Clubtail Dragonfly

2009 July 11

So, somehow we’ve gone for two years without a single representative of the Odonata order (dragonflies and damselflies)[1]. Well, that’s not too surprising, they are pretty darned hard to catch with bare hands. But that’s all over now, having the nets has changed everything. We caught this one down at Chassell Beach[2] on June 20 – it was sunning itself on a walking path, and S_ snuck up on it with the net, and nabbed it. So then we brought it home, and put it into one of the 12 inch collapsable observation cages that we got from BioQuip. This made it much easier to photograph, I could just open the cage enough to put in my hand and camera and take pictures without much chance of it flying away. We could even get it to pose on my thumb:

S_ went through our copy of “Stokes’ Beginners Guide to Dragonflies”, and we decided it was one of the Clubtails, family Gomphidae. This is based on the widely-separated eyes and the, well, clubbed tail. Of the ones in the book, it looked most like the Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylus, although the pattern of yellow striping on ours doesn’t look quite right, and the eyes aren’t really green like the dragonhunter eyes are supposed to be.


The dragonhunters are reputed to be pretty ferocious predators, eating insects that are nearly their own size, including other dragonflies (hence the name).


It spent most of its time just resting in the cage. I suspect that they will only eat things that they actually catch in flight, which would make it kind of problematic to keep them in captivity for very long – it never showed any interest in the large fly that we put into the cage with it, probably because by the time it could have taken off and got up to speed the fly would have already taken evasive action and hidden in a corner.


So, anyway, we kept it long enough to take to the Library bug presentation, and then let it go. With any luck, it is still flying around the place preying on some of the more obnoxious biting flies.

[1] I almost had one two full years ago, when I found a perfectly-preserved dead dragonfly sitting beside the road. But then I brought it home, set it on the table while I went looking for the camera, and came back just in time to catch the cat chewing the wings off. Aaargh! Then last year, while at Coles Creek looking for aquatic creatures, we found a dead dragonfly nymph. But, it had been dead for a while and was so moldy that it didn’t look like much.

[2] Chassell is the town about 8 miles south of Houghton. They have a pretty decent beach there, with a big lawn, playground equipment appropriate for 4-year-olds, and shallow water that is nice for wading in. While we were there, we also found a turtle, which Sam thought was very cool and is still occasionally talking about nearly a month later.

5 Responses
  1. July 14, 2009

    Hi, Tim,
    Check out the midland clubtail (Gomphus fraternus) as an alternative possibility. I like that Stokes guide, but for the diverse (and less commonly encountered) clubtails they made the reasonable editorial choice of leaving most of them out. I’m not absolutely positive about the midland, as your photos show a little more yellow in the tipmost abdominal segments than is typical for that species, but in my references that appears to be the best fit.

  2. July 15, 2009

    I think that dragonflies are the coolest insects around. I love the colors, the shapes, the flying habits, everything. I’d give a great deal to go back and see some of the prehistoric ones, the ones that were several feet long. Imagine what they ate!

    Great post and great photography again.

  3. July 15, 2009

    I think you are right, Carl, if it isn’t that species it is probably one of the other Gomphus species. One would naively think that insects as colorfully pattered as dragonflies would be easy to identify to species, but I guess it isn’t that simple.

    And KT: It looks like you just gave the 500th comment on this site! Well, if you don’t count the 5,817 spam “comments” that have been ditched so far, it is. I’ve got some more dragonfly and damselfly pictures coming for you, including a dragonfly nymph cued up for this week.

  4. Amy permalink
    August 12, 2009

    The strangest thing just happened. I was sitting down and happened to look down and in between my feet laid a dead dragon fly intact. I Googled “Dead Dragonfly” because I thought perhaps I’d heard a myth in the past….anyways the Dragonfly is the exact one you have pictured here. What should I do with it?

  5. August 14, 2009

    Amy: Nice find! As for what to do with it, well, anything you like, I guess. Dragonfly colors unfortunately tend to fade after they die, but if you want to preserve it, you could always get one of the small Riker mounts from Bioquip that is just big enough for that one dragonfly.

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