Posts Tagged ‘Southern Spreadwing damselfly’

A Southern Fortnight, Part 5 – Southern Spreadwing damselflies (mating pairs, in tandem)

July 24, 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.


The following annotated image illustrates some of the reproductive anatomy of male and female Southern Spreadwings.

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

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

The male uses his claspers to hold the female by her neck as he guides her to places where she can lay eggs (oviposit).

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

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

The female uses her ovipositor to insert eggs into vegetation (endophytic oviposition).

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

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

A mating pair may spend up to an hour in tandem, although in my limited experience, tandem egg-laying lasted approximately 10-15 minutes.

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

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

Both sexes average two matings during lifetime. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Location 1577). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

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

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

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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A Southern Fortnight, Part 4 – Southern Spreadwing damselfly (female)

June 30, 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.


A Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This is the female member of a mating pair, resting after laying eggs (oviposition).

07 MAY 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Southern Spreadwing (female)

An adult female Southern Spreadwing was spotted perching on vegetation alongside a drainage ditch in the forest. She was resting after laying eggs (oviposition) in tandem with an adult male Southern Spreadwing.

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2015 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

A Southern Fortnight, Part 3 – Southern Spreadwing damselfly (male)

May 13, 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.


Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) was spotted perching on vegetation in a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages.

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.

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

May 5, 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.


During late-May 2014, I photographed a spreadwing damselfly near a vernal pool at Huntley Meadows Park. When I revisited the photos months later, I realized the damselfly was a species I’d never seen.

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.”

That was November 2014. This is May 2015 and they’re back! Although male Southern Spreadwing and Sweetflag Spreadwing damselflies are virtually indistinguishable unless examined in-hand under magnification, I was fortunate to photograph a mating pair. With Ed’s help, we were able to reverse-engineer a positive identification based upon a single key field marker for the female member of the pair: Its ovipositor is too small to be a female Sweetflag, so by the process of elimination these damselflies must be Southern Spreadwing — a new species for both Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) and Fairfax County, Virginia!

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)

The wheel position is sometimes referred to as “in heart” when damselflies mate.

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

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

The final photo in the time-series shows the male member of the mating pair immediately after the male and female separated.

A Southern Spreadwing damselfly (Lestes australis) spotted at Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This is the male member of a mating pair.

03 MAY 2015 | HMP | Southern Spreadwing (male member, mating pair)

The following photos show two slightly different views of another male spreadwing damselfly spotted at the same location as the mating pair. Although it’s possible these damselflies may be Sweetflag Spreadwing, they are probably Southern Spreadwing.

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

03 MAY 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Southern Spreadwing (male)

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

03 MAY 2015 | Huntley Meadows Park | Southern Spreadwing (male)

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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