Monday, April 9, 2012

Common Baskettail

Our rendezvous point for last Saturday's excursion was this place, near the shores of Adams Lake. We didn't tarry to look around the prairie in the morning, as we were itching to hit some other spots. When we returned in mid-afternoon, some of us took a stroll up the path past this sign to see if the shooting-stars, Dodecatheon meadia, were in bloom.

Almost immediately, we noticed this dragonfly on constant patrol along the woodland gap created by the trail. It remained about head high, and darted about with such rapidity that it was hard to get a good look. As we progressed up the trail, more of the same species were encountered, also hunting. In all we observed six or eight of them. I didn't know what it was, although I'm sure there are some dragonfly hotshoes out there who already know this species from the crummy in-flight photo above.

Ah! Finally a teneral (freshly emerged dragonfly) fluttered weakly by, and alit on a convenient sassafras sprig. We gingerly made our approach, and I was able to make a nice sequence of photos at close range. I still couldn't place the thing with certainty, so I dug into my favorite dragonfly book upon my return.

A common baskettail, Epitheca cynosura! Although they aren't rare, it isn't a species that I've encountered much, and I wasn't familiar enough with the animal to make the field ID. I think I'll know it now when I see it. This individual and the other more developed baskettails put on quite a show for us.

Common baskettails are members of the Corduliidae, or emerald family. They aren't as showy as some of their brilliantly green-eyed brethren, but what baskettails lack in looks, they make up for with superb aerial prowess. It was fun to watch them effortlessly patrolling on shimmering wings, and making jags at lightning speed to snap up lesser flying insects.

This teneral baskettail couldn't have made its escape from its larval shell much earlier than we found it. Its nymph probably emerged from a nearby stream the night prior, and the newly transformed adult spent the day drying on some waterside plant. We likely observed this dragon on its inaugural flight to safer haunts away from the water and all of the potential predators that can be found there. In this shot, it is grooming its frons (face) in much the manner of a cat.

This map, courtesy of the Ohio Odonata Society, illustrates that common baskettails are well distributed across Ohio. If you like dragonflies, consider joining the OOS - it'll cost you all of $5.00 a year! If you feel exceptionally generous, enlist as a supporting member. That'll set you back $10 bucks!

This chart does give some significance to our baskettail observations. It lists the earliest Ohio record as April 9, and I made these photos on April 7, so if no one has found them earlier than the 9th since the making of this map, we documented the earliest spring record.


Ian Adams said...

Jim: I saw a Springtime Darner in the same parking area on Cline Road
near Lynx Prairie on April 2 while I
was doing similar contortions to John
Howard trying to photograph a Juniper
Hairstreak. Ian Adams

Jim McCormac said...

Nice find, Ian. We also had a springtime darner very near that spot, but I couldn't get close enough for photos :-(