Archive for the ‘wildlife photography’ Category

Macromiidae – It’s all about the “horn.”

September 24, 2021

A “horn” on the face-head is a characteristic field mark for odonate larvae/exuviae in the Family Macromiidae (Cruisers).

Look closely at the full-size version of each of the following photos and you should be able to see the horn on the face of a Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa) exuvia that was collected during mid-April 2021.

13 APR 2021 | PNC. William County, VA | Stream Cruiser exuvia (face-head)

It’s easier to see the horn in the next photo…

13 APR 2021 | PNC. William County, VA | Stream Cruiser exuvia (dorsal)

The horn is clearly visible in the last photo. Notice there are three “bumps” located between the eyes of the exuvia: the middle bump is the horn; the antennae bases are located to the left and right of the horn.

13 APR 2021 | PNC. William County, VA | Stream Cruiser exuvia (dorsal)

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Test shots: Didymops transversa exuvia

September 21, 2021

An exuvia from a Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa) was collected from one of the concrete abutments of a man-made dam located along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

I prefer to photograph odonate exuvia like this one “as is” — presumably its appearance is similar to the way larva looked when it lived underwater.

13 APR 2021 | PNC. William County, VA | Stream Cruiser exuvia (dorsal)

If so, then I’m guessing D. transversa larvae like to burrow in sediment, as indicated by the dirty dorsal side and relatively clean ventral side of this specimen.

13 APR 2021 | PNC. William County, VA | Stream Cruiser exuvia (ventral)

Post Update

The nymphs are sprawlers that cling to roots or hunker down in sediments of mixed sand and silt particles. Source Credit: K. J. Tennessen, Dragonfly Nymphs of North America, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97776-8_10, Macromiidae, p. 330.

The Backstory

The preceding photos were shot using the prototype for a homemade curved clear plastic tray intended for staging subjects against a white background.

With a few minor tweaks, the curved stage performed better than during initial testing. I needed to add a second external flash unit to more evenly illuminate the white background.

Although I’m fairly satisfied with the results of these test shots, more testing is required to be sure the set-up is working the way I want.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Anax junius versus Anax longipes

September 10, 2021

The following photograph shows the relative size of odonate exuviae from two species in the Genus Anax: junius; and longipes. Both specimens are from the Family Aeshnidae (Darners).

Relative size of exuviae from Anax junius versus Anax longipes.

The Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) exuvia was collected on 17 June 2021 from a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The Comet Darner dragonfly (Anax longipes) exuvia was collected by Stanley Caveney on 19 July 2021 from a pond at MeadowWoods in West Elgin, Ontario, Canada.

Taxonomy

There are five species of dragonflies in the Genus Anax for the United States and Canada: Amazon Darner (Anax amazili); Common Green Darner (Anax junius); Comet Darner (Anax longipes); Giant Darner (Anax walsinghami); and Blue-spotted Comet (Anax concolor).

Common Green Darner and Comet Darner are the only species from the Genus Anax found where I live in Northern Virginia USA.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Previews of Coming Attractions – Fall Species of Odonates

August 31, 2021

There is an annual cycle of odonate activity that can be subdivided into three broad categories: Early Season (spring); Mid-season (summver); and Late Season (fall).

As we endure the “Dog Days of Summer,” waiting for the calendar to turn to fall, it’s time to begin looking for the Late Season (fall) species of odonates.

This blog post provides a photo sampler of some of the fall species of odonates that can be seen during September, October, and November in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive field guide that features every odonate species that can be seen during the same time period.

Full Disclosure

Some fall species are easier to find than others. And some species are flyers rather than perchers, making it almost essential to capture them in flight using an insect net. That being said, it’s richly rewarding to find any of the rare to uncommon species so do your homework and be persistent. Good luck and happy hunting!


Editor’s Notes

Click on the date listed in the caption for each photo to see the original blog post for that image; click on the odonate name to see all of my blog posts related to that species.

Sincere thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for providing photographs of many of the rare to uncommon fall species of odonates featured in this photo sampler. Click on the word “Photo” in the caption for each of Mike’s photographs to see his original Facebook post for that image.

Every species features the following information: common name; scientific name; early-date/late-date; abundance; and habitat. All information is excerpted from “CHECKLIST OF THE DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES OF VIRGINIA, April 2017 and April 2020 updates” by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage.


Dragonflies (Order Anisoptera)

Family Aeshnidae (Darners)

Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera)

Adult flight period: JUN 30 – OCT 29. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Montane ponds.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

Adult flight period: FEB 27 – DEC 30. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Fawn Darner (Boyeria vinosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 03 – NOV 07. Common. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 08 – DEC 05. Common. Habitat: Ponds, streams.

Family Corduliidae (Emeralds)

Clamp-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa)

Adult flight period: JUN 08 – OCT 15. Common. Habitat: Ponds, small streams.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa)

Adult flight period: JUL 10 – OCT 15. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Boggy streams, swamps, marshes.

Family Gomphidae (Clubtails)

Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps)

Adult flight period: JUN 13 – OCT 19. Uncommon to common. Habitat: Rivers.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Laura’s Clubtail (Stylurus laurae)

Adult flight period: JUN 20 – SEP 26. Rare to uncommon. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

Russet-tipped Clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus)

Adult flight period: JUN 15 – NOV 06. Uncommon to common. Habitat: Streams, rivers.

Family Libellulidae (Skimmers)

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)

Adult flight period: MAY 28 – JAN 03. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum)

Adult flight period: MAY 22 – NOV 19. Uncommon. Habitat: Swamps, ponds.

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Adult flight period: APR 12 – OCT 30. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

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

Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

Adult flight period: MAY 08 – OCT 20. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

A Spot-winged Glider dragonfly (Pantala hymenaea) netted at Saint Louis Catholic School, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

20 JUL 2016 | Fairfax County, VA USA | Spot-winged Glider (female)

Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

Adult flight period: MAY 02 – NOV 17. Common. Habitat: Ponds.

Damselflies (Order Zygoptera)

Family Lestidae (Spreadwings)

Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis)

Adult flight period: JUN 25 – NOV 11. Uncommon. Habitat: Streams, ponds.

Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)

Adult flight period: JUN 10 – NOV 11. Uncommon. Habitat: Ponds.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Boatwright.

 


Classification of Fall Species into Sub-groups

Migratory Species

At least five major species of dragonflies known to be migratory in North America.

  • Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
  • Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  • Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)
  • Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)

Rare to Uncommon Species

  • Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps)
  • Black-tipped Darner (Aeshna tuberculifera)
  • Blue-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum ambiguum)
  • Clamp-tipped Emerald (Somatochlora tenebrosa)
  • Fine-lined Emerald (Somatochlora filosa)
  • Laura’s Clubtail (Stylurus laurae)
  • Ocellated Darner (Boyeria grafiana)
  • Great Spreadwing (Archilestes grandis)
  • Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener)

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Yellow-sided Skimmer (terminal appendages)

August 24, 2021

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

Female

The first individual is a female, as indicated by her mostly yellow coloration and terminal appendages.

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

Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function.

Mature male

The last individual is a mature male, as indicated by his light-blue pruinescence and terminal appendages.

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

Immature male Yellow-sided Skimmers look similar to females of the same species. Terminal appendages can be used to differentiate the sex of immature males and mature females.

Related Resource: Yellow-sided Skimmer (male and female) – a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

August 13, 2021

A Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly (Dromogomphus spinosus) was spotted by Michael Powell during a photowalk with me along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

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

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

We followed the female from one location…

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

to another.

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

I was able to take no more than three shots at each perch before she moved on to the next stop.

05 AUG 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Black-shouldered Spinyleg (female)

Habitat

I’m not sure I’d call Black-shouldered Spinyleg a habitat specialist. I’ve seen and photographed D. spinosus along small streams in the forest, mid-size streams (like the one in this post), and large rivers.

Habitat: Rocky and muddy streams and rivers from small to large, more often in woodland. Also in rocky lakes in northern part of range. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 6416-6417). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Dromogomphus spinosus in the United States of America. Given the wide range of lotic habitats where Black-shouldered Spinyleg is found, I’m puzzled by the fact that the species isn’t more widespread than it appears to be.

Related Resource: All posts in my blog tagged with the words “Black-shouldered Spinyleg dragonfly.”

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of a male Tiger Spiketail

August 10, 2021

The following annotated image shows a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea). This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

Hamules

Hamules? What are hamules?

hamules: paired structures that project from genital pocket under second segment and hold female abdomen in place during copulation Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 11618-116198). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Male dragonfly secondary genitalia, called hamules, are located below abdominal segments two and three (S2 and S3), as shown in the following annotated image. Hamules come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but their function is identical for all species of odonates. Some species of dragonflies and damselflies — such as Ashy Clubtail versus Lancet Clubtail and Southern Spreadwing versus Sweetflag Spreadwing, to name a few — can be differentiated/identified with certainty only by examining the hamules under magnification.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

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

Indented hind wings

Male members of many families of dragonflies have “indented” hind wings near the body, with some notable exceptions.

Hind wing venation and shape can identify the sex of most dragonflies. Petaltails, darners (except Anax), clubtails, spiketails, cruisers, and some emeralds. Wing shape isn’t helpful to sex baskettails since they are largely the same. They are different in Cordulia, Dorocordulia, Somatochlora and to a lesser degree, Neurocordulia. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Terminal appendages

Identifying female versus male dragonflies and damselflies can be challenging but it’s a little easier when you know how to differentiate their terminal appendages.

All 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”). Male dragonfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of dragonflies, but their function is identical.

Generally speaking, spiketail dragonflies have relatively small terminal appendages. That said, they must get the job done!

Related Resource: Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male) – a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male)

August 7, 2021

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.

The first few images show Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy, holding the dragonfly while I shot some photographs.

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)

What a handsome face! Cue “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor.

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

The next image shows me holding the dragonfly so that Mike could take some photographs.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

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

Up, up, and away!

The last photograph shows the Tiger Spiketail “posed” au naturel on the trunk of a fallen tree. Mike and I chose that spot because it was one of only a few sunny places along the small forest stream. The Tiger flew away almost immediately after I released him, headed toward the tree canopy. Mike had time for one clear shot. Good thing, ‘cuz I had no opportunity to get a shot.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

The backstory

I went on my first Tiger safari during July 2018 when I visited a location in Fairfax County, Virginia that a friend shared with me in strictest confidence. Although I saw several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies, every individual was in flight and I was unable to shoot still photos and/or video — they were gone by the time I reached for my camera!

Every year for the next few years, the story was similar — I saw Tigers but had no photos/videos to verify my sightings. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I would need to capture a specimen with an insect net in order to take photographs.

Let me be perfectly clear — all things being equal I would prefer to photograph dragonflies perching naturally rather than netting them. Sometimes, as in this case, netting is the better way to go.

Rest assured I have great respect for the rare- to uncommon species of odonates. The Tiger Spiketail featured in this post was held in captivity no longer than absolutely necessary, and was handled gently at all times.

Our strategy

Mike and I arrived at the stream site sometime after 10 a.m. While I setup my 18” diameter collapsible insect net, Mike took the point a little farther downstream to look for a Tiger approaching our location. No more than 10 minutes after I was in position alongside the stream, Mike spotted a Tiger flying upstream in our direction.

I waited until the Tiger had almost reached the place where I was standing before I swung my net forward smoothly and was psyched to see the dragonfly go all the way into the net. I said to Mike, “I got it!”

From that point, I worked quickly to gently remove the dragonfly from the net so that Mike and I could take some photographs of this rare species.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Cordulegaster erronea in the United States of America. Tiger Spiketail is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (male)

July 30, 2021

An Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) was spotted along a small stream located in Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Ebony Jewelwing (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his all black wings and terminal appendages.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Ebony Jewelwing (male)

Habitat

It’s easy to find Ebony Jewelwing. Look for a small stream in the forest.

Slow-flowing woodland streams, usually associated with herbaceous vegetation. Tend to be more at rapids when that habitat is present. Occur on open banks when trees nearby (trees essential for roosting at night). May be abundant at small streams in woods where very few other species are present. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 1249-1251). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Post update: Stylurus sp. exuvia

July 27, 2021

Three years ago I had the honor and pleasure of helping Michael Boatwright, my good friend and odonate hunting buddy, identify an interesting exuvia that he collected on 13 July 2018 at an undisclosed location in Amherst County, Virginia USA.

After working through several dichotomous keys for the identification of odonate larvae/exuviae, Mike and I determined the specimen is most likely from Zebra Clubtail (Stylurus scudderi). Zebra Clubtail is extremely rare in the state of Virginia.

The following annotated image shows a dorsal view of the exuvia.

13 JUL 2018 | Amherst County, VA USA | Stylurus scudderi (exuvia)

The best way to confirm our tentative identification of the exuvia is to find adult Zebra Clubtail at the same location. Easier said than done! During the next few years, Mike found more exuviae but no adults.

On 22 July 2021, years of searching the site finally came to fruition when Mike discovered a teneral female Zebra Clubtail, shown below.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding photo. Notice the teneral dragonfly is perched on the exuvia from which it emerged. Mike collected the exuvia after the dragonfly flew high into the tree canopy, so now we have the type specimen for verification of other exuviae.

Persistence pays

Sincere congratulations, Mike! You never gave up when it would have been the easier thing to do.

Related Resources

  • Stylurus sp. exuvia – a blog post by Walter Sanford providing a detailed account of the process used to determine the identity of the specimen collected by Mike on 13 July 2018.
  • Mike’s post in the Virginia Odonata Facebook group announcing his discovery on 22 July 2021. Mike is the founder and administrator of Virginia Odonata.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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