Posts Tagged ‘male’

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.

Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (male)

July 30, 2021

An Ebony Jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) was spotted along a small stream located in Occoquan Regional Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Ebony Jewelwing (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his all black wings and terminal appendages.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Ebony Jewelwing (male)

Habitat

It’s easy to find Ebony Jewelwing. Look for a small stream in the forest.

Slow-flowing woodland streams, usually associated with herbaceous vegetation. Tend to be more at rapids when that habitat is present. Occur on open banks when trees nearby (trees essential for roosting at night). May be abundant at small streams in woods where very few other species are present. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 1249-1251). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Variable Dancer damselfly (male)

July 20, 2021

A Variable Dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis) was spotted near a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

17 JUN 2021 | Prince William County | Variable Dancer (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his mostly purple coloration.

Variable Dancer is a habitat generalist that can be found almost anywhere there is water. Mature males are easy to recognize due to their unique coloration — there are no other species of violet damselflies found in the eastern one-third of the United States. Female Variable Dancers, like many female odonates, are more challenging to identify than males.

It’s helpful to get shots of mating pairs of damselflies, especially “in tandem,” since males and females of the same species can look quite different. The excellent high-resolution digital scans by Gayle and Jeanelle Strickland, listed under “Related Resources” (below), provide clear views of male and female Variable Dancer damselflies.

Related Resources: High-resolution digital scans created by Gayle and Jeanelle Strickland.

Sidebar: Scientific Classification of Damselflies

The taxonomic classification of Variable Dancer is as follows: Order Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies); Suborder Zygoptera (Damselflies); Family Coenagrionidae (Narrow-winged Damselflies); Genus Argia (Dancers); Subspecies Argia fumipennis violacea (Violet Dancer).

The following concise explanation of the scientific classification of damselflies is provided to help the reader understand where Argia (Dancers) fit into the bigger picture of the Order Odonata, Suborder Zygoptera (Damselflies).

There are four families of damselflies in the United States of America, although only three families occur in the mid-Atlantic USA: Broad-winged damselflies; Narrow-winged damselflies (a.k.a., Pond Damselflies); and Spreadwing damselflies.

Family Calopterygidae is comprised of two genera.

Family Coenagrionidae is comprised of 14 genera. Three genera are common in Northern Virginia: Argia (Dancers); Enallagma (American Bluets); and Ischnura (Forktails).

Family Lestidae is comprised of two genera.

  • Archilestes (e.g., Great Spreadwing)
  • Lestes (e.g., Slender Spreadwing, Southern Spreadwing, Swamp Spreadwing)

There are relatively few genera of Broad-winged Damselflies and Spreadwing Damselflies. In contrast, there are many more genera and species of Narrow-winged Damselflies — more species, including many that look similar, makes this family the most challenging to learn!

Editor’s Note: Please comment to let me know whether the preceding information is helpful.

Copyright © 2021 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.

Common Sanddragon dragonflies (males)

July 2, 2021

Two Common Sanddragon dragonflies (Progomphus obscurus) were spotted along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

Both individuals are male, as indicated by their terminal appendages and “indented” hind wings.

Male No. 1

I spotted a Common Rockdragon while searching for Eastern Least Clubtail (Stylogomphus albistylus). OK, OK, there is no species of dragonfly called “Common Rockdragon.” My point is simply this: Common Sanddragon is typically found perching on sand rather than rocks. Any perch in a storm I guess.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Sanddragon (male)

Anyway, this guy was super skittish — I got one shot before he flew away. I waited a while for him to return. No luck. So I moved on.

Male No. 2

I stopped to rest at a sandy bank (located farther upstream from the first location)  where I have seen/photographed Common Sanddragon in the past. Sure enough, a male Common Sanddragon landed on the beach soon after I sat down on my camp stool.

The first photo is cropped for better composition.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Sanddragon (male)

He took flight several times but always returned to the same place. I speculate he was actively hunting insects flying over the stream.

The next two photos are full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Sanddragon (male)

The male’s “indented” hind wings (see “Related Resource”) are shown clearly in the full-size versions of these photos.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Sanddragon (male)

Related Resource

Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast, created the following composite image that shows how to differentiate male and female Common Sanddragons. Notice the difference in the shape of male and female hind wings: male hind wings are “indented” near the body; female hind wings are rounded.

Ed-Lam_Common-Sanddragon_male-female

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (male)

June 29, 2021

A Unicorn Clubtail dragonfly (Arigomphus villosipes) was photographed near the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. 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”).

For those of you keeping score at home, notice male Unicorn terminal appendages have four points/prongs. Does that mean A. villosipes is an exception to the rule of three terminal appendages for male dragonflies? In a word, no.

05 JUN 2021 | Fairfax County, VA | Unicorn Clubtail (male)

The preceding photo shows a clear view of the male’s terminal appendages. Zoom-in on the full-size version of the photo and you should notice that the epiproct for Unicorn Clubtail is essentially a wide plate with two points/prongs.

Related Resource: Odonate Terminal Appendages – a permanent reference page in my blog featuring identification guides for most of the common species of odonates found in Virginia, and even some of the uncommon to rare species.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

 

Yellow-sided Skimmer (female, male)

June 25, 2021

Thanks to a tip from fellow odonate enthusiast Michael Ready, I was able to add another species of dragonfly to my life list recently: Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula flavida).

Female

The first Yellow-sided Skimmer dragonfly that I spotted was perched along the shoreline of a small pond at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. This individual is a female, as indicated by her terminal appendages.

Female Yellow-sided Skimmers have a pair of flanges beneath their eighth abdominal segment that are used to scoop and hold a few drops of water when laying eggs (oviposition), hence the family name “Skimmer.” Remember that all dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen, numbered from front to back.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

I followed the female from one perch to another, “working the shot.” The next two photos are full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

Notice the amber color near the leading edge of her wings, a good field mark for L. flavida.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (female)

Male

According to Dr. Steve Roble’s excellent datasets for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the adult flight period for Yellow-sided Skimmer is from May 15 to September 21.

By mid-June most males, including this one, are completely covered by light-blue pruinescence that obscures the yellow coloration on the sides of their thorax. Look closely at the full-size version of the following photo and you should see the amber color near the leading edge of his wings.

17 JUN 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Yellow-sided Skimmer (male)

Habitat

A small, seep-fed pond located in the forest provides ideal habitat for Yellow-sided Skimmer.

Habitat: Boggy ponds, seeps, slow streams, and weedy ditches. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 9094). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

23 MAY 2018 | PNC. Wm. County | small, seep-fed pond

Notice the fallen tree that lies between the foreground and the pond in the background, nearly perpendicular to the stream. The tree is a barrier that slows the flow of the stream, creating the type of boggy, weedy habitat that Yellow-sided Skimmer prefers.

Range maps

Not all species of Skimmers are as common as I tend to think. For example, the following map shows all official records for Libellula flavida in the United States of America. As you can see, Yellow-sided Skimmer is a relatively uncommon species of odonate.

Zooming in to reveal the details shows few records reported for Northern Virginia, where I live.

What are the take-aways?

Many species of dragonflies in the Family Libellulidae (Skimmers) are habitat generalists and relatively easy to find almost anywhere there is water. In contrast, I think it’s fair to say Yellow-sided Skimmer is a habitat specialist that is challenging to find.

Related Resource: Libellula flavida Yellow-sided Skimmer on NatureServe Explorer. The conservation status for L. flavida in Virginia is “Vulnerable (S3).”

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.

Common Green Darner (male)

June 11, 2021

A Common Green Darner dragonfly (Anax junius) was observed during a photowalk with Michael Powell along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

While I was searching for the mythical Appalachian Snaketail dragonfly (Ophiogomphus incurvatus), Mike was tracking several Common Green Darners hawking flying insects over a large field near the stream. Thanks to Mike for giving me a heads-up when one of the darners landed in the field.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Green Darner (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. Sometimes, as in this case, identifying sex can be challenging. Sexing Common Green Darner dragonflies is a blog post I created that illustrates several field marks can be used to identify the gender of female and male Anax junius.

The Backstory

I think the location that Mike and I visited provides the right habitat for Appalachian Snaketail dragonflies. Although we didn’t find the target species on the day of our visit I remain convinced O. incurvatus is there, waiting to be discovered.

Tech Tips

Notice the tips of the dragonfly’s cerci are near the bottom of the photo frame. I prefer to give the subject a little more “breathing room” but this image is the best one from the set of photos I shot and it is what it is — as close as I could get without spooking the dragonfly, albeit less than perfectly composed.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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