Critter of the Year, 2012

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

January 1, 2013

April is usually a little early for dragonflies. I pick up a few Green Darners (Anax junius) throughout the month, but that is a pretty unmistakable dragonfly. In fact, I have seen Green Darners as early as 17 March.

Green Darners mating

Green Darners mating, 7 April, 2009

I also pick up one or two Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia) basking along the ridge tops in April.

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail, I believe this is a newly emerged male.

So, a brown dragonfly on a ridgetop on April 25th was a pretty easy ID: Common Whitetail. I only took  photos to establish a first of the year date.

Then I downloaded the photos.

Blue Corporal

This is not a Common Whitetail

That is not a Common Whitetail.

Check out those orange spots along the abdomen—obviously some kind of Baskettail (Epitheca spp.), but which one? This was about a month early for Baskettails, my earliest record is 24 May, but it had to be, just look at the orange spots.

I have a lot of shots of Baskettail spp.1

Baskettail (Epitheca spp.)

Baskettail (Epitheca spp.). Note the row of orange spots.

Baskettails are hard to tell apart, but this one had a whitish patch on the shoulder that I thought might be diagnostic, perhaps something limited to newly emerged specimens, and it might allow an expert to make an ID.

I sent my photos off to some experts, and the mystery was solved.

Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata)

Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata)

It was not a Baskettail, not the right genus at all, not even the right family. I was right about one thing; those white marks on the shoulders were diagnostic, diagnostic of a Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata).2

In my defense, it’s not like it was a bright blue, unmistakable male. Besides, she shouldn’t have been there. According to every reference I had, Blue Corporals were limited to the very eastern part of the State.  The map at Odonata Central showed two records from Bob Moul in Adams County, one from 26 April 2005, the other from 30 May 2008. 3 Adams County is a more central part of the State, but far south of the Ridge and Valley.

So how did she get on top of this ridge top in the middle of the mountains? Must be a stray.

On 18 May I took a photo of my first Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) of the year, a male,  at the outflow of Lake Holman.

Then I downloaded the photos.

Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata)

This is not an Eastern Pondhawk

That is not a male Eastern Pondhawk.

This is a male Eastern Pondhawk.

Eastern Pondhawk, male (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), male. Note the white tip of the abdomen.

Eastern Pondhawk males look quite a bit different, particularly those back-up lights, the bright, white terminal appendages.

Here’s a female, just because I have a good shot: stunning creature.

Eastern Pondhawk, female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern Pondhawk, female (Erythemis simplicicollis)

So, I got it wrong–again.

In my defense…

Well, that’s pretty indefensible. It was a bright blue, unmistakable male.  I simply bonked the ID. I took a cursory glance at best, and I just wasn’t paying attention.

Blue Corporal (Ladona deplanata), male.

North of the Ridge’s Critter of the Year for 2012: the Blue Corporal.

So now we have a male to go with our female. Another stray? That seems unlikely. A range expansion?


We tend to “see” what we expect to see, even when it isn’t there. We also have an innate prejudice against seeing that which is not supposed to be there.

Have we collectively just missed the Blue Corporals, dragonflying about before most of us are out and looking and showing up where we are told they do not live,  easily dismissed with a cursory glance?

Maybe next spring will point toward an answer. At any rate, I hope to be out and looking come April, and this year, I will not be so easily fooled (I hope).


  1. For those of you unfamiliar with the abbreviation spp., I use it when I am certain that I know what genus a critter is, but I am uncertain as to which species. There are three species of Baskettails (Epitheca) possible hereabouts: Common (E. cynosura) , Beaverpond (E. canis) , and Slender (E. costalis). It takes a close up of the male terminal appendages to be certain. They seldom land long enough to get such a shot; consequently, I am seldom certain. []
  2. My thanks to the ever-helpful Ben Coulter for the identification. As to sex, I think it is a female. That is a tough call; it could also be a newly emerged (teneral) male, but the terminal appendages should be longer in a male, I think. I’m embarrassed to admit that Ben told me, and I have lost the correspondence. []
  3. I can never casually mention the late Bob Moul. I never met him in person, but I carried on considerable correspondence with him; he was as knowledgeable as he was curious and unfailingly good-hearted. Pennsylvania lost a great naturalist when Bob passed away. []

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