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Posts Tagged ‘Stylurus plagiatus’

Although we are well into autumn, there are still dragonflies around, including some stunning Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonflies (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted earlier this week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. As you can see from the photos Russet-tipped Clubtails like to perch on somewhat exposed leaves, which makes them a bit easier to spot than some species of dragonflies, though they are not common in my experience

I was able to capture images of Russet-tipped Clubtails (there were at least two individuals that I saw, both males) on several leafy perches in a tree overhanging a pond. My angle of view and the direction of the light gave each of these images a very different feel, primarily because of the way that the background was captured.

Depended on my mood, any one of these three images can be my favorite. Is there one that particularly appeals to you?

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love dragonflies, but it will probably be a month or two before they reappear in my area. I bide my time and photograph birds during the winter, but one of my fellow dragonfly enthusiasts, Walter Sanford, has been spending his time studying exuviae, the exoskeletons that are discarded when nymphs almost magically undergo a metamorphosis and emerge as dragonflies. Check out Walter’s most recent posting in which he determined the species of an exuvia I collected last year and be sure to explore the rest of the fantastic photos and info in his blog.

walter sanford's photoblog

Michael Powell collected several odonate exuviae during a photowalk along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia USA, including two damselflies and two dragonflies. The exact date is uncertain, although Mike thinks the exuviae were collected sometime between 19-23 July 2017.

Both dragonfly exuviae are from the Family Gomphidae (Clubtails), as indicated by a flat labium that doesn’t cover the face as well as club-like antennae. Notice that abdominal segment nine (S9) is elongated, strongly suggesting this individual is a member of the genus Stylurus.

The dichotomous key for Stylurus larvae that appears on pp. 310-312 in Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition by Needham et al. was used to identify the species of the exuvia. The ninth couplet [9, 9′] is as follows.

9(7’). Length of abdominal segment 9 at least equal to its basal width; lateral spines of abdominal segment 9 at least…

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As summer begins to wind down for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, some of the dragonfly species in our area are starting to disappear. Fortunately, though, some new species appear late in the season to take their places, like this Russet-tipped Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that I spotted yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia.

Unlike many of the dragonflies that I see regularly that seem to prefer pole-like perches or perch flat on the ground, Russet-tipped Clubtails like to hang from the leaves of vegetation either at an angle, as this one is doing, or vertically. I was pretty excited to find this dragonfly, because I have seen a member of this species only once before, last year at a different location, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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When fellow photographer and local dragonfly expert Walter Sanford posted a photo of a Russet-tailed Clubtail dragonfly (Stylurus plagiatus) that he had spotted on Thursday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetlands Refuge, I was filled with an overwhelming urge to see if I could find the dragonfly. At this time of the year, as the dragonfly season winds down, I really don’t think much about finding new species, so this was an exciting challenge.

I knew the general location, but I forgot to ask Walter for more specific information about his find. Was it near the water or in the woods or along the stream or among the wildflowers? It was a kind of crazy quixotic quest, but I am pretty persistent, so I scoured the area, making loop after loop around a small pond.

My hope and my energy were beginning to fade when I suddenly caught sight of a dragonfly’s wings shining in the sunlight. The dragonfly was perched on some vegetation at the edge of the treeline. Moving as stealthily as I could, I approached the dragonfly and realized that I had found the Russet-tipped Clubtail. I often complain about the inappropriateness of the names of insects, but in this case it fit perfectly.

I managed to take a number of shots of the perching dragonfly before it flew off, heading deeper into the woods. After it had flown a short distance, it seemed to stop abruptly in mid-air. What was going on? I switched to manual focus and took a few shots and then began to worry that the dragonfly had gotten caught in a bit of spider web. (All morning long I kept running into spider webs at face level as I walked through the woods.) As I moved my hand closer to the dragonfly in an attempt to free it, the dragonfly flew off and disappeared. I didn’t see any evidence of a spider web, so it was probably only my overly active imagination.

This was one of my most memorable encounters with a dragonfly. I may stop by again this weekend to see if it is still hanging around, but the chances are not good that I will see it again. Still, lightning can strike twice and that kind of optimism helps to fuel my enthusiasm for photography.

Russet-tipped Clubtail

Russet-tipped Clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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