Dragonflies of the Dominican

Tawny Pennant

The Dominican Republic is home to 19 damselfly species and 48 dragonfly species. Of these species, four damselflies and three dragonflies are endemic to the island of Hispaniola – that is, they are found nowhere else on the planet. I did not know this when I went on my trip, however, as an amateur odonate enthusiast I certainly hoped to see a few colourful tropical species! I was a bit worried that there wouldn’t be very many odes within the resort itself, as I had heard that the resorts of Punta Cana regularly spray to keep mosquito populations down, and this would of course have an effect on all insect life breeding in the ponds and natural waterways where the chemicals are introduced. On our first two days at the resort I saw very few dragonflies – only two flying by without stopping to perch. On our third day I discovered the swamp at the top end of the resort when Manny Jimenes picked us up outside the security gate for our excursion to the National Park of the East. As our fourth day was spent entirely outside the resort (and I didn’t see any odonates on either excursion, although I’m sure there must have been some along the Chavon River), it wasn’t until our fifth day that I was able to spend more time walking up and down the road cutting through the swamp to look for odes.

After spending a profitable morning watching the herons and other water birds, I returned after lunch to look for insects. It was hot and sunny, just the perfect weather for dragonflies to be hunting. At my first stop I peered over a vegetation-lined fence into an area of shallow water surrounded by low shrubs and found a couple of dragonflies flying about, their wings glistening in the sun. One dragonfly kept returning to the same spot over and over, and even though it was quite far I was able to capture enough detail to identify it.

Given that there is little information on the internet about how to identify Dominican odonates, I used iNaturalist to narrow down the options. This one was suggested – and quickly confirmed – as a Red-mantled Dragonlet, a member of the skimmer family. Identifying characteristics appear to be the paired tooth-shaped spots down the length of the abdomen until the last couple of segments, and a coloured patch on both sets of wings adjacent to the body.

Red-mantled Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax fervida)

Fortunately I found a closer dragonfly in the wet spot across the road. This one was red instead of yellow, with dark red eyes, and a much more noticeable red patch on the wings. Once again iNaturalist suggested Red-mantled Dragonlet, and once again it was quickly confirmed by someone more familiar with tropical dragonflies than me! Give that there are two colour variations, I am guessing that they are like meadowhawks in which freshly emerged dragonlets start out yellow and turn red with age. Or perhaps females stay yellow, while only males turn red. Either way, the first Red-mantled Dragonlet looked very fresh while this one looks like it’s been around for a while.

Red-mantled Dragonlet

Something colourful on a leaf at about knee-height caught my attention, and I was able to get a couple of macro shots. iNaturalist suggests it is an Assassin Bug, a type of insect I know nothing about!

Insect (Assassin Bug?) in the Dominican Republic

A little further down I found another dragonfly perching even closer; this one was a golden-yellow colour. It turned out to be another Red-mantled Dragonlet.

Red-mantled Dragonlet

Then I spotted a different species. Its abdomen was thinner, but it had the forward-swept wings reminiscent of a meadowhawk and the green eyes reminiscent of a Blue Dasher. iNaturalist narrowed down the identification to the genus Micrathyria, a neotropical genus of dragonflies with green eyes and white faces known as tropical dashers. According to this list of West Indian Odonata by Dennis Paulson, only four species are found on Hispaniola, and of those species, only Micrathyria aequalis – the Spot-tailed Dasher – matches the size and shape of the spots of the abdomen.

Spot-tailed Dasher (Micrathyria aequalis)

That was the last dragonfly I saw up near the security gate, but the herons were still active despite the afternoon heat. The Tricolored Heron was out in the open again, but soon got into a dispute with a Snowy Egret over who had the most right to the choice fishing territory at the edge of the swamp.

Tricolored Heron

I think the Snowy Egret won that battle, as it took the prime spot on a log out in the open while the Tricolored Heron began skulking in the water. It actually photo-bombed my picture of the Snowy Egret!

Snowy Egret with Tricolored Heron

I crossed the road to look for insects on the other side of the road on my return to the resort. I still didn’t see any more odes, but the flowers in bloom were quite pretty.

About halfway between the lobby and the security gate I saw a dragonfly sallying out behind the ornamental hedge. A low wall ran behind the hedge, and I found a narrow gap where I could climb up on top of the wall for a better look. The dragonfly was quite dark and quite red compared to the others, and I thought I had something new. Instead it turned out to be an old Red-mantled Dragonlet with lots of wear on the wings.

Red-mantled Dragonlet

I stopped to look for butterflies and hummingbirds in the Lantana garden on my way back, and was glad I did. There were lots of skippers, as usual, but movement in the hedge behind the garden kept distracting me, until I got my binoculars out and realized a Bananaquit was feeding on the berries there!

Bananaquit

The Vervain Hummingbird came back while I was there.

Vervain Hummingbird

Vervain Hummingbird

To my surprise a dragonfly flew in and perched on a tall stem emerging from the garden. It looped out a couple of times in chase of something, but returned to the perch both times. As a result, I was able to get my best photo of a Dominican dragonfly yet. iNaturalist had no problem identifying it for me, perhaps because this species makes it way into Florida and Texas. The Tawny Pennant is a brownish dragon with yellow spots running down the sides of the abdomen. The wings are tinted brown but have no spots. It is generally found in Central and South America, but its range in the southern-most parts of Florida and Texas make it a familiar tropical species to dragon-hunters in the southern U.S.

Tawny Pennant (Brachymesia herbida)

This was the last dragonfly that I managed to photograph on our trip, and only the third dragonfly species. I had hoped for more, but suspect I would have needed to get away from the beach and into the mountains where streams and ponds provide clean fresh water habitats for them to breed.

I only saw one damselfly on the trip, a red firetail in the shrubs growing along the edge of the swamp close to the security gate. I noticed it after Manny Jimenes had dropped us off at the hotel after our excursion to the National Park of the East. That was my first real odonate of the trip, not including the odd individual seeing flying around the resort.

My internet research led me to the genus Telebasis, or firetails. According to the Paulson checklist, there are only two firetail species in the Dominican Republic, and no one was able to confirm which one it was on iNaturalist. I later found two additional checklists of the odes of the Dominican Republic online. The first was a 2006 publication on ResearchGate.net entitled “Distribution of the Odonata of the Dominican Republic”. The second was a 1993 PDF article from The Dragonfly Society of America entitled “A Checklist of the Odonata of the Dominican Republic by Province”. These were both very helpful in noting that Telebasis dominicana – the West Indian Firetail – has been found in the province of La Altagracia, while Telebasis vulnerata – the Stream Firetail – has not. Further, the ResearchGate.net publication notes that the Stream Firetail prefers higher elevations and sites with shade, neither of which is true of where I found it on the resort. Both species are endemic to the Greater Antilles, where they are widespread. Based on these two publications, I am assuming that this is a West Indian Firetail.

West Indian Firetail (Telebasis dominicana)

It was great to finally see and photograph some odes. While I could wish for a better variety of species, four species is still four more than what I would see in Ottawa right now. I just wished that there was a path through the swamp so I could get closer to them and see what else might be lurking in there!

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6 thoughts on “Dragonflies of the Dominican

  1. Dear Gillian,

    I always look forward to your posts!

    I can’t improve on your IDs of the wildlife, but I can help a bit with the plants. The first and third are both in the morning glory family, but then it gets trickier.

    The pink one could be a variety of Ipomoea purpurea, but it’s a little hard to tell. Most purpurea varieties have a white throat, whatever other colours the main trumpet is, but some do have a pink throat. However, there are a lot of morning glories, and most of the flowers look a lot alike! Argyreia nervosa, I. batatas (yams), carnea (shrub, not vine), cordatotriloba, leptophylla, macrorhiza, muricata (Indian clove bean, = I. turbinata?), nil, pandurata and sagittata can all have pink throats, or close to it, but often the leaves don’t quite fit. Mind you, their leaves can vary a great deal, so who knows? How large were the flowers, by the way? Knowing that would rule out some spp.

    There are a lot fewer yellow morning glories, but I still couldn’t be certain which you saw. I think that Merremia umbellata is the best fit. Merremia (=Ipomoea) tuberosa, the Hawaiian woodrose, has palmate leaves, so it’s not that. I. hederifolia var lutea doesn’t have the right leaves, or such a strong colour. I. obscura probably doesn’t have such large leaves, or flower in clusters, and also usually has a dark throat. I. ochracea is generally lighter in colour.

    I had a lot of fun looking at morning glories, and I think I’ll get some Merremia seeds, too!

    The second is some variety of the canna lily, Canna indica, and of course the last one is Lantana camara.

    • Wow, thanks for the information, Alison!

      I suspected the first one was related to the Morning Glories, but I had no idea whether they were true wildflowers or cultivated flowers spreading out from resort plantings. They were just so nice to see in the middle of winter!

      I don’t remember the size, but they weren’t small, as I was shooting from a distance and had no issues with getting enough detail. They were probably normal Morning Glory (or bindweed, which grows all over the natural parks in Ottawa) size.

      Lantana I’m familiar with because my nursery sells it, and I’ve been planting it in my backyard ever since I photographed a Gray Comma feeding on it! I get so few butterflies that I try to plant flowers that will attract them. Speaking of butterflies, I have quite a lot of butterfly photos to share from the Dominican, and still haven’t identified the majority of them….! Stay tuned!

  2. Dear Gillian,

    I’ll look forward very much to the other insects. I studied entomology way back when at Carleton, and still remember with great fondness a collecting trip in February to Costa Rica. That’s the only time I’ve ever been to the tropics, though.

    I really enjoy trying to identify stuff from my trips overseas, but of course the European insects have been much studied and photographed. I’m sure the Dominican butterflies will be fairly easy to check, though. You’ve probably already bookmarked it or something better, but I found a quick list on Wikipedia:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_butterflies_of_Dominica

    Now that you’ve had this camera several years, what do you still think of it? The pictures you post are very good, so I’m wondering how crisp they are on a large screen.

    I’m thinking (when I have the budget) of possibly getting a new camera. At the moment, I’m using a Nikon D300 with a Tamron 90mm lens for close-ups (manual only, old model from the ’90’s), and a Nikkor 56-200mm for long zoom shots. I’m not hugely pleased by the zoom lens; it’s definitely not as good as the Tamron. I’ve tried the Nikkor 105mm, but it’s very expensive, and also quite heavy.

    • Hi Alison,

      I found one checklist online, but it doesn’t seem to be very accurate now that I’ve gotten a few IDs from iNaturalist:

      https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/checklists/pdf?species_type=All&tid=45161

      The Wikipedia one is for the butterflies of Dominica, a different island; it’s come up in my searches too, so Google failed on that one!

      If you want a sneak peak of my butterfly photos, they can be found in my online gallery:

      https://pbase.com/jewelwing/do_butterflies

      I still love my camera. I use the photos to do wall calendars every year, and they look amazing when printed. It’s a few years old now, so you may be able to get the Nikon Coolpix P610 for a better price. It has a 60x zoom which suits my purposes. I have back issues, so carrying a lot of lenses and gear into the field is not an option for me.

      Hopefully I’ll be able to finish my Dominican Republic series soon; I put a few feelers out, but it’s looking doubtful that I will find an expert or well-versed enthusiast who can help me with these Dominican butterflies. In the meantime I am still catching up on a few older posts while I wait for spring to arrive in Ottawa!

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