Posts Tagged ‘Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly’

Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly exuvia

June 1, 2021

Michael Powell spotted a small odonate exuvia clinging to the base of one of two concrete abutments for a man-made dam located along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

I collected the exuvia in order to examine it more closely in my home laboratory/photography studio. Michael photographed the specimen in my hand immediately after I removed it from the abutment, as shown in the following photo.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

The first photo shows a face-head view of the exuvia.

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

The next two photos, showing a dorsal-lateral view of the specimen, confirm the exuvia is from a Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (Helocordulia uhleri).

Notice the dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9). This distinctive character confirms the identity of the specimen as H. uhleri.

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

Another photo taken from the same view point, exposed and edited for more contrast, shows the three dorsal hooks a little more clearly than the preceding photo.

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

Knowing when good is good enough

A dear friend sent an article to me years ago entitled “Knowing when good is good enough.” I think she was trying to tell me something.

I tend to be a perfectionist. For example, I’m a man on a mission to take the best possible macro photographs of odonate larvae and exuviae given the limitations of my photography gear and small home studio.

Sometimes perfection is a road block that prevents me from shooting and posting photos that are more than serviceable for my purposes, in this case, informal instruction.

I did a quick Google search for the article from my friend. No luck, but I found one that’s close enough — you might even say one that’s good enough — for a little self-help.

None of the photographs in this blog post are perfect — not even close! But I published them anyway. Baby steps, Bob.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another female Uhler’s Sundragon

May 7, 2021

Before we move on from the early spring species of odonates, here are a couple of photos of another one of several female Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) that were spotted during a photowalk with Michael Powell along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Prince William County, Virginia USA.

At first she wanted to play peek-a-boo.

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

After a while, both of us moved to a slightly different position that worked better for me to photograph the subject.

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

That reminds me of another one of my mantras for wildlife photography: Get a shot, any shot; refine the shot. In this case, that’s exactly what I did.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2021 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (emergent female)

April 27, 2021

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

The dragonfly was perched on the exuvia from which it emerged; its cast skin was still clinging to a grass stem approximately six inches (6″) above the ground. The patch of grass was located two-to-three feet from the shoreline, where the stream current was slow-to-moderate. The stream bed was sandy and gently sloped near the site on land where the dragonfly larva stopped to eclose.

This individual is an emergent female, as indicated by her teneral appearance, rounded hind wings, terminal appendages, and subgenital plate.

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

The subgenital plate is located on the ventral side of the abdomen beneath segment eight.

Underneath Segment 8 there is either an ovipositor or a subgenital plate, depending upon the species [of dragonfly]. Both structures are for laying eggs and extend over Segment 9 and possibly beyond. Source Credit: Dragonflies of the North Woods, by Kurt Mead.

Remember that “Segment 8 and 9” refers to abdominal segments eight and nine (of 10), numbered from front to back.

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

The following graphic from Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson shows the shape of the subgenital plate on our emergent female matches Uhler’s perfectly.

Graphic used with written permission from Dennis Paulson.

True Detective

Generally speaking, teneral odonates are more challenging to identify than most mature adult dragonflies and damselflies. Full disclosure: Neither Mike nor I were certain of the identity of the emergent female when we were shooting photographs in the field. “Shoot first and ask questions later” is one of my mantras for wildlife photography.

The most reliable way to identify odonate larvae to the species level is to rear them to maturity and emergence, that is, unless you’re fortunate to find a larva emerging in the field. Since an exuvia is essentially a nearly perfect shell of the last instar, it can be used to identify other specimens of the same species by pattern matching.

In this case, I used the exuvia to reverse-engineer the identity of the teneral dragonfly. Look closely at a lateral view of the exuvia, as shown in the following photo taken by Mike Powell. Notice there are dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven, eight, and nine (S7-9). This distinctive field mark confirms the identity of the species as H. uhleri.

Photo used with written permission from Michael Powell.

Also notice Mike’s photo shows a clear view of the emergent female’s terminal appendages, as well as the subgenital plate on the underside of her abdomen.

How it all began, and ended.

The sky was almost completely overcast and it was cool and windy when I spotted the emergent female. Mike Powell and I observed the dragonfly for quite a while and there was little noticeable progress. According to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, the process of emergence can take longer when the air temperature is cooler.

When the sky began clearing, Mike Powell and I decided to go to a nearby place where he had seen adult Uhler’s recently. Later the same day, we returned to the site of the emergent female; she was gone, so I collected the exuvia. I plan to publish a photo set of the exuvia in an upcoming blog post. To be continued.

Related Resources

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.

Uhler’s Sundragon (female)

April 19, 2019

A Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Northern Virginia USA.

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 cerci are visible clearly in the full-size version of the following photo.

16 APR 2019 | Northern Virginia | Uhler’s Sundragon (female)

Notice the right hind wing is slightly malformed. It appears the wing failed to inflate completely during emergence. The malformation didn’t impair her ability to fly. Pollen (probably tree pollen) is especially noticeable on the darker parts of the body.

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.

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.

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Uhler’s Sundragon (male)

April 17, 2019

A Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) was spotted during a photowalk along a mid-size stream at an undisclosed location in Northern Virginia USA. Uhler’s Sundragon is a new species for my life list of odonates.

16 APR 2019 | Northern Virginia | Uhler’s Sundragon (male)

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

Off-season Homework Pays Dividends

Planning for the next season is a good way to stay connected with odonates during the winter months. One off-season activity that can pay big dividends in the future is to research sites for finding new life-list species of dragonflies and damselflies, especially rare and uncommon species.

Uhler’s is No. 1 on my list of target species for 2019. During the winter of 2018-2019, I researched potential sites for finding Uhler’s Sundragon. I’m pleased to report “Mission accomplished!”

Credits

I’ve been dogged by, er, let’s just say “transportation issues” for months. Sincere thanks to my buddy Mike Powell for scouting one of the sites I researched and guiding me to a couple spots where he found Uhler’s. Good work, Mike — couldn’t have done it without you!

Also thanks to Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group, for providing lots of practical tips for finding Uhler’s Sundragon in the field.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Helocordulia uhleri exuvia

September 14, 2018

An odonate exuvia from the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds) was collected on 06 April 2018 by Michael Boatwright, founder and administrator of the Virginia Odonata Facebook group.

The Backstory

I found a recently-emerged teneral sundragon still clinging to its exuvia along Beck Creek in Amherst County, Virginia USA. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

After snapping a photo, I gently moved the teneral adult to a nearby blade of grass, snapped another shot, and then collected the exuvia. Although I have seen both Selys’ Sundragon (Helocordulia selysii) and Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri) in that area, I assumed this one was Selys’ since it’s the more common species there. Source Credit: Michael Boatwright.

Image used with permission from Michael Boatwright.

This is a small genus [Helocordulia] of only two known species found in only the eastern United States and Canada. Source Credit: Needham, J.G., M.J. Westfall, and M.L. May. March 2014. Dragonflies of North America, 3rd Edition: p. 376. Scientific Publishers, Gainesville, Florida.

A two-step process was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia.

  1. Determine the family.
  2. Determine the genus and species.

Step 1. Family

First, determine the family of the specimen. For reference, watch the excellent Vimeo video, Identifying dragonfly larva to family (8:06). Here’s the decision tree used to identify the exuvia as a member of the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

  • The specimen has a mask-like labium (prementum) that covers the face, as shown in Image No. 1, characteristic of four families of odonates: Cordulegastridae (Spiketails); Corduliidae (Emeralds); Libellulidae (Skimmers); and Macromiidae (Cruisers).
  • There is no horn on the face-head, characteristic of Macromiidae, so it’s not a cruiser.
  • Cordulegastridae has jagged crenulations on its labium, so it’s not a spiketail. The crenulations for Corduliidae and Libellulidae look similar.
  • Look at the anal pyramid to differentiate Corduliidae and Libellulidae: It’s probably Corduliidae if the cerci are at least half as long as the paraprocts. [Editor’s Note: It’s probably Libellulidae if the cerci are less than half the length of the paraprocts.]

In summary, the exuvia has a mask-like labium with relatively smooth crenulations, and no horn on its face-head. Although the specimen is too dirty to see the anal pyramid clearly, field observation of the teneral adult confirms the dragonfly is a member of Genus Heliocordulia (Sundragons) in the Family Corduliidae (Emeralds).

Image No. 1 shows a face-head view of the exuvia, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). Notice the labium that covers the face is missing one of two palpal lobes; the missing lobe is shown in Image No. 4.

No. 1 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (face-head)

Step 2. Genus and species

The dichotomous key for “Helocordulia larvae” that appears on p. 377 in Dragonflies of North America (Needham, et al.) was used to verify the genus and species of the exuvia. Field marks that match this specimen are highlighted in boldface green text. Three boldface green asterisks (***) are used to highlight the thread for identification of this specimen.

***1. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 7-9; palpal setae 7; lateral spines of segment 8 about 1/2 as long as on segment 9 [uhleri]
1’. Dorsal hooks on abdominal segments 6-9; palpal setae usually 6; lateral spines of segment 8 about as long as on segment 9 [selysii]

Image No. 2 shows a dorsal view of the specimen. Notice the mid-dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9), labeled using white text.

No. 2 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (dorsal)

Image No. 3 clearly shows the dorsal hooks on abdominal segments seven through nine (S7-9). This distinctive character confirms the identity of the species as H. uhleri.

No. 3 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (lateral)

Image No. 4 shows a palpal lobe from the specimen, viewed from the inside, magnified approximately three times life size (~3x). There is one palpal seta and at least seven sites where setae might have been located before the palpal lobe broke off the prementum. Although this character is inconclusive for confirming the species (given the condition of the palpal lobe), it’s not exclusive.

No. 4 | Helocordulia uhleri | palpal lobe (inside)

Image No. 5 shows a ventral view of the specimen. Notice the lateral spine on abdominal segment eight (S8) is about half as long as the lateral spine on segment nine (S9).

When measuring spines, I measure them ventral from the inside corner to the tip. There is a suture on the ventral side, near the base, that makes a nice repeatable starting point for measuring. Source Credit: Ken Tennessen, personal communication.

No. 5 | Helocordulia uhleri | exuvia (ventral)

Takeaways

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from working to identify this exuvia is the fact that it enabled the correct identification of the teneral adult dragonfly that Mike observed and photographed. In fact, Mike is the one who first recognized the species is H. uhleri, based upon the number of mid-dorsal hooks on the exuvia.

Related Resources

Odonate Exuviae – a hyperlinked list of identification guides to many species of odonate exuviae from seven families of dragonflies and three families of damselflies.

Tech Tips

Mike Boatwright’s photographs, taken in situ, were shot using a Canon EOS 7D digital camera and Canon 300mm prime lens paired with a Canon 1.4x Extender EF.

The following equipment was used to shoot Image No. 2, 3, and 5: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko 20mm macro automatic extension tubeCanon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites set for “Slave” mode. Image No. 1 and 4Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens (manual focus only, set for ~3x magnification) plus the multiple-flash setup.

Image No. 1-5 are focus-stacked composite images created and annotated using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Image No. 1 (seven photos); Image No. 2 (30 photos); Image No. 3 (16 photos); Image No. 4 (10 photos); Image No. 5 (24 photos).

Copyright © 2018 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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