Posts Tagged ‘Lestes forcipatus’

Southern- or Sweetflag Spreadwing?

May 27, 2016

I spotted a skittish spreadwing damselfly on 14 May 2016 during a photowalk around Enchanted Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area. I was able to shoot some photos of the spreadwing during a follow-up visit on 20 May 2016.

A male member of the Family Lestidae of damselflies (Spreadwings) spotted at Enchanted Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either a Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) or Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus).

This individual is a member of the Family Lestidae of damselflies (Spreadwings): it is either a Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) or Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus). It is a male, as indicated by its terminal appendages: Southern Spreadwing; Sweetflag Spreadwing.

A male member of the Family Lestidae of damselflies (Spreadwings) spotted at Enchanted Pond, Meadowood Recreation Area, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is either a Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) or Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus).

According to Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, “Male Southern and Sweetflag cannot be separated in the field.”

In my experience at Huntley Meadows Park, Southern Spreadwing is an early season (spring) species; Sweetflag Spreadwing is a late season (fall) species. In deference to Ed Lam’s expertise, I’ll go with the either/or classification rather than a somewhat speculative single species identification.

Copyright © 2016 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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New discoveries in 2015

December 27, 2015

As the story is told, a reporter asked Willie Sutton “Why do you rob banks?” “Because that’s where the money is,” Willie answered. So when people ask me why I go to the remote locations in Huntley Meadows Park, I answer “Because that’s where the undiscovered species of odonates are.”

There are undiscovered species of odonates at the remote places in the park, in part, because fewer people go to the more difficult to reach locations. Also, the remote locations are often where the “habitat specialists” are found, in contrast with the “habitat generalists” that inhabit the central wetland area.

Springtime Darner dragonfly

Teamwork, and some take-aways

Springtime Darner dragonfly (female)

18 April 2015 | Photograph used with permission from Michael Powell.

Southern Spreadwing damselfly

A Southern Fortnight, Part 1 – Year-long mystery solved!

A mating pair of Southern Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes australis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

03 MAY 2015 | HMP | Southern Spreadwing (mating pair, in tandem)

Roseate Skimmer dragonfly

Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (male)

A Roseate Skimmer dragonfly (Orthemis ferruginea) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Roseate Skimmer (male)

Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly

Another new species of spreadwing damselfly?

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another new species of spreadwing damselfly?

October 18, 2015

I’m fairly certain I discovered a new species of damselfly at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP): Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus).

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

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

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

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

The hamules are key field markers for differentiating some species of similar-looking damselflies, such as Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus).

All male damselflies have four terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers.” Male damselfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of damselflies, but their function is identical.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

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

Claspers are used to grab and hold female damselflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower pair of paraprocts (“inferior appendages”).

Southern or Sweetflag?

I say Sweetflag; odonate experts may/may not agree with my tentative identification. My logic is fairly straightforward: Adult Southern Spreadwing damselflies were observed at a single location in Huntley Meadows Park during the first two weeks in May 2015. Their sudden disappearance seemed to coincide with a population explosion of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) in mid-May.

The same location was scouted frequently since May; no Southern Spreadwings were observed all summer. Although it is possible the specimen spotted on 15 October 2015 is a Southern Spreadwing damselfly, I think it is more likely a Sweetflag Spreadwing.

Scrappy’s hard life

I nicknamed this guy “Scrappy” due to a couple of serious injuries he survived. The following photo shows what appears to be a puncture wound in one of Scrappy’s eyes.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

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

Also, did you notice “Scrappy” is missing three of six legs? Survival is probably a struggle although it helps that he still has his two front legs, critical for feeding in flight.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

15 OCT 2015 | HMP | Sweetflag Spreadwing (male)

He ain’t heavy

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. Brothers in the Spreadwing Family of damselflies, that is. The last photo shows “Scrappy” perching on top of a male Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis), nicknamed “Mr. Magoo” because of the prominent dark spots in his eyes.

A Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, perching on top of a male Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis).

“Scrappy” and “Mr. Magoo.”

One of my mantras of wildlife photography is “get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” I wish the preceding photo — taken from a poor vantage point with a partially obstructed view — had turned out better. Although I was able to get a shot of this unusual pairing, there was no time to refine the shot.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for high-quality photos of “Mr. Magoo” and “Bendy Straw,” one of Magoo’s male rivals, to be published in several upcoming blog posts.

Post Update, 17 November 2016: New evidence strongly suggests the male spreadwing damselfly featured in this post is probably a Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis) from another brood that emerged during Fall 2015. In 2016, Southern Spreadwing was confirmed to be multivoltine at the same location.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

A Southern Fortnight, Part 2 – Damselfly terminal appendages (male)

May 11, 2015

The Backstory: A Southern Fortnight

For the first two weeks during May 2015, Southern Spreadwing damselflies (Lestes australis) were observed at a vernal pool and nearby drainage ditch in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. I spotted approximately six males and several females during the fortnight. Their sudden disappearance seemed to coincide with a population explosion of Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies (Erythemis simplicicollis) in mid-May. Eastern Pondhawks, especially females, are voracious predators with a penchant for preying upon damselflies.


All male damselflies have four terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers.” Male damselfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of damselflies, but their function is identical.

Claspers are used to grab and hold female damselflies during mating: an upper pair of cerci (“superior appendages”) and a lower pair of paraprocts (“inferior appendages”).

Damselflies, including the larger members of the Spreadwing Family, are smaller than dragonflies. Please look at the full-size version of each annotated image in order to see critical details that cannot be seen in the preceding thumbnail versions.

For example, the first image shows the male hamules, …

paired structures that project from pocket under the second segment and hold female abdomen in place during copulation. Source Credit: Glossary [of] Some Dragonfly Terms, by Dennis R. Paulson.

The hamules are key field markers for differentiating some species of similar-looking damselflies, such as Southern Spreadwing (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing (Lestes forcipatus).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

New discoveries in 2014-2015

April 21, 2015

My interest in odonates, that is, dragonflies and damselflies, began during Summer 2011 at Huntley Meadows Park. Toward the end of Summer 2012 and continuing in 2013, my goal was to explore new venues for hunting odonates. Along the way, I spotted several species of odonates that are either uncommon or unknown to occur at Huntley Meadows, including Blue Corporal dragonfly, Stream Cruiser dragonfly, and Rambur’s Forktail damselfly, to name a few.

During 2014, continuing in 2015, I have been a man on a mission to explore the relatively unexplored areas at Huntley Meadows Park in search of habitat-specific odonates unlikely to be found in the central wetland area of the park. In retrospect, 2014-2015 has been a good run: five new species of odonates were discovered and added to the list of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Huntley Meadows Park.

Common Sanddragon dragonfly

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

20 June 2014

Mike Powell and I collaborated to identify a clubtail dragonfly that Mike spotted on 17 June 2014. As it turns out, Mike had discovered a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus), a new species of dragonfly for Huntley Meadows Park. Mike guided me to the same spot on 20 June, where we photographed several sanddragons (like the male shown above), including two mating pairs!

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (male)

07 July 2014

I feel fortunate to have discovered an Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) — many experienced odonate hunters go years without seeing one of these handsome dragonflies!

Great Spreadwing damselfly

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

09 October 2014

Although I may not be the first ode-hunter to spot a Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) at Huntley Meadows Park, I am the first person to notify the park manager of its occurrence. As a result, Great Spreadwing was added to the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Odonata species list.

Southern Spreadwing damselfly/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014

Time will tell which new species of spreadwing damselfly I discovered at Huntley Meadows Park. Either way, both Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) were formerly unknown to occur at the park.

Springtime Darner dragonfly

Springtime Darner dragonfly (female)

18 April 2015 | Photograph used with permission from Michael Powell.

Mike Powell and I co-discovered the first Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) ever seen/photographed at Huntley Meadows Park! This individual is a female, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Year in review: New discoveries in 2014

November 18, 2014

My interest in odonates, that is, dragonflies and damselflies, began during Summer 2011 at Huntley Meadows Park. Toward the end of Summer 2012 and continuing in 2013, my goal was to explore new venues for hunting odonates. Along the way, I spotted several species of odonates that are either uncommon or unknown to occur at Huntley Meadows, including Blue Corporal dragonfly, Stream Cruiser dragonfly, and Rambur’s Forktail damselfly, to name a few.

During 2014, I have been a man on a mission to explore the relatively unexplored areas at Huntley Meadows Park in search of habitat-specific odonates unlikely to be found in the central wetland area of the park. In retrospect, 2014 was a good year: four new species of odonates were discovered and added to the list of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Huntley Meadows Park. Realistically it will be challenging to repeat the successes enjoyed this year!

Common Sanddragon dragonfly

Common Sanddragon dragonfly (Progomphus obscurus)

20 June 2014

Mike Powell and I collaborated to identify a clubtail dragonfly that Mike spotted on 17 June 2014. As it turns out, Mike had discovered a Common Sanddragon (Progomphus obscurus), a new species of dragonfly for Huntley Meadows Park. Mike guided me to the same spot on 20 June, where we photographed several sanddragons (like the male shown above), including two mating pairs!

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly

Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (male)

07 July 2014

I feel fortunate to have discovered an Arrowhead Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster obliqua) — many experienced odonate hunters go years without seeing one of these handsome dragonflies!

Great Spreadwing damselfly

Great Spreadwing damselfly (male)

09 October 2014

Although I may not be the first ode-hunter to spot a Great Spreadwing damselfly (Archilestes grandis) at Huntley Meadows Park, I am the first person to notify the park manager of its occurrence.

Southern Spreadwing damselfly/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014

Time will tell which new species of spreadwing damselfly I discovered at Huntley Meadows Park. Either way, both Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) and Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus) were formerly unknown to occur at the park.

Related Resources:

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a three-part series — a retrospective look at 2014.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another new species of spreadwing damselfly…

November 14, 2014

During late-May 2014, Mike Powell and I were photographing female Swamp Darner dragonflies (Epiaeschna heros) laying eggs (oviposition) in a drainage ditch near a vernal pool in the forest at Huntley Meadows Park. I noticed a damselfly and thought, “It’s just a damselfly; the Swamp Darner is more interesting.” The damselfly was perching closer to Mike, so I waited to take a few photos after Mike finished “working the shot.”

When I revisited the photos months later, I realized the damselfly was a species I’d never seen. Turns out it’s another new species of spreadwing damselfly for Huntley Meadows Park!

Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, identified the specimen as either a Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) or Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes forcipatus). According to Ed, this individual “… is a male. Male Southern and Sweetflag cannot be separated in the field.”

Talk about a missed opportunity. Months later it was too late to catch-and-release one or more of these damselflies in order to examine the specimens in-hand, under magnification. At this point, we have to wait until next year to confirm the specific identity of our discovery. It’s going to be another long winter!

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

Southern/Sweetflag Spreadwing damselfly (male)

23 May 2014 | Huntley Meadows Park

So what’s the take-away from my experience? Don’t be dismissive. Look closely at every subject before you decide it is/isn’t photo-worthy — you never know what you may find!

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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