The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Forgotten Photo Friday: Sympetrum vicinum (Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly)

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.

7 responses to “Forgotten Photo Friday: Sympetrum vicinum (Autumn Meadowhawk dragonfly)

  1. dragonflywoman March 25, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    Yep, the meadowhawks are a bitch to ID from photos! You really need at least 3 shots to do a decent job of it because you need to see the top, the side of the thorax, and the face to make a proper ID. Genitalia is important too. Nasty, nasty group to ID without specimens… Nice photo though!

  2. Katie March 25, 2011 at 11:28 PM

    I’ve sent a link to your blog post to a very decent dragonflier. Hope he helps you out.

  3. TGIQ March 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    BugGuide peeps say “Autumn Meadowhawk’! Yay, me! 😛

  4. Jim Johnson March 27, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    Sympetrum vicinum (Autumn Meadowhawk) is a pretty safe bet on this one, although S. costiferum (Saffron-winged Meadowhawk) is a possibility too—and that one can fly pretty late as well (at least in the Pacific Northwest). It’s difficult to tell those two apart from a dorsal view. S. costiferum has a bit more black on the lateral edges of the abdomen and it has some fine black markings on the sides of the thorax that vicinum lacks. The long wing veins near the leading edge of the wings don’t look pale enough for costiferum, so my money is on vicinum.

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