Posts Tagged ‘Gray Petaltail dragonfly’

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.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

July 13, 2021

A Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell along the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Mike spotted the Gray Petaltail first, when we were on opposite sides of the pond. Mike was able to shoot a few photos before the dragonfly flew away and Mike moved on. I thought Mike gave up on the subject too quickly so I decided to use one of my tried and true strategies for finding and photographing odonates: Sit in a good spot and wait for the game to come to me.

I walked around to the other side of the pond and sat down on my small, lightweight camp stool about 12-15 feet from the place where Mike had seen the Gray Petaltail. Sure enough, the dragonfly returned to the same perch soon afterward!

The first photo is the “record shot,” that is, get a shot, any shot.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

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

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

The dragonfly would perch briefly, then fly away.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

The male dragonfly did the same thing repeatedly, always returning to a slightly different perch each time. Turns out he was hunting for food.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Gray Petaltail (male)

I would describe T. thoreyi as an “ambush predator” — sometimes Gray Petaltail hunts for prey by waiting for other flying insects to pass by and ambushing them aerially when they do. Like the crane fly shown below that the Gray grabbed before landing on my bucket hat.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

I was happy to provide a white table cloth for a classy dining experience with one of my favorite species of dragonflies.

Habitat

For habitat-specific odonates such as T. thoreyi, it’s all about location, location, location. “Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)” is another blog post by Walter Sanford that provides actionable intel regarding ideal habitat for Grays.

Range map

The following map shows all official records for Tachopteryx thoreyi in the United States of America. Gray Petaltail is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resources

  • Tachopteryx thoreyi Gray Petaltail on NatureServe Explorer. The conservation status for T. thoreyi in Virginia is “Apparently Secure (S4).” That’s good news. The bad news: That doesn’t mean it’s easy to find.
  • Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)” – another blog post by Walter Sanford that provides actionable intel regarding ideal habitat for Grays.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonflies (female, male)

June 18, 2021

Several Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) were observed at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. Only two individuals perched long enough to pose for photos.

The first one I spotted was perched relatively high on a tree on the earthen berm of a small pond. This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings and terminal appendages. I was able to take just four photos of the female before she flew toward the top of the same tree.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (female)

Quite a while later, I spotted another Gray Petaltail land on another tree briefly, and by “briefly” I mean briefly. I had time for one shot as I was approaching the tree slowly, and just like that, the dragonfly flew toward the top of another tree. This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings and terminal appendages.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

As it turns out, the preceding male was the last Gray Petaltail I saw for the day. Mike Powell and I had noticed the Grays seemed to be spending a lot of time in the tree canopy. I speculated their atypical behavior might be caused by the peak- or near-peak activity of Brood X Peridical Cicadas. Mike was, as always, skeptical of my speculation.

A little more than a week later, a post by Harold Bancroft White in the Northeast Odonata Facebook group seems to provide some support for my speculative theory. I like it when Gray Petaltails perch near the ground, so I hope their new hunting habit isn’t imprinted on the next generation!

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.

Post update: Tachopteryx thoreyi exuvia

March 26, 2021

I just updated an older blog post in order to correct a label for an anatomical structure that was mislabeled, plus I added some new information.

The updated annotated image is shown below.

No. 2 | Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) | exuvia (dorsal)

While I was editing the photo, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before — a large dorsal hook of abdominal segment nine (S9) that overhangs segment 10 (S10). This time I’m fairly sure the structure is correctly called a dorsal hook.

Related Resource: Tachopteryx thoreyi exuvia, an updated version of a blog post by Walter Sanford.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male, No. 3)

July 6, 2020

Several Gray Petaltail dragonflies (Tachopteryx thoreyi) were spotted during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This one is No. 3 of 4.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

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

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

After shooting a “record shot,” I like to “work the shot,” that is shoot the subject from all viewpoints. In this case the range of possible shots was somewhat limited so after I felt like I’d taken all the shots I could, I challenged Mike to see how close he could get to the dragonfly.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

As you can see in the photo featured in The Backstory, it turns out Mike was able to get astoundingly close to this very cooperative Gray Petaltail!

The Backstory

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 is one of two superzoom bridge cameras that I use as my “go to” rigs for photowalking. The minimum focusing distance in AF Macro mode is 1 m (3.3 feet) at maximum telephoto (600 mm, 35mm equivalent). My usual practice is to set the camera lens for maximum telephoto and move as close as possible to the minimum focusing distance, resulting in maximum magnification of the subject. That’s how I shot the three photos shown above.

The following photo is shown for scale. The Gray Petaltail is perched on a fallen tree limb approximately six inches (6″) in front of Mike Powell’s 180mm macro lens. Shooting macro is one way to increase magnification; shooting at maximum telephoto is another. I prefer the flexibility afforded by a zoom lens versus a prime lens like Mike is using.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Michael Powell

Related Resource: Gray Petaltail eyes, a companion blog post by Michael Powell.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male, No. 2)

June 29, 2020

Another Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) was spotted during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

The first photo is the “record shot” for this individual, that is, “get a shot, any shot.” It’s literally the first shot I took as soon as I spotted the Gray.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

I moved slowly to a slightly closer position; almost had a squared-up dorsal view of the subject before he flew away.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

Related Resource: Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male) [No. 1]

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Gray Petaltail dragonfly (male)

June 19, 2020

A Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) was spotted during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell at a location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his “indented” hind wings, and terminal appendages.

The Gray Petaltail is shown perched on the sunny side of a tree where the dragonfly landed after he flew past me. This is my first photo of my first Gray for 2020.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

The Gray moved to another place on the same tree. The “hairy” vine where he is perched is poison ivy. Yikes, please don’t land on me Mr. Petaltail!

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

The dragonfly flew to another tree nearby the first one. The next photo is my favorite in the set.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

The last photo shows a side view of the Gray, featuring a partial view of his face.

13 JUN 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | Gray Petaltail (male)

Related Resource: Posts Tagged ‘Gray Petaltail dragonfly’

Copyright © 2020 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.

Skunk cabbage flowers

February 5, 2020

The following photo gallery shows skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers in a forest seep located at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This is ideal habitat for Gray Petaltail dragonfly (Tachopteryx thoreyi) larvae, and in fact, numerous adult “Grays” have been observed along a sunny trail near this location. Seeps are home for some species of larvae from Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails) as well.

03 FEB 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | skunk cabbage flowers

03 FEB 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | skunk cabbage flowers

03 FEB 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | skunk cabbage flowers

03 FEB 2020 | Fairfax County, VA | skunk cabbage flowers

The last photo shows the same location during early Summer 2019. The plant with broad green leaves is skunk cabbage.

01 JUN 2019 | Fairfax County, VA | forest seep, with skunk cabbage

The following quote is perhaps the best description of a forest seep that I’ve read.

[Some] small tributaries … have their sources in numerous woodland seeps. While a few of these perennial springs bubble up out of the ground, most arise in moist hillside patches with lots of decaying leaf litter and luxuriant stands of skunk cabbage. Source Credit: White, Harold B., III. Natural History of Delmarva Dragonflies and Damselflies (Cultural Studies of Delaware and the Eastern Shore) (Kindle Locations 1213-1215). University Press Copublishing Division. Kindle Edition.

Related Resource: Skunk Cabbage: First Flower of the Year… by Alonso Abugattas, Capital Naturalist blog. The blog post includes an embedded link to an informative video by Mr. Abugattas: Capital Naturalist: Skunk Cabbage Blooming (3:58).

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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