Twin-spotted versus Brown Spiketails

Four species of genus Cordulegaster are found in the Commonwealth of Virginia: Brown Spiketail (C. bilineata); Tiger Spiketail (C. erronea); Twin-spotted Spiketail (C. maculata); and Arrowhead Spiketail (C. obliqua).

According to the excellent datasets for the Commonwealth of Virginia by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight periods for spiketail dragonflies are as follows.

MAR 16 – JUL 10 = Twin-spotted

MAR 28 – AUG 08 = Brown

MAY 11 – JUL 17 = Arrowhead

MAY 28 – AUG 22 = Tiger

As you can see, there’s a lot of overlap between the flight periods for Twin-spotted Spiketail and Brown Spiketail. Also notice the overlap between the flight periods for Arrowhead Spiketail and Tiger Spiketail.

I think we can agree the distinctive arrowhead-shaped yellow markings on the abdomen of Arrowhead Spiketail (shown below) are unmistakeable for any other species of spiketail, including Tiger Spiketail.

07 JUL 2014 | Fairfax County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (male)

In the opinion of the author it’s more likely a dark-colored Brown Spiketail, such as the one shown below, might be misidentified as a Twin-spotted Spiketail.

02 MAY 2019 | Fairfax County, VA | Brown Spiketail (male)

Differentiating Twin-spotted versus Brown

Twin-spotted and Brown Spiketail dragonflies can be differentiated by looking closely at the yellow markings on abdominal segments one through three (S1-S3).

07 MAY 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Twin-spotted Spiketail (male)

The pattern of yellow markings on S1-S3 is simpler for Twin-spotted than Brown, as you can see by looking at the full-size versions of these two photos, shown above and below.

11 MAY 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Brown Spiketail (male)

Female Twin-spotted versus Brown

Female Twin-spotted Spiketails, such as the one shown below, have a much longer subgenital plate (ovipositor) than female Brown Spiketails.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

The subgenital plate for the following female Brown Spiketail is barely visible.

09 MAY 2013 | Fairfax County, VA | Brown Spiketail (female)

It isn’t a lot easier to see the subgenital plate in a close-up view of the same individual shown above.

09 MAY 2013 | Fairfax County, VA | Brown Spiketail (female)

Coach’s Corner

Thanks to Mike Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for coaching me up on how to differentiate Twin-spotted Spiketail from Brown Spiketail, including both males and females.

Look for yellow markings on the side of abdominal segments one through three (S1-S3): green arrows show the lack of yellow markings on S1-S3 for Twin-spotted; red arrows show yellow markings on the sides of S1-S3 for Brown.

Set 1

Twin-spotted Spiketail | male (dorsal view)

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Brown Spiketail | male (dorsal view)

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Set 2

Twin-spotted Spiketail | male (dorso-lateral view)

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Brown Spiketail | male (dorso-lateral view)

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

What are the take-aways?

Remember the odonate hunter’s credo: Shoot first (photographs, that is); ask questions later. (Repeat it like a mantra.) Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot gradually.

Please don’t waste precious time in the field! You can study the photos when you return home in order to identify the subject(s) you shot as either Twin-spotted Spiketail or Brown Spiketail.

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to “Twin-spotted versus Brown Spiketails”

  1. picpholio Says:

    Thanks for all these details Walter.

  2. Wally Jones Says:

    A great tutorial, not only for these specific species, but many apt lessons for hunting Odonates in general.

    Despite some pretty cold weather (for Florida), actually saw dragons yesterday in the field. Too distant to identify but I take it as a sign our Spring is very near.

  3. Bruce Grimes Says:

    Thank you for putting this together, Walter. A very helpful piece for all of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: