly simple and straightforward.

  • The specimen has a flat labium (not mask-like).
  • Antennae are either club-shaped or paddle-like (not thin and threadlike as in Aeshnidae).

Dragonhunter is the largest of North American clubtails; accordingly the large size and shape of a Dragonhunter exuvia is so distinctive that it is relatively easy to identify to the species level.

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) exuviae collected along the Little Patuxent River, Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

Lateral view showing left side, facing forward (annotated).

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

Notice the large, paddle-like antennae. They remind me of ping pong paddles.

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) exuviae collected along the Little Patuxent River, Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

Head-on view (annotated).

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

The large size and shape of Dragonhunter exuviae are key field markers.

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) exuviae collected along the Little Patuxent River, Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

Dorsal view.

All clubtail nymphs/evuviae have a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face.

A Dragonhunter dragonfly (Hagenius brevistylus) exuviae collected along the Little Patuxent River, Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

Ventral view (annotated).

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

Tech Tips:

The following equipment was used to shoot the preceding photographs: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujinon XF18-55mm (27mm-82.5mm, 35mm equivalent) zoom lens plus “Fotasy” brand 10mm extension tube; Fujifilm Shoe Mount Flash EF-42 (on-camera, in TTL mode); Nissin i40 external flash unit (off-camera, in SD mode). A snap-on plastic diffuser was used for each external flash.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 was used to annotate selected images.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


%d bloggers like this: