Test shots: Brachytron pratense exuvia (female)

As if it weren’t challenging enough to identify odonate exuviae from species native to the United States of America (where I live), I just started working with some specimens collected by a good friend during April 2018 in Vienna, Austria.

I decided to start with a specimen that I recognized immediately as a member of the Family Aeshnidae (Darners). Here’s the decision tree used to identify the family.

  • The specimen has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like).
  • Antennae are thin and thread-like (not club-like, as in Gomphidae larvae/euviae).
  • Eyes are large relative to the size of the head.


The first photo is a “one-off,” that is, not a composite image. The focus point is on the face mask/head; the rest of the subject is in soft focus. I think this is a good way to draw the viewer’s eyes to a specific part of a photo, while adding a sense of depth.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) | exuvia (face/head-dorsal)

Composite images

The next “photo” is a three-layer focus-stacked composite image: The focus point is on the face mask/head in the first photo; the thorax in the second photo; and the terminal appendages in the third photo. The entire body of the exuvia is acceptably in focus, including the legs.

Notice the unusual shape of the head. Head shape can be used to identify some species in Family Aeshnidae. Source Credit: Sue Gregoire, personal communication. Kestrel Haven Migration Observatory.

In fact, several members of the “Dragonflies and Damselflies – Worldwide Odonata” Facebook group were able to identify this specimen based upon the shape of its head and eyes. Sincere thanks to Tim Termaat, Hartwig Stobbe, and Rob Strik for kindly identifying this specimen as an exuvia from a Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense), also known as a Hairy Hawker.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

The last “photo” is a four-layer focus-stacked composite image: The focus point is on the head in the first and second photos; the thorax in the third photo; and the terminal appendages in the fourth photo. The entire body of the exuvia is acceptably in focus, including the legs.

This individual is a female, as indicated by the rudimentary ovipositor that can be seen clearly on the ventral side of abdominal segment nine (S9).

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) | exuvia (ventral)

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the preceding photographs: 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); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and several external flashes set for “Slave” mode including Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites and a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the two focus-stacked composite images, as well as spot-heal and sharpen the final output.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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