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Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail, Tachopteryx thoreyi. This is a humdinger of a dragonfly, sure to inflame the passions of any odonate enthusiast, or send bug-haters into a mad gallop, screaming wildly in terror. Kelley Williams-Sieg and I were driving down a rural lane in backwater Ross County last Sunday, when Kelly tipped me to a big dragon cruising the roadside ditch. "Whoa!" I braked hard, we leapt out, and there it was, this magnificent black and gray beast.

In the video above, I talk a bit about petaltail's habitat requirements, which are quite specific. They need sepage outflows of ground water within wooded habitats, a prime reason they are not common and widespread. Found in only 19 of Ohio's 88 counties, and few and far between where they do occur. Had this petaltail been less than a mile down the road, it would have been a Vinton County record.

At the end of the video, I also make a behaviorial comment and prediction.

And sure enough, with no goading at all, the Gray Petaltail soon roared out to land on his visitors. I stuck my hand out, and it didn't take long before he posed on that. You can see how big this species is, and that coupled with its predilection for alighting on unsuspecting people has, I am sure, sent more than one bugaphobe into conniptions.

I don't know why they do this, and I've yet to hear a good explanation for their people fondness. Every one I've seen that had the opportunity has landed on his admirers, even though plenty of other good or better perches were close at hand. And I don't think it's because we're attracting deerflies or other tasty treats that might lure the petaltail. They'll just perch on you, doing nothing, then occasionally dart off and make their regularly scheduled hunting forays, then return to their humanoid perch.

What petaltails may lack in showy colors, they more than compensate for with an abundance of charisma. This is a fantastic beast to stumble across, if you are with people who enjoy nature and had no idea that petaltails fly on planet earth. They're almost sure to get a show.

Gray Petaltails belong to an extremely primitive group of dragonflies. That face, smiling up from his perch on Kelly's leg, has been around without major changes for a jaw-dropping 250 million years.

Here, Kelly models the lovely petaltail, which matches her apparely rather nicely, thinks I. I can envision a future in marketing pet petaltails. These trained dragons would accompany their owners, hanging off various body parts and delighting all whose paths are crossed. For thrills, the petaltail will occasionally dart out and kill large butterflies or dragonflies, as they are fond of doing.

Eye level with our petaltail. This is the goshawk of the dragonfly world, and they are a treat to watch. When flight is required, the petaltail lumbers airborn with a whirring of wings, resembling a miniature Sikorsky helicopter. Fast and direct of flight, little escapes their attention, and with quick lunges and darts they efficiently take out nearly any beast their size or smaller that is unlucky enough to happen by.

I am certainly not an anti-collector, but this is one insect that should probably not be jugged and shelved if at all possible. Petaltails and their habitat is not frequent, and it might be some time before suitable habitats are found and replenished if petaltails are collected out of a particular spot. Don't add this one to your insect collection, should the opportunity arise. Besides, Gray Petaltails are far more fun to watch in real life than they are pinned to a board in a drawer.


KatDoc said…
I met my first Petaltail at Cedar Bog during the OOS excursion there in '07. I didn't know you very well at the time, and when the critter landed on my pant leg and you knelt in front of me with your camera focused on I-didn't-know-what, I was a bit taken aback.

I still have photos of that beast, on a tree branch. Fond memories!

My morning giggle came from "bugaphobe with conniptions". You must admit seeing such is rather amusing. I have been known to do such a performance and I don't think of myself as a bugaphobe. tee hee...
Heather said…
A very cool dragon you've captured here, Jim. Reminds me of the Dragonhunters that I saw in abundance during our recent vacation to northern Michigan. I'll post photos of it soon! I see I've missed lots of very informative posts while I was out of state!

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