Wednesday, August 3, 2011


The Spiny Baskettail (Epitheca spinigera) is a dragonfly of the emerald family (Corduliidae) that occurs all the way across North America from Atlantic to Pacific. It is common in southern Canada and the northern tier of US states. It breeds in lakes, and apparently it can become very common in its optimal habitats.

It shares with numerous other species of Odonata the life-history trait of overwintering in the final larval instar and thus being ready to emerge as soon as its aquatic habitat warms sufficiently in spring. When this happens, apparently most of the larvae in the lake are ready to emerge at about the same time, so there are massive emergences over a period of a few days. I have yet to witness one of these (the larvae actually crawling out of the water, splitting their skins, and the adult that emerges flying away), but I did see the aftermath.

These scenes greeted us one sunny morning in June in southwestern Manitoba. Spiny Baskettails, hundreds and hundreds of them of both sexes, were hanging from every bare twig for several hundred meters along the entry road to Lake Audy in Riding Mountain National Park. The location is outside the Northwest, but the species occurs in the Northwest, so I consider it fair game.

Several things were of interest, besides the sheer staggering numbers of them. Very few were flying around, yet I would have thought there would be many prey insects in the air on this nice warm morning. Secondly, not a single one was resting on a leaf; every individual was hanging from a bare twig, even though it meant that when one was dislodged, it wasn’t that easy to find a new perching spot.

Several times we saw one try to land on the abdomen of a perched individual, but they were always shaken or buzzed off. All individuals were obviously immature, with reddish eyes. During sexual maturation, the eyes become glowing blue-green.

The sexes can readily be distinguished with a good view. Males have a slightly more slender abdomen base, with secondary genitalia projecting downward near the base, and three terminal appendages (two dorsal and one ventral). Females lack the bump at the base and have only the two dorsal appendages at the tip.

Mother Nature was showing off her profligacy in a big way here in an aspen woodland at the southern edge of the Canadian boreal forest.

Dennis Paulson