Posts Tagged ‘Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails)’

Twin-spotted Spiketail (terminal appendages)

January 25, 2022

Male

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 members of the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails), including male Twin-spotted Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster maculata), have relatively small cerci (terminal appendages) that can be mistaken for female cerci.

07 MAY 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Twin-spotted Spiketail (male)

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.

07 MAY 2018 | Fairfax County, VA | Twin-spotted Spiketail (male)

Female

As far as I know I have never seen a female Twin-Spotted Spiketail. (I have seen several individuals that I was unable to photograph.) No problem. Mike Boatwright kindly allowed me to annotate a couple of his photographs.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

These individuals are female, as indicated by their rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and prominent subgenital plate (ovipositor) at the tip of their abdomen.

Photo used with written permission from Mike Boatwright.

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Arrowhead Spiketail (terminal appendages)

January 21, 2022

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonflies (Cordulegaster obliqua) were spotted along small streams at undisclosed locations in Fairfax County and Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Male and female Arrowhead Spiketails are similar in appearance. They can be differentiated based upon several field marks.

Male

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

07 JUL 2014 | Fairfax County | Arrowhead Spiketail (male)

Arrowhead male and female cerci are similar in appearance, and it can be challenging to see the epiproct clearly from some viewpoints. When in doubt whether an individual is male or female, look for indentations at the base of the hind wings of males.

07 JUL 2014 | Fairfax County | Arrowhead Spiketail (male)

Female

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and prominent subgenital plate (ovipositor) at the tip of her abdomen.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. Wm. County | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

Although Arrowhead male and female cerci are similar in appearance, there is no mistaking the subgenital plate of female spiketails! It’s easy to see why “Spiketails” is the common name for Family Cordulegastridae.

21 MAY 2019 | PNC. Wm. County | Arrowhead Spiketail (female)

So the take-away is simple: If you see a subgenital plate then the individual is definitely female; if not, then it’s probably a male.

Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

How to estimate instar

October 29, 2021

Most odonate larvae (nymphs) go through 10-13 stages of development known as “instars.” F-0 is the final instar, F-1 the preceding instar, and so forth.

Sidebar

The “F” in the name for every instar stands for Final. “F-0” is the final instar. “F-1” means final instar minus one, that is, the stage that precedes the final instar. “F-2” means two stages before the final instar.

Ken Tennessen, author of Dragonfly Nymphs of North America: An Identification Guide, devised a method for determining instar by examining hind wing length and head width.

Calculating the ratio between hind wing length and head width results in a number that is approximately equivalent to instar, that is, assuming you know how to interpret the result¹.

The equation for instar equivalent is as follows.

Instar equivalent = HwL / HW

Where HwL is Hind wing Length and HW is Head Width.

Math Tips

Fractions are read from top-to-bottom, or when written as shown above, left-to-right. The equation literally says “Instar equivalent equals Hind wing Length divided by Head Width.”

The equation is units independent, meaning any units of measurement can be used as long as the same units are used above and below the dividing line. Instar equivalent is a dimensionless number because the units cancel during division. (Remember “dimensional analysis” from chemistry and physics?)

For most of the life of an odonate larva (nymph) its head is wider than the length of its wing pads. Therefore instar equivalent is calculated by dividing a smaller number by a larger number, resulting in a decimal fraction. As the wing pads grow, the instar equivalent increases until the ratio is approximately 1:1 (or slightly larger) at F-0, the final instar.

¹According to empirical data collected by Tennessen, average instar equivalents are as follows: ≥1.00 for F-0; 0.66 for F-1; 0.50 for F-2; 0.33 for F-3; and 0.25 for F-4. Remember, these numbers are averages — your mileage might vary.

Theory into practice

Cordulegaster sp. larva (female) | dorsal view

I used the Adobe Photoshop “Ruler Tool” to measure the number of pixels along the two double-tipped white arrows shown in the preceding annotated image of a preserved specimen.

Tech Tips

60s ‘shop: Using the ruler tool to measure distances in Photoshop CC, by Photoshop for the Scientist (1:00) provides a clear and concise explanation of how it’s done.

HwL is ~920.81 pixels. HW is ~911.15 pixels.

Instar equivalent = 920.81 pixels / 911.15 pixels

The units cancel, so the answer is ~1.01 — close enough to the average value for F-0 (final instar). Easy, huh?

What are the take-aways?

  1. An instar of F-0 indicates the spiketail larva featured in this blog post was nearer the end of the larval phase of its life than the beginning. Time is dilated for larvae in the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails), so it’s difficult to say how much longer it would have been until the larva metamorphosed into an adult.
  2. Every odonate exuvia is a cast skin of the larva at F-0, the final instar, before it emerges to become an adult. Therefore the instar equivalent for all exuviae should be ≥1.00. Try it and see!

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Cordulegaster sp. larva

October 22, 2021

Odonates are aquatic insects. They spend most of their life as larvae (nymphs) that live in water; this stage of their life cycle can last from a few months to a few years. Finally, they emerge from the water and metamorphose into adults in order to reproduce; their offspring return to the water and the cycle begins again.

This post features annotated images of a larva (nymph) from the Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails) that was collected and reared by Bob Perkins. The larva died before it metamorphosed into an adult.

The distinctive jagged crenulations on the face mask of spiketails are unmistakeable!

Cordulegaster sp. larva (preserved specimen) | face-head

This individual is a female, as indicated by her developing ovipositor that can be seen on the ventral side of the specimen along the boundary between abdominal segments eight and nine (S8, S9).

Cordulegaster sp. larva (female) | ventral view

The presence of a ventromedial groove in the prementum is a reliable field mark for larvae/exuviae in Family Corduliidae (Emeralds). Some species of larvae/exuviae in other families of dragonflies, such as Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails), feature a ventromedial groove in the prementum. In this case, the presence of a ventromedial groove does not indicate this specimen is an Emerald.

Most odonate larvae go through 10-13 stages of development known as “instars.” The author lacks sufficient experience to identify the instar of this specimen, although it appears to be one of the later stages as indicated by its well-developed wing pads, shown below.

Post Update: According to Ken Tennessen, author of Dragonfly Nymphs of North America: An Identification Guide, F-0 is the instar of this specimen (final instar). Thanks, Ken!

Cordulegaster sp. larva (female) | dorsal view

Larvae (nymphs)/exuviae in Family Cordulegaster (Spiketails) are burrowers, as indicated by the dirty, sediment-covered dorsal side and relatively clean ventral side of this specimen.

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.

It’s all about habitat, habitat, habitat.

April 23, 2021

Seeps and small streams in the forest are perfect places to look for habitat specialist dragonflies such as petaltails and spiketails.

An old place revisited.

The following photograph of a forest seep has been featured in my blog at least once in the past. The seep feeds a small pond; Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) can be found feeding and perching in sunny spots around the pond during late-May and early-June.

23 MAY 2018 | Prince William County, VA | forested seep

The seep is the habitat where Gray Petaltail larvae live most of their lives, not the pond. I always wondered how so many adult petaltails could emerge from this relatively small seep.

Turns out Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy, must have been wondering the same thing because he explored the area upstream from the small seep shown above and discovered several more seeps located close to the one near the pond.

The next photo shows Mike resting on a log along the edge of one of the seeps, near the confluence of two small streams. Notice the patch of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) growing in the seep — a good sign that you might be looking at habitat suitable for Gray Petaltail.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | forested seep

A new place worth exploring further.

Mike also discovered another small stream in the forest when he was exploring for Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri). The stream is located at the approximate midpoint between two trails, so I nicknamed it “Middle Creek.” Clever, huh? Note the patch of skunk cabbage growing in a seep alongside the stream. Did an alarm just go off in your head?

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | forested stream and seep

Mike and I are eager to explore the stream further, mainly looking for Gray Petaltail during late spring. Several species of spiketails might be found there as well.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (male)

June 17, 2020

An Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) was spotted during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his hamules and terminal appendages.

08 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Arrowhead Spiketail (male)

The Backstory

At the end of a long day in the field, Mike Powell and I were walking back to the car slowly when we spotted a group of 10-or-so large dragonflies hawking insects over a HUGE field, near a small drainage pipe. We stopped to watch the hawkers hoping one would land; I sat on my Coleman camp stool to rest in the shade and enjoy the aerial acrobatics show.

One of the large dragonflies zoomed past Mike (he says he never saw it) and landed on a tall grass stem near the drainage pipe. It was the male Arrowhead Spiketail shown above!

Turns out the place is nothing like the habitat described as ideal (see below). I’ll say this: Three out of four times I’ve seen Arrowhead Spiketails, a fly-by was how I found them. So maybe just sit in a good spot and wait for the game to come to you. Maybe.

Habitat

Disclaimer: I have observed and photographed four (4) Arrowhead Spiketail dragonflies. I feel somewhat uncomfortable providing habitat guidance based upon a sample size of four. That being said, here goes.

Almost every Arrowhead siting had three common ingredients: a seep (or soggy place) in the forest, with skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) and interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana); a small stream in the forest fed by the seep/soggy place; and a sunny clearing.

I found my first Arrowhead Spiketail at a small stream in Huntley Meadows Park. I walked the stream to its source, not that the source is well defined. Instead it’s a BIG soggy area. I wouldn’t call it a seep and I have never seen skunk cabbage anywhere in the park. There are two virtually identical streams elsewhere in the park where Arrowhead has been photographed. The male Arrowhead flew a LONG patrol along the stream, flying approximately six inches (6″) above the water level. At the end points of his patrol, he would hang up to rest in a sunny spot. It took a long time for me to find the hang up places!

Michael Powell spotted the second Arrowhead Spiketail I’ve seen, perched in a small, sunny clearing in the forest along a small stream. A seep with skunk cabbage and interrupted fern was located nearby. For what it’s worth, we saw/photographed several Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) in the same field.

MUCH FARTHER downstream, the same creek is a little larger in size. At one point, a small iron-stained creek flows into the main creek. Mike and I were standing at the mouth of the tiny creek when I saw an Arrowhead fly like a bat out of hell straight down the stream and turn left; it perched in a large, sunny field. I was able to find it, and we took photos. A week-or-so later, Mike traced the smaller creek to its source. Wouldn’t you know it? The headwaters are a seep with lots of skunk cabbage!

My most recent Arrowhead Spiketail sighting — the individual featured in this blog post — is the one that doesn’t fit the pattern. The dragonfly was spotted in a HUGE field of grasses, etc. There are small creeks and seeps nearby, but not within sight of the location where the Arrowhead perched.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


%d bloggers like this: