Cordulegastridae exuvia

My good friend Mike Boatwright, a fellow Virginian and extraordinarily good odonate hunter, collected an exuvia on 22 June 2017 in Amherst County, Virginia USA. Mike sent the exuvia to me for identification. This specimen is a member of the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails).

Photo No. 1 enabled me to see all of the critical field marks required to make an identification to the family level for this specimen. Here’s the decision tree I used to identify the exuvia as a spiketail dragonfly, based upon the excellent Vimeo video, Identifying dragonfly larva to family (8:06).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium.
  • The margins of the labium have “deeply jagged, irregular teeth.”

Of the four families of dragonflies that feature a mask-like labium, the crenulations on the face of Corduligastridae are unmistakeable!

No. 1 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (face-head)

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

The specimen is ~3.5 cm long (~1.4 in) and ~8 mm wide (0.3 in) at its widest. Notice the dorsal side of the exuvia is covered by sandy grit. The specimen will need to be cleaned in order to get a clearer view of the frontal shelf.

No. 2 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (dorsal)

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

Photo No. 3 shows a ventral view of the exuvia.

No. 3 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (ventral)

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

Photo No. 4 shows a closer view of the “rudimentary ovipositor,” located on abdominal segment nine (S9). An ovipositor is used for egg-laying by all adult damselflies and some species of adult dragonflies: females have this feature; males do not. Therefore, this individual is a female spiketail.

No. 4 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (ventral, rudimentary ovipositor)

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

Photo No. 5 shows a closer view of the mentum, a two-segment hinged “jaw” that is used to grab food: the prementum is the segment of the labium closer to the mouth; the postmentum is the segment closer to the base of the head. Only the prementum can be seen in the following photo.

No. 5 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (ventral, prementum)

Determining the genus and species

Although it’s easy to identify Cordulegastridae exuvia to the family level, it’s more challenging to identify a specimen to the species level. First, the exuvia must be cleaned in order to show the small hairs and brown dots on the frontal shelf. Second, the labium must be pulled forward to show the inside of the face mask in order to count palpal- and premental setae.

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the macro photographs featured in this post: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens. An off-camera Fujifilm EF-X500 external flash unit and Sunpak LED-160 Video Light (with a white translucent plastic filter) was used for Photo No. 1-3 and 5. A Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite was used for Photo No. 4.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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6 Responses to “Cordulegastridae exuvia”

  1. Kelly Stettner Says:

    Excellent post, Walter! I’m eager to learn which species this is…no idea if I’ll be able to ID any of our exuviae to this level as we seek erronea in the Black River watershed, but we’ll sure give it a shot.

    • waltersanford Says:

      Thanks, Kelly! Of course you can. Remember The Little Engine That Could?

      • Kelly Stettner Says:

        Walter, your advice was a huge help in locating the seep that eventually led us to confirming the breeding grounds for erronea in Springfield VT last weekend! 🙂

        • waltersanford Says:

          Thanks for the kind words and thanks for touching base to share them, Kelly! I’m flattered to think the information and photos in my blog might have helped to facilitate the recent discovery of Tiger Spiketail in Vermont. 🙂

  2. Post update: Cordulegastridae exuvia | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] a recent blog post entitled Cordulegastridae exuvia, I was able to identify the specimen to the family level. Since then, I was able to identify the […]

  3. Top 10 Photos of 2018 | walter sanford's photoblog Says:

    […] 03 FEB 2018 | Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea) | exuvia (face-head) […]

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