Helocordulia uhleri exuvia

An odonate exuvia from the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds) was collected on 06 April 2018 by Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group.

The Backstory

I found a recently-emerged teneral sundragon still clinging to its exuvia along Beck Creek in Amherst County, Virginia USA. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

After snapping a photo, I gently moved the teneral adult to a nearby blade of grass, snapped another shot, and then collected the exuvia. Although I have seen both Selys’ Sundragon (Helocordulia selysii) and Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) in that area, I assumed this one was Selys’ since it’s the more common species there. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

This is a small genus [Helocordulia] of only two known species found in only the eastern United States and Canada. Source Credit: Needham, J.G., M.J. Westfall, and M.L. May. March 2014. Dragonflies of North America, 3rd Edition: p. 376. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, Florida.

A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia.

  1. Determine the family.
  2. Determine the genus and species.

Step 1. Family

First, determine the family of the specimen. For reference, watch the excellent Vimeo video, Identifying dragonfly larva to family (8:06). Here’s the decision tree used to identify the exuvia as a member of the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium (prementum) that covers the face, as shown in Image No. 1, characteristic of four families of odonates: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on the face-head, characteristic of Macromiidae, so it’s not a cruiser.
  • Cordulegastridae has jagged crenulations on its labium, so it’s not a spiketail. The crenulations for Corduliidae and Libellulidae look similar.
  • Look at the anal pyramid to differentiate Corduliidae and Libellulidae: It’s probably Corduliidae if the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts. [Editor’s Note: It’s probably Libellulidae if the cerci are less than half the length of the paraprocts.]

In summary, the exuvia has a mask-like labium with relatively smooth crenulations, and no horn on its face-head. Although the specimen is too dirty to see the anal pyramid clearly, field observation of the teneral adult confirms the dragonfly is a member of Genus Heliocordulia (Sundragons) in the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

Image No. 1 shows a face-head view of the exuvia, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). Notice the labium that covers the face is missing one of two palpal lobes; the missing lobe is shown in Image No. 4.

No. 1 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for “Helocordulia larvae” that appears on p. 377 in Dragonflies of North America (Needham, et al.) was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia. Field marks that match this specimen are highlighted in boldface green text. Three boldface green asterisks (***) are used to highlight the thread for identification of this specimen.

***1. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 7-9; palpal setae 7; lateral spines of segment 8 about 1/2 as long as on segment 9 [uhleri]
1’. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 6-9; palpal setae usually 6; lateral spines of segment 8 about as long as on segment 9 [selysii]

Image No. 2 shows a dorsal view of the specimen. Notice the mid-dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9), labeled using white text.

No. 2 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (dorsal)

Image No. 3 clearly shows the dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9). This distinctive character confirms the identity of the species as H. uhleri.

No. 3 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (lateral)

Image No. 4 shows a palpal lobe from the specimen, viewed from the inside, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). There is one palpal seta and at least seven sites where setae might have been located before the palpal lobe broke off the prementum. Although this character is inconclusive for confirming the species (given the condition of the palpal lobe), it’s not exclusive.

No. 4 | Helocordulia uhleri | palpal lobe (inside)

Image No. 5 shows a ventral view of the specimen. Notice the lateral spine on abdominal segment eight (S8) is about half as long as the lateral spine on segment nine (S9).

When measuring spines, I measure them ventral from the inside corner to the tip. There is a suture on the ventral side, near the base, that makes a nice repeatable starting point for measuring. Source Credit: Ken Tennessen, personal communication.

No. 5 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (ventral)


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from working to identify this exuvia is the fact that it enabled the correct identification of the teneral adult dragonfly that Mike observed and photographed. In fact, Mike is the one who first recognized the species is H. uhleri, based upon the number of mid-dorsal hooks on the exuvia.

Related Resources

Odonate Exuviae – a hyperlinked list of identification guides to many species of odonate exuviae from seven families of dragonflies and three families of damselflies.

Tech Tips

Mike Boatwright’s photographs, taken in situ, were shot using a Canon EOS 7D digital camera and Canon 300mm prime lens paired with a Canon 1.4x Extender EF.

The following equipment was used to shoot Image No. 2, 3, and 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites set for “Slave” mode. Image No. 1 and 4Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for ~3x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Image No. 1-5 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Image No. 1 (seven photos); Image No. 2 (30 photos); Image No. 3 (16 photos); Image No. 4 (10 photos); Image No. 5 (24 photos).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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2 Responses to “Helocordulia uhleri exuvia”

  1. Michael Boatwright Says:

    Great work Walter! 🙂

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