02 February 2019

Latest Paper on Rediscovered Spiketail

We published a paper about refinding Tiger Spiketail (Cordulegaster erronea) in the Great Lakes Lakes Entomologist (50(1-2):1-5 · January 2017) a couple years ago. I thought it would be worthwhile to note this paper given similar habitats that may be occupied by Tiger Spiketail and Gray Petaltail (T. thoreyi) that we found at Fort Custer Training Center in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.

Title and Abstract.  Note: both Julie Craves and Mark O'Brien have retired from their positions posted

Individuals were initially found on July 3, 2016, and multiple individuals were found in June-July-2017.

female Tiger Spiketail posed along two-track
male Tiger Spiketail perched on sunlit branch
In 2017, I searched habitats near the two-track in order to find potential breeding site(s).   The most promising location was south of the area with a seep flowing from the hillside and forming a rivulet.  This traveled a couple hundred meters before ending in a marshy / fen area.  Further downstream is a large fen area.

close-up of seep likely to be a breeding site
flow into the swampy area

12 January 2019

Looking for a Gray Ghost

Gray Petaltail (Tachopteryx thoreyi) is listed as state threatened in Michigan, as noted on the MNFI website.  Prior to living in Michigan, I'd only observed the species once.  It was an individual that flew by and landed on a bridge over a stream in the knobs of Kentucky.

Over the past several years, we've been searching to confirm this species' presence in some historic locations and other spots suggested by locals.  It appears that the petaltail only inhabits the SW area of Michigan, given the records and searches throughout the southern tier of counties. Prime flight season may be mid-June through mid-July.  For me, the 3rd weekend of June is prime time.

In recent years, I've visited Berrien, Kalamazoo, Cass, and St. Joseph counties.
Some locations included:

- Grand Mere State Park:  I heard petaltails were present in the hillsides near Stevensville in the years prior to the construction of I-94 was constructed. The wetlands in the SE area of the state park were ditched decades ago, but may have seeps which provide habitat.  During a couple visits, no individuals were observed, but habitat is interesting.

ditch with seeps in woods

- Warren Woods State Park:  There is a 1919 voucher from this location.  In 2014, one was observed on June 17, 2014.

male Gray Petaltail on railing of bridge




- Three Rivers SGA: This state land has habitat in Cass and St. Joseph counties.  There is a 1989 voucher from Wood Creek in Cass County.  Multiple individuals were observed around June 18, 2016, in the same area.  Some were hunting over Wood Creek, while others were most easily found perched on conifer trunks in dappled sunlight.  Scanning trees with binoculars from the creek seemed to be the best method, but a couple times I had a patrolling/hunting individual fly past along Wood Creek.


female Gray Petaltail perched on snag along Norton Road, Cass County

female Gray Petaltail perched on conifer along Wood Creek, Cass County

Additionally, the habitat along Mill Creek, west of Preston Road in St. Joseph County looks promising.  Many seeps and fen habitat is present, but is somewhat difficult to access:

potential petaltail perching sites above hillside seeps

- Dr. T. K. Lawless County Park: I was told this park may have appropriate habitat and when visiting out of season, there were some interesting hillsides that seemed to have seeps along trail #4.

 - Fort Custer Training Center:  I was informed that that petaltails had been observed in an area of hilly, forested area with seeps.  During multiple visits over a couple of years, none were observed. However, other interesting dragonflies were found.  It is possible that petaltails are present, but we had no luck.

Two-track adjacent to hillside seeps

Watkins Lake State Park: Additional searching of prairie fen areas and nearby hillsides may be worth further searching. This may be a bit of a stretch since petaltails have not been found at Ives Road Fen through the years.

Norvell-Manchester Drain, bordered by prairie fen

Gray Petaltails are tough to find in Michigan, even when in the proper habitat. For example, it took six visits before I saw the first petaltail at Three Rivers State Game Area.  As time allows in future years, I hope to revisit locations that looked appropriate but didn't turn up any individuals. 

12 September 2017

A couple new insect papers

Although not about dragonflies (there is one of those coming out soon), two recently published papers may be of interest to readers if you, like us, are into other insects.

First, who doesn't think the little Handsome Trig is handsome? The population of this cricket is moving north, which we document here. You can read and download a copy of the paper below.

O'Brien, M. F., and J. A. Craves. 2016. Phyllopalpus pulchellus Uhler, the Handsome Trig (Orthoptera: Gryllidae), a confirmed Michigan resident. Great Lakes Entomologist 49:202-203.

Next up is a paper on a leaf-mining moth using a new host in North America, the non-native and invasive shrub Amur Honeysuckle. This paper documents the first regular use of this plant by a specialist insect herbivore; in fact, it has few arthropod herbivores -- generalists or specialists -- anywhere in its range. And native birds have learned to feed on the larvae. The abstract is below, contact me for access (nannothemis AT gmail DOT com).

Craves, J. A. 2017. Native birds exploit leaf-mining moth larvae using a new North American host, non-native Lonicera maackii. Ecoscience. 3-4:81-90.

17 September 2016

Latest paper on an aberrant dragonfly

Publications on Odonata (or other taxa, for that matter) with abnormal coloration or pattern are important to help us understand the range of variations within and among species and consider biological and evolutionary impacts.

Our latest note on a weird Common Baskettail was just published in the most recent issue of the Argia:

 Craves, J.A. and D. S. O'Brien. 2016. Common Baskettail, Epitheca cynosura (Odonata: Corduliidae), with extensive dark wing tips. Argia 28(3):11-12.


We have a page with all of our ode papers here; and more insect papers as well as other publications can be found at Julie's ResearchGate page.

10 July 2016

Cobras on the Huron

Cobra Clubtails (Gomphus vastus) had not been vouchered for Washtenaw County, Michigan.  Given this county is one of the most surveyed in the state, I found this to be curious and made it a yearly quest after we moved here a few years ago.

This species has been observed and photographed several times over the recent years, but I don't know if they are more common now than in decades past.  Why wouldn't have any of the entomologists have collected a voucher in the past decades, if they were present?  (Of course, in my experience this is one of the more difficult clubtails to capture with a net)

Delhi Metropark appears to have a good population and easy access to both river and upland habitat.  Since this clubtail flies primarily in June, the weather in Michigan can be quite uncooperative.

The Huron River at Delhi Metropark
Some years the water is quite high, making access less than optimal.  Other years, it's rainy or cold, limiting the occurrence of the individuals.  Then there's the human influence: the metroparks show a lack of understanding regarding stewardship of natural areas.  The focus is on human recreation, even though their properties contain some of the best, and sometimes the only, natural habitat in regions of metro Detroit.  This year on June 24th, I found all of the upland areas (including non-turf grass) to be mowed.  Essentially nothing was left, except the edges with the woody, non-native invasives. Much of these mowed areas contained many native plants used by a variety of fauna, and are great perching and hunting areas for the adult dragonflies.  Maybe this helped me find an adult Cobra Clubtail?  As soon as I made it to an area between buckthorns (Rhamnus sp.),  an adult landed with its meal.  This female Cobra Clubtail was the only individual found on June 24th:

female Cobra Clubtail (G. vastus)

female Cobra Clubtail (G. vastus) subgenital plates

I also had time to visit Dexter-Huron Metropark which is a few miles upstream of Delhi.  The Huron River water level was low and allowed for easy wading.  A couple Cobra Clubtails were patrolling the river along with a couple Rusty Snaketails (Ophiogomphus rupensulensis).

The Huron River at Dexter-Huron Metropark

It was nice to find another location with the clubtails, but an interesting sight was this water snake with its meal (I assume it's a bullhead):

Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon)

On June 25th, we returned to Dexter-Huron Metropark.  We found several species patrolling the river including: a couple Rusty Snaketails, two Comet Darners, multiple Swift River Cruisers, ...

female Rusty Snaketail (O. rupinsulensis)

female Comet Darner (Anax longipes)
male Swift River Cruiser (Macromia illinoiensis)

...and the target species of the day:

male Cobra Clubtail (G. vastus)

abdomen of male Cobra Clubtail (G. vastus)

It's difficult to know why this clubtail species wasn't vouchered in the past decades for Washtenaw County, given that other species utilizing the same river habitats were present.  At least we know the water quality and river structure allows this species' population to exist at this time.