Posts Tagged ‘cerci’

Springtime Darner (male claspers)

May 19, 2018

A Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata) was spotted along Popes Head Creek at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park (HORP) in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

23 APR 2017 | HORP | Springtime Darner (male)

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

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”).

23 APR 2017 | HORP | Springtime Darner (male)

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

Editor’s Notes

The preceding photos are new, that is, previously unpublished. Both photos are full-frame (uncropped). Springtime Darners can be quite skittish. In this case, I was very close to an unusually cooperative model.

The last photo was shot using Aperture Priority. I prefer shooting in Shutter Priority, but I like to shoot a few shots using Aperture Priority whenever I can use either a monopod or tripod. In this situation, I improvised.

In addition to my photography gear, I usually carry a Coleman camp stool when I go photowalking. The small, lightweight folding chair is good for resting while waiting for “the game to come to me.” The camp stool also enables me to get closer to subjects either on- or near the ground, such as the Springtime Darner featured in this blog post. I think it’s easier to hold my camera rock-steady when I’m sitting on the chair with my elbows resting on my knees.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Twin-spotted Spiketail (male claspers)

May 17, 2018

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 members of the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails), including male Twin-spotted Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster maculata), have relatively small cerci (terminal appendages) that can be mistaken for female cerci.

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.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Brown Spiketail dragonfly (male claspers)

May 15, 2018

Brown Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster bilineata) were spotted on two days during May 2018 at Occoquan Regional Park. Both individuals featured in this post are male, as indicated by their terminal appendages and slightly “indented” hind wings.

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”).

Notice the epiproct for Brown Spiketail is a wide “plate” that spans both cerci, as shown in the full-size version of the following annotated image.

Male dragonfly secondary genitalia, called hamules, are located below abdominal segments two and three (S2 and S3), as shown in the preceding 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.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Phanogomphus lividus exuvia

April 5, 2018

The Backstory

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividusnymph was collected by Bob Perkins. (The date and location where the specimen was collected are unknown.) The nymph was reared in captivity until it emerged on 21 March 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female. This specimen is the exuvia from the nymph. P. lividus is a member of the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails).

A two-step process was used to verify the identity of the exuvia.

  1. Determine the family.
  2. Determine the genus and species.

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 Gomphidae (Clubtails).

  • The specimen has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like), as shown in Photo No. 1 and 3.
  • Antennae are club-like (not thin and thread-like, as in  Aeshnidae larvae), as shown in Photo No. 1.

It’s simple and straightforward to recognize this specimen is a clubtail.

No. 1 | Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

Lateral spines are present on abdominal segments six through nine (S6-S9).

The superior caudal appendage (epiproct) is as long as inferiors (paraprocts), as shown in Photo No. 4. The view of the terminal appendages is still slightly obscured by debris after the specimen was cleaned, making it challenging to distinguish the cerci from the paraprocts. Nonetheless, the epiproct and paraprocts appear to be nearly the same length.

The median lobe of the labium (prementum) is straight-edged, as shown in Photo No. 5.

After emergence

The next photograph shows the Ashy Clubtail dragonfly after emergence from one of Bob Perkins‘ holding tanks. Phanogomphus lividus is 48-56 mm in total length (Paulson, 2011).

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

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

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Related Resource

The dichotomous key for Gomphus (now Phanogomphus) that appears on p. 20 in Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, compiled by Ken Soltesz, was used to attempt to verify the genus and species of the exuvia. Markers that match this specimen are highlighted in boldface green text. Three boldface green asterisks (***) are used to highlight the thread for identification of P. lividus. Disclaimers are highlighted in boldface red text.

1a. Lateral spines on abdominal segments 7 to 9 (very minute if present on 6). [2]
***1b. Lateral spines on abdominal segments 6 to 9 well developed. [3]

3a. Superior caudal appendage (epiproct) shorter than inferiors (paraprocts); Teeth on lateral lobes of labium obsolete or poorly developed. [quadricolor]
***3b. Superior caudal appendage (epiproct) as long as inferiors (paraprocts); Teeth on lateral lobes of labium well developed. [4]

***4a. Median lobe of labium straight-edged. [lividus]
4b. Median lobe of labium convex-edged. [5]


Note: The weakest aspect of this key is couplet 4, as it applies to Gomphus descriptus [Harpoon Clubtail], the difference in the “convexity” of the median lobe between lividus and descriptus being very slight and difficult to discern in practice. Donnelly (pers. comm.) has found that, at least with New York specimens, the posterior narrowing of the median lobe of the labium is more abrupt in livid, and relatively gradual in descriptus. Also, the labial teeth are better developed in livid than in descriptus. These characters are so relative that any unknown suspected of being either of these species should be compared to reference specimens.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 2 and 3: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites set for “Slave” mode. Photo No. 1, 4, and 5Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for either 2x or 3x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Photo No. 1-3 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.

Bob Perkins’ photos were shot using a Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera body and Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Boyeria vinosa exuvia

March 8, 2018

Bob Perkins collected and reared an unknown species of odonate nymph from a stream located in southwestern Virginia. The larva emerged from one of Bob’s holding tanks on 08 May 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female Fawn Darner dragonfly (Boyeria vinosa). Fawn Darner is a member of the Family Aeshnidae (Darners).

A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia.

  1. Determine the family.
  2. Determine the genus and species.

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 Aeshnidae (Darners).

  • The specimen has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like), as shown in Photo No. 1, 3, and 4.
  • Antennae are thin and thread-like (not club-like, as in Gomphidae larvae), as shown in Photo No. 1-4.
  • Eyes are large relative to the size of the head, as shown in Photo No. 1.

No. 1 | Boyeria vinosa | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for Boyeria larvae that appears on p. 22 in Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, compiled by Ken Soltesz, was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia.

1. Length when grown 37-39 mm;
Lateral spines on abdominal segments 4 to 9 (minute on 4);
Mentum of labium more than twice as long as its median width;
Inferior caudal appendages (paraprocts) stouter, scarcely incurved at tips;
Apex of superior anal appendage (epiproct) uncleft and sharply pointed;
Epiproct as long as paraprocts. [grafiana]

1’. Length when grown 34-37 mm;
Lateral spines on abdominal segments 5 to 9;
Mentum of labium less than twice as long as its median width;
Inferior caudal appendages (paraprocts) more slender, distinctly incurved at tips;
Apex of superior anal appendage (epiproct) deeply emarginate (cleft);
Epiproct distinctly shorter than paraprocts. [vinosa]

The exuvia is ~35 mm (~3.5 cm) long. Lateral spines are present on abdominal segments five to nine (S5 to S9).

No. 2 | Boyeria vinosa | exuvia (dorsal)

The rudimentary ovipositor shown in Photo No. 3 indicates this individual is a female.

No. 3 | Boyeria vinosa | exuvia (ventral)

The prementum is less than twice as long as its median width, as shown in Photo No. 4.

No. 4 | Boyeria vinosa | exuvia (prementum)

The paraprocts are incurved at the tips.

No. 5 | Boyeria vinosa | exuvia (anal pyramid)

There is a cleft in the apex of the epiproct. The cleft is closed in the exuvia (above); it is open in the nymph (below). Both photos show the same specimen, before and after emergence.

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Both the Soltesz dichotomous key and the key for Boyeria larvae that appears on pp. 88-89 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. describe the epiproct as “distinctly shorter than paraprocts.” The epiproct and paraprocts are nearly the same length. In the opinion of the author, this marker is least useful for differentiating grafiana and vinosa nymphs/evuviae.

This specimen is confirmed as an exuvia from a Fawn Darner dragonfly (Boyeria vinosa).

Adult

The adult Fawn Darner dragonfly emerged on 08 May 2017. Fawn Darners are, on average, 60-71 mm long (Paulson, 2011).

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

This individual is a female, as indicated by its rounded hind wings (above) and prominent ovipositor (below).

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 2 and 3: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin LitePhoto No. 1, 4, and 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x – 3x magnification); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite.

Sunpak LED-160 Video Light (with a white translucent plastic filter) was used for all photos.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Bob Perkins’ photos were shot using a Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera body and Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens. The photos of the adult were taken soon after emergence.

Related Resource

The dichotomous key for Boyeria larvae that appears on pp. 88-89 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. is as follows.

1. Epiproct about as long as paraprocts, its apex acute, not emarginate; greatest width of prementum about 3/5 its length; paraprocts shorter than abdominal segments 9+10, each with apex nearly straight (Fig. 85). [grafiana]

1’. Epiproct distinctly shorter than paraprocts, its apex distinctly emarginate; greatest width of prementum about 2/3 its length; paraprocts longer than abdominal segments 9+10, each with apex distinctly incurved (Fig. 85). [vinosa]

Post Update

Thanks to Northeast Odonata Facebook group members Curt Oien and Nick Block for sharing the following helpful tips. Both Curt and Nick are also members of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas.

The face-head of an Aeshnidae nymph/exuvia is relatively easy to recognize. Would I have said that when I was a beginner? In a word, no. Watch the Vimeo video a few times and you’ll see what I’m saying.

So, after you determine a specimen is from the Family Aeshnidae, look for a prominent light-colored diamond shape on the dorsal side of abdominal segment eight (S8), as shown in Photo No. 2 and 5: if it’s there, then you can be fairly certain the genus is Boyeria.

Curt looks for the cleft in the epiproct to determine the species. I recommend looking at other markers that are easier to see.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Erpetogomphus designatus exuvia

February 28, 2018

Michael Powell collected several odonate exuviae during a photowalk along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including two damselflies and two dragonflies. The exact date is uncertain, although Mike thinks the exuviae were collected sometime between 19-23 July 2017.

A two-step process was used to identify the genus and species of one of the two dragonfly exuviae.

  1. Determine the family.
  2. Determine the genus and species.

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 Gomphidae (Clubtails).

  • The specimen has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like). [See Photo No. 4.]
  • Antennae are club-like (not thin and thread-like, as in Aeshnidae). [See Photo No. 1.]
  • Eyes not exceptionally large compared to the size of the head (not large, as in Aeshnidae). [See Photo No. 1.]
(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for Erpetogomphus larvae that appears on pp. 156-157 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to identify the genus and species of the exuvia. The first couplet [1, 1′] is as follows.

1. Dorsal hooks well-developed on abdominal segments 2-9 (Fig. 183a) [2]
1’. Dorsal hooks absent or vestigial on abdominal segments 7-9 (Fig. 183c) (usually present on at least some of the more anterior segments [3]

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

A leap of faith is required to see the small dorsal hooks present on abdominal segments two through nine (S2 – S9), but they are there.

Notice the divergent wing pads. The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax (as shown above) are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.

2(1). Lateral spines present on abdominal segments 6-9 only; femora with long, hair-like setae [designatus] [Eastern Ringtail]
2’. Lateral spines present on abdominal segments 5-9 only; femora without long, hair-like setae [constrictor] [Knob-tipped Ringtail]

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

The caudal appendages (terminal appendages) are all about the same length, a key marker for designatus.

Notice the flat labium that doesn’t cover the face, as shown in the following photo.

This specimen is tentatively identified as an exuvia from an Eastern Ringtail dragonfly (Erpetogomphus designatus). The exuvia that Mike Powell collected is similar in appearance to the following excellent photograph of an Erpetogomphus designatus nymph by Steve Krotzer, Haysop Hill Photography.

Image used with permission from Steve Krotzer.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 2 and 4: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin LitePhoto No. 1 and 3: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x magnification); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite. A Sunpak LED-160 Video Light (with a white translucent plastic filter) was used for some photos.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (females)

December 6, 2017

Male and female Cobra Clubtail dragonflies (Gomphurus vastus) are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages: females have two terminal appendages (cerci); males have three (claspers). Also notice the subtle difference in the shape of their hind wings: female hind wings are rounded; male hind wings are “indented.”

Several female Cobra Clubtails were photographed during the annual mass emergence along the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

The first female, shown above, has a malformed wing.

Notice part of an insect leg on the wooden beam, underneath the female’s abdomen. Is it a leftover from a late-morning snack?

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Spreadwing (practice oviposition)

October 15, 2017

This gallery — named “practice oviposition” (egg-laying) — features a six-photo time series of a female Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis).

Female Great Spreadwing damselflies, like all female odonates, have two cerci (sing. cercus), superior appendages that have little or no function. Also notice two styli (sing. stylus), structures that serve as sensors (like “curb feelers“) in egg positioning during oviposition.

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

The female uses her styli to guide the ovipositor into position, as shown in the next two photos.

In this case, I saw no evidence that the ovipositor actually penetrated the tree twig. I think this was a practice run in preparation for the real thing, as the title of this blog post says.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Should I stay or should I go?

October 7, 2017

Two Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) were observed flying back-and-forth over a field alongside a vernal pool at a remote location in Huntley Meadows Park (HMP), Fairfax County, Virginia USA — typical feeding behavior for Common Green Darners. Sometimes they would land briefly, perching in shady hidey-holes in the thick vegetation covering the ground. I followed one of the two to a couple of perches.

This individual was very skittish! I was able to shoot one photo at the first perch…

03 OCT 2017 | HMP | Common Green Darner (female)

…and another photo at the last perch. The dragonfly flew toward the tree canopy when I tried to move a step closer.

03 OCT 2017 | HMP | Common Green Darner (female)

It’s relatively easy to identify this type of dragonfly to the species level.

The easiest field mark for identification of a Common Green Darner is that “bull’s eye” on the back of the head. No other [odonate] has it. Source Credit: John Gregoire, Kestrel Haven Wildlife Sanctuary.

On the other hand, it can be more challenging to identify the gender.

Several field markers can be used to identify the gender of this dragonfly. The cerci (sing. cercus) of female Common Green Darners look like almonds, both in color and shape. Two more field markers verify this specimen is female.

Note the brown stripe extending onto abdominal segment 2. Segment 2 [S2] is typically all pale on males. Also [viewing the second photo at full resolution and zooming in on the head] the rear margin of the occiput is not straight. Females have blunt dark colored “teeth” back there which makes the margin look wavy. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Common Green Darner is one of at least five major species of dragonflies known to be migratory in North America. It’s possible the two Common Green Darners that I observed stopped at Huntley Meadows Park in order to “refuel” before continuing their southward migration.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Mocha Emerald terminal appendages (female)

September 29, 2017

Mocha Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora linearis) was spotted by Andrew Rapp in Henrico County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

Terminal appendages

All female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. The hind wings of female Mocha Emerald dragonflies are rounded.

21 JUL 2017 | Henrico County, VA | Mocha Emerald (female)

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

21 JUL 2017 | Henrico County, VA | Mocha Emerald (female)

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

Notice the subgenital plate shown in the preceding photo.

subgenital plate: plate below S8 that holds bunches of eggs when enlarged; variable enough in shape to be of value in identification. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 11723-11724). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

“S8” refers to abdominal segment eight. Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

Oviposition (egg-laying)

The following Apple iPhone 3GS “raw” video clip shows a female Mocha Emerald dragonfly laying eggs by the process of oviposition. The process typically lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. This individual was spotted on 16 July 2011 during a photowalk through the “Wildlife Sanctuary,” one of seven small parks in the community of Hollin Hills, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Mocha Emerald dragonfly (female, ovipositing) [Ver. 2] (0:23)

Related Resource: Mocha Emerald terminal appendages (male).

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Andrew Rapp for permission to use his still photographs.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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