Posts Tagged ‘cerci’

Unicorn Clubtail (female terminal appendages)

September 22, 2018

Two field markers can be used to identify female Unicorn Clubtail dragonflies (Arigomphus villosipes), as shown in the following annotated image: 1) they have two terminal appendages (cerci) rather than three (males); and 2) their hind wings are rounded rather than “indented” (males).

Image used with permission from Bob Blakney.

Editor’s Notes

In my experience, female Unicorn Clubtail dragonflies are seen uncommonly. Sincere thanks to Bob Blakney for kindly granting permission to use his excellent photograph of this uncommon beauty for instructional purposes.

Bob’s photo was taken on 18 May 2012 at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge using a Canon EOS Rebel T2i digital camera and Tamron AF 18-270mm macro lens.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Gray Petaltail (male terminal appendages)

September 20, 2018

“Bender,” my nickname for a male Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) with a malformed abdomen, is featured in the following set of annotated photos.

06 JUN 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (male)

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”).

Gray Petaltail males have “indented” hind wings, as shown in the last photo.

06 JUN 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (male)

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail (female terminal appendages)

September 18, 2018

For those species of dragonflies that do not display sexual dimorphism, males and females are nearly identical in appearance except for their terminal appendages. For example, male and female Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) are similar in appearance.

Two field markers can be used to identify female Gray Petaltails, as shown in the following annotated images: 1) they have two terminal appendages (cerci) rather than three (males); and 2) their hind wings are rounded rather than “indented” (males).

30 MAY 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (female)

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

30 MAY 2018 | Northern Virginia | Gray Petaltail (female)

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Epitheca princeps exuvia

September 6, 2018

An odonate exuvia was collected by Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, on 07 June 2018 at Otter Lake in Amherst County, Virginia USA.

A two-step process was used to identify the genus and species of the specimen.

  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 Corduliidae (Emeralds).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium (prementum) that covers the face, as shown in Image No. 1, characteristic of four families of odonates: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on 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: It’s probably Corduliidae if the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts, as shown in Image No. 4. [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).

No. 1Epitheca princeps | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

Characters from two dichotomous keys were used to identify the genus and species: Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps). See Epitheca princeps exuvia, another of my illustrated guides to identification of odonate exuviae, for a detailed explanation of the decision tree used to identify the genus and species of this specimen.

No. 2 | Epitheca princeps | exuvia (dorsal)

This individual is a male, as indicated by the vestigial hamuli visible on the ventral side of abdominal segments two and three (S2-3).

No. 3Epitheca princeps | exuvia (ventral)

Notice the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts, as shown in Image No. 4.

No. 4Epitheca princeps | exuvia (posterior abdomen)

Image No. 5 shows a dorsal-lateral view of the mid-dorsal hooks.

No. 5Epitheca princeps | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

Look-alike species

I really wanted this specimen to be Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa). I think exuviae from D. transversa and E. princeps are similar in appearance — an opinion not shared by at least one expert on identification of odonate exuviae.

Two characters proved to be the deal-breaker that forced me to abandon D. tranversa in favor of E. princeps. 1) The specimen does not have a horn on its face-head. 2) This specimen is only 25 mm long (2.5 cm); D. transversa larvae/exuviae are 30 mm long (3.0 cm), according to Dragonflies of North America, Needham, James G., et al.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Image No. 1-5: 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.

Image No. 1-5 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Image No. 1 (7 photos); Image No. 2 (22 photos); Image No. 3 (19 photos); Image No. 4 (10 photos); Image No. 5 (20 photos).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Sable Clubtail (terminal appendages)

July 18, 2018

Male and female Sable Clubtail dragonflies (Stenogomphurus rogersi) 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 Sable Clubtail is essentially a wide plate with two prongs.

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

08 JUN 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (male)

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).

Female

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

05 JUL 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Sable Clubtail (female)

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.

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.


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