Monday, 11 March 2019

The Growing Exuviae Collection

It's been a few years now since I decided to start an exuviae collection of the dragonflies and damselflies that I encounter. At first, I didn't really know that much about them but with the help of the 'Field Guide to the Larvae and Exuviae of British Dragonflies' by Steve Cham which is a must for anyone interested in this side of Odonata, and many hours out in the field identifying the different species exuviae, I like to feel that I am now at the stage whereby I can identify the majority of exuviae I find. There are; however, a number of tricky damselflies which are quite problematic to identify but hopefully with practise and experience, I will slowly gain a better knowledge in this area. Most of the exuviae have been found by myself with recent additions last year being Brilliant and Downy Emerald, Southern Migrant Hawker, Brown Hawker and Ruddy Darter. I am also hopeful this year that I can somehow locally add Black tailed Skimmer, Red eyed and Small red eyed Damselfly exuviae to the collection if I spend enough time at the correct time of year looking in likely areas. I have also over the past couple of years been sent in the post Red veined Darter, Scarce Emerald Damselfly and Common Clubtail by fellow enthusiast Jon Mee and despite the distance in the post, the exuviae have always been received in excellent condition. I have spent many hours at home studying and photographing the exuviae which can be seen by clicking on the 'My Website' tab at the top of the page and I hope that they will come in useful to others when identifying any unknown exuviae they find. I always find it very rewarding when searching through the reeds and vegetation for exuviae and then you find one. I like to remember the story that has unfolded there as the nymph has crawled up the stem or reed and over time, sometimes hours, has transformed from a water dweller to a master of the skies. The golden reward that has been left behind to otherwise blow away in the wind. They are packed full of detail with each species having their own distinguishable features which can be learnt through time and practise. The main reason other than collecting them obviously confirming that breeding has taken place. With the season only a few weeks away now, I can't wait to get back out there with the camera to study and photograph the dragonflies and damselflies... but my eyes will also be on the ever lookout for any exuviae in excellent condition to add to the growing collection.
 




The Exuviae Collection... So Far


Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) Exuviae

As most readers of my blog will have no doubt read in the past few years, I have spent many an hour watching, studying and photographing the Norfolk Hawkers in east Kent. This has also led to me trying to find an exuviae of this species which took three years but as the species has continued to thrive and expand in the Stour Valley, last year, I found over 20 exuviae in a few ditches and dykes which was certainly very rewarding considering the hours spent looking and searching through the reeds and vegetation. The features to ideally look for are the typical aeshnid shaped head with quite protruding eyes, broad mask, tip shape of the epiproct but undoubtedly the key feature is the length of the cerci which are more than two thirds the length of the paraprocts. Hopefully 2019 will be another successful year for this species and the photos will be of some help to others that may come across some exuviae in the Stour Valley or nearby. I suspect there are other pockets in east Kent where the Norfolk Hawker may well be breeding with a number seen last year up to c5 miles from the main Stour Valley colonies so a check of suitable habitat may well turn up the odd exuviae.

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - side view
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - side view
 


 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae showing broad mask
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - showing head and eye shape
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - side view
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - side view
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - showing tip shape of the epiproct
and relatively long cerci
 
 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - showing tip shape of the epiproct
and relatively long cerci
 

 Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae showing broad mask
 

Norfolk Hawker (Aeshna isosceles) exuviae - side view


Sunday, 24 February 2019

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) Nymph

During my last few visits to Grove Ferry with the net, I have managed to come across a couple of Large Red Damselfly nymphs which are the first I have seen in this part of the reserve. It will be interesting to see how many others are in the area and hopefully, I will be able to monitor this area a little more close in the coming months. With March arriving at the end of this week, it will not be long now until we see the first Large Red Damselflies emerging and with the recent mild weather we have been having, this may cause them to emerge a few days earlier. They are quite an easy nymph to identify with caudal lamellae being the most obvious sign if they are still present. They are quite broad, often spotted, dark and show an X shaped marking. I often find that the head is quite large in relation to the body and the abdomen is quite short and the legs often show two dark bands. Many thousands will be entering the last few weeks as a nymph having spent a couple of years under the water so with this in mind, I thought I would bring one of the nymphs home for a photography session in my indoor tank before returning it back to the ditch at Grove Ferry. The tank was already prepared and with a bit of weed added close to the glass, it wasn't long until the nymph was quite happy posing for a few photos which hopefully show off some of the key features. It seems like a long while now since the season finished but we are nearly there and fingers crossed for some nice warm sunny weather in late March which may herald the start of their season once again.
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape and long wing sheaths
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape and long wing sheaths
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape and long wing sheaths
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape and long wing sheaths
 
 Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
broad Caudal Lamellae with white X shape and long wing sheaths

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) nymph showing
quite large head and long wing sheaths
 


Friday, 22 February 2019

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) Exuviae

I was very fortunate last year to have photographed a female Brown Hawker emerging and as a result, I was able to obtain the exuviae of the species and add to my growing collection. This species exuviae has seemed to elude me over the past few years despite many hours of trying to look for them emerging so to experience at close hand this event was very rewarding. With a nice sunny day and temperatures again quite mild, I decided I had better spend some time photographing the features on this exuviae so with the conservatory doors wide open, I spent a very pleasant hour photographing the exuviae. The Brown Hawker exuviae is large in size (40 -46mm) and its main identification features include the typical aeshnid shaped head with more bulging eyes compared to that of the Emperor Dragonfly. The Brown Hawker exuviae has pale markings on the side of the thorax which extend onto the head behind the eyes as well as legs with distinct banding and a broad mask. With a hand lens, the tip shape of the epiproct can be easily seen with each species having its own unique shape. Its certainly been another education learning the features of this species and I hope that others will benefit from looking at these photos in the forthcoming seasons to help them identify these and other species exuviae. More photos of exuviae can be seen by clicking on the tab 'My Website' at the top of the page.
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing eye shape and mandibles
 

 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing lateral spines and shape of epiproct
 

 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing distinct banding on legs
 
 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing Paraprocts, Cerci and shape of Epiproct
 

 Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs
 
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) exuviae showing broad mask,
pale markings on side of thorax and distinct banding on legs