Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Common Baskettail (terminal appendages)

May 18, 2017

A male and female Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) were spotted recently at the same location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Male and female Common Baskettails look similar. Terminal appendages can be used to identify gender.

Male

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”); and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Common Baskettail (male)

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

Female

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. The abdomen of female Common Baskettails is noticeably thicker than males of the same species.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Common Baskettail (female)

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

A better view of the subgenital plate is provided by the following digital scan of the underside of the abdomen of a female Common Baskettail. The subgenital plate looks a little like a pair of calipers. Also known as vulvar lamina, the subgenital plate is located under the ninth abdominal segment (S9) of some female odonates and “serves to hold eggs in place during exophytic oviposition.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Image used with permission from Ed Lam.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (males)

May 14, 2017

At least two Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus exilis) were spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

These individuals are males, as indicated by their terminal appendages and indented hind wings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

The next photograph was taken at a later time than the first two photos. All of the photos in this post were taken near the same location. Is this another male, or the same one featured in the preceding photos? Who knows?

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Lancet Clubtail versus Ashy Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail looks similar to Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus). The only way to differentiate the two species with certainty is to examine their external reproductive anatomy; this is impossible unless the specimens are captured and examined in-hand.

Relative size is used sometimes to identify the two species: Lancet Clubtail is slightly smaller than Ashy Clubtail. There are two problems with this method of identification. First, it is virtually impossible to determine the exact size of a specimen in the field unless it is captured and measured. Second, some natural variation in size should be expected among individuals of the same species.

A quick-and-dirty method for differentiating Lancet- and Ashy Clubtails with some degree of certainty is to look at the markings on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9). Lancet Clubtail has a “spearpoint” on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that almost reaches the end of the segment, a wide yellow stripe on top of segment nine (S9), and irregular yellow markings on the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

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

In contrast, Ashy Clubtail has a spearpoint on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that is less than half the length of the segment, segment nine (S9) may or may not have a pale yellow stripe on top, and the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9) may or may not have “poorly defined” yellow markings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

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

Coloration is variable among individuals of the same species, so looking at abdominal markings isn’t always a reliable method of identification. In this case, it works beautifully.

Editor’s Note: The word “spearpoint” and the phrase “poorly defined” are descriptors attributed to Dennis Paulson, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Spine-crowned Clubtail (terminal appendages)

May 10, 2017

A male and female Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (Hylogomphus abbreviatus) were spotted recently in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Male

Male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”); and a lower unpaired epiproct (“inferior appendage”). The epiproct for Spine-crowned Clubtail is essentially a wide plate with two prongs.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

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

The hind wings of male clubtail dragonflies are “indented” near the body, as shown in the preceding photograph. In contrast, the hind wings of female clubtails are rounded (shown below). Also notice the right hind wing of the male is slightly malformed.

Female

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. The abdomen of female Spine-crowned Clubtails is noticeably thicker than males of the same species.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (female)

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

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (male)

May 8, 2017

A Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (Hylogomphus abbreviatus) was spotted recently in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Spine-crowned Clubtail is relatively uncommon in Northern Virginia, and a new species of dragonfly for my life list.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and indented hind wings. Notice the right hind wing is slightly malformed.

Spine-crowned Clubtail versus Cobra Clubtail

Spined-crowned Clubtail looks similar to Cobra Clubtail (Gomphurus vastus). Two field markers can be used to differentiate the species.

Spine-crowned Clubtail features large yellow spots on the sides of abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9); Cobra Clubtail has a small yellow spot on the side of abdominal segment eight (S8) and a large yellow spot on the side of abdominal segment nine (S9), as shown below (see inset photo).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

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

The face of Spine-crowned Clubtail is yellow and unmarked; the face of Cobra Clubtail is yellow with horizontal black markings (see inset photo).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

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

More photos, Spine-crowned Clubtail

This guy was a cooperative model as I followed him to several perches on rocks along a large stream.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Spine-crowned Clubtail (male)

Editor’s Notes: Special thanks to Mike Boatwright, curator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for help in verifying my tentative field identification. As far as I know, this is the first official record for Hylogomphus abbreviatus in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Voltinism, revisited

April 30, 2017

Voltinism is a term used in biology to indicate the number of broods or generations of an organism in a year. Source Credit: Wikipedia.

Some species of odonates, such as Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis), can be multivoltine.

Huntley Meadows Park

Long-term monitoring of a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park has shown Southern Spreadwing is multivoltine at that site.

Mason Neck West Park

Males and females from a single brood of Southern Spreadwing were observed during Fall 2016 at Mason Neck West Park; males from another brood were spotted at the same location on 05 April 2017 and again on 18 April 2017. This evidence suggests Southern Spreadwing is multivoltine at Mason Neck West Park (MNWP). Further field observations are necessary to determine whether more than two broods occur at this location.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages.

Please look at the full-size versions of the preceding photos in order to appreciate the “fresh” coloration that seems to be a noticeable characteristic for many species of recently-emerged odonates.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Epitheca cynosura exuvia

April 26, 2017

On 13 April 2017, a late-stage emergent teneral female Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was observed at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Several dragonfly exuviae were collected near the same location as the emergent teneral female. All of the exuviae look identical, although there is some variation in size. A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species for one of the larger exuvia.

  • Determine the family.
  • Determine the genus and species.

This specimen is approximately 22 mm (~0.87 in) in length.

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 that covers the face, characteristic of four families: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on top of 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 [See Photo No. 7.]: 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, no horn on its face-head, and the cerci are more than half as long as the paraprocts, confirming that the specimen is a member of Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

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

Notice that dorsal hooks are present and well developed on most abdominal segments.

No. 4 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (dorso-lateral)

A lateral view of the exuvia provides a good look at the labium, also known as 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.

The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax (as shown in Photo No. 1-7) are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.

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

A closer view of the head shows two “bumps” that may be a pair of tubercles.

Step 2. Genus and species

Characters from Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, dichotomous keys compiled by Ken Soltesz, were used to identify the genus and species for the exuvia. Although palpal/mental setae were not examined, all other characters match Epitheca cynosura.

dichotomous key: a key for the identification of organisms based on a series of choices between alternative characters. Source Credit: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Alternate Key to the Genera of the Family Corduliidae, p. 29.

Key to the species of the genus (subgenus) Tetragoneuria, p. 32.

No. 7 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (anal pyramid)

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

The last photo shows a ventral view of the exuvia. The vestigial hamuli located between abdominal segments two and three (S2-3) strongly suggests this individual is a male, therefore this specimen probably is not the same exuvia from which the teneral female emerged.

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

Tech Tips:

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the preceding photographs: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus) plus a Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube; Canon 580EX II external flash tethered to the camera by a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras, off-camera, in manual mode; the Canon flash optically triggered a small Nissin i40 external flash (in SF mode) used for backlight; and a Sunpak LED-160 Video Light with a white translucent plastic filter used for side light.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Sue Gregoire, Kestrel Haven Migration Observatory, for verifying my tentative identification, and for sharing some good odonate nymph knowledge regarding vestigial hamuli!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Phanogomphus

April 20, 2017

Two teneral dragonflies were observed near Mulligan Pond during a photowalk at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. I was able to photograph the first one I spotted; the second flew away as soon as I approached it.

This dragonfly is either Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis). Based upon the short, faded yellow markings on the dorsal side of abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9), this individual is probably an Ashy Clubtail dragonfly. Less reliably, the 18 April date of the spotting also suggests Ashy Clubtail (for Northern Virginia).

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

Both Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies were formerly classified as members of the genus Gomphus. Both species were reclassified recently as Phanogomphus. In the world of taxonomic classification, there are “lumpers” and “splitters.” Score one for the splitters!

Notice the first photo shows the wings folded above the abdomen. I spotted the teneral dragonfly when it flew toward me from the pond shoreline. The dragonfly rested in this location for a few minutes before it flew to a new spot (shown below) where it perched briefly with its wings unfolded. The last time I saw the dragonfly, it was flying toward the forest alongside the pond.

The other teneral dragonfly that I saw — “the one that got away” — was perched on the lawn near the walking path around the lake; it flew toward the forest when I moved closer to take some photographs.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

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

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

All female dragonflies have two cerci (superior appendages); in contrast all male dragonflies have two cerci and one epiproct (inferior appendage), collectively called “claspers.” Contrast the appearance of the terminal appendages of this female Ashy Clubtail with a male of the same species.

The last photo in the set is a wider view that shows how well-camouflaged the dragonfly was perched on the lawn around the pond.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

The Backstory

I was surprised to discover a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly near Mulligan Pond during late-June 2016. Knowing that Ashy Clubtails can be found in the same habitats preferred by Lancet Clubtails, I decided to look for Ashy Clubtails at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge beginning in mid-April 2017. Apparently Mulligan Pond is a good place for both species, because I spotted two Ashy Clubtails the first time I went looking for them. Ah, if only odonate hunting were always so easy!

Post Update

As far as I know, this is the first record for this species at this location. A new record for Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge was submitted to the Odonata Central records database on 22 April 2017.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Late-stage emergent baskettail dragonfly

April 18, 2017

Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a late-stage emergent teneral female.

I photographed the process of emergence from the first sighting to the time when the teneral dragonfly flew away: I shot 23 photos in approximately 16 minutes; time is compressed by showcasing six (6) select photos taken at major milestones during the event.

The following photo is the first image from a time-series documenting the emergence of the teneral female. Elapsed time is expressed in hh:mm:ss format, e.g., 00:00:00 is the time when I spotted the emergent teneral female, and 00:16:08 is the total elapsed time.

13 APR 2016 | 11:38:41 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:00:00

Notice the drop of fluid at the tip of the abdomen. Emerging dragonflies pump fluid into their wings, causing the wings to expand. Next, the same fluid is withdrawn from the wings and used to expand the abdomen. Excess fluid is expelled afterward.

13 APR 2016 | 11:40:48 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:02:07

The next photo shows the first time the wings opened.

13 APR 2016 | 11:48:55 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:10:14

Then the wings closed again and remained closed for a while.

13 APR 2016 | 11:51:02 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:12:21

The wings reopened a few minutes later. Notice that several wings are malformed slightly.

13 APR 2016 | 11:54:14 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:15:33

Finally, the wings open up, and very soon the teneral adult flies away. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 468). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The teneral female dragonfly flew away immediately after the last photo in the time-series.

13 APR 2016 | 11:54:46 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:16:08

This individual is a female, as indicated by her cerci (superior appendages) and thick abdomen. Common Baskettail females have shorter cerci and a thicker abdomen than males of the same species.

Exuviae (in situ)

Several dragonfly exuviae were spotted at Painted Turtle Pond. The exuviae were identified using a dichotomous key for dragonfly larvae; they are cast skins from Common Baskettail.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (exuvia)

These exuviae are not the one from which the teneral female featured in this post emerged.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (exuvia)

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More focus stacking with CamRanger

April 10, 2017

When I started experimenting with completely automated focus stacking using CamRanger, I couldn’t tell what, if anything, was happening. In fact, I wasn’t sure the process was working as advertised. So I devised a plan to photograph a simple subject (a six-inch ruler in this case) and use “focus peaking” to track what happened. By the way, it’s worth noting that my Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera doesn’t feature focus peaking, but the CamRanger app does!

During initial testing, I shot several small focus stacks. The following screen capture shows the display on my iPad mini (with retina display) running the CamRanger app; the focal plane of the lens is highlighted by red focus peaking.

Here’s a screen capture from another test, showing the final location of the focal plane (highlighted in red).

I made a movie that demonstrates what happens when CamRanger creates a focus stack. It was fun to watch the focal plane advance along the ruler as CamRanger captured the shots automatically!

The movie begins with a small focus stack using a “Large” step size (the largest increment of three options). When focus stacking is active, notice that most of the screen is covered by a translucent gray layer that prevents the user from changing settings accidentally. I cancelled the focus stack after two shots. Next I changed the step size to “Medium” and started a new stack. Notice that the focal plane of the lens begins where the last focus stack ended. The new step size is noticeably smaller.

Automated focus stacking using CamRanger (2:12)

As shown in the right side bar of the CamRanger app, I set the camera to shoot RAW plus small JPG. Both file types are recorded on the memory card in the camera; thumbnail versions of the JPG files are displayed at the top of the iPad screen. Although I usually shoot RAW only, JPG files can be transferred via WiFi faster than RAW files!

I set the CamRanger app to wait 10 seconds between shots, in order to allow adequate time for the camera to write the image files to the memory card, transfer the JPG thumbnail from the camera to the app, rack the lens to the next focal plane, and for the external flash units to power cycle.

My first finished automated focus stacks

I created a 30-layer focus stack using a medium increment. The following photo shows the JPG version of the first layer.

I used Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 to create a medium-increment focus stack using the small JPGs because they can be processed faster than RAW. The resulting composite image is shown below.

Finally, here’s the resulting composite image of a five-layer focus stack created from large increment/medium JPG photos. In my opinion, the output looks almost as good as the composite image created from five times as many layers.

Lessons Learned

  • Given a choice, run the CamRanger app on the most powerful tablet you own. I use my iPad mini rather than iPad 3 (with retina display). Although the iPad 3 screen is larger than the iPad mini, it features a slower processor. That being said, the iPad 3 is perfectly suitable for using the CamRanger app for other less processor-intensive tasks.
  • Some lenses, such as my Canon EF100mm macro lens, can be set for manual focus and the CamRanger app can still rack focus automatically. It may be necessary to set other lenses for automatic focus in order to work with focus stacking in CamRanger.
  • If possible, use continuous light sources rather than external flash units. I love me some flash triggers, but they’re not 100% reliable. If you’re shooting stills and the flash fails to fire, it’s no big deal — just shoot another shot. Not so when you miss a critical focus layer. I use a combination of two small LED light sources and a Canon Speedlite tethered to the camera by a Vello flash cable; the Canon flash optically triggers a small Nissin i40 external flash (in SD mode) used for backlight.
  • Turn off “sleep mode’ for my Canon 580EX II Speedlite. (C.Fn-01 set for Disabled.)
  • It’s challenging to determine how many layers to shoot for a given focus stack, especially when using smaller step sizes. Don’t sweat it! Simply shoot more layers by starting where the focal plane is at the end of the last focus stack. Repeat as necessary until you capture as many layers as needed.

What’s next?

Going forward, my plan is to experiment with automated focus stacking using subjects that are more complex than the ruler featured in this post. Preliminary testing suggests it could be challenging to create perfect composite images of objects that are more three-dimensional than the ruler.

Sidebar

I used QuickTime to create the embedded movie (shown above) by tethering my iPad mini to a MacBook Air laptop computer and following the excellent directions provided in How To Display your iPad or iPhone on your Mac (9:44), a tutorial video by Terry White, Adobe Evangelist.

Related Resources

Full disclosure: There are hardware/software solutions for wireless tethering and automated focus stacking that are less expensive than CamRanger. Remember, you get what you pay for!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another foray into focus stacking

April 2, 2017

I used CamRanger to remotely control my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera with an Apple iPad 3 (with retina display). The camera was set for manual exposure and One-Shot AF. I used an aperture of f/5.6 with my Canon 100mm macro lens; I think I’ll use f/8 next time.

Apple iPad 3 (with retina display) | screenshot of CamRanger app

The CamRanger app for Apple iOS can be used to set the focus point by tapping on the iPad screen. I focused on the toy dragonfly in approximately 10 places and tapped the “Capture” button to take a photo. The following photo shows one of the resulting images, focused on the head of the dragonfly.

ISO 100 | f/5.6 | 1/200s | Manual White Balance (Flash use)

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create a “focus stack” composite image. As you can see, most of the toy dragonfly is in focus but there are some places that are slightly blurry/ghostly. The obvious solution: Focus on more places (that is, take more pictures), although that might be unnecessary using an aperture of f/8 or smaller.

Composite image created using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.

Going forward, my plan is to progress from manually setting the focus point by tapping on the iPad screen to using the automated focus stacking feature in the CamRanger app. Baby steps, Bob!

Tech Tips:

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the photographs in the focus stack: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for automatic focus); Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon. Additional backlight was added to the scene using a Nissin i40 external flash unit (off-camera, in SF mode).

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the focus stack and post-process the composite image.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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