Posts Tagged ‘Lancet Clubtail dragonfly’

Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (male)

June 25, 2017

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) was spotted during a photowalk at “Straight Fork Beaver Ponds,” Highland County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

This male Lancet Clubtail was spotted at the same location as a male Harpoon Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus descriptus) featured in a previous post. Lancet Clubtail is a relatively widespread species of odonate, in contrast with Harpoon Clubtail.

09 JUN 2017 | Highland County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Bonus Bug

Look closely at the preceding photo. Did you notice the exuvia from another type of aquatic insect, possibly either mayfly or stonefly? I didn’t see the exuvia when I shot the photo, and missed them again when I post-processed the image. Sometimes I get so focused on the subject that I don’t see the bigger picture.

Tech Tips

The photos were taken using a Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera, Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens, and Fujifilm EF-X500 shoe mount flash.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (males)

May 14, 2017

At least two Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus exilis) were spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

These individuals are males, as indicated by their terminal appendages and indented hind wings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

The next photograph was taken at a later time than the first two photos. All of the photos in this post were taken near the same location. Is this another male, or the same one featured in the preceding photos? Who knows?

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Lancet Clubtail versus Ashy Clubtail

Lancet Clubtail looks similar to Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus). The only way to differentiate the two species with certainty is to examine their external reproductive anatomy; this is impossible unless the specimens are captured and examined in-hand.

Relative size is used sometimes to identify the two species: Lancet Clubtail is slightly smaller than Ashy Clubtail. There are two problems with this method of identification. First, it is virtually impossible to determine the exact size of a specimen in the field unless it is captured and measured. Second, some natural variation in size should be expected among individuals of the same species.

A quick-and-dirty method for differentiating Lancet- and Ashy Clubtails with some degree of certainty is to look at the markings on abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9). Lancet Clubtail has a “spearpoint” on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that almost reaches the end of the segment, a wide yellow stripe on top of segment nine (S9), and irregular yellow markings on the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Lancet Clubtail (male)

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

In contrast, Ashy Clubtail has a spearpoint on top of abdominal segment eight (S8) that is less than half the length of the segment, segment nine (S9) may or may not have a pale yellow stripe on top, and the sides of segments eight and nine (S8-9) may or may not have “poorly defined” yellow markings.

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

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

Coloration is variable among individuals of the same species, so looking at abdominal markings isn’t always a reliable method of identification. In this case, it works beautifully.

Editor’s Note: The word “spearpoint” and the phrase “poorly defined” are descriptors attributed to Dennis Paulson, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Phanogomphus

April 20, 2017

Two teneral dragonflies were observed near Mulligan Pond during a photowalk at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. I was able to photograph the first one I spotted; the second flew away as soon as I approached it.

This dragonfly is either Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis). Based upon the short, faded yellow markings on the dorsal side of abdominal segments eight and nine (S8-9), this individual is probably an Ashy Clubtail dragonfly. Less reliably, the 18 April date of the spotting also suggests Ashy Clubtail (for Northern Virginia).

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

Both Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies were formerly classified as members of the genus Gomphus. Both species were reclassified recently as Phanogomphus. In the world of taxonomic classification, there are “lumpers” and “splitters.” Score one for the splitters!

Notice the first photo shows the wings folded above the abdomen. I spotted the teneral dragonfly when it flew toward me from the pond shoreline. The dragonfly rested in this location for a few minutes before it flew to a new spot (shown below) where it perched briefly with its wings unfolded. The last time I saw the dragonfly, it was flying toward the forest alongside the pond.

The other teneral dragonfly that I saw — “the one that got away” — was perched on the lawn near the walking path around the lake; it flew toward the forest when I moved closer to take some photographs.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

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

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

All female dragonflies have two cerci (superior appendages); in contrast all male dragonflies have two cerci and one epiproct (inferior appendage), collectively called “claspers.” Contrast the appearance of the terminal appendages of this female Ashy Clubtail with a male of the same species.

The last photo in the set is a wider view that shows how well-camouflaged the dragonfly was perched on the lawn around the pond.

18 APR 2017 | JMAWR | Ashy Clubtail or Lancet Clubtail (female)

The Backstory

I was surprised to discover a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly near Mulligan Pond during late-June 2016. Knowing that Ashy Clubtails can be found in the same habitats preferred by Lancet Clubtails, I decided to look for Ashy Clubtails at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge beginning in mid-April 2017. Apparently Mulligan Pond is a good place for both species, because I spotted two Ashy Clubtails the first time I went looking for them. Ah, if only odonate hunting were always so easy!

Post Update

As far as I know, this is the first record for this species at this location. A new record for Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge was submitted to the Odonata Central records database on 22 April 2017.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New discoveries in 2016

December 26, 2016

The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know. Huh? There’s always more to discover/learn! My new discoveries in 2016 are presented in reverse-chronological order.

Eastern Amberwing dragonfly exuviae

Perithemis tenera exuviae, published on 06 December 2016.

An Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) exuvia collected from the Potomac River, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

07 JUL 2016 | Potomac River | Eastern Amberwing (exuvia, head-on)

I’m a man on a mission to demystify the art and science of odonate exuviae identification. The task is as challenging as I was led to believe, but with determination and persistence it is do-able.

The specimens featured in this post are the first odonate exuviae that I was able to identify to the species level. Although the specimens were collected in early July, they were identified in early December. New species will be added to my Odonate Exuviae page when their identity is confirmed.


Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR) is a familiar location where several species, previously unknown to occur at the park, were discovered in 2016.

Shadow Darner dragonfly

Shadow Darner dragonfly (female), posted on 18 October 2016.

A Shadow Darner dragonfly (Aeshna umbrosa) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female heteromorph.

14 OCT 2016 | JMAWR | Shadow Darner (female heteromorph)

Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly

Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (male), posted on 26 September 2016.

Blue-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly

Another new species discovered at JMAWR, posted on 20 September 2016.

Lancet Clubtail dragonfly

Identifying clubtails by the calendar, posted on 30 June 2016.

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

26 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Lancet Clubtail (male)


In addition to my contributions to the odonate species list at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Mike Powell discovered the first official record of Swift Setwing at JMAWR and in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Identifying clubtails by the calendar

June 30, 2016

Much to my surprise, a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) was spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages.

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

26 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) and Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis) are two species of dragonflies from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails) that are similar in appearance.

A Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Gomphus exilis) spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

26 JUN 2016 | JMAWR | Lancet Clubtail (male)

Kevin Munroe, author of the excellent Dragonflies of Northern Virginia Web site, explains how to identify Ashy Clubtail versus Lancet Clubtail on the page for Ashy Clubtail (see the section entitled “Notes from the field”). In this case, item No. 5 explains how to use a calendar to differentiate the two species.

Lastly, use the calendar: April = Ashy Clubtail; June or July = Lancet Clubtail; May = could be either one. (These dates work in Northern Virginia.) Source Credit: Ashy Clubtail, by Kevin Munroe.

Since the specimen shown in the preceding photographs was spotted on 26 June, Lancet Clubtail is almost certainly the correct identification. Further, the physical characteristics described in item No. 3 on Kevin’s checklist confirms what the calendar tells us.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Can I see some eye-dentification?

March 20, 2015

It may seem like all dragonflies look alike when you’re beginning to learn how to identify dragonflies. For example, all dragonflies have large, multifaceted compound eyes. Look closely. Careful observation of the color, shape, and size of eyes should enable you to quickly identify the family (or families) of dragonflies to which a specimen may belong.

The following field markers — used in combination with a good field guide to dragonflies, a species list for your location, and the process of elimination — should enable you to identify unknown specimens more quickly than randomly trying to find a match between your specimen and one of the 316 of species of dragonflies known to occur in the United States!

Clubtail Family (and Petaltail Family)

The eyes of clubtail dragonflies (and petaltails) are widely separated, somewhat similar to the eyes of damselflies. The Clubtail Family is the second largest family of dragonflies, so this field marker should be useful for identifying a lot of dragonflies to the family level — if only clubtails were as easy to identify down to the species level!

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail dragonfly

09 MAY 2013 | Meadowood Recreation Area | Ashy/Lancet Clubtail (female)

The preceding dragonfly is either an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphis exilis). Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. But one look at those eyes and you know it’s definitely some species of clubtail!

Spiketail Family

Notice the eyes of the following dragonfly nearly touch at a point between its eyes — that’s a distinctive field marker for the Spiketail Family.

Brown Spiketail dragonfly (female)

09 MAY 2013 | Meadowood Recreation Area | Brown Spiketail (female)

Cruiser, Emerald, and Skimmer Families

In a few families of dragonflies, the eyes meet along a short seam near the face.

The Skimmer Family is the largest family of dragonflies. Many species of Skimmers are common and fairly easy to identify.

There are fewer species of dragonflies in the Cruiser Family than the Skimmer Family; no other dragonflies in the United States look similar to cruisers.

Stream Cruiser dragonfly (male)

02 MAY 2013 | Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge | Stream Cruiser (male)

Many species of the Emerald Family feature distinctive bright green eyes, hence the family name.

Mocha Emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora linearis)

25 JUL 2012 | The Wildlife Sanctuary | Mocha Emerald (male)

Darner Family

The eyes of Darners meet along a long seam from front-to-back.

Common Green Darner dragonflies (mating pair, in tandem)

14 AUG 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park | Common Green Darner (mating pair)

Self-test

OK, let’s apply what you just learned. Looking at the eyes only, can you identify the family for the following dragonfly? If you would like to know whether your answer is correct, then please leave a comment.

Teacher’s Note: In order to avoid revealing the answer to the one-question quiz as soon as the first person comments, I changed the settings for this blog so that comments must be approved manually.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (male)

26 JUN 2015 | Wickford Park | [Insert family name here.]

Editor’s Notes: This post is adapted from Dragonfly Head & Eyes, one of many excellent guides on the Odes for Beginners Web site. Thanks for the inspiration, Sheryl Chacon!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Advanced Dragonfly Studies

November 26, 2014

During June 2014, I attended an adult class and field trip offered by the Audubon Naturalist Society called “Advanced Dragonfly Studies: Common Darners, Spiketails, Cruisers, and Clubtails of the Mid-Atlantic.” The class instructor was Richard Orr, renowned expert on odonates of the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The field trip to the Patuxent Research Refuge was led by Mr. Orr and Stephanie Mason, Senior Naturalist, Audubon Naturalist Society.

As I was writing a recent blog post entitled Year in Review: New finds in 2014 (odonates), I decided against including odonates spotted during during the ANS field trip. My rationale was simple: I didn’t find most of the specimens. 42 species of odonates were observed in one day, including many new species for my “life list.” I was able to photograph only a few of the odonates seen by the group due to the fast pace of the advanced class.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly

While waiting for all participants to arrive for the field trip, Bonnie Ott spotted a Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) perching in a flower bed beside the North Tract Visitor Contact Station. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Widow Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly

An Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes inaequalis) was netted at Rieve’s Pond. This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration. Notice the ovipositor visible on the underside of its abdomen, near the tip. “Usually not very common,” according to Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elegant Spreadwing damselfly (female)

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly

A Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis verna) was spotted at New Marsh. This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. [New species for my “life list.”]

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (immature male)

Another Double-ringed Pennant was spotted at Sundew Bog in the Central Tract. This individual is a mature male. Stephanie Mason is shown in the background, referring to Stokes Beginner’s Guide to DragonfliesEditor’s Note: “The Central Tract of the refuge is closed to public visitation due to the sensitive nature of much of the scientific work.” Source Credit: Patuxent Research Refuge brochure.

Double-ringed Pennant dragonfly (mature male)

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly

Tiny Elfin Skimmer dragonflies (Nannothemis bella) can be found at Sundew Bog. This individual is either a female or immature male, based upon its coloration. [New species for my “life list.”]

Elfin Skimmer dragonfly (Nannothemis bella)

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula axilena) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Bar-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly

A Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula auripennis) was netted at Sundew Bog. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Golden-winged Skimmer dragonflies and Needham’s Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula needhami) are similar in appearance. [New species for my “life list.”]

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

The distinguished gentleman holding the dragonfly is Peter Munroe, Kevin Munroe’s father. Kevin is the manager of Huntley Meadows Park.

Golden-winged Skimmer dragonfly (male)

Clubtail dragonfly

The following specimen, spotted at Sundew Bog, is either an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphus exilis) dragonfly. Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. Both species were spotted at this location. This individual is a female, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the rounded shape of its hind wings (near the abdomen).

Clubtail dragonfly (female)

Emerging Common Sanddragon dragonflies

The last stop on the field trip was a walk/wade in the Little Patuxent River, southeast of Bailey Bridge, where we spotted several Common Sanddragon dragonflies, including a few individuals metamorphosing from larvae to adults. [New species for my “life list.”]

Tech Tips: All of the preceding photos were taken using a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS7 digital camera. The camera is no longer available. The ZS7 was one of the first digital cameras that featured GPS geotagging. Good idea; bad implementation. After extensive field-testing, I discovered the ZS7’s built-in GPS didn’t work as well as Apple iPhone’s “A-GPS” for geotagging photos, and stopped using the camera. I decided to bring the camera with me on the field trip because it is small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive in contrast with several other digital cameras I own. Turns out “lightweight” is the operative word. After a long hiatus, I’d forgotten how poorly the camera performs — regrettably, the photos featured in this post are an unpleasant reminder!

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (redux)

May 24, 2013

The following photographs show a Clubtail dragonfly perching on the ground along the earthen dam at Hidden Pond, a small lake located at Meadowood Recreation Area in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either an Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphis exilis). Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. Anyone care to offer an expert opinion?

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail dragonfly Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail dragonfly

Editor’s Note: According to Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, this individual is definitely female but the species is indefinite.

In the pictures where the abdomen tip is obscured, the rounded shape of the base of the hind wing identifies it as a female. Not going to guess on the … [species]. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

Thanks for your help, Ed!

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail dragonflies

May 4, 2013

I spotted a couple of Clubtail dragonflies along the trail to Hidden Pond, a small lake located at Meadowood Recreation Area in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. These dragonflies are either Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus) or Lancet Clubtail (Gomphis exilis). Ashy- and Lancet Clubtail dragonflies are very similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate with complete certainty. I think both individuals are female, based upon their terminal appendages. Can I get an expert second opinion?

Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail Ashy- or Lancet Clubtail

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

  • Genus Gomphus | Gomphus lividus | Ashy Clubtail | male | top view
  • Genus Gomphus | Gomphus lividus | Ashy Clubtail | male | side view
  • Genus Gomphus | Gomphus lividus | Ashy Clubtail | female | top view
  • Genus Gomphus | Gomphus lividus | Ashy Clubtail | female | side view

Editor’s Note: According to Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, both individuals are definitely female but the species is indefinite. Thanks for your help, Ed!

[Both photos] show females. The abdominal appendages are simple in form compared to males. … the rounded shape of the base of the hind wing identifies it as a female. What species they are is a tougher question. The pale Segment 9 on the female perched on the brown oak leaf suggests it is a Lancet but since Ashy can have that mark, Ashy can’t be ruled out. The female sitting on the ground ‘feels’ more like an Ashy, with limited abdominal markings, browner in appearance, eyes purple-er, but again, it can’t be confirmed from the picture alone. Ashy is usually larger and more brawny in appearance.

Remember that “Segment 9” refers to abdominal segment nine (of 10), numbered from front to back.

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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