Posts Tagged ‘claspers’

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.

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.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

April 28, 2017

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his indented hind wings and terminal appendages.

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 is a large “plate” that spans both cerci, as shown in the full-size version of the following photo.

One thing you can count on when photographing Ashy Clubtails (well, usually) is the subject will be perching on a chaotic background that is difficult to crop without creating leading lines that mislead the viewer’s eye and distracting elements near the edges of the image.

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.

Painted Skimmer dragonfly (teneral female)

March 19, 2017

Painted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula semifasciata) was spotted at a vernal pool in Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a teneral female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and the tenuous appearance of her wings.

No. 1 | 31 MAY 2016 | HMP | Painted Skimmer (teneral female)

Shine on you crazy diamond!

No. 2 | 31 MAY 2016 | HMP | Painted Skimmer (teneral female)

Although Photo No. 1 and 3 look similar, I posted both pictures. Photo No. 1 shows the tenuous appearance of the wings best of all four photos, but I prefer the composition of Photo No. 3. Which one of the two photos do you prefer?

No. 3 | 31 MAY 2016 | HMP | Painted Skimmer (teneral female)

Teneral dragonflies are skittish and prefer to perch in “hidey-holes” that offer protection from predators like paparazzi wildlife photographers. The dragonfly is perching on “soft rush” (Juncus effusus), the common name for the shoreline/emergent plant with light green round stems and brownish flowers that appears in the entire photo set. Soft rush is common in wetland areas.

No. 4 | 31 MAY 2016 | HMP | Painted Skimmer (teneral female)

Painted Skimmer dragonflies do not display sexual dimorphism, that is, adult females and males look similar except for their terminal appendages. Female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function; male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers.” The cerci are easy to see in the full-size version of the preceding photo.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More Big Bluet damselflies

December 24, 2016

More Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) were spotted in July 2016 during two photowalks along the Potomac River at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve (DMWP).

More males

These individuals are males, as indicated by their blue and black coloration and by their terminal appendages.

Mating pair

The mating pair of Big Bluet damselflies shown in the following photograph is “in wheel,” in which the male uses “claspers” (terminal appendages) at the end of his abdomen to hold the female by her neck/thorax while they are joined at their abdomens. The male, blue and black in color, is on top; the female, green and black in color, is on the bottom.

The copulatory, or wheel, position is unique to the Odonata, as is the distant separation of the male’s genital opening and copulatory organs. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 377-378). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The wheel position is sometimes referred to as “in heart” when damselflies mate. In this case, the heart shape is deformed slightly.

A mating pair of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) spotted at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is "in heart."

19 JUL 2016 | DMWP | Big Bluet (mating pair, “in tandem”)

The same pair is “in tandem” a while later: the male is on the right; the female is on the left. The male is engaged in “contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites. Contact guarding is used by some species of odonates to prevent aggressive males from hijacking the female.

A mating pair of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) spotted at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is "in tandem."

19 JUL 2016 | DMWP | Big Bluet (mating pair, “in tandem”)

Look closely at the underside of the female’s abdomen, near the tip. Notice the ovipositor that she uses to insert eggs into vegetation (endophytic oviposition).

It’s helpful to take photos of mating pairs of damselflies, especially “in tandem,” since males and females of the same species can look quite different.

Sidebar: Scientific Classification of Damselflies

The following concise explanation of the scientific classification of damselflies is provided to help the reader understand where the genus Enallagma (American Bluets) fits into the bigger picture of the Order OdonataSuborder Zygoptera (Damselflies).

There are five families of damselflies in the United States of America, although only three families occur in the mid-Atlantic USA: Broad-winged damselflies; Narrow-winged damselflies (a.k.a., Pond Damselflies); and Spreadwing damselflies.

Family Calopterygidae is comprised of two genera.

Family Coenagrionidae is comprised of 14 genera. Three genera are common in Northern Virginia: Argia (Dancers); Enallagma (American Bluets); and Ischnura (Forktails).

Family Lestidae is comprised of two genera.

  • Archilestes (e.g., Great Spreadwing)
  • Lestes (e.g., Slender Spreadwing, Southern Spreadwing, Swamp Spreadwing)

There are relatively few genera of Broad-winged Damselflies and Spreadwing Damselflies. In contrast, there are many more genera and species of Narrow-winged Damselflies — more species, including many that look similar, makes this family the most challenging to learn!

Related Resources: Excellent digital scans created by Gayle and Jeanelle Strickland. Click on the button labeled “Download file” in order to view full-size version of the graphics.

  • Enallagma durum male #4 | male | JPG
  • Enallagma durum female #2 | female | JPG

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male, eating)

December 18, 2016

Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) was spotted in the forest near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a male, as indicated by his deep blue eyes, familiar yellow racing stripe on the side of its thorax, bluish-white coloration on abdominal segments 9-10 (S9-10), and distinctive terminal appendages (claspers).

While I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool watching the male damselfly, suddenly he flew up and around head and landed near the same spot where he had been perching. I know from experience this type of behavior suggests the damselfly probably grabbed something to eat.

The following brief time-series of photos shows the damselfly eating an unknown species of winged insect.

11:19:52 a.m. EST

11:19:58 a.m. EST

11:20:14 a.m. EST

Editor’s Note: If you check the EXIF for all three photos, then you will see the time stamp is one hour later than the times shown above. 06 November was the first time I used my camera since the end of Daylight Saving Time (at 2:00 a.m. the same day) — I forgot to reset the time in-camera!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Spreadwing (female terminal appendages)

November 9, 2016

Fall 2016 hadn’t been good for finding Great Spreadwing damselflies (Archilestes grandis) at Huntley Meadows Park. A formerly fishless vernal pool in a remote location at the park was less than productive, yielding only two males as a result of intense searches during September and October. Given this context, imagine my surprise and delight when several Great Spreadwings were spotted on a mild day in early November, including my first sighting of a single female!

The following photo shows a male Great Spreadwing damselfly spotted on the same day and near the same location as the female. Notice its deep blue eyes, familiar yellow racing stripe on the side of its thorax, bluish-white coloration on abdominal segments 9-10 (S9-10), and distinctive terminal appendages (claspers).

Although female Great Spreadwings feature the same yellow thoracic stripe as males, several other field markers are different. Female eyes are paler blue and two-toned. Females have a noticeably thicker abdomen, minus the male coloration on S9-10. And of course, female terminal appendages are different from male appendages.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

06 NOV 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Great Spreadwing (female)

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

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.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

06 NOV 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Great Spreadwing (female)

All three photos of the female are full-frame, that is, uncropped; the photo of the male was cropped slightly, only because I’m almost as obsessed with the way the edges of a photo look as the subject of the photo! Although I’m not opposed to cropping photos for better composition, I prefer to get it right in-camera.

A Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

06 NOV 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Great Spreadwing (female)

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: If you check the EXIF for all four photos, then you will see the time stamp is one hour later than the times shown above. 06 November was the first time I used my camera since the end of Daylight Saving Time (at 2:00 a.m. the same day) — I forgot to reset the time in-camera!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Russet-tipped Clubtail claspers

November 3, 2016

Another Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) was spotted during a photowalk at Mulligan PondJackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR).

This individual is a male, as indicated by the large russet-colored club at the end of his abdomen, “indented” hindwings (see annotated image, below), and his terminal appendages.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Russet-tipped Clubtail (male)

I like the way the hint of red coloration in the fall foliage complements the male’s russet-colored club.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. [*]

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Russet-tipped Clubtail (male)

This guy was by far the most cooperative of several Russet-tipped Clubtails spotted at the same location, as evidenced by the fact that he allowed me to shoot 119 photos in a variety of poses. Several of the better photos in the set were cherry-picked for this post; more photos may be published in a follow-up post.

A Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. [*]

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Russet-tipped Clubtail (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”).

A Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Russet-tipped Clubtail (male)

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

Notice the epiproct is a large “plate” that spans both cerci, as shown in the full-size version of the preceding photo.

Male Russet-tipped Clubtails have a larger, more colorful club than females of the same species, and their terminal appendages are shaped differently. Compare and contrast the appearance of males and females by looking at the following “Related Resources.”

Related Resources: Digital Dragonflies, presenting high-resolution digital scans of living dragonflies.

  • Genus Stylurus | Stylurus plagiatus | Russet-tipped Clubtail | male | top view
  • Genus Stylurus | Stylurus plagiatus | Russet-tipped Clubtail | female | top view
  • Genus Stylurus | Stylurus plagiatus | Russet-tipped Clubtail | female | side view

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Shadow Darner dragonfly (female)

October 18, 2016

A Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) was spotted during a photowalk at Mulligan PondJackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR).

A Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female heteromorph.

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Shadow Darner (female heteromorph)

This individual is a mature female, as indicated by her coloration, rounded hindwings (near abdomen), and terminal appendages. Female Shadow Darners are polymorphic; this one is a female heteromorph, as indicated by her brown eyes and duller coloration than males of the same species.

A Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female heteromorph.

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Shadow Darner (female heteromorph)

The following annotated image illustrates some parts of the reproductive anatomy of a female Shadow Darner dragonfly, including an ovipositor for egg-laying and two styli (sing. stylus), structures that serve as sensors in egg positioning.

A Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female heteromorph. [Good view of ovipositor/styli.]

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Shadow Darner (female heteromorph)

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

Both female and male Shadow Darners have two long, petal-like cerci (sing. cercus). Notice the female (shown above) is missing both cerci.

[Female] Cerci rounded at tip, longer than S9–10, usually broken off at maturitySource Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 4604). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

In contrast, the following male has both cerci and an epiproct; the three terminal appendages are collectively called “claspers.” Claspers are used to grab and hold female damselflies during mating.

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

Related Resources: Scanned digital images from Western Odonata Scans in Life.

  • Shadow Darner | Aeshna umbrosaheteromorph female
  • Shadow Darner | Aeshna umbrosaheteromorph female (note very tattered wings of this old individual)
  • Shadow Darner | Aeshna umbrosaandromorph female
  • Shadow Darner | Aeshna umbrosamale (typical “A. u. umbrosa” with small green abdominal spots but nowhere near the range of that subspecies!)

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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