Posts Tagged ‘Common Whitetail dragonfly’

Like a bad guest at a party

October 31, 2017

Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are like bad guests at a party — they are among the first odonates to arrive in spring and among the last to leave in fall. Unlike bad guests, it’s good to see Common Whitetails after a long, cold winter and you have to admire the fact that they survived a long, hot summer.

22 OCT 2017 | HMP | Common Whitetail (mature female)

The preceding photograph shows a Common Whitetail dragonfly that was spotted near a vernal pool at a remote location in Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and pattern of wing spots.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Common Whitetail (teneral female)

April 6, 2017

After a seemingly endless off-season, I’m pleased to report odonate hunting season has begun in Northern Virginia!

05 APR 2017 | ABWR | Common Whitetail (teneral female)

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was spotted during a photowalk along Beaver Pond Loop Trail at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge (ABWR), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a teneral female, as indicated by her terminal appendages and the tenuous appearance of her wings.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Perchers like perching on Coleman

October 6, 2016

Dragonflies are classified as either “fliers” or “perchers,” based upon their feeding habits. Members of the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are perchers. Further, males of many species of Skimmers perch near prime egg-laying habitat — like a small vernal pool located in Huntley Meadows Park — in order to attract mates.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly

A Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum ambiguum) was photographed as it perched on my Coleman camp stool.  This individual is a male, as indicated by his coloration and terminal appendages.

If I were going to post only my best shots, then I would choose the first photo (shown above) and the last. I included the next photo because it provides a closer look at the head and body of the dragonfly; the trade-off is the terminal appendages are in soft focus.

Common Whitetail dragonfly

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was spotted at the same location as the Blue-faced Meadowhawk. This individual is a mature male, as indicated by his coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

I love the head-tilt shown in the following photo!

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on a Coleman camp stool.

15 SEP 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (male)

Notice the scratches along his abdomen, an indication he has mated many times.

Males that have mated often have marks on their abdomen where the female legs have scratched them. This is especially obvious in species in which males develop pruinosity, as the pruinosity on the midabdomen is scratched off, and the signs are visible at some distance. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 390-392). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on a Coleman camp stool.

15 SEP 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (male)

I like to rest during long photowalks by sitting my Coleman camp stool for a few minutes, and as you can see, some species of my favorite insects like to rest on the camp stool too!

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on a Coleman camp stool.

15 SEP 2016 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (male)

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Whitetail dragonfly (teneral female)

May 13, 2016

Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was spotted on 15 April 2016 at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a teneral female, as indicated by its terminal appendages (cerci) and the pale coloration of her wings.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a teneral female.

Miraculous metamorphosis, the last post in my photoblog, featured a three-hour time-series of still photos documenting the astounding transformation of a female Common Whitetail dragonfly from a larva to an adult. The teneral female dragonfly in this post emerged recently, probably sometime during the same day these photos were taken.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a teneral female.

A pattern of dark spots on all four wings, characteristic of female Common Whitetail dragonflies, will develop within a few days to a week-or-so after emergence.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Miraculous metamorphosis

May 11, 2016

I was sitting on my Coleman camp stool on the earthen dam at Hidden Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, hoping the sky would clear so I could see some odonates. The sky was almost completely overcast; as a result, I hadn’t seen any dragonflies or damselflies all morning.

My cell phone rang. Matt Ryan, a good friend and part-time naturalist at Huntley Meadows Park, called to tell me about a dragonfly larva he spotted that had just started to transform into an adult. I was conflicted for a few minutes: Meadowood Recreation Area is much farther from my home than Huntley Meadows Park so I was reluctant to leave empty-handed, so to speak, especially since several species of odonates can be seen at Meadowood that aren’t known to occur at Huntley. Fortunately I came to my senses and drove to Huntley as quickly as possible.

The following photo is the first image from a three-hour time-series documenting an emergent female Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), located within a few feet from the boardwalk in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park. The miraculous metamorphosis was well underway by the time I arrived at the spot. Elapsed time is expressed in hh:mm:ss format.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 11:21 am EDT | Elapsed time: 00:00:00

The wings, folded like accordions, then begin to fill from the base with fluid transferred from the body and fairly soon reach full length. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 466-467). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 11:32 am EDT | Elapsed time: ~00:11:00

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 12:20 pm EDT | Elapsed time: ~00:59:00

The fluid is then pumped back into the abdomen, and it expands. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 467-468). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Notice the wings are nearly clear in following photo, indicating the greenish-colored fluid that formerly filled the wings is almost gone. The abdomen is noticeably longer in this photo than in the first image in the time-series, taken at 11:21 EDT.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 12:43 pm EDT | Elapsed time: ~01:22:00

At this point, a pair of terminal appendages (cerci) was clearly visible at the end of the abdomen, indicating this individual is a female.

Notice the wing spots are beginning to darken. A pattern of dark spots on all four wings, characteristic of female Common Whitetail dragonflies, will develop within a few days to a week-or-so after emergence.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 01:23 pm EDT | Elapsed time: ~02:02:00

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 pair of wings on her right side snapped into the resting position approximately two hours and 18 minutes (~02:18:00) after I started this time-series of photos.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 01:38:42 pm EDT | Elapsed time: 02:17:42

The pair of wings on her left side snapped into the resting position one minute and four seconds (00:01:04) later.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 01:39:46 pm EDT | Elapsed time: 02:18:46

Her wings quivered slightly at ~02:24:00 pm and then she flew away.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 02:24 pm EDT | Elapsed time: ~03:03:00

The last photo shows the cast skin from the emergent dragonfly, technically known as an exuvia (singular).

A cast skin from a Common Whitetail dragonfly spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This is the exuvia of an emerging female.

07 MAY 2016 | 02:28 pm EDT | Elapsed time: ~03:07:00

Although I have seen two emerging dragonflies from a different family, albeit briefly, and seen several exuviae (plural) in situ, this was my first opportunity to observe the process carefully for several hours. Sincere thanks to Matt Ryan for kindly thinking of me!

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

The first and last dragonflies of 2015

December 1, 2015

Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) are like the type of party guests who are always among the first to arrive and last to leave. They are one of the first dragonfly species to appear in spring, and one of the last to disappear in fall.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Libellula lydia, Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

24 APR 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (female)

This post features photos of the first and last Common Whitetail dragonflies spotted during photowalks in two remote locations at Huntley Meadows Park. Both individuals are female, as indicated by their coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

15 OCT 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (female)

As its common name suggests Common Whitetail dragonflies are seen commonly, seemingly everywhere, including places far from water. Some dragonflies are habitat specialists; Common Whitetails are habitat generalists. It’s easy to look at something so common and overlook their subtle beauty, that is, until they disappear at the end of dragonfly season.

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Source Credit: Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell.

Editor’s Notes: For the record, the first dragonfly of 2015 was spotted on 18 April, when Mike Powell and I co-discovered the first Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) ever seen/photographed at Huntley Meadows ParkAutumn Meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum) is the last dragonfly species spotted in 2015: 11 November is my personal late-date for this species in 2015; several other odonate enthusiasts have seen Autumn Meadowhawks at Huntley Meadows long afterward.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Seeing the beauty in a common dragonfly

September 6, 2015
A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

21 AUG 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (female)

The preceding photograph shows a Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a female, as indicated by her coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

As its common name suggests Common Whitetail dragonflies are seen commonly, seemingly everywhere, including places far from water. Some dragonflies are habitat specialists; Common Whitetails are habitat generalists. It’s easy to look at something so common and not see its beauty. Although Common Whitetails are subtly beautiful, they are beautiful nonetheless.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (female)

May 27, 2015

Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) was spotted perched in a small meadow near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

A Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

22 MAY 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (female)

A Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

22 MAY 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (female)

A Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

22 MAY 2015 | HMP | Twelve-spotted Skimmer (female)

Female Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonflies appear very similar to female Common Whitetails.

Although males quite different, female Common Whitetail poses identification problem, as she has same 12 wing spots. In addition to being distinctly smaller, female Whitetail has series of yellowish-whitish spots not contacting edge of each abdominal segment, whereas female Twelve-spotted has continuous parallel yellow stripes on either edge of abdomen. In side view of thorax, female Whitetail has additional yellow dot in front of anterior yellow stripe, lacking in Twelve-spotted. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 9017-9021). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

In summary, the key field marker that may be used to differentiate female Twelve-spotted Skimmers from female Common Whitetail Skimmers is the stripe along both sides of their abdomens: Twelve-spotted Skimmers have two stripes of continuous rectangles; Common Whitetails have two stripes made of separated triangles.

Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was spotted about a month earlier at the same location. This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

Look closely at the pattern of wing spots for the female Common Whitetail, in particular, the middle spots on each wing. Notice the shape of each middle spot forms a “spike” that points toward the body of the dragonfly. In contrast, the middle wing spots for female Twelve-spotted Skimmer aren’t “spiked.” An excellent blog post by DSA member Jim Johnson, entitled “ID Challenge #3 Answer,” illustrates the difference in the pattern of wing spots for these two species (using proper terminology).

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female.

27 APR 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Whitetail (female)

Common Whitetail dragonflies, including both males and females, are in fact quite common. In my experience, female Twelve-spotted Skimmers are an uncommon spotting. I wonder how many Twelve-spotted Skimmer females are overlooked by this sort of dismissive thinking: “Nothing to see here folks, it’s just another female Common Whitetail. Move along.”

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

  • Genus Libellula | Libellula pulchella | Twelve-spotted Skimmer | female | top view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula pulchella | Twelve-spotted Skimmer | female | side view
  • Genus Libellula | Libellula lydia [sic] | Common Whitetail | female | top view

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Whitetail dragonflies (immature males)

June 23, 2014

This post features more photos of Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis Lydia) spotted on 18 May 2014 in the meadow east of the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park.

The dragonflies shown below are immature males, as indicated by their coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages. As mature adults, the abdomen of these male dragonflies will be covered by white pruinescence, hence the common name, “Common Whitetail.”

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

I love a good head-tilt

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Whitetail dragonflies (females)

June 21, 2014

On 18 May 2014, I saw lots of Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) in the meadow east of the observation tower at Huntley Meadows Park.

The dragonflies shown below are females, as indicated by their coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

Common Whitetail dragonfly (female)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (female)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (female)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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