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Posts Tagged ‘female Uhler’s Sundragon’

Have you ever watched a dragonfly-to-be break out of its exoskeleton and undergo a remarkable metamorphosis from a water-breathing nymph to an amazing aerial acrobat? It is an amazing and fascinating process that rivals (or maybe even surpasses) the more familiar transformation of a butterfly that many of us studied in school.

On a recent excursion to look for dragonflies in Prince William County, my good friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford excitedly called out to me that he had spotted a dragonfly that was midway through the process of emergence. We had not had much success up to that point in the day, so Walter’s news was especially welcome.

When dragonflies are in the process of emergence, they are very vulnerable. Their bodies are undergoing some incredible changes and they do not yet have the ability to fly. If you look at the first photo and compare the size of the exoskeleton (often referred to as an exuvia) to that of the dragonfly, you can get a sense of the magnitude of the changes that were occurring.

I moved a little closer for the second shot, being careful not to disturb the dragonfly, in order to capture some additional details. The exoskeleton shows, for example, little wing pads that are tiny when you compare them to the wings that are still closed over the dragonfly’s body. A little later in the process, the dragonfly will unfold the wings and will be be able to fly, albeit weakly at first.

At this stage, we could tell that the dragonfly was a female, because of the shape of the terminal appendages, but we could not determine its species, because its colors and markings were still really pale. Depending on the species, this transformation process can take as long as several hours and it can sometimes take a few days for the colors and markings to darken. (If you are interested in this whole process, I witnessed the it from start to finish several years ago and took a series of photos that documented the process in a blog posting called Metamorphosis of a dragonfly.)

Walter was eventually able to determine that this was a female Uhler’s Sundragon (Helocordulia uhleri). My final photo shows an adult female Uhler’s Sundragon that I photographed later that same day, so you can easily see that the dragonfly was not yet done with her transformation when we photographed her. 

How did Walter do it? For the answer to that mystery, check out Walter’s blog posting today called Uhler’s Sundragon dragonfly (emergent female) for the fascinating story of his detective work and additional photos and details of our encounter with this emerging dragonfly.

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragonfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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I felt like I had hit the jackpot last Friday when I finally spotted several Uhler’s Sundragon dragonflies (Helocordulia uhleri) while exploring a stream in Prince William County, Virginia. Uhler’s Sundragons are a scarce and seldom seen dragonfly species with a brief and early flight period. There is a very active Virginia dragonfly group in Facebook that posts sightings and photos and it appears that my sightings of this species were the first in our state for 2020.

Last year I was able to do some reconnaissance of an area where this species had been spotted in previous years using information shared with me by fellow dragonfly fanatic and blogger Walter Sanford. Eventually I found and photographed some Uhler’s Sanddragons and he and I were able to spot them again several times.

This species generally is found in a specific type of habitat—”Clean, sandy or gravely forest streams with a mix of riffles and pools,” according to the excellent Dragonflies of Northern Virginia website. So Friday I scoured the locations where had spotted them last year and it was in one such location that I spotted the Ashy Clubtail and Common Green Darner that I featured recently in my posting First dragonflies of the season. I looked for Uhler’s Sundragons there but came up empty-handed.

It was at a second spot that I finally spotted one as it flew through the air and landed on a piece of vegetation. There is not much flying this early in the season and I could tell from the way that it perched that it was probably my target species. I think I was shaking a little bit and certainly my heart rate had accelerated, but I managed to get a shot of that one (the middle shot below), before it flew away. A few minutes later, I had another spotting and captured the last shot below—it might have been the same dragonfly or a different one.

Part of my long walk back took me along another stretch of the same stream and I was absolutely thrilled when I spotted yet another Uhler’s Sundragon and captured my favorite shot of the day, the first one below. It turns out that all of the Uhler’s Sundragons that I photographed were females. I am not sure if the males were all out patrolling or were simply in other locations.

Many of the locations where I might normally search for dragonflies are closed and some of the others are potentially crowded, do I am not willing to go there. As you can see from my recent postings, I am staying really close to home most of the time, with trips like this one to remote locations being a rare exception.

 

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

Uhler's Sundragon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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