Posts Tagged ‘Pond Damsels Family’

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

May 20, 2017

An Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream in Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

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

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

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

The last photo is uncropped. The wider view shows the Ashy Clubtail is well-camouflaged when perching on the ground.

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

The Backstory

I visited a new location in Fairfax County, Virginia on 03 May 2017, following my hunch that the spot might be a good place to find some of the more uncommon species of odonates. Turns out my hunch was right!

I saw species from four families of dragonflies: male Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa); male Springtime Darner dragonfly (Basiaeschna janata); female and male Common Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca cynosura); female and male Spine-crowned Clubtail dragonfly (Hylogomphus abbreviatus); at least two male Lancet Clubtail dragonflies (Phanogomphus exilis); and the male Ashy Clubtail (Phanogomphus lividus) featured in this post.

In addition, I saw lots of teneral damselflies from the Family Coenagrionidae (Pond Damsels), possibly Blue-tipped Dancer (Argia tibialis).

03 MAY 2017 | Fairfax County, VA | teneral damselfly

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Familiar Bluet damselfly (immature male)

October 20, 2015

Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) was spotted at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP). This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its terminal appendages and the blue pruinescence that is just beginning to appear on its body.

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is an immature male.

06 OCT 2015 | HMP | Familiar Bluet (immature male)

At this stage, male Familiar Bluets look similar to females.

Step 1. Be aware the same species of dragonfly may appear differently depending upon gender, age, and natural variation. Some species display sexual dimorphism; in contrast, both genders look virtually identical for some species. Finally, females of some species display polymorphism (also known as polychromatism). Source Credit: Five steps to the next level of dragonfly spotting.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

You look Familiar.

October 4, 2015

Do I know you? You look familiar. Like a Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile), that is.

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Familiar Bluet (male)

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

A Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

23 SEP 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Familiar Bluet (male)

Many American Bluets, members of the Pond Damsels Family of damselflies, can be difficult to identify, especially in the field. There are many species of bluets, most of them are blue, and many of them look similar. That being said, identification of bluet damselflies is relatively simple at Huntley Meadows Park. (Yay, another reason to love the park!)

The fact of the matter is you’re unlikely to see more than one or two of the blue bluets on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Odonata species list of damselflies, especially if you never venture beyond the boardwalk: Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile); and Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans).

The two species look somewhat similar, but similar is not the same, as illustrated by the following composite image: Stream Bluet damselfly (spotted on 24 June 2015); Familiar Bluet damselfly (spotted on 23 September 2015). How many differences can you see?

A Stream Bluet damselfly (Enallagma exsulans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

Composite image: Stream Bluet (male) versus Familiar Bluet (male).

Both species tend to be habitat specialists rather than habitat generalists: Familiar Bluet is the only blue bluet you’re likely to see in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park; Stream Bluet is more likely to be found along some of the streams that flow through the park, such as Barnyard Run.

And then there’s the matter of timing, as shown by the Dragonflies of Loudoun calendar of adult flight periods for damselflies: 23 September is still prime time for Familiar Bluets; prime time for Stream Bluets ends in August. So if you see a beautiful blue damselfly at Huntley Meadows during September/October, then it’s almost certainly a male Familiar Bluet.

Now that you’re familiar with the who, what, where, and when of Familiar Bluets, why don’t you go find one before they’re gone? Look for them on aquatic vegetation close to the water.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies (males)

August 3, 2015

Two Blue-fronted Dancer damselflies (Argia apicalis) were spotted during a photowalk around Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR). Both individuals are males.

A Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

24 JUL 2015 | JMAWR | Blue-fronted Dancer (male)

This is the first time I have seen Blue-fronted Dancers in Virginia, although I have seen them in Maryland along the Little Patuxent River, Patuxent Research Refuge (North Tract).

A Blue-fronted Dancer damselfly (Argia apicalis) spotted at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

24 JUL 2015 | JMAWR | Blue-fronted Dancer (male)

Sidebar: Scientific Classification of Damselflies

The following concise explanation of the scientific classification of damselflies is provided to help the reader understand where Blue-fronted Dancers fit into the bigger picture of the Order OdonataSuborder Zygoptera (Damselflies).

There are five 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).

  • Argia (e.g., Blue-fronted Dancer, Blue-tipped Dancer, Variable Dancer)
  • Enallagma (e.g., Big Bluet, Familiar Bluet, Orange Bluet, Stream Bluet)
  • Ischnura (e.g., Eastern Forktail, Fragile Forktail, Rambur’s Forktail)

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.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blues for “Bluets”

July 12, 2015

Regular readers of my photoblog know I love me some odonates! Mostly, that is. Many American Bluets, members of the Pond Damsels Family of damselflies, can be difficult to identify, especially in the field. There are many species of bluets, most of them are blue, and many of them look similar. Yes, sometimes I get the blues when trying to identify bluets — no wonder I lovingly refer to them as “damnselflies!”

Five species of bluets are listed on the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park Odonata species list of damselflies: Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile); Big Bluet (Enallagma durum); Stream Bluet (Enallagma exsulans); Skimming Bluet (Enallagma geminatum); and Orange Bluet (Enallagma signatum).

Orange Bluets, named for their orange-and-black coloration, are easy to identify and relatively common in the central wetland area at the park.

The fact of the matter is you’re unlikely to see more than one or two of the blue bluets on the species list, so there should be no need to curse my little friends in frustration because you’re unable to identify them. Look closely at the pattern of blue-and-black markings on the abdomen of males and you should be able to easily differentiate the three species of bluets featured in this post. Identifying females can be a lot more challenging.

Familiar Bluet

In my experience, the only blue bluet you’re likely to see in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) is Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile).

Familiar Bluet damselfly (male, in flight)

15 SEP 2014 | HMP | Familiar Bluet (male, in flight)

Stream Bluet

Stream Bluets (Enallagma exsulans) are relatively common along some of the streams that flow through Huntley Meadows Park, such as Barnyard Run.

A Stream Bluet damselfly (Enallagma exsulans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male.

24 JUN 2015 | HMP | Stream Bluet (male)

It’s helpful to get shots of mating pairs in tandem, since males and females of the same species can look quite different.

A mating pair of Stream Bluet damselflies (Enallagma exsulans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

10 JUL 2015 | HMP | Stream Bluets (mating pair, in tandem)

Female Stream Bluets are polymorphic, displaying either green or blue on the thorax. The green morph appears in the two photos of a mating pair of Stream Bluets featured in this post.

A mating pair of Stream Bluet damselflies (Enallagma exsulans) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

10 JUL 2015 | HMP | Stream Bluets (mating pair, in tandem)

Big Bluet

The author has never seen a Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) at Huntley Meadows Park. My theory is the wetlands at the park are the wrong habitat for Big Bluets.

Habitat Large sandy lakes and lower reaches of rivers, even extending into brackish estuaries. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 2156-2157). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

It’s noteworthy that the only location where I have seen Big Bluets is Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge (ABWR), and Ken Larsen’s photo of a Big Bluet (linked from the FoHMP Odonata species list) is from Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Are you seeing the same pattern I see? The common keyword between our Big Bluet spottings is “bay.” Unless someone can show me a photograph of a Big Bluet spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, I feel strongly it should be deleted from the FoHMP Odonata species list.

A Big Bluet damselfly (Enallagma durum) spotted at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a male, shown eating an unknown insect.

17 SEP 2012 | ABWR | Big Bluet (male, eating prey)

The following poor quality photo is used to provide another illustration of the idea that it’s helpful to get shots of mating pairs in tandem, since males and females of the same species can look quite different. Female Big Bluets are polymorphic, displaying either brown or blue coloration. The brown morph is shown below.

A mating pair of Big Bluet damselflies (Enallagma durum) spotted at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is in tandem.

10 SEP 2012 | ABWR | Big Bluet (mating pair, in tandem)

Related Resource: Dragonflies of Loudoun features a flight calendar for dragonflies and damselflies. Familiar Bluets are on the wing from July through September; Stream Bluets from May through August. Big Bluets aren’t listed. Hmmm, could it be because there aren’t any bays located in Loudoun County, Virginia?

Editor’s Note: The environment at Huntley Meadows Park may not be the ideal habitat for Skimming Bluet damselflies (Enallagma geminatum). The author has never seen a Skimming Bluet at the park, and the species isn’t linked from the FoHMP Odonata species list, suggesting Ken Larsen has never photographed one. If you have a photo of a Skimming Bluet at Huntley Meadows, then please contact me.

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies

February 28, 2015

Several Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies (Argia tibialis) were spotted at two nearby places with similar habitat: both locations are densely forested; one location is a small sandy stream with slow-to-medium current.

Blue-tipped Dancers are members of the Pond Damsels Family of damselflies. Male Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies look similar to male Orange Bluet damselflies, another species of Pond Damsel. A key field marker may be used to differentiate males of the two species: Blue-tipped Dancer is so-named because the tip of its abdomen is bluish-white; Orange Bluet has an orange-tipped abdomen.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (young male)

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Young male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (young male)

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Young male

All photos in this post were taken using my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 superzoom camera (superseded by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200). The preceding photos were shot using the built-in pop-up flash; flash was off for the following photos.

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (male)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Male

Female Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies are polymorphic: a brown form (shown below); and a blue form (same pattern of markings).

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly (female)

08 June 2012 | Huntley Meadows Park/Hike-Bike Trail | Female

It’s possible the following individual may be a blue form female Blue-tipped Dancer damselfly. Although pop-up flash was used to take these photos, more power was necessary for good exposures in the dark shadows of the forest.

Unknown damselfly

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Female

I consulted a couple of experts for confirmation of my tentative identification.

This one’s tough but I don’t think it’s a male Dusky [Dancer damselfly (Argia translata)]. Male Dusky can show a pale shoulder stripe when immature but I’ve not seen one with wide frontal ones. It could be a female, but the shape of the dark shoulder stripes and its coloration is not typical. I guess I lean towards a blue form female Blue-tipped although it’s tough to say if abdominal segment 10 is pale or not. The shape of the dark shoulder stripes aren’t perfect for Blue-tipped but not out of the realm of possibility. Source Credit: Mr. Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

That’s a tough one. If I had to guess I would say Blue-tipped Dancer. Lighting and angle are difficult, but sure looks like an Argia in any case. Source Credit: Mr. Chris Hobson, Natural Areas Zoologist with the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Unknown damselfly

26 June 2014 | Wickford Park/Dogue Creek | Female

Blue-tipped Dancer damselflies love timberlands and Timberlands!

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Orange Bluet damselflies (males)

February 26, 2015

What’s orange and black but actually called a “bluet?” The Orange Bluet damselfly (Enallagma signatum), of course!

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

The word “bluet” refers to a type of damselfly rather than the color blue, specifically species of damselflies in the Genus Enallagma (American Bluets). Most bluets are primarily blue in color, as you might expect; three other smaller groups of bluets are mostly black, yellow-to-red, and mostly violet.

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

There are five families of damselflies in the United States of America. Three of five damselfly families occur in the mid-Atlantic region: Broad-wings; Spreadwings; and Pond Damsels. Pond Damsels is the largest family, including bluets, dancers, forktails, sprites, etc.

An Orange Bluet, shown above, was spotted alongside the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 12 September 2014. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Females are green, adding to the color conundrum that is Orange Bluet!

Another male was spotted on 15 August 2014. The photo was taken using my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera and 55-200mm zoom lens (88-320mm, 35mm equivalent).

Orange Bluet damselfly (male)

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Familiar Bluet damselflies (males)

October 5, 2014

This post features photos of two damselflies spotted during recent photowalks at Huntley Meadows Park.

Familiar Bluet damselfly (Enallagma civile) is shown in the first photo. This individual is a male, in flight over the central wetland area.

Familiar Bluet damselfly (male, in flight)

15 September 2014

Question is, what type of damselfly is shown in the following photo?

Familiar Bluet damselfly (female)

28 September 2014

Would you believe it’s another Familiar Bluet damselfly? This individual is either an immature- or young male, as indicated by the blue pruinescence that is just beginning to appear on its body. At this stage, male Familiar Bluets look similar to females.

Thanks to the following members of the Northeast Odonata Facebook group for their kind assistance in identifying the species and gender of the damselfly shown in the preceding photo: Steve Price; and Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

What happens after, well, you know?

September 9, 2014

Guarding Behavior in Some Odonates

What happens after odonates copulate? There are three possible outcomes:

  • Nothing, that is, the male and female copulate, separate, and go their own way before the female lays eggs (oviposition) by herself.
  • “Contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites.
  • Non-contact guarding,” also known as “hover guarding,” in which the male flies frantically back-and-forth over the female as she lays eggs in an effort to guard the female from other opportunistic males looking for a mate.

Field Observations

The following photos and videos show a few examples of contact guarding and non-contact guarding, recorded during several years of photowalks at Huntley Meadows Park.

The first photo shows a mating pair of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum) spotted on 24 August 2014. The pair is “in tandem”: the male is on the upper-left; the female on the lower-right. Notice the female is partially submerged as she inserts eggs into aquatic vegetation (endophytic ovipostion). Orange Bluet is a member of the “Pond Damsels” family of damselflies.

Orange Bluet damselflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The next photo shows a mating pair of Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) spotted on 26 August 2014. The pair is “in tandem”: the male is on the upper-right; the female on the lower-left. The female is laying eggs on the surface of underwater plants (epiphytic ovipostion). The Common Green Darner dragonfly is the only North American darner that usually oviposits in tandem.

Common Green Darner dragonflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The last photo shows a mating pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted on 06 November 2013. The pair is shown “in tandem,” resting between periods of egg-laying: the male is on top; the female is on the bottom. Autumn Meadowhawk is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies.

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The first two movies feature mating pairs of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans); in both videos, the male is shown hover guarding the female as she lays eggs. The first video was recorded on 06 June 2012; the second video was recorded on 24 July 2011.

The last movie features a mating pair of Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) spotted on 24 July 2011; the male is shown hover guarding the female. Common Whitetail is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies.

Summary

There are three common families of damselflies in the mid-Atlantic United States: Pond Damsels, also known as the “Narrow-winged Damselflies” (Family Coenagrionidae); Broad-winged Damselflies (Family Calopterygidae); and Spreadwings (Family Lestidae).

And there are seven families of dragonflies: Clubtails (Family Gomphidae); Cruisers (Family Macromiidae); Darners (Family Aeshnidae); Emeralds (Family Corduliidae); Petaltails (Family Petaluridae); Skimmers (Family Libellulidae); and Spiketails (Family Cordulegastridae).

I consulted the members of two odonate-related Facebook groups in preparation for writing this post: Northeastern Odonata; and Southeastern Odes. I posed a couple of questions related to odonate reproduction, with the goal of answering one over-arching question: Which families of damselflies and dragonflies engage in some form of post-copulatory guarding?

  1. Is there a common species of dragonfly in which the male abandons the female immediately after mating? No contact guarding, no non-contact guarding, just “Adios muchacha!”
  2. Do all damselfly females lay eggs in tandem with males? If not, then please cite at least one example.

My sincere thanks to two renowned odonate experts who kindly replied to my questions!

Not sure about the first question. I’ve seen plenty of females of many different species arriving alone at a water body to lay eggs but without seeing a mating pair break tandem, it’s hard to say when they separated. Females can store sperm so will often lay eggs without the company of a mate. As for damselflies, off the top of my head, Eastern- and Fragile Forktails typically oviposit alone. Slender Spreadwings too. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Skimmers are the only dragonflies in which guarding is common. It doesn’t happen in clubtailscruisers, darners (except of course in a few kinds of green darners that oviposit in tandem), emeralds, petaltails, and spiketails. Among skimmers, stream breeders such as clubskimmers and sylphs don’t have any kind of guarding. In genera such as Pantala gliders and Tramea saddlebags, if they’re not in tandem then the female oviposits by herself. Forktails are among the few pond damsels that don’t oviposit in tandem (a couple of western species are an exception to the exception). Source Credit: Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East.

Coming full circle to the title of this post, most dragonfly males do not engage in post-copulatory guarding; most damselfly males do.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Fragile Forktail damselflies

June 17, 2014

I spotted several Fragile Forktail damselflies (Ischnura posita) during a photowalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 21 April 2014. The damselflies were the first “home grown” odonates I saw in 2014.

Fragile Forktail damselflies are black and either light green (males) or light blue (females and immature males). The top of the thorax is black with two distinctive green- or  blue exclamation points.

The following individuals are females; their gender was kindly verified by two members of the Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Its sex is female. The abdomen looks proportionately thick throughout, and on the full-size image, you can make out the simple cerci at the tip. I’m not sure males would ever show this much pruinosity either. Source Credit: Benjamin A. Coulter, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Fragile Forktail damselfly (immature female)

I would call it fully mature too. The females don’t get any brighter as they get older, they just get more pruinose (chalky blue-gray) and that process has started on yours. Source Credit: Chris Hill, Northeast Odonata Facebook group.

Fragile Forktail damselfly (immature female)

The following individual is a male, as indicated by its green coloration. This specimen was spotted on 27 April 2014 along the gravel road between the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail and the new observation platform.

Fragile Forktail damselfly (male)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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