Posts Tagged ‘terminal appendages’

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.

I was common, when common wasn’t cool.

June 8, 2021

Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was observed during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by his mostly brown coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. County | Common Whitetail (immature male)

This photo is one of a few “warm-up shots” I took at the outset of my photowalk. I think it’s a good idea to be sure your camera gear is working as expected before you blow an opportunity to photograph something rare to uncommon by fiddling with camera settings.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (male)

May 28, 2021

An Ashy Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus lividus) was spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

13 MAY 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

This individual is a male, as indicated by his terminal appendages. A dorsal view of the same species shows the hind wings of Ashy males are “indented.” The male was perched on rocks, sand, and leaf litter deposited along the edges of the stream channel.

13 MAY 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Ashy Clubtail (male)

I’ve seen Ashy Clubtail dragonflies many times, but this was the first time I noticed their unusual flight pattern. Imagine a one-car roller coaster, going up and down smoothly while moving forward slowly. That’s the best way I can describe what I saw. You’ll recognize it when you see it — very distinctive!

My buddy Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, told me Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis) has the same flight pattern.

Tech Tips

Both photos are full-frame (4,000 x 3,000 pixels), that is, uncropped. I considered cropping the photos to make the dragonfly appear larger. I decided to post the uncropped photos to show the smallish size of Ashy Clubtail more authentically. Click on each photo in order to see a full-size version that you can zoom-in on to see more detail.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

May 21, 2021

Perceptive observers of nature notice gradual changes that indicate the change of season.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.
Source Credit: Turn! Turn! Turn! Song by The Byrds

For example, sighting a Spangled Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanea) is a sure sign the subtle transition from spring to summer is underway.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Spangled Skimmer (teneral female)

One of my mantras for wildlife photography is “Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot.” The preceding photo is one I took when I noticed the dragonfly; the following photo is one I took after slowly working my way into position for a better shot. Notice the dragonfly changed positions too, moving from one perch to another when I moved closer to her.

13 MAY 2021 | PNC. Wm. County, VA | Spangled Skimmer (teneral female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her coloration and terminal appendages.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Stream Cruiser dragonfly (female)

May 18, 2021

A Stream Cruiser dragonfly (Didymops transversa) was spotted during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

This individual is a female, as indicated by her thick abdomen and terminal appendages.

13 MAY 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Stream Cruiser (female)

The female was perched in a large field near the same location where Mike Powell found a Stream Cruiser exuvia on 13 April 2021.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Whitetail dragonflies

May 4, 2021

Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was observed near a small pond during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP). This individual is a female, as indicated by her mostly brown coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages.

28 APR 2021 | ORP | Common Whitetail (female)

Contrast the appearance of the female (shown above) with an immature male (shown below) seen on the same day at the same location. Notice the wing spots and terminal appendages are quite different for female and male Common Whitetail dragonflies.

28 APR 2021ORP | Common Whitetail (immature male)

Later the same day, another Common Whitetail dragonfly was observed near Mulligan Pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR) in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This individual is a mature male, as indicated by the white pruinescence covering his abdomen. “Common Whitetail,” the common name for Plathemis lydia, is derived from the coloration of mature males of this species.

28 APR 2021 | JMAWR | Common Whitetail (mature male)

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

April 30, 2021

A Common Whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia) was observed near a small pond during a photowalk with Michael Powell at Occoquan Regional Park (ORP).

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by his mostly brown coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages. Part of his left fore wing is missing, probably as a result of an encounter with a predator.

28 APR 2021 | ORP | Common Whitetail (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonflies are habitat generalists that can be found almost anywhere there is water. They are among the first species of dragonflies to appear during spring and the last to disappear in fall.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (female)

April 20, 2021

Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) was spotted during a recent photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Uhler’s Sundragon (female)

This individual is a female, as indicated by her rounded hind wings and terminal appendages. All female dragonflies have a pair of cerci (superior appendages) that have little or no function. Both the rounded hind wings and two cerci are visible clearly in the full-size version of the following photo.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Uhler’s Sundragon (female)

Just the facts, ma’am.

According to records for the Commonwealth of Virginia maintained by Dr. Steve Roble, Staff Zoologist at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, the adult flight period for H. uhleri is 29 March to 27 June. The species is classified as common. Its habitat is “streams.”

Bear in mind, Dr. Roble’s records are for the entire state, therefore the adult flight period for H. uhleri seems to be longer than it is in reality. The adult flight period for a single site is probably no more than a month, and more likely around two-to-three weeks. For example, according to records for Northern Virginia maintained by Kevin Munroe, former manager of Huntley Meadows Park, the adult flight period for Uhler’s is 11 April to 05 May.

It’s also worth noting that the window of opportunity to see Uhler’s Sundragon closes rapidly after trees are in full leaf; this phenological event usually occurs by mid-April in the mid-Atlantic USA.

Is Uhler’s Sundragon common? I guess the answer to that question depends upon where you live. In Northern Virginia, Kevin Munroe classified H. uhleri as “rare.” In fact, I’m aware of only one location in Northern Virginia where Uhler’s Sundragon can be found with reasonable certainty although not in large numbers.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Selys’s Sundragon dragonfly (male)

April 16, 2021

I discovered a Selys’ Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia selysii) during a recent photowalk with Michael Powell at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA. Selys’s Sundragon is a new species for my Life List of odonates and for Prince William County, VA. [Odonata Species (p. 1 of 2) — current as of 14 April 2021 — shows part of the species list for Prince William County before Selys’s was added.]

This individual is a male with a malformed abdomen. Notice his abdomen is twisted so that the terminal appendages aren’t in their usual alignment. The cerci should be on top and the epiproct should be on the bottom; they aren’t where they should be.

13 APR 2021 | Prince William County, VA | Selys’s Sundragon (male)

All male dragonflies have three terminal appendages, collectively called “claspers,” that are used to grab and hold female dragonflies during mating. Male dragonfly terminal appendages don’t look exactly the same for all species of dragonflies, but their function is identical. The misalignment of this Selys’s terminal appendages might be a problem when attempting to form the “wheel position” with females.

The Backstory

Mike Powell and I were men on a mission to photograph Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri). The sky was completely overcast when we arrived at our destination. According to the weather forecast, the sky was supposed to clear around 1:00 pm, and sure enough it did. Soon afterward, we spotted our first Uhler’s of the day and spent some time photographing several individuals.

All of the Uhler’s we saw were female. At some point I said to Mike (paraphrasing) “I need to photograph at least one male before we leave!” I walked a little farther downstream from a place where Mike was shooting macro photos of a very cooperative female Uhler’s. That’s when I spotted the male shown in the preceding photo.

My first impression was the dragonfly seemed to be noticeably smaller than the female Uhler’s we had been photographing. Turns out I was right! According to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson, Uhler’s are 41-46 mm in total length (4.1-4.6 cm) and Selys’s are 38-41 mm in total length (3.8-4.1 cm). For those of you keeping score at home, that’s only ~1.5″ long — small for many if not most dragonflies!

Related Resource: Selys’s Sundragon dragonfly – a blog post by Michael Powell, my good friend and photowalking buddy.

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

November 2, 2020

“It ain’t over till it’s over” is a phrase commonly associated with baseball player/coach/manager Yogi Berra. In this case, “it” refers to odonate season and it’s not over in Northern Virginia till Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) disappear. Clearly, it ain’t over although “the end is near.”

This individual is a female, as indicated by her red/tan coloration and terminal appendages.

It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is a similar saying that is often attributed to Yogi Berra mistakenly. “The fat lady” refers to the fact that many female dragonflies, such as Autumn Meadowhawk, have a wider body than males of the same species.

Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding photo. Notice what appears to be an egg mass located on the underside of her body, near the tip of the abdomen.

Copyright © 2020 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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