Posts Tagged ‘Common Baskettail dragonfly’

Baskettail dragonflies

May 10, 2019

Several species of baskettail dragonflies (Epitheca sp.) are among the first odonates to emerge in spring.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

Two baskettail dragonflies, possibly either Common Baskettail (E. cynosura) or Slender Baskettail (E. costalis), were spotted at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Anne Arundel County, Maryland USA.

Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo. Notice the leading edge of the left fore-wing is slightly malformed.

22 APR 2019 | PRR | baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.)

[Baskettails] have proven to be very difficult to identify, particularly from photographs. Most species are quite variable and there is evidence that they may hybridize and or integrade, making identifications even tougher. Source Credit: Identification of Male Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) in Texas, by John C. Abbott.

I’m unable to identify these dragonflies to the species level. In fact, I’m not sure they’re the same species! I defer to odonate hunters with more expertise than me for help with identification of both species and gender.

Post Addendum

According to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, both individuals are male Common Baskettail. Male Common- and Slender Baskettail have curved cerci; females of both species have straight cerci. That’s good baskettail knowledge, Mike Boatwright!

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Beware of dismissive thinking!

April 26, 2019

An unknown species of teneral baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca sp.), possibly either Common Baskettail (E. cynosura) or Robust Baskettail (E. spinosa), was spotted near a mid-sized pond at the North Tract of Patuxent Research Refuge, Laurel, Maryland USA.

This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages.

That’s a very wide abdomen, hairy thorax, and cerci as long (if not slightly longer) as S9. I’m fairly confident it’s a Robust Baskettail but I have limited experience with that species. The pattern of dark spots at the wing base is definitive for Robust but I can’t see them well in your picture. Mike Moore’s opinion would he good. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group.

I consulted Dr. Michael Moore.

It certainly suggests Robust based on the dimensions of the abdomen and the “hairiness” of the thorax but I would really need to see the pattern of black at the base of the hind wings to be sure. Female Commons can be surprisingly fat. Source Credit: Dr. Michael Moore, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at University of Delaware and odonate expert extraordinaire. Dr. Moore’s new Web site is a treasure trove of helpful resources.

The reason neither Mike nor Michael can see the definitive field mark on the base of the baskettail dragonfly’s hind wings is because this individual is a late-stage emergent teneral and its wings haven’t opened.

Regardless of the species of dragonfly, emergence is an essentially identical process. See “Related Resources” (below) for a time-series of photographs showing part of the process of emergence for a female Common Baskettail.

The danger of dismissive thinking.

This sighting was another reminder of one of many “Walterisms”: “Don’t be dismissive!” Huh?

During a recent trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge in search of Harlequin Darner (G. furcillata), my good friend Mike Powell and I saw many basktettails, mostly Common Baskettail. Common. That’s the key word. When I noticed several baskettails, I thought, “Oh, Common Baskettails. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Must find Harlequin!”

As it turns out, my laser-like focus on finding my first Harlequin Darner might have caused me to miss an opportunity to see a Robust Baskettail — another new species for my life list of odonates. Once again I’m reminded that dismissive thinking can be wrong-headed.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Test shots: “Generic Baskettail?”

February 15, 2019

larva/nymph in the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds) was collected by Bob Perkins on 02 December 2017 from a pond in Orange Park, Florida (USA). The larva died before it metamorphosed into an adult.

Test shots of this beautifully preserved specimen were taken using a small-ish aperture of f/11 for greater depth of field. The following photos are “one-offs,” that is, not composite images.

Dorsal

A single focus point — located on the thorax (specifcally, the “shoulder pad” along the right side of the body) — was used to shoot this photo. The specimen has enough “relief” that focus on the wing pads and dorsal hooks is slightly soft. This view of the larva is a good candidate for focus-stacking.

The terminal appendages (cerci, epiproct, paraprocts) are shown clearly in the following photo.

“Generic Baskettail” larva (preserved specimen) | Orange Park, FL USA

Bob’s best guess of the identity of the specimen is Epitheca sp., either Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) or Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps).

Whenever I see an odonate larvae/exuviae with long legs, my first thought is Family Macromiidae (Cruisers). Then I check for a horn on top of the head, a key field marker for Cruisers. Look closely at the dorsal view of the larva and I think you’ll agree with me there appears to be a horn on the head. I would like to take close-up photos of the head and key out the specimen in order to determine its identity. In the meantime, my best guess is Stream Cruiser (Didmops transversa) as indicated by the lateral spines on abdominal segment nine (S9) and the absence of a dorsal hook on S10.

Ventral

The ventral side of the specimen has almost no “relief,” so a “one-off” focused on the thorax looks fairly good from head-to-tail.

“Generic Baskettail” larva (preserved specimen) | Orange Park, FL USA

Related Resource: “Generic Baskettail” (definitely not a Cruiser)

Tech Tips

The following equipment (shown below) was used to shoot the preceding photos: Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-16 extension tube; Fujinon XF80mm macro lensGodox XProF TTL Wireless Flash Trigger for Fujifilm camerasGodox TT685F Thinklite TTL Flash for Fujifilm CamerasGodox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash for Canon Cameras fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier; and a Canon 580EX II Speedlite mounted on a Godox X1R-C TTL Wireless Flash Trigger Receiver for Canon. A new Godox TT685O Thinklite TTL Flash for Olympus/Panasonic Cameras was added to an array of radio-controlled external flash units used to light the specimen. All flashes were set for Manual Mode at 1/128 power.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen the final output.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Baskettail (teneral female)

April 29, 2018

A Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was spotted near Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a teneral female, as indicated by her tenuous wings and relatively short, straight terminal appendages.

Spring 2018 has been slow to spring in the mid-Atlantic USA, as evidenced by the fact that the first Common Baskettails were spotted at Painted Turtle Pond beginning in mid-April 2017.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New discoveries in 2017 (odonates)

December 28, 2017

There’s always more to discover/learn! My odonate-related new discoveries in 2017 are presented in reverse-chronological order.

Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly

A Fine-lined Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora filosa) was spotted at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is one of several males spotted during a period of a week-or-so in mid-September 2017.

Immature male Calico Pennant

20 JUN 2017 | OBNWR | Calico Pennant (immature male)

A Calico Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male. Notice its coloration is similar to female Calico Pennants.

Allegheny River Cruiser dragonfly

An Allegheny River Cruiser (Macromia alleghaniensis) was netted by Mike Blust at Hardware River Wildlife Management Area, Fluvanna County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Harpoon Clubtail (male)

A Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus descriptus) was spotted at “Straight Fork,” Highland County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. Sincere thanks to fellow Virginians Karen Kearney and Mike Boatwright for guiding me to this unique high-elevation habitat.

It’s worth noting that I saw two more new species during the same trip: Riffle Snaketail (Ophiogomphus carolus); and Dot-tailed Whiteface (Leucorrhinia intacta).

Those who know me well are familiar with one of many “Walterisms”: “I haven’t ‘seen’ something until I have photographed it.” My rationale is two-fold: 1) A photograph verifies a sighting. 2) The detail visible in a good photograph exceeds the acuity of the human eye. Suffice it to say I saw two other species but haven’t seen them. Makes sense to me!

Swift River Cruiser dragonfly

A Swift River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia illinoiensis) was spotted at Riverbend Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emergent/teneral female.

Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly

A Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (Hylogomphus abbreviatus) spotted along Bull Run at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male. A female was spotted on the same day at a nearby location.

Epitheca cynosura exuvia

A Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) exuvia was collected at Painted Turtle Pond, Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Epitheca princeps exuvia

05 MAR 2017 | Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) | exuvia (face-head)

A Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) exuvia was collected from an unknown location. This specimen was on temporary loan from Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.

Epitheca cynosura exuvia

April 26, 2017

On 13 April 2017, a late-stage emergent teneral female Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was observed at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Several dragonfly exuviae were collected near the same location as the emergent teneral female. All of the exuviae look identical, although there is some variation in size. A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species for one of the larger exuvia.

  • Determine the family.
  • Determine the genus and species.

This specimen is approximately 22 mm (~0.87 in) in length.

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 that covers the face, characteristic of four families: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on top of 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 [See Photo No. 7.]: It’s probably Corduliidae if the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts. [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).

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

Notice that dorsal hooks are present and well developed on most abdominal segments.

No. 4 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (dorso-lateral)

A lateral view of the exuvia provides a good look at the labium, also known as the mentum, a two-segment hinged “jaw” that is used to grab food: the prementum is the segment of the labium closer to the mouth; the postmentum is the segment closer to the base of the head.

The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax (as shown in Photo No. 1-7) are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.

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

A closer view of the head shows two “bumps” that may be a pair of tubercles.

Step 2. Genus and species

Characters from Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, dichotomous keys compiled by Ken Soltesz, were used to identify the genus and species for the exuvia. Although palpal/mental setae were not examined, all other characters match Epitheca cynosura.

dichotomous key: a key for the identification of organisms based on a series of choices between alternative characters. Source Credit: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Alternate Key to the Genera of the Family Corduliidae, p. 29.

Key to the species of the genus (subgenus) Tetragoneuria, p. 32.

No. 7 | Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura) | exuvia (anal pyramid)

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

The last photo shows a ventral view of the exuvia. The vestigial hamuli located between abdominal segments two and three (S2-3) strongly suggests this individual is a male, therefore this specimen probably is not the same exuvia from which the teneral female emerged.

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

Related Resources

Editor’s Note: Sincere thanks to Sue Gregoire, Kestrel Haven Migration Observatory, for verifying my tentative identification, and for sharing some good odonate nymph knowledge regarding vestigial hamuli!

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the preceding photographs: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus) plus a Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube; Canon 580EX II external flash tethered to the camera by a coiled six-foot Vello Off-Camera TTL Flash Cord for Canon Cameras, off-camera, in manual mode; the Canon flash optically triggered a small Nissin i40 external flash (in SF mode) used for backlight; and a Sunpak LED-160 Video Light with a white translucent plastic filter used for side light.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Non-stop flight

April 22, 2017

On 18 April 2017, a Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was spotted patrolling part of the shoreline at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, in flight.

108mm (600mm equivalent) | ISO 100 | f/5.2 | 1/800s | -1 ev | flash fired

The photograph was taken using a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ150 superzoom bridge camera and a Canon 580EX Speedlite external flash set for manual mode at 1/8 power and 105mm zoom.

Related Resource: Stop-action photography of dragonflies in flight, a blog post by Walter Sanford, features Phil Wherry’s answer to my question “How fast would the camera shutter speed need to be in order to freeze all motion of a dragonfly in flight?”

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Late-stage emergent baskettail dragonfly

April 18, 2017

Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was spotted at Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk around Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR), Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a late-stage emergent teneral female.

I photographed the process of emergence from the first sighting to the time when the teneral dragonfly flew away: I shot 23 photos in approximately 16 minutes; time is compressed by showcasing six (6) select photos taken at major milestones during the event.

The following photo is the first image from a time-series documenting the emergence of the teneral female. Elapsed time is expressed in hh:mm:ss format, e.g., 00:00:00 is the time when I spotted the emergent teneral female, and 00:16:08 is the total elapsed time.

13 APR 2016 | 11:38:41 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:00:00

Notice the drop of fluid at the tip of the abdomen. Emerging dragonflies pump fluid into their wings, causing the wings to expand. Next, the same fluid is withdrawn from the wings and used to expand the abdomen. Excess fluid is expelled afterward.

13 APR 2016 | 11:40:48 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:02:07

The next photo shows the first time the wings opened.

13 APR 2016 | 11:48:55 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:10:14

Then the wings closed again and remained closed for a while.

13 APR 2016 | 11:51:02 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:12:21

The wings reopened a few minutes later. Notice that several wings are malformed slightly.

13 APR 2016 | 11:54:14 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:15:33

Finally, the wings open up, and very soon the teneral adult flies away. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 468). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The teneral female dragonfly flew away immediately after the last photo in the time-series.

13 APR 2016 | 11:54:46 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:16:08

This individual is a female, as indicated by her cerci (superior appendages) and thick abdomen. Common Baskettail females have shorter cerci and a thicker abdomen than males of the same species.

Exuviae (in situ)

Several dragonfly exuviae were spotted at Painted Turtle Pond. The exuviae were identified using a dichotomous key for dragonfly larvae; they are cast skins from Common Baskettail.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (exuvia)

These exuviae are not the one from which the teneral female featured in this post emerged.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (exuvia)

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Baskettail dragonfly (male)

April 16, 2017

A Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura) was spotted near Painted Turtle Pond during a photowalk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge (OBNWR). Common Baskettail is a member of Family Corduliidae (Emeralds); this species is seen during early spring in mid-Atlantic United States like Virginia.

I thought this might be a Slender Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca costalis) due to narrowing of its abdomen. Turns out that was wishful thinking.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. The curved shape of the cerci (superior appendages) is a key field marker for Common Baskettail; in contrast, the cerci for Slender Baskettail tend to be more parallel. Thanks to Mike Boatwright and Paul Guris, members of the Northeast Odonata Facebook group, for reminding me of this pearl of wisdom!

I think baskettail cerci look “rubberized,” like the handles of metal tools made for working with electricity. Whenever I see this distinctive field marker, shown clearly in the following photos, I know the dragonfly is probably a species of baskettail.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (male)

The last photo shows a dorso-lateral view of the male dragonfly. Notice the epiproct (inferior appendage) is visible clearly in this photo.

13 APR 2017 | OBNWR | Common Baskettail (male)

Also notice the light-colored spots on the hairs covering the body of the dragonfly. The following article by John Abbott suggests the spots may be some type of pollen.

Related Resource: Identification of Male Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) in Texas, by John C. Abbott.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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