Archive for the ‘natural science’ Category

Arrowhead Spiketail (terminal appendages)

January 21, 2022

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster obliqua) were spotted along small streams at undisclosed locations in Fairfax County and Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Male and female Arrowhead Spiketails are similar in appearance. They can be differentiated based upon several field marks.

Male

This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings and terminal appendages.

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

Arrowhead male and female cerci are similar in appearance, and it can be challenging to see the epiproct clearly from some viewpoints. When in doubt whether an individual is male or female, look for indentations at the base of the hind wings of males.

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

Female

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and prominent subgenital plate (ovipositor) at the tip of her abdomen.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. Wm. County | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Although Arrowhead male and female cerci are similar in appearance, there is no mistaking the subgenital plate of female spiketails! It’s easy to see why “Spiketails” is the common name for Family Cordulegastridae.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. Wm. County | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

So the take-away is simple: If you see a subgenital plate then the individual is definitely female; if not, then it’s probably a male.

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The time is now!

January 4, 2022

Happy New Year! Let the yearning begin. Wait, what? Yep, I’m fighting feeling like I can’t wait for the start of the new odonate hunting season.

Realistically it will be a few months before adult dragonflies and damselflies are flying again, but that’s a good thing. Wait, did I just say that? Yes, and here’s why.

The odonate hunting “off season” provides a good opportunity to plan for the next campaign by making a list of target species and laying out when and where to look for them.

Why is it important to make a plan? Because the season starts slowly but explodes quickly. To illustrate my point, take a look at my Odonate Calendar for adult flight dates of dragonfly species for the month of February (shown below). Not much happening until the end of the month, right?

Dragonflies (VA Flight Dates) | February 2022

Now look at March (shown below). There’s an explosion of species beginning around the second week in March. The boom continues into July before slowing down noticeably in August.

Dragonflies (VA Flight Dates) | March 2022

Also notice many of the spring species of dragonflies are habitat specialists that require extra time and effort to find. So my advice is start planning now for a more productive and satisfying season of odonate hunting.

Related Resources

Both of the following resources feature online, interactive calendars for dragonflies and damselflies based upon Dr. Steve Roble’s excellent datasets for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New Life List additions in 2021

December 21, 2021

The anticipation of the hunt and the thrill of discovery — the adrenalin rush from finding new species of odonates is ever more elusive as one gains experience and expertise. Accordingly, the number of additions to my Life List is fewer year after year.

Selys’s Sundragon (Helocordulia selysii)

Selys’ Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia selysii) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male with a malformed abdomen. Selys’s Sundragon is a new species for both my Life List of odonates and for Prince William County, VA.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Selys’s Sundragon (male)

Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) and Selys’s Sundragon are colocated at many sites — find one species and you should find the other. I’ve been on the lookout for Selys’s since Uhler’s was found several years ago near the site where this Selys’s was spotted.

Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida)

Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula flavida) were spotted around a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The first individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

The last individual is a male, as indicated by his blue coloration and terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (male)

Many species of dragonflies in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are habitat generalists and relatively easy to find almost anywhere there is water. In contrast, Yellow-sided Skimmer is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea)

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) was captured along a small stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The specimen was photographed and released unharmed.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

“Sight records are insufficient” is one of many “Walterisms.” In other words, I don’t add a species to my Life List until I have photographed it. And so it is with Tiger Spiketail. I have seen several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies during the past few years (at several locations) but had no photos to show for my efforts because they are fliers rather than perchers.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Determining final instar the Cham way

December 14, 2021

Did you notice I added a new text label to the annotated image of an exuvia from a Comet Darner dragonfly (Anax longipes) featured in my last two blog posts? I added the label in order to make the connection between this image and related ideas discussed in two other relatively recent blog posts (See Related Resources, below).

Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back. “S4” stands for abdominal segment four.

Counting odonate abdominal segments can be challenging sometimes. A good strategy to avoid mis-numbering is to begin counting abdominal segments from S10 (located toward the posterior end of larvae (nymphs)/exuviae) and work toward the thorax.

Final instar, the Cham way

There is a simpler way to estimate final instar than calculating instar equivalent.

Larvae in the final stage can be recognized by the length of the wing buds which cover the fourth abdominal segment. Source Credit: Field Guide to the larvae and exuviae of British Dragonflies, by Steve Cham, p. 30.

Look at the preceding annotated image. Notice the tips of the wing pads reach the fourth abdominal segment (S4), indicating the dragonfly larva that emerged from this exuvia had reached final instar. And that leads to the other idea I mentioned at the outset of this blog post.

Every odonate exuvia is a cast skin of the larva at F-0, the final instar, before it emerges to become an adult.

Turns out that’s another nugget of gold paraphrased from Steve Cham’s beautiful little book.

Post Update

The beauty of the Cham way of determining final instar is it’s simplicity. That’s the upside. The downside is there’s no way to determine the actual instar when it isn’t F-0.

For example, the following composite image shows dorsal views of a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) nymph (larva) and exuvia. As expected, the exuvia is F-0 because its wing pads cover S4. On the other hand, the nymph is F-? because its wing pads only reach S2.

Image used with written permission from Freda van den Broek.

Photo Credit: Both specimens (shown above) were collected by Freda van den Broek. The nymph was collected on 06 April 2020 from the Milwaukee River in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin USA, photographed, and released unharmed. The exuvia was collected from Ozaukee County too.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Proof of concept, revisited

December 10, 2021

In this blog post I’m going to show you how I used Photopea to annotate one of my photos. The workflow using Photopea is virtually identical to the way I annotate photos using Adobe Photoshop.

The original photo was edited using Apple Aperture (a discontinued photo editor) and Photoshop (for spot removal and sharpening). I could have attempted to edit the photo using Photopea but that wasn’t the point of my “Proof of concept” blog post.

Finished project

The first screen capture shows the finished project — I used it to reverse-engineer the steps that I took to create the annotated image and the settings I made along the way.

The “Layers” panel (located in the right sidebar) shows the finished project is compromised of seven layers, listed from bottom to top in the order they were created.

The “Background” layer is the photo itself. Go to File / Open… and navigate your computer to find a photo you would like to annotate.

View / Rulers

Before proceeding, it’s helpful to turn on “Rulers.” More about that later. In the Photopea menu bar, go to View and check Rulers.

Tech Tips: command-R (macOS) is a keyboard shortcut that can be used to toggle Rulers on/off.

The “View” menu also includes “Zoom In” and “Zoom Out” plus the associated keyboard shortcuts.

Press and hold the spacebar. Notice the arrow-shaped cursor turns into a hand that can be used to drag the canvas around the work space.

Post Update: View / Screen Mode > Fullscreen will scale up the Photopea window to fit the size of your computer screen. Fullscreen mode makes it much easier to work on fine details, especially when used in combination with the “Zoom Tool” and “Hand Tool”; the icon for both tools appears in the lower part of the left sidebar. Try it — you’ll like it! Uncheck “Fullscreen” in order to return to the desktop view. By the way, did you notice I added another guide line and Text layer for a follow-up blog post?

Text Tool settings: Title

The title is the first layer I added using the following selections: IBM Plex Sans (font type); SemiBold (font style); Size = 150 px; Color = Black; and “Aa” = Sharp.

Tech Tips: Text size is measured in pixels, not points. I’m not sure Photopea is calibrated correctly to convert points to pixels. Test it yourself using one of many online points-to-pixels calculators such as PT to PX Converter.

No matter, click the down arrow beside text “Size” and simply use the slider to select a text size that you like. You can also highlight the pixel size and type the exact number you prefer.

To begin adding text to your project, select the “Text Tool” (located in the left sidebar), click an insertion point on the photo and start typing. The default name for the new layer is “Text layer 1, 2, 3, etc.”

When you are finished, either delete the layer by clicking the “Cancel” button (X icon located near the right end of the Photopea menu bar) or save changes made to the layer by clicking the “Confirm” button (checkmark icon located to the right of the X) and the layer name changes so it is the same as the text you typed. In this case, I shortened the name of the layer to “Comet Darner dragonfly.”

With the layer selected, click on the “Move Tool” (left sidebar, at the top) and click-and-drag the text to reposition it exactly where you like.

Text Tool settings: Labels

Next I added a layer for “eye (1 of 2),” one of several labels for parts of the anatomy, using the following selections: IBM Plex Sans (font type); Regular (font style); Size = 100 px; Color = Black; and “Aa” = Sharp.

Tech Tips: The “Sharp” setting is used to avoid text with “jaggies,” that is text with saw tooth edges.

As an aid for aligning text, I created a blue guide line by clicking on the ruler along the top of the screen and dragging down to position the guide line on the photo. The guide line can be repositioned using the “Move Tool.”

Line Tool settings

The next layer I added is an arrow that points from the label to the anatomical part, in this case an eye. The settings I used for “Arrow 1” are shown in the following screen capture.

Tech Tips: Add a new vertical guide line for Arrow 1 by clicking on the ruler along the left side of the screen and dragging to the right to position the guide line on the photo. Right-click on the “Rectangle Tool” and select the “Line Tool.” I used shift-click-and-drag to draw a straight arrow that is aligned with the new blue guide line.

Add more layers

I followed the same steps described above to add a Text layer for “wing pads,” a new guide line for Arrow 2 and an arrow that points from the label to the anatomical part, and another Text layer for “prementum.”

Saving / Exporting

I saved the final image as a Photoshop document by selecting File / Save as PSD. The resulting PSD file can be reopened in Photopea in order to continue working on the project. Post Update: .psd files created by Photopea can be opened in Adobe Photoshop, although it is likely the font(s) you chose to use in Photopea are not available in Photoshop. Photoshop will prompt the user to resolve the problem.

I also saved the file as a PNG by selecting File / Export as.

What are the take-aways?

Open Photopea in a Web browser: www.photopea.com (For what it’s worth, I prefer “Google Chrome.”) Since Photopea is Web-based, it runs on desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, and smart phones. Having said that, I think it would be challenging to annotate a photo with a tablet or phone unless those devices are used in combination with an external keyboard and mouse. Not impossible, but definitely challenging.

My dear friend Phil Wherry passed away too long ago. Phil was my tech guru for many years. I’m the type of person who suffers from “approach avoidance” — I like to know what will happen BEFORE I do something. One of the best bits of tech advice Phil shared with me is “Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what happens.” That’s exactly what I did when I used Photopea to annotate one of my photos and I encourage you to do likewise. Good luck!

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Proof of concept

December 7, 2021

Can Photopea be used to annotate photographs? Yes!

Do the results look as good as photos of the same subject that were annotated using Adobe Photoshop? You be the judge.

Comet Darner (Anax longipes) | exuvia (lateral)

In my opinion the results are of comparable quality and that’s saying a lot considering this is my first attempt at using Photopea to annotate a photo.

As expected, the workflow flowed slowly since this was the first time I used many of the tools featured in Photopea.

I saved the final image as a Photoshop document by selecting File / Save as PSD. The resulting PSD file can be reopened in Photopea in order to continue working on the project. I also saved the file as a PNG by selecting File / Export as.

The Backstory

The preceding photo shows an exuvia from a Comet Darner dragonfly (Anax longipes) that was collected by Stanley Caveney on 19 July 2021 from a pond at MeadowWoods in West Elgin, Ontario, Canada. Sincere thanks to Stan for kindly sharing this beautiful specimen!

Related Resource: Learn Photopea

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Dark and moody

November 19, 2021

I spotted an emergent Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The following photograph shows the exuvia from which the teneral adult emerged.

13 APR 2021 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Uhler’s Sundragon | exuvia (ventral)

In the opinion of the author, larvae (nymphs)/exuviae from Family Corduliidae (Emeralds) and Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) can be challenging to differentiate and identify to the family level.

One way to differentiate Emerald from Skimmer larvae/exuvia is to look for a “ventromedial groove” in the prementum: it’s probably Corduliidae (Emeralds) if there is a ventromedial groove; it’s probably Libellulidae if there isn’t.

Look closely at a version of the preceding photo that was reformatted, rotated, and cropped to show an enlarged view of the prementum. You should notice a ventromedial groove on the basal half of the prementum, indicating this specimen is a member of Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

13 APR 2021 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Uhler’s Sundragon | exuvia (ventral)

Three raised structures on the underside of the prementum remind me of the hood ornament on a 1949 Lincoln automobile. (No, I wasn’t alive in 1949!)

Related Resources

Tech Tips

One reason I underexposed the photo is to add definition to the ventromedial groove and avoid overexposing the black background.

I prefer a white background for photographing odonate exuviae. Using a black background proved to be more challenging than I expected. More later in a follow-up blog post.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

How to estimate instar, revisited

November 16, 2021

I’m the founder and co-administrator of the Odonate Larvae and Exuviae Facebook group. Friday, 12 November 2021 was the two-year anniversary of the group. As of this writing there are approximately 1,700 members in the group, including people from around the world.

For example, Abiodun Matthew Adedapo from Nigeria. Abiodun began posting to the group relatively recently, sharing information and photos related to his research. Sincere thanks to Abiodun for permission to repurpose two of his photos for another mini-lesson on how to estimate instar.

What is the instar? Not F-0.

The equation for instar equivalent is as follows.

Instar equivalent = HwL / HW

Where HwL is Hind wing Length and HW is Head Width.

 

Photo used with written permission from Abiodun Matthew Adedapo.

I used the Adobe Photoshop “Ruler Tool” to measure the number of pixels along the two double-tipped white arrows shown in the preceding annotated image of a preserved specimen collected and photographed by Abiodun.

HwL is ~132.6 pixels. HW is ~195.12 pixels.

Instar equivalent = 132.6 pixels / 195.12 pixels

The units cancel, so the answer is ~0.68 — close to Ken Tennessen’s  average value for F-1 (final instar minus one).

Abiodun reported the instar as F-2, based upon in situ observations of a cohort of larvae (nymphs) from Family Gomphidae (Clubtails).

For my purpose, it doesn’t matter whether the actual instar is either F-1 or F-2 — the important take-away is we know the instar is not F-0, the final instar. This provides an opportunity to mention a simpler way to estimate final instar.

Larvae in the final stage can be recognized by the length of the wing buds which cover the fourth abdominal segment. Source Credit: Field Guide to the larvae and exuviae of British Dragonflies, by Steve Cham, p. 30.

Look closely at the first annotated image. Notice the length of the wing buds/pads doesn’t reach the fourth abdominal segment (S4) of the specimen therefore this larva is not in its final instar.

Thanks to Freda van den Broek for sharing this method with me!

F-0 (final instar)

The last annotated image shows part of a different larva also collected and photographed by Abiodun. Notice the length of the wing buds/pads does reach S4, therefore this larva is in its final instar.

Photo used with written permission from Abiodun Matthew Adedapo.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Mouth parts – Tiger Spiketail exuvia

November 12, 2021

I revisited a photograph featured in a blog post published several years ago. I wanted to annotate the image to include information that I learned recently.

The following annotated image shows the face and mouth of an exuvia from a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) after its scoop-shaped face mask was pulled away from the head in order to count setae on the inner side of the prementum.

Cordulegaster erronea | exuvia (face and mouth)

There are two mandibles, one located on each side of the labrum. And there are two maxilla, one located below each mandible. Coarse setae make it challenging to see all of the parts clearly.

Sincere thanks to Marla Garrison for verifying my tentative identification of these mouth parts. And of course, thanks to Mike Boatwright for collecting and sharing the specimen with me.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Anatomy & Functional Morphology of Dragonfly Nymphs

November 9, 2021

As a blogger I create and share content. Sometimes I share content created by others, such as the following YouTube video from the Dragonfly Society of the Americas (DSA).

“Anatomy & Functional Morphology of Dragonfly Nymphs,” DSA (48:58).

Marla Garrison, McHenry County College, Biology Faculty, was featured during a Zoom meeting on 24 September 2021 as part of a series of Virtual Lectures presented by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas.

Marla’s lecture is richly illustrated with spectacular still photographs and video clips. I think readers of my blog will enjoy Marla’s presentation.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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