Spreadwings Close to Home

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

The spreadwing damselflies are some of my favourite damselflies (along with the jewelwings and Violet Dancers and Aurora Damsels and Vesper Bluets and Rainbow Bluets…can I help it that there are so many beautiful and unique damselflies to admire?!) These past few weeks I’ve been able to see five different species, all close to home. Normally when I want to see spreadwings I think of Petrie Island, which usually has an abundance of them, but it seems that all but one of the nine species we have in Ottawa can be found elsewhere, in places like the Richmond Lagoons and Bruce Pit. The only species I haven’t found anywhere other than Petrie Island is the Swamp Spreadwing.

When I went to Bruce Pit last weekend, I found a lot of spreadwing damselflies, and this time most of them appeared to be fully mature. They were all fairly small, and most of the ones I caught turned out to be Lyre-tipped Spreadwings. Even without seeing the shape of the claspers (which resemble the letter “S”) I suspected they were probably Lyre-tipped Spreadwings as the eighth abdominal segment is blue with a small black triangle pointing toward the tip.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Then I spotted a huge spreadwing flying a little further out over the pond. It landed, and with my binoculars I could see the pale blue thorax and gold-tinted wings of an Amber-winged Spreadwing. As I watched it landed on a dried stalk and just sat there; I took a few photos, then caught it with my net. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that the Amber-winged Spreadwing had landed next to the exuvia of another odonate and appeared to be eating the teneral as it emerged!

Amber-winged Spreadwing

It really is an ode-eat-ode world, and freshly emerged tenerals are most at risk of becoming prey as they are vulnerable until their bodies and wings begin to harden. (Just prior to spotting the Amber-winged Spreadwing a Chalk-fronted Corporal had landed on my arm with a teneral damselfly in its mouth and proceeded to eat it.)

Amber-winged Spreadwing

He may certainly look all cute and innocent in my hands, but the reality is that damselflies are deadly predators and will eat anything they can catch, much like their larger relatives, the dragonflies.

Amber-winged Spreadwing

The last spreadwing species I found at Bruce Pit was a male Sweetflag Spreadwing, a species I hadn’t seen this year. In fact, I’ve only seen this species – which is similar to the Northern Spreadwing in appearance – once before, and that was at Bruce Pit as well. This is an older male, as evidenced by the grayish-blue pruinosity on the side of the thorax.

Sweetflag Spreadwing

Sweetflag Spreadwing

The lower claspers are similar to those of the Northern Spreadwing – thick, straight, and shorter than the curved upper claspers or cerci (singular = cercus) which appear to form a circle enclosing the lower claspers when viewed from above. The key to differentiating the males of these two species is the shape of the cerci, which have two jagged teeth protruding from the inner edge of the cercus. In the Sweetflag Spreadwing the two teeth appear to be quite small and far apart; in the Northern Spreadwing they appear large and close together. I based my identification on the size and distance of the “teeth”, though my photos weren’t in focus and aren’t worth posting.

After examining the Sweetflag Spreadwing I released him in order to take some more natural-looking photos.

Sweetflag Spreadwing

After leaving the pond and its numerous spreadwings I headed up into the field to see if I could find the Calico Pennant again. I didn’t, though I found some neat butterflies and also my first self-found Gray Treefrog! This small predator was biding its time on the lowest leaf of a mullein plant. I just happened to see the round, dark shape on the pale green leaf as I was walking by and stopped to investigate. I was thrilled to see the young treefrog; so young, in fact, that it had not completely absorbed its tail into its body and was only half the size of the one I’d seen at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden in May. Seeing this little guy was the highlight of my stop at the Bruce Pit!

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

The following weekend I headed out to the Richmond Lagoons to check on the water levels there and see what odes were flying. I found two interesting spreadwings in the vegetation surrounding the parking lot as soon as I arrived. The first was a female spreadwing; I normally don’t pay attention to females, as they are more difficult to identify than males, but the ovipositor on this one was huge. The size alone was enough to ID it as a female Sweetflag Spreadwing, the first that I have seen!

Sweetflag Spreadwing

Sweetflag Spreadwing

A little further along a male spreadwing caught my attention. I wasn’t able to net it, but I managed to get some photos before he flew off deeper into the shrubs. This one was a male Northern Spreadwing. Like the male Sweetflag Spreadwing, it has blue eyes, a black and blue thorax that turns a pale grayish-blue as it ages, a dark, iridescent green abdomen, and two pale blue segments at the tip.

Northern Spreadwing

Northern Spreadwing

However, this time I was able to get a decent photo of the claspers. Note the two jagged teeth on the inside of the curved upper clasper:

Northern Spreadwing

Northern Spreadwing

When I reached the first lagoon I noticed that the water level was quite low. Hopefully it will attract some shorebirds during migration! The most interesting bird I found in the lagoon was a young Green Heron being chased out of the marsh by an irate Eastern Kingbird!

Richmond Lagoons - first cell

Richmond Lagoons – first cell

There were plenty of spreadwings flying in the vegetation surrounding the cells. One of the first ones that I saw was a Slender Spreadwing, a damselfly with a long, narrow abdomen and whitish coloured edges to the rounded tips of its wings.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

There were lots of Lyre-tipped Spreadwings around as well, so I decided to capture the Slender Spreadwing and one of the Lyre-tipped Spreadwings for comparison. It took a minute or two to get both spreadwings in the same hand, but here you can see how much longer the Slender Spreadwing is, and how much bluer the Lyre-tipped Spreadwing is. Also note that the Lyre-tipped Spreadwing has a pale blue tip to its abdomen; the Slender Spreadwing never does.

Lyre-tipped and Slender Spreadwings

Lyre-tipped and Slender Spreadwings

For comparison, here is a Lyre-tipped Spreadwing:

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

It’s fantastic that I can find so many spreadwing species so close to home. Other spreadwings I’ve seen nearby are Emerald Spreadwing (in Stony Swamp) and Spotted Spreadwing (at Bruce Pit in the late summer). The only species I haven’t seen in my area are Swamp Spreadwing and Elegant Spreadwing. I’ll still have to travel to Petrie Island to see these ones, as it’s the most reliable place in the Ottawa area that I know of for both species.

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One thought on “Spreadwings Close to Home

  1. Pingback: Adorable Tree Frogs | The Pathless Wood

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