Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (female)

A Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphurus lineatifrons) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Easy for me to say now. As it turns out, my initial identification was incorrect.

The first photo I took of the dragonfly — the record shot — is shown below. Notice the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on its abdomen. Also notice the yellow blotch on the side of abdominal segment eight (S8) extends onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image. (Thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for sharing these key field marks for Splendid.)

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

In contrast, the pattern of yellow lateral marks/spots on the abdomen of a female Cobra Clubtail (Gomphurus vastus), shown below, looks quite different. And the yellow blotch on S8 DOES NOT EXTEND onto the club flange, as shown in the full-size version of the image.

09 MAY 2017 | Riverbend Park | Cobra Clubtail (female)

The last photo, published in a recent blog post, is the one that caused me to misidentify the dragonfly. Notice the pattern of yellow mid-dorsal lines/marks is somewhat similar for both Cobra Clubtail (above) and Splendid Clubtail (below).

26 MAY 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Splendid Clubtail (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and rounded hind wings.

The Backstory

My last blog post features an actual female Cobra Clubtail dragonfly that I spotted soon after seeing the Splendid Clubtail shown above.

The Cobra appeared to be noticeably smaller than the Splendid, and in fact it is. Cobra is 4.7-5.7 cm in total length; Splendid is 6.7-6.9 cm. In my experience it’s often difficult to judge the relative size of dragonflies in the field. That being said, a difference of ~2.0 cm in length was easy to see.

There is, of course, some natural variation in size among individuals of the same species. I walked around the rest of the day wondering why the two “Cobra” that I’d seen were so different in size. The answer seems obvious in retrospect: the larger one is Splendid; the smaller one is Cobra.

Official Records

When my friend Mike Powell submitted an official record for the Splendid Clubtail, he followed my lead and called it Cobra Clubtail. Mike included a photograph showing a dorsal view of the dragonfly that looks similar to my dorsal view.

Rick Cheicante and Mike Boatwright, two vetters for the Odonata Central records database, thought the dragonfly might be Splendid rather than Cobra. Mike Boatwright contacted me and asked to see more photos of the Splendid. One look at my photo showing a side view of the individual and Mike B. knew immediately the “Cobra” is actually Splendid.

So what’s the take-away? It’s good to be wrong, in fact, it’s Splendid! (See what I did there?) Especially when Splendid Clubtail is a new species for my life list as well as a new species for Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

And while I’m giving credit where credit is due, it should be noted that Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, deserves credit as the first person to discover Splendid Clubtail in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Although Kevin didn’t submit official records for his finds, he beat me to the discovery by nearly a decade!

Adult Flight Period

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for Gomphurus lineatifrons is from May 01 to June 27. The species is classified as uncommon. Its habitat is “rivers.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for Gomphurus lineatifrons seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably shorter. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Splendid Clubtail is May 28 to June 15.

Related Resource: Gomphurus lineatifrons (Splendid Clubtail)

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to “Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (female)”

  1. Mike Powell Says:

    Reblogged this on Mike Powell and commented:
    Most of you know that I love to photograph dragonflies. In a recent posting, I thought I was featuring photos of a Cobra Clubtail dragonfly, but it turns out that it was a Splendid Clubtail. Here’s is Walter Sanford’s behind the scenes account of the initial misidentification of the dragonfly, with photos showing the differences between the two species. His posting provides some fascinating insights into the complications sometimes associated with making an identification of a species (and why it is important to photograph subjects from multiple angles, if possible).

  2. Re-blog: Splendid Clubtail dragonfly (female) | Mike Powell Says:

    […] Be sure to click on the “View original post link” if you are using the WordPress Reader to read Walter’s complete posting on his blog or go directly to his posting by using this link. […]

  3. Wally Jones Says:

    Thank you, Walter and Mike, for a great explanation on the identification of these species. I’m continually challenged with Odonata field i.d. and your hints are helpful.

    Kudos on finding these specimens!

    • waltersanford Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Wally! I like to think I know what I’m doing, but some species can be challenging to identify especially when one doesn’t pay attention to the details.

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