Posts Tagged ‘dorsal hooks’

Test shots: Libellula luctuosa exuvia

December 5, 2018

Bob Perkins collected and reared a Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) nymph. This blog post features test shots of the exuvia from the odonate nymph.

Several field marks worth noting include the “tiger stripes” on top of its head, wing pads that are perpendicular to the body, dorsal hooks (exact number unknown without closer examination), and lateral spines on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9).

The exuvia has small pointy eyes, a mask-like labium (prementum) that covers the face, and thin threadlike antennae.

Background color

In this case, “Test shots” also refers to experimentation with the background color. At the suggestion of Larry de March, Western Odonata Facebook group, I shot the test photos on a Vello 18% gray card.

For a background, I prefer something less bright than pure white to simplify exposure and stay within the dynamic range of the camera. Source Credit: Larry de March.

I edited Photo No. 1 and No. 2 a little differently in an attempt to arrive at a pleasing shade of neutral gray. Notice that No. 1 appears bluer in color than No. 2, which seems to be slighty yellowish.

Although a sample size of one doesn’t necessarily prove anything, my initial opinion is I prefer either an off-white or pure white background. Which color do you prefer?

Related Resource: Three-layer focus stack.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot both of the preceding photographs: 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 Lite set for “Master” mode, and several external flashes set for “Slave” mode including Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites and a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen both images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Test shots: Tachopteryx thoreyi exuviae

November 30, 2018

Two Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) exuviae were collected on 23 May 2018 by Walter Sanford near a forested seep at an undisclosed location in Northern Virginia USA. Gray Petaltail is a member of the Family Petaluridae (Petaltails).

Although both specimens are similar, they aren’t identical. For example, twin rows of hook-like structures are clearly visible on the dorsal side of the abdomen on the lower exuvia, and almost invisible on the upper exuvia. The upper exuvia is dirtier and appears to be more “worn” than the lower one. Notice the “schmutz” on the face of the lower exuvia, probably a piece of leaf litter.

Both individuals might be male, as indicated by vestigial hamules that appear to be visible on the ventral side of the specimens.

Test shots of the specimens were taken using a relatively small aperture of f/16 for greater depth of field. Each photo is a “one-off,” that is, not a composite image. Focus stacks will be created sometime in the near future, after the exuviae are rehydrated, cleaned, and posed for better composition.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot both of the preceding photographs: 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 Lite set for “Master” mode, and several external flashes set for “Slave” mode including Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites and a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to spot-heal and sharpen both images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Macromia alleghaniensis exuvia

October 6, 2018

Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, collected an odonate exuvia on 07 June 2018 along either Little Otter Creek or Otter Creek near the place where both creeks are distributaries of Otter Lake in Amherst County, Virginia USA.

A two-step process was used to identify 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 Macromiidae (Cruisers).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium (prementum) that covers the face, as shown in Photo No. 1, characteristic of four families of odonates: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • The teeth on the margins of the labium have a regular pattern. (The pattern reminds me of a “spork.”)
  • Its eyes are small, wide set, and stick up.
  • Image No. 2 shows there is a horn on the face-head, characteristic of Macromiidae.

Photo No. 1 shows a face-head view of the exuvia, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x).

No. 1 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (face-head)

Image No. 2 shows the top of the head of the exuvia, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). Notice the prominent horn on the face.

No. 2 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (head-horn)

Step 2. Genus and species

Two dichotomous keys found on p. 27 of Identification Keys to Northeastern Anisoptera Larvae, compiled by Ken Soltesz, were used to determine 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 this specimen.

Key to the Genera of the Family Macromiidae

***1b. Lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 do not reach to rearward level of tips of inferior appendages [paraprocts]; Sides of head somewhat convergent behind eyes to pair of low turbercules on hind angles; Lateral setae of labium = 6; Small dorsal hook on segment 10. [Macromia]

A small dorsal hook on abdominal segment 10 is characteristic of Genus Macromia.

No. 3 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

Look closely at the full-size version of Image No. 4. Notice the little “nub” on abdominal segment 10 (S10), below the underside of the dorsal hook on abdominal segment nine (S9). The same structure is labeled with a white question mark in Image No. 3.

No. 4 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

The lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 (S9) do not reach rearward to the tips of the inferior appendages (paraprocts).

No. 5 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (dorsal)

Key to the Species of Macromia

1a. Lateral spines of abdominal segments 8 and 9 directed straight to rearward. [illinoiensis]

***1b. Lateral spines of abdominal segments 8 and 9 incurved, especially 8. [alleghaniensis]

The lateral spines of abdominal segments 8 and 9 (S8-9) are incurved, especially segment 8 (S8), indicating this species is alleghaniensis.

No. 6 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (ventral)

This individual is probably a male, as indicated by what appear to be vestigial hamules located on the ventral side of abdominal segments two and three (S2-3).

Summary

A prominent horn on the face is a key field marker for the Family Macromiidae (Cruisers), a small dorsal hook on abdominal segment 10 is one characteristic of the Genus Macromia, and the lateral spines of abdominal segments 8 and 9 (S8-9) are incurved, indicating the species is alleghaniensis. Therefore this specimen is an Allegheny River Cruiser dragonfly (Macromia alleghaniensis).

Bonus Gallery

No. 7 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (face-head)

No. 8 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

No. 9 | Macromia alleghaniensis | exuvia (dorsal)

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo/Image No. 3-9: 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/Image No. 1 and 2Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for ~3x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Image No. 2-8 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Image No. 2 (eight photos); Image No. 3 (six photos); Image No. 4 (four photos); Image No. 5 (five photos); Image No. 6 (five photos); Image No. 7 (seven photos); Image No. 8 (seven photos).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Helocordulia uhleri exuvia

September 14, 2018

An odonate exuvia from the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds) was collected on 06 April 2018 by Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group.

The Backstory

I found a recently-emerged teneral sundragon still clinging to its exuvia along Beck Creek in Amherst County, Virginia USA. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

After snapping a photo, I gently moved the teneral adult to a nearby blade of grass, snapped another shot, and then collected the exuvia. Although I have seen both Selys’ Sundragon (Helocordulia selysii) and Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) in that area, I assumed this one was Selys’ since it’s the more common species there. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

This is a small genus [Helocordulia] of only two known species found in only the eastern United States and Canada. Source Credit: Needham, J.G., M.J. Westfall, and M.L. May. March 2014. Dragonflies of North America, 3rd Edition: p. 376. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, Florida.

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 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. [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, and no horn on its face-head. Although the specimen is too dirty to see the anal pyramid clearly, field observation of the teneral adult confirms the dragonfly is a member of Genus Heliocordulia (Sundragons) in the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

Image No. 1 shows a face-head view of the exuvia, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). Notice the labium that covers the face is missing one of two palpal lobes; the missing lobe is shown in Image No. 4.

No. 1 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for “Helocordulia larvae” that appears on p. 377 in Dragonflies of North America (Needham, et al.) was used 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 this specimen.

***1. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 7-9; palpal setae 7; lateral spines of segment 8 about 1/2 as long as on segment 9 [uhleri]
1’. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 6-9; palpal setae usually 6; lateral spines of segment 8 about as long as on segment 9 [selysii]

Image No. 2 shows a dorsal view of the specimen. Notice the mid-dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9), labeled using white text.

No. 2 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (dorsal)

Image No. 3 clearly shows the dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9). This distinctive character confirms the identity of the species as H. uhleri.

No. 3 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (lateral)

Image No. 4 shows a palpal lobe from the specimen, viewed from the inside, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). There is one palpal seta and at least seven sites where setae might have been located before the palpal lobe broke off the prementum. Although this character is inconclusive for confirming the species (given the condition of the palpal lobe), it’s not exclusive.

No. 4 | Helocordulia uhleri | palpal lobe (inside)

Image No. 5 shows a ventral view of the specimen. Notice the lateral spine on abdominal segment eight (S8) is about half as long as the lateral spine on segment nine (S9).

When measuring spines, I measure them ventral from the inside corner to the tip. There is a suture on the ventral side, near the base, that makes a nice repeatable starting point for measuring. Source Credit: Ken Tennessen, personal communication.

No. 5 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (ventral)

Takeaways

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from working to identify this exuvia is the fact that it enabled the correct identification of the teneral adult dragonfly that Mike observed and photographed. In fact, Mike is the one who first recognized the species is H. uhleri, based upon the number of mid-dorsal hooks on the exuvia.

Tech Tips

Mike Boatwright’s photographs, taken in-situ, were shot using a Canon EOS 7D digital camera and Canon 300mm prime lens paired with a Canon 1.4x Extender EF.

The following equipment was used to shoot Image No. 2, 3, and 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 and 4Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for ~3x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Image No. 1-5 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Image No. 1 (seven photos); Image No. 2 (30 photos); Image No. 3 (16 photos); Image No. 4 (10 photos); Image No. 5 (24 photos).

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.

Ophiogomphus incurvatus exuvia

March 26, 2018

Disclaimer

Soon after I began creating illustrated identification guides for odonate exuviae, I shared a pointer to Perithemis tenera exuviae on the Northeast Odonata Facebook group. Ed Lam commented on my post. The operative sentence is as follows.

I don’t expect anyone to identify Perithemis tenera larvae from Walter’s blog post but it gives a novice a better sense of what larval identification is all about and that has value. Source Credit: Ed Lam, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

I disagree with Ed’s comment, although I let it go at the time in deference to Ed’s considerable expertise. I do expect anyone can use my guides to identify the species of odonate featured in each guide. Otherwise, what’s the point of making the guides? After I read Ed’s comment I tweaked the specific blog post and retooled the template that I use for most guides.

All of that being said, in my opinion it would be challenging at best to identify an exuvia from Ophiogomphus incurvatus to the species level using only the dichotomous key in Dragonflies of North America by Needham et al., the best resource currently available — significant sections of the key are unclear and unreliable. In contrast, Bob Perkins and I know the identity of the specimen because Bob observed the species of adult dragonfly that emerged from the exuvia.

For what it’s worth, this blog post features a fairly complete set of annotated photos of an Ophiogomphus incurvatus exuvia. Perhaps the photo set can be used in combination with the dichotomous key in order to make identification easier for others.

The Backstory

An Appalachian Snaketail dragonfly (Ophiogomphus incurvatus) nymph was collected by Bob Perkins. The nymph was reared in captivity until it emerged on 20 March 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult male. This specimen is the exuvia from the nymph. Appalachian Snaketail is a member of the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails).

A two-step process was used to attempt 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, 5, and 6.
  • 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. Expect a bumpy ride beyond this point!

No. 1 | Ophiogomphus incurvatus | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The size of specific antennal segments is a significant marker for identifying some species of Ophiogomphus. In this case, the antennae on the specimen will need to be cleaned in order to count segments and measure their dimensions.

No. 2 | Ophiogomphus incurvatus | exuvia (dorsal)

Lateral spines are present on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-S9). Dorsal hooks appear to be well developed on segments eight and nine (S8, S9); they resemble “dorsal abdominal processes” on most other abdominal segments.

No. 3 | Ophiogomphus incurvatus | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

The cerci are approximately three-fourths (3/4) as long as the epiproct and paraprocts.

No. 4 | Ophiogomphus incurvatus | exuvia (anal pyramid)

Photo No. 4 and 5 show ventral views of the exuvia.

No. 5 | Ophiogomphus incurvatus | exuvia (ventral)

The vestigial hamules shown in both photos indicate this individual is a male.

After emergence

The next photograph shows the Appalachian Snaketail dragonfly after emergence from one of Bob Perkins‘ holding tanks. Ophiogomphus incurvatus is 40-43 mm in total length (Paulson, 2011).

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

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

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Related Resource

The dichotomous key for Ophiogomphus that appears on pp. 261-262 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. 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 O. incurvatus. Disclaimers are highlighted in boldface red text.

p. 261

1. Abdomen without lateral spines or dorsal hooks; antennal segment 4 minute, much narrower than segment 3. [howei]
***1’. Lateral spines present on abdominal segments 6 or 7-9; dorsal hooks usually well developed, if vestigial then antennal segment 4 more than 1/2 as wide as segment 3. [2]

2(1’). Antennal segment 4 more than 1/2 as wide as segment 3 (Fig. 319a); dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 2-9 low and blunt, or vestigial. [3]
***2’. Antennal segment 4 minute, much less than 1/2 as wide as segment 3; dorsal hooks normally prominent, usually hook-like, on at least some of abdominal segments 2-9 (sometimes low in O. carolus). [4]

p. 262

4(2’). Lateral spines on abdominal segments 6-9 (Fig. 323d). [5]
***4’. Lateral spines on abdominal segments 7-9 only. [6]

***6(4’). Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 2-4 in lateral view usually less than 2/3 as high (measured from lowest point at intersegmental margin) as dorsal length of their respective tergites (along sclerotized, granulated cuticle only), in dorsal view with obtuse apices not extending backward beyond posterior border of tergite (Fig. 322a). [7*]
6’. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 2-4 in lateral view 2/3 as high, or more, (measured as above) as dorsal length of their respective tergites, in dorsal view with acute apices extending backward beyond posterior border of tergite (not beyond smooth intersegmental membrane; Fig. 322e). [14*]

***7(6). Antennal segment 3 not more than twice as long as wide. [8**]
7’. Antennal segment 3 is 2.3 to 3.0 times as long as wide. [10**]

***8(7). Antennal segment 3 is 1.7 to 1.8 times as long as wide; dorsal abdominal hooks highest and subequal on segments 2 or 3 to 4 or 5. [incurvatus**]
8’. Antennal segment 3 is 1.8 to 2.0 times as long as wide; dorsal abdominal hooks highest and subequal on segments 2 and 3 (Fig. 322a). [9**]


* Interpretation of this couplet in some individual cases may be ambiguous; if in doubt try both choices.
** Separation based on antennal measurements may be difficult in practice. Careful attention to shape of antennal segments (Fig. 319) should also help.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 2, 3, and 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. Photo No. 1, 4, and 6Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate Photo No. 1-6Photo No. 2, 4, 5, and 6 are focus-stacked composite images.

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.

Ophiogomphus aspersus exuvia

March 20, 2018

A Brook Snaketail dragonfly (Ophiogomphus aspersusnymph was collected by Bob Perkins on either 10 SEP 2017 or 03 OCT 2017 (the date is uncertain) along the New River in southwestern Virginia. The nymph was reared in captivity until it emerged on 31 OCT 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female. The following specimen is the exuvia from the nymph. Brook Snaketail 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, 4, and 5.
  • Antennae are club-like (not thin and thread-like, as in  Aeshnidae larvae), as shown in Photo No. 1.

No. 1 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for Ophiogomphus that appears on p. 262 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia. The eleventh couplet [11, 11′] is as follows.

11(10). Lateral margins of prementum slightly convergent in distal 1/2 (Fig. 320c); lateral abdominal spines about 1/8 length of lateral margin of corresponding segment; in dorsal view, cerci about 2-1/2 times as long as basal width; dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 3-6 erect (Fig. 322d). [aspersus]

11’. Lateral margins of prementum parallel or slightly divergent in distal 1/2 (Fig. 320K); lateral abdominal spines each about 1/5 length of lateral margin of corresponding segment; in dorsal view, cerci each about twice as long as basal width; dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 3-6 appressed (Fig. 322d). [rupinsulensis]

No. 2 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (dorsal)

The word “process,” as in “dorsal abdominal process,” is defined as follows.

An upstanding prominence, usually narrow and rod-like or spine-like. Source Credit: Glossary, Dragonflies of North America.

The dorsal hooks, a.k.a., dorsal abdominal processes, on abdominal segments three through six (S3-S6) are erect. Hey, call them whatever you like, including “erect” — there are raised bumps along most of the mid-dorsal abdomen, some of which are raised more noticeably than others, as shown in Photo No. 3.

No. 3 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

The next two annotated images show ventral views of the exuvia.

No. 4 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (ventral)

The flat labium doesn’t cover the face and the lateral margins of the prementum are slightly convergent in the distal half, as shown in Photo No. 5.

No. 5 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (prementum)

Lateral spines are present on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-S9) only. Did I measure the length of the lateral abdominal spines to see whether they are about one-eighth (1/8) the length of the lateral margin of the corresponding segment? In a word, no — the length looks about right to my unaided eye.

The cerci are about two-and-a-half (2-1/2) times as long as their basal width. Again, the length looks about right to my unaided eye.

No. 6 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (anal pyramid)

The rudimentary ovipositor shown in Photo No. 4 and 7 indicates this individual is a female.

No. 7 | Ophiogomphus aspersus | exuvia (rudimentary ovipositor)

After emergence

The next photograph shows the Brook Snaketail dragonfly after emergence from one of Bob Perkins‘ holding tanks. Ophiogomphus aspersus is 44-49 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.

The last close-up photo shows a ventral view of the subgenital plate.

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 2-4: 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 and 5-7: Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

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.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Stylurus plagiatus exuvia

March 2, 2018

Michael Powell collected several odonate exuviae during a photowalk along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including two damselflies and two dragonflies. The exact date is uncertain, although Mike thinks the exuviae were collected sometime between 19-23 July 2017.

Both dragonfly exuviae are from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), as indicated by a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face as well as club-like antennae. The smaller specimen was identified as an Erpetogomphus designatus exuvia; this post describes the decision tree used to identify the larger specimen.

No. 1 | Stylurus plagiatus | exuvia (face-head)

Refer to Photo No. 2, 3, and 4. Notice that abdominal segment nine (S9) is elongated, strongly suggesting this individual is a member of the genus Stylurus.

The dichotomous key for Stylurus larvae that appears on pp. 310-312 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to identify the species of the exuvia. The ninth couplet [9, 9′] is as follows.

9(7’). Length of abdominal segment 9 at least equal to its basal width; lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 at least 1-1/2 times as long as those of segment 8; dorsal hook of segment 9 often large, in southern specimens overhanging segment 10; each labial palp with 3 teeth in addition to end hook; greatest width of prementum at least 4/5 its length. [plagiatus]
9’. Length of abdominal segment 9 less than its basal width; lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 no more than 1-1/2 times as long as those of segment 8; dorsal hook of segment 9 small, sometimes vestigial; labial palp with 2-3 teeth in addition to end hook; greatest width of prementum no more than 3/4 its length. [10]

Abdominal segment nine (S9) is slightly longer than its basal width, as shown in Photo No. 2. The lateral spines of segment nine (S9) are much longer than segment eight (S8).

No. 2 | Stylurus plagiatus | exuvia (dorsal)

Photo No. 3 shows a dorsal view of the distal abdomen. Notice the large dorsal hook of abdominal segment nine (S9) overhangs segment 10 (S10), a key marker for southern specimens of plagiatus. The dorsal hook couldn’t be seen before the exuvia was cleaned.

No. 3 | Stylurus plagiatus | exuvia (dorsal)

The flat labium doesn’t cover the face, as shown in Photo No. 4 and 5.

No. 4 | Stylurus plagiatus | exuvia (ventral)

Photo No. 5 shows a close-up of the prementum. Each labial palp features at least three (3) teeth in addition to the end hook. The greatest width of the prementum is approximately four-fifths (4/5) of its length.

No. 5 | Stylurus plagiatus | exuvia (prementum)

This specimen is confirmed as an exuvia from a Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus).

The Backstory

Photo No. 6, featured in a recent blog post entitled Getting Started, is focused on abdominal segment nine (S9).

This specimen may need to be cleaned in order to see more clearly some key field markers used for identification.

No. 6 | Potomac River, Fairfax County, VA | odonate exuvia

The specimen was soaked in soapy water for at least 24 hours. A plastic spoon was used to scoop the exuvia from the water bath and transfer it to a dry plastic tray. Then a soft artist’s paintbrush was used to clean the exuvia, with extra attention on abdominal segment nine (S9). Two damselfly exuviae are soaking in the same water bath, shown below. Other useful tools include a magnifying glass and a plastic toothpick.

The odonate exuviae cleaning station at BoG Photo Studio.

The exuvia is pliable after soaking in water for at least 24 hours. After the specimen was cleaned, it was posed and allowed to dry for another day. The handle of a plastic spoon is a good drying rack that makes it easier to pose the legs. The Stylurus plagiatus exuvia is shown in the following photograph. The broken leg resting on the handle of the spoon was attached to the body only by spider web.

Stylurus plagiatus exuvia, posed on the handle of a plastic spoon.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 1, 2 and 4: 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. 3 and 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x magnification); 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.

A Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom bridge camera was used to take photos of the odonate exuviae cleaning station.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Stenogomphurus rogersi exuvia

February 24, 2018

Bob Perkins collected an unknown species of clubtail larva in February 2017 from a stream located in either Carroll- or Grayson County, Virginia USA. The larva emerged from one of Bob’s holding tanks on 13 March 2017 and metamorphosed into an adult female Sable Clubtail dragonfly (Stenogomphurus rogersi).

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 Gomphidae (Clubtails).

  • The specimen has a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face (not mask-like). [See Photo No. 2.]
  • Antennae are club-like (not thin and thread-like, as in Aeshnidae). [See Photo No. 1.]
  • Eyes not exceptionally large compared to the size of the head (not large, as in Aeshnidae). [See Photo No. 1.]
(See a full-size version of the original photo, without annotation.)

The white filaments that extend from the split in the thorax (as shown above) are breathing tubes, artifacts of the unique respiratory system of dragonfly nymphs.

Step 2. Genus and species

Gomphidae is the second largest family of dragonflies, so it can be challenging to identify some specimens to the genus and species level.

The dichotomous key for Gomphidae larvae that appears on p. 233 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to verify the genus and species of 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. Median premental tooth lower than surrounding setae (Fig. 271b); small dorsal hooks present on abdominal segments 8 and 9; lateral spines present on segment 6 (Fig. 272) [rogersi]
1’. Median premental tooth as high as surrounding setae (Fig. 271a); dorsal hooks absent or vestigial on abdominal segments 8 and 9; lateral spines usually absent on segment 6 (Fig. 272) [consanguis]

The following annotated image shows a ventral view of the prementum. Notice the median premental tooth is lower than the surrounding setae.

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

The next annotated image shows a dorsal view of the distal abdomen. A leap of faith is required to see the small dorsal hooks present on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8, S9), but they are there. Also notice the lateral spines present on segment six (S6).

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

Therefore this specimen is confirmed as an exuvia from Stenogomphurus rogersi. Further, the rudimentary ovipositor shown in Photo No. 4 indicates this individual is a female.

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

Bonus Gallery

No. 5 | Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi) | exuvia (head-dorsal)

The Stenogomphurus rogersi exuvia is ~3.0 cm (~1.2 in) long.

No. 6 | Sable Clubtail (Stenogomphurus rogersi) | exuvia (dorsal-lateral)

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

Adult Sable Clubtail dragonflies are slightly larger, on average 4.7 – 5.0 cm (~1.9 – ~2.0 in) long.

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings and terminal appendages.

Image used with permission from Bob Perkins.

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot Photo No. 1, 4, 5 and 6: 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 Lite. A Sunpak LED-160 Video Light (with a white translucent plastic filter) was used for some photos. Photo No. 2 and 3: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for 2x magnification); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Bob Perkins’ photos, taken soon after emergence, were shot using a Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera body and Canon EF-S 60mm macro lens.

Related Resource: Miraculous metamorphosis, a blog post featuring a head-to-head juxtaposition of the same exuvia and dragonfly that are the subjects in this post.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Tachopteryx thoreyi exuvia

February 14, 2018

A Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) exuvia was collected on 28 May 2017 by Mike Boatwright in Amherst County, Virginia USA. Gray Petaltail is a member of the Family Petaluridae (Petaltails).

The exuvia has a flat labium, similar to members of the Family Aeshnidae (Darners) and Family Gomphidae (Clubtails). Its seven-segmented antennae are thick and club-like, similar to Clubtail dragonflies.

No. 1 | Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) | exuvia (face-head)

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

The specimen is ~3.5 cm long and  ~1 cm wide. The wing pads extend to the end of abdominal segment five (S5), as shown in Photo No. 2.

The exuvia features two rows of hook-like structures down its back.

[The] two rows that look like hooks are not hooks at all but rather stout, slight curved setae that are oriented vertically. Source Credit: Ken Tennessen, Western Odonata Facebook group.

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

Photo No. 3 shows a ventral view of the exuvia. Notice the “rudimentary ovipositor” located on abdominal segment nine (S9). An ovipositor is used for egg-laying by all adult damselflies and some species of adult dragonflies: females have this feature; males do not. Therefore, this individual is a female Gray Petaltail.

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

The Backstory

Mike Boatwright has steadfastly resisted my best efforts to lure him to the dark side of odonate exuviae collection and identification. As a concession to me, Mike kindly agreed to look-out for exuviae in unusual habitats. As it turns out, the first exuvia Mike collected for me is a prized specimen. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Mike strikes gold in Virginia!”

Image used with permission from Mike Boatwright.

“Beginner’s luck?” Nope. I know from firsthand experience Mike Boatwright is an extraordinarily keen-eyed odonate hunter. Way to go, Mike!

Related Resource

The dichotomous key for Petaluridae larvae that appears on p. 320 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. is as follows.

1. Antennae 6-segmented, 3rd and 5th segments longer than wide (Fig. 381); cerci each more than 1/2 as long as epiproct; lateral margins of abdominal segments 3-9 not expanded, lateral spines inconspicuous; western [Tanypteryx (p. 322)]
1’. Antennae 7-segmented, 3rd and 5th segments not longer than wide (Fig. 379); cerci each less than 1/2 as long as epiproct; lateral margins of abdominal segments 3-9 expanded, lateral spines conspicuous; eastern [Tachopteryx (p. 321)]

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the preceding photographs: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tube; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); 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.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to annotate selected images.

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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