Posts Tagged ‘Cordulegaster erronea’

Hunting spiketail dragonflies in Virginia

January 11, 2022

There are three genera in Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails) worldwide: Anotogaster; Cordulegaster; and Neallogaster. Only Genus Cordulegaster is found in the United States of America.

Four species of Cordulegaster are found in the Commonwealth of Virginia: Brown Spiketail (C. bilineata); Tiger Spiketail (C. erronea); Twin-spotted Spiketail (C. maculata); and Arrowhead Spiketail (C. obliqua).

It’s all about habitat, habitat, habitat.

In the world of odonates, there are habitat generalists and habitat specialists. Spiketail dragonflies are habitat specialists.

Dennis Paulson’s description of the habitat for each species of spiketail found in Virginia is shown in the following list. Notice the list is generic, meaning, specific names are not given. As you read the descriptions, look for commonalities among the habitats.

1. Cordulegaster sp.

Habitat: Small to midsized rocky streams with good current and muddy pools, typically in forest. Occasionally seen patrolling on larger rivers. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7058-7059). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

2. Cordulegaster sp.

Habitat: Small woodland streams. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 7145). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

3. Cordulegaster sp.

Habitat: Small swift streams and soft-bottomed muddy seeps in forest, also streams reduced to series of small pools during drier weather. As in some other spiketails, skunk cabbage often present. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7081-7082). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

4. Cordulegaster sp.

Habitat: Small forest streams and seeps, often with skunk cabbage and interrupted fern. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis. Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7028-7029). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Commonalities

Did you notice the habitats for all four species of spiketails found in Virginia have two characteristics in common?

  • small streams, sometimes seep-fed
  • located in the forest/woodlands

When we say small streams, we mean smallmuch smaller than you might think! Although Twin-spotted Spiketail can be found along mid-size streams (often near the confluence of a smaller stream with a mid-size stream) we think Twin-spotted are more common on small streams.

Answer Key

The following list shows the species of spiketail that matches each of Dennis Paulson’s habitat descriptions.

  1. Twin-spotted Spiketail (Cordulegaster maculata)
  2. Brown Spiketail (Cordulegaster bilineata)
  3. Arrowhead Spiketail (Cordulegaster obliqua)
  4. Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea)

The common name for each species is hyperlinked to a page in Walter Sanford’s Photoblog featuring many photographs of that species. The scientific name for each species is linked to Mike Boatwright’s “Spiketails” gallery of photographs on Facebook; click on each photo to see the identity of the spiketail species.

The spiketail species in the preceding lists are shown in chronological order of emergence in Virginia, with Twin-spotted being the earliest and Tiger being the latest. There is some overlap of adult flight periods for some species. Online, interactive Odonate Calendars help you know when to be on the lookout for each species.

I found a small woodland stream. Where should I look for spiketails?

If you’re planning to hunt for spiketails during the 2022 odonate season, the time is now to start scouting small streams in the forest such as the one shown in the following photo.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Our advice: Focus on finding the right habitat first, rather than finding a particular species of spiketail. Revisit the same small stream(s) periodically throughout the entire odonate season to see which species prefer the stream(s). Be peristent — persistence pays when hunting spiketails!

Twin-spotted Spiketail and Brown Spiketail can be found perching either in fields or along trails located near the small streams from which they emerge. In our experience, Brown Spiketail spends the most time perching of all species of spiketails found in Virginia.

Arrowhead Spiketail and Tiger Spiketail fly long patrols back-and-forth along the stream channel itself, approximately six inches (6″) above the water level. Arrowhead Spiketail stops to perch at the end points of its patrol, often in a sunny clearing or field. On the other hand, we think it’s safe to say Tiger Spiketail perches infrequently.

Do other types of odonates live in the same habitat?

Seeps and small seep-fed streams in the forest are perfect places to look for Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi), another habitat specialist found in Virginia, as well as spiketails such as Arrowhead and Tiger.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Related Resources

Editor’s Note: My good friend and odonate hunting buddy Mike Boatwright and I collaborated to share some of the wisdom gleaned from our experiences hunting spiketail dragonflies in Virginia. Thanks, Mike — couldn’t have done it without you!

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New Life List additions in 2021

December 21, 2021

The anticipation of the hunt and the thrill of discovery — the adrenalin rush from finding new species of odonates is ever more elusive as one gains experience and expertise. Accordingly, the number of additions to my Life List is fewer year after year.

Selys’s Sundragon (Helocordulia selysii)

Selys’ Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia selysii) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male with a malformed abdomen. Selys’s Sundragon is a new species for both my Life List of odonates and for Prince William County, VA.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Selys’s Sundragon (male)

Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) and Selys’s Sundragon are colocated at many sites — find one species and you should find the other. I’ve been on the lookout for Selys’s since Uhler’s was found several years ago near the site where this Selys’s was spotted.

Yellow-sided Skimmer (Libellula flavida)

Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula flavida) were spotted around a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

The first individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

The last individual is a male, as indicated by his blue coloration and terminal appendages.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (male)

Many species of dragonflies in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are habitat generalists and relatively easy to find almost anywhere there is water. In contrast, Yellow-sided Skimmer is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea)

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) was captured along a small stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The specimen was photographed and released unharmed.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

“Sight records are insufficient” is one of many “Walterisms.” In other words, I don’t add a species to my Life List until I have photographed it. And so it is with Tiger Spiketail. I have seen several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies during the past few years (at several locations) but had no photos to show for my efforts because they are fliers rather than perchers.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Mouth parts – Tiger Spiketail exuvia

November 12, 2021

I revisited a photograph featured in a blog post published several years ago. I wanted to annotate the image to include information that I learned recently.

The following annotated image shows the face and mouth of an exuvia from a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) after its scoop-shaped face mask was pulled away from the head in order to count setae on the inner side of the prementum.

Cordulegaster erronea | exuvia (face and mouth)

There are two mandibles, one located on each side of the labrum. And there are two maxilla, one located below each mandible. Coarse setae make it challenging to see all of the parts clearly.

Sincere thanks to Marla Garrison for verifying my tentative identification of these mouth parts. And of course, thanks to Mike Boatwright for collecting and sharing the specimen with me.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Anatomy of a male Tiger Spiketail

August 10, 2021

The following annotated image shows a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea). This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

Hamules

Hamules? What are hamules?

hamules: paired structures that project from genital pocket under second segment and hold female abdomen in place during copulation Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 11618-116198). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

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. 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.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

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

Indented hind wings

Male members of many families of dragonflies have “indented” hind wings near the body, with some notable exceptions.

Hind wing venation and shape can identify the sex of most dragonflies. Petaltails, darners (except Anax), clubtails, spiketails, cruisers, and some emeralds. Wing shape isn’t helpful to sex baskettails since they are largely the same. They are different in Cordulia, Dorocordulia, Somatochlora and to a lesser degree, Neurocordulia. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Terminal appendages

Identifying female versus male dragonflies and damselflies can be challenging but it’s a little easier when you know how to differentiate their terminal appendages.

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 dragonfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of dragonflies, but their function is identical.

Generally speaking, spiketail dragonflies have relatively small terminal appendages. That said, they must get the job done!

Related Resource: Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male) – a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (male)

August 7, 2021

Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) was captured along a small stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The specimen was photographed and released unharmed.

The first few images show Michael Powell, my former friend and photowalking buddy, holding the dragonfly while I shot some photographs.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules, “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

What a handsome face! Cue “Eye Of The Tiger” by Survivor.

05 AUG 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail (male)

The next image shows me holding the dragonfly so that Mike could take some photographs.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

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

Up, up, and away!

The last photograph shows the Tiger Spiketail “posed” au naturel on the trunk of a fallen tree. Mike and I chose that spot because it was one of only a few sunny places along the small forest stream. The Tiger flew away almost immediately after I released him, headed toward the tree canopy. Mike had time for one clear shot. Good thing, ‘cuz I had no opportunity to get a shot.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

The backstory

I went on my first Tiger safari during July 2018 when I visited a location in Fairfax County, Virginia that a friend shared with me in strictest confidence. Although I saw several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies, every individual was in flight and I was unable to shoot still photos and/or video — they were gone by the time I reached for my camera!

Every year for the next few years, the story was similar — I saw Tigers but had no photos/videos to verify my sightings. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I would need to capture a specimen with an insect net in order to take photographs.

Let me be perfectly clear — all things being equal I would prefer to photograph dragonflies perching naturally rather than netting them. Sometimes, as in this case, netting is the better way to go.

Rest assured I have great respect for the rare- to uncommon species of odonates. The Tiger Spiketail featured in this post was held in captivity no longer than absolutely necessary, and was handled gently at all times.

Our strategy

Mike and I arrived at the stream site sometime after 10 a.m. While I setup my 18” diameter collapsible insect net, Mike took the point a little farther downstream to look for a Tiger approaching our location. No more than 10 minutes after I was in position alongside the stream, Mike spotted a Tiger flying upstream in our direction.

I waited until the Tiger had almost reached the place where I was standing before I swung my net forward smoothly and was psyched to see the dragonfly go all the way into the net. I said to Mike, “I got it!”

From that point, I worked quickly to gently remove the dragonfly from the net so that Mike and I could take some photographs of this rare species.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Cordulegaster erronea in the United States of America. Tiger Spiketail is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Habitat for Tiger Spiketail dragonfly

August 9, 2019

Millions of readers have acquired the secrets of success through The Magic of Thinking Big. Source Credit: Amazon.

One of the secrets of success when scouting good habitat for Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea) is “the magic of thinking small,” as in small seep-fed streams in the forest.

What does the right habitat look like?

The following photos were taken during a Tiger hunt with Michael Powell along a small stream in the forest at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. The photos are shown in sequence as we worked our way downstream from the headwaters. Mike and I have seen a single Tiger Spiketail patrolling this stream on two days during 2019: 01 July; and 06 August.

The first photo shows a seep in the forest at the headwaters of a small stream located along a segment of a marked trail in Prince William County, Virginia. Notice that skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) aren’t associated with this seep.

06 AUG 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail habitat

The next photo is located a short distance downstream from the headwaters, looking back upstream. The stream channel is ~2-3 feet wide and no more than a few inches deep.

06 AUG 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail habitat

A smaller “side seep” (upper-right) is a tributary of the same stream (foreground).

06 AUG 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail habitat

The last photo shows the view looking downstream from a point just below the small side seep. Although the stream seems to disappear near the bright sunlit patch on the forest floor, in fact the stream flows over the first in a series of mini-“waterfalls” that get progressively higher going downstream.

06 AUG 2019 | PNC. William County, VA | Tiger Spiketail habitat

What time of day is best for Tiger hunting?

Based upon field observations by Kevin Munroe, Michael Boatwright, and Mike Powell and me, Tiger Spiketail seems to have two time periods of increased activity that might be site-dependent: 10 a.m. to 12 noon; and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mike Boatwright and I speculate increased activity might be associated with the time of day when a given site receives more sunlight. The Tiger at the site Mike Powell and I visited seems to be a “morning person.”

Do other odonates live in the same habitat?

Mike Powell photographed a Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) along the same stream on 10 July 2019. Now we know with reasonable certainty that Gray Petaltail and Tiger Spiketail can coexist in the same seep(s).

Mike also photographed a Twin-spotted Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster maculata) on 16 April 2019 in a field near the mouth of the stream. Twin-spotted Spiketail larvae probably live in the stream itself, rather than the seeps that feed the stream.

Related Resource: Habitat for Tiger Spiketail dragonfly, featuring GoPro video showing another small stream where Tiger Spiketail has been observed in Northern Virginia.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Habitat for Tiger Spiketail dragonfly

August 9, 2018

In the world of odonates, there are habitat generalists and habitat specialists. Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) is a habitat specialist.

Habitat: Small forest streams and seeps, often with skunk cabbage and interrupted fern. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 7028-7029). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The following video shows ideal habitat for C. erronea: A clean, seep-fed small stream in the forest.

The black rock in the middle of the creek is approximately five feet (~5′) from the place in the stream channel where I was sitting on a Coleman camp stool. The video begins with me looking at a seep that feeds the stream; then I pan left, right, and back to center stage.

Tech Tips: The preceding movie looks better viewed in full-screen mode. The video was recorded in 1080p at 60 fps using a head-mounted GoPro Hero4 Black action camera. The camera was positioned so that it recorded what I saw when looking straight ahead; the scene changed by moving my head. 60 fps was used so that I could edit the video to show smooth slow-motion video of Tiger Spiketail dragonflies in flight. I think one of the bigger take-aways is a Tiger fly-by would have been recorded clearly enough to be able to identify the species. For what it’s worth, the closest focusing distance of the GoPro Hero4 Black is approximately 12 inches (~1′).

GoPro CapCam©

A GoPro QuickClip was used to mount an action camera on the bill of a baseball cap.

GoPro Hero4 Black action camera, plus QuickClip mount.

The GoPro Head Strap + QuickClip is compatible with all GoPro cameras and sells for $19.95 retail.

GoPro Hero4 Black action camera, plus QuickClip mount.

The Backstory

I visited the location shown in the video three times: Several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies were observed at the site on 19- and 26 July 2018; no Tiger Spiketails were spotted on 06 August 2018, the day the video was recorded. It’s worth noting that the adult flight period for C. erronea peaks in July in Northern Virginia (USA). Most of the window of opportunity was missed due to near record setting rainfall for the month of July, including a period of seven consecutive days of rain totaling nearly 10 inches!

Although I saw several Tiger Spiketail dragonflies, every individual was in flight and I was unable to shoot still photos and/or video — they were gone by the time I reached for my camera! The GoPro CapCam© is my solution to this problem.

An Apple iPad mini is used to remotely control the action camera using the “GoPro app” (formerly known as “Capture” and currently known as “Quik“) via Bluetooth. Among many features, the app provides real-time display of the camera field of view. The camera is positioned correctly on the bill of my cap by holding the iPad directly in my line of sight and adjusting the camera mount so the iPad is shown in the middle of the screen, against the background.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Post update: Cordulegastridae exuvia

February 16, 2018

In a recent blog post entitled Cordulegastridae exuvia, I was able to identify the specimen to the family level. Since then, I was able to identify the genus and species.

The dichotomous key for Cordulegastridae larvae that appears on p. 330 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to identify the exuvia.

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

The first couplet [1, 1′] is as follows.

1. No lateral spines on abdominal segments 8-9; western [2]
1’. Lateral spines present on segments 8-9; eastern [3]

No. 1 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (ventral)

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

Since the preceding annotated image shows lateral spines on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8, S9), proceed to the third couplet [3, 3′].

3(1’). Palpal setae 4; usually 5 large and 5 small premental setae present; some setae on margin of frontal shelf spatulate (Fig. 391e) [erronea]
3’. Palpal setae 5-7; 5-9 large and 3-5 small premental setae present; all setae on frontal shelf slender, not spatulate (Fig. 391f) [4]

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

The preceding annotated image shows the inner side of the prementum. Four (4) palpal setae are present, plus five (5) large- and five (5) small premental setae. The premental setae on the lower-right side of the prementum seem to be more intact than the ones on the upper-left: the large premental setae are labeled using white numerals; the small premental setae are labeled using red numerals.

The setae on the frontal shelf are mostly missing, as shown below. It’s possible they were broken off either when the larva burrowed in stream sediment (personal correspondence, Sue Gregoire) or when I cleaned the specimen.

No. 3 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (frontal shelf)

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

Genus and species

The number of palpal setae strongly indicates the specimen is an exuvia from a Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea). Further, the rudimentary ovipositor shown in Photo No. 1 indicates this individual is a female.

The face behind the mask

Do you remember the way the female exuvia looked with its mask-like labium in place? In my opinion, she looked exotically beautiful!

No. 4 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (face-head)

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

Well, that was then and this now. The following photo shows the face and mouth of the exuvia after the face mask was pulled away from the face in order to count the setae on the inner side of the prementum. Look closely at the full-size version of the photo. Yikes, that’s the stuff of nightmares!

No. 5 | Cordulegaster sp. | exuvia (face and mouth)

Related Resources

  • Cordulegastridae exuvia, a blog post by Walter Sanford featuring an exuvia collected by Mike Boatwright.
  • Odonate Exuviae – a hyperlinked list of identification guides to many species of odonate exuviae from seven families of dragonflies and three families of damselflies.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot macro Photo No. 2, 3 and 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (set for 2x); 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.

The following equipment was used to shoot macro Photo No. 1 and 4Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera; Fujifilm MCEX-11 extension tube; and Fujinon XF80mm macro lens. An off-camera Fujifilm EF-X500 external flash unit and Sunpak LED-160 Video Light (with a white translucent plastic filter) were used for Photo No. 4. A Raynox DCR-250 close-up filter and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite was used for Photo No. 1.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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