Category Archives: Dragonflies and Damselflies

Desert Darter – Sympetrum sinaiticum – Libélula Flecha Roja

  • Family: Libellulidae
  • Scientific name: Sympetrum sinaiticum Dumont, 1977
  • English common name: Desert Darter
  • Spanish common name: Libélula Flecha Roja

The relatively small Desert Darter – Sympetrum sinaiticum – Libélula Flecha Roja is comparatively scarce in Spain, but in recent years it has started to become more frequently encountered. This may be as a result of a greater awareness of the species or perhaps as a result of climate change. It is a species of arid regions and individuals are frequently found a long way from water. In this respect the species is unusual amongst the Iberian dragonfly fauna in that adults seem to delay reproductive behaviour for perhaps two months or so before returning to water to breed.

Desert Darter - Sympetrum sinaiticum - Libélula Flecha Roja
Desert Darter – Sympetrum sinaiticum – Libélula Flecha Roja
Details
  • Total length: 34 to 37mm
  • Hind Wing length: 24 to 29mm
  • Altitude: Sea level to 1500m+
  • Flight period in Iberia: early June to early November
  • Habitat: Rivers, ponds & man made water bodies.
  • Distribution: North Africa, the Middle East, southern & eastern Spain.

The species can be difficult to pick out in a large group of mixed darters but individually they are distinctive. The male’s red abdomen has an absence of dark central markings on the upper surface, a feature it shares with the Southern Darter – Sympetrum meridionale, however when viewed from the side both the male & female, (whose abdomen is a sandy yellow colour), have black markings high on the sides of segments 2 & 3 of the abdomen which are absent from the Southern Darter.

Desert Darter - Sympetrum sinaiticum - Libélula Flecha Roja
Desert darter close up showing distinctive black lateral markings

The Desert Darter may have extensive red veins in the wings, and blue grey undersides to the eyes leading to confusion with the Red-veined Darter – Sympetrum fonscolombei however careful examination of the abdomen as outlined above will help separate the two species in the field.

Desert Darter - Sympetrum sinaiticum - Libélula Flecha Roja
Desert Darter – Sympetrum sinaiticum – Libélula Flecha Roja – Viewed from above
Similar species

Superficially similar to any other red darter, but more specifically the Red-veined Darter – Sympetrum fonscolombei, Moustached Darter – Sympetrum vulgatum and the Southern Darter – Sympetrum meridionale.

The Caminito del Rey

Find tickets for the Caminito del Rey: https://www.caminodelrey.es/

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Dragonflies and Damselflies in Spain

A pair of Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies – Ischnura pumilio copulating in the “wheel” position
A pair of Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies – Ischnura pumilio copulating in the “wheel” position

Dragonflies and damselflies in Spain are extremely beautiful insects which capture the very essence of summer as they perform their intricate aerobatics around the gleaming backdrop of rivers and pools on hot and sunny days.

As such they are highly visible and important indicators of the health of our wetlands being top insect predators both as airborne adults & aquatic larvae.

Dragonflies are entirely harmless and do not bite or sting, (though they may give a gentle nip if roughly handled!). They also make superb subjects for photography though getting close enough for a good shot can be difficult!

Continue reading Dragonflies and Damselflies in Spain

Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador

  • Family: Aeshnidae
  • Scientific name: Anax imperator Leach, 1815
  • English common name: Emperor or Blue Emperor
  • Spanish common name: La libélula emperador
  • Portuguese common name: Libelinha (not sure of common name)

One of the largest resident dragonflies on the Iberian Peninsula. The Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador is both fast flying and highly territorial and as such is seldom seen at rest. A large pond or stretch of river may only support one male who will tirelessly patrol his patch of water, promptly seeing off any intruders with a fierce clash of wings.

Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador
Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador – Male
Details
  • Total length: 66 to 84mm
  • Hind Wing length: 42 to 52mm
  • Altitude: Sea level to 1500m+
  • Flight period in Iberia: late April to late October
  • Habitat: Open water with plentiful emergent vegetation around ponds, rivers & lakes.
  • Distribution: Europe, Western Asia, Africa & the Middle East. Widely distributed throughout the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Similar species: Lesser Emperor – Anax parthenope & Green Darner – Anax junius (a very rare migrant from North America first recorded in 1998).
Description

The male has a strikingly blue abdomen which when in flight has a slightly downward curve, giving a bent appearance, a useful feature for separating the restless Emperor from the other hawker type dragonflies whose abdomens generally appear straight. The blue green eyes & green thorax make this a very handsome insect.

The female is generally green in appearance with dark markings along the centre of the abdomen. They oviposit alone into floating vegetation or submerged plant stems, a feature which helps to separate this species from the Lesser Emperor – Anax parthenope which generally oviposits in tandem.

Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador
Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador – Female laying eggs or ovipositing
The larval stage
Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador
Emperor / Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) La libélula emperador – Exuvia or shed nymph exoskeleton

The larval stage of the Emperor may last from one to two years before emerging as an adult on reeds or rushes around the margins of their chosen water body. The cast skin or exuvia can be found long after this spectacular transformation takes place and is an exact replica of the larvae which can be identified to species level. Collecting these exuviae can give an excellent indication of the true population size at a site and is conclusive proof of successful breeding.

Article credits
  • Thanks to Steve Jones for the images and excellent, informative text in this article.
  • Top image: Female blue emperor by Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42045065
The Caminito del Rey

Find tickets for the Caminito del Rey: https://www.caminodelrey.es/

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus)

  • English common name: Small Pincertail
  • Scientific name: Onychogomphus forcipatus (Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Family: Gomphidae
  • Total length: 46 to 50mm
  • Hind Wing length: 25 to 31mm
  • Flight period in Iberia: May to mid September
  • Distribution: Europe (except Britain), North Africa & the Near East. Widely distributed throughout the Iberian Peninsula, though apparently absent from the coastal fringes of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria.
  • Habitat: Usually rivers & streams with regularly protruding rocks or boulders, occasionally larger still water bodies.
  • Similar species: Very similar to the Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus) which contrary to its name is only marginally bigger than the Small Pincertail.

The Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) is a relatively common & widespread species in the Iberian Peninsula, though apparently absent from the west coast regions of Portugal & the north coast regions of Spain.

Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus)

This dragonfly frequently occurs along rivers & streams, often with very shallow water, peppered with large boulders & rocks from where mature males sit with their claspers raised defending small transient territories perhaps 2.5 to 3 metres apart. Although preferring moving water, occasionally they are also present at lakes.

There are three subspecies of Onychogomphus forcipatus with Onychogomphus forcipatus unguiculatus being the one that occurs throughout the Iberian Peninsula. It is a predominantly black & yellow, medium size dragonfly, with blue eyes in the Mediterranean area, (though greenish eyes further north in Europe).

It is very similar in appearance to the Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus) and the two species cannot be reliably separated by colour markings alone. For instance the black stripes on the upper surface of the thorax are usually connected via the black central keel in the Small Pincertail, whereas the Large Pincertail there is a gap between the two, sadly however that is not always the case!

The anal triangle on the hind wings of a male also offers a method of separating the two species, usually comprising of 3 cells in the Small Pincertail (see photo) and 4 cells in the Large Pincertail.

However, the male anal appendages offer a more reliable feature to separate the two species with the Small Pincertail having a subterminal knob on the inferior anal appendage (see photo). This feature can only really be seen clearly by examining the insect in the hand, or perhaps a little more easily, by taking a digital photo, concentrating on a side view of the anal appendage and enlarging it on a screen.

Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus)
Small Pincertail male with 3 celled anal triangle circled on the hind wing
Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus)
Small Pincertail (Onychogomphus forcipatus) – Anal appendages with the subterminal knob on the inferior anal appendage arrowed

Iberia Nature Forum

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

Iberia Nature Forum: https://iberianatureforum.com/