Sympetrum vicinum (Autumn Meadowhawk)
So here’s a case that illustrates why field notes are important. I managed to snap this lone hasty picture of a striking red dragonfly on a fallen leaf in my garden before it darted off. Today, months later, I stumbled on the image in one of my photo folders and thought it would make a nice FPF entry, partly because it’s lovely, and partly because surely such a dashing and brightly-coloured insect would be easy to identify. Right?
Wrong. Knowing little-to-nothing about dragonflies (Odonata), I turned to my books. I first decided that it was a skimmer of some kind (Libellulidae) using my own field guide; then, feeling pretty certain that it might be a meadowhawk, I turned to BugGuide for a higher-resolution ID.
Here’s what I found: a page called “Mature red adult: internum, janaeae, obtrusum, rubicundulum species group“. Nuts. Plus, a whole bunch of other similar-looking species of red meadowhawks, with plenty of warnings from other BugGuide-ers that proper identification of many species was next to impossible without a good closeup photo of the male genitalia. Unfortunately, my dragonfly and I did not have time to get that well aquainted. Dang.
I was flipping through the guide pages a bit disconsolately, managing to eliminate a few species from the list, until I noted one entry for a species whose “Season” notes stated: “Primarily late in the summer. Often the last species to be seen in a given area.” A little lightbulb went off, and I checked the date the photograph was taken: October 17, 2010. It was the last day of really nice weather that fall, and a goodish number of insects were out and about for what seemed to be their last hurrah. Armed with this information, I feel more confident about making the match and declaring this to be an Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum).*
Sometimes, in absence of a specimen-in-hand, one’s observations about habitat, host plant or prey, behaviour, or even just a date, can make or break an identification!
* Feel free to now tear my logic and subsequent ID apart and provide me with the right name for this critter. kthnxbye.