by Larry de March
Sometime around 2004 or 2005 Marjorie Hughes and Doug Collicutt gave a talk on dragonflies at a Nature Manitoba evening meeting. I’d always been aware of them but my main interest was birds. I kept dragonflies at the back of my mind until I retired and started chasing them with my camera.
It’s been fun following the progression of species from the first ones to fly in spring to the last hangers-on in the fall. As winter ends each year I look forward to taking up the chase again, trying to predict what I’ll see first and enjoying finding particular species at traditional locations.
For the purposes of this article I’m defining spring as the time between the appearance of the first dragonfly or damselfly and June 7. The earliest dragonflies can be either migrants or species that emerge locally. For migrants to arrive, air temperatures have to be high enough for these cold-blooded critters to fly (typically over 14ºC). Local species need warm enough water (9-14ºC) to emerge. Given the vagaries of spring weather you might see your first dragonfly as early as mid-April or as late as the last half of May.
It’s important to note that quite a few of Manitoba’s Odonata species are at the northwest “corner” of their geographical ranges so they are restricted to the southeast corner of the province. If you are hunting for a particular apecies, it’s important to learn its range and preferred habitat.
Above: Figure 1 Common Green darner. Whiteshell Provincial Park, 24 June, 2011. Photo by Larry de March
The two migrants which we can expect in spring are the large and colourful Common green darner (Anax junius) (Figure 1) and the smaller but equally colourful Variegated meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum) (Figure 2), one of the skimmers. Both species also breed locally and they can be found almost anywhere in Southern Manitoba as early as mid-April if it is warm enough and weather systems cooperate, and as late as mid-October.
Above: Figure 2 Variegated meadowhawk. Kings Park, Winnipeg, 16 April, 2015. Photo by Larry de March
The first of the local species to appear is almost invariably another skimmer, Hudsonian whiteface (Leucorrhinia hudsonica) (Figure 3), a small dragonfly which can be found in much of the province. Like the other whitefaces, mature males are red and black, females yellow and black. Other species of this genus appear not long afterwards.
Above: Figure 3 Hudsonian whiteface. Riding Mountain National Park, 24 June 2009. Photo by Larry de March
The earliest Damselflies are usually two species of “European” bluets, Subarctic bluet (Coenagrion interrogatum) (Figure 4) and Taiga bluet (Coenagrium resolutum). Of the nine species of “American” bluets in the province, only Northern bluet (Enallagma annexum) emerges in the spring period. Towards the end of spring our two Forktail species, namely Eastern (Ischnura verticalis) and Plains (Ischnura damula) begin to appear. It’s fun watching all of these small, thin and (mostly) blue and black flyers glean food as they fly up and down stalks of grass and other plants.
Above: Figure 4 Subarctic bluet. Cow Moose Lake, 11 June, 2011. Photo by Larry de March
Above: Figure 5 Springtime darner. Whiteshell Provincial Park, 24 June, 2011. Photo by Larry de March
Species from other Odonata families appear in a flurry of wings later in spring. The first and only early local darner is the Springtime darner (Basiaeshna janata) (Figure 5). From the emeralds there are mass emergences of thousands or tens of thousands of short-lived Spiny baskettails (Epitheca spinigera); their cousins, Beaverpond baskettails (Epitheca canis) (Figure 6), on the other hand are solitary. We also see the ubiquitous American emerald (Cordulia shurtleffi) (Figure 7) or if you are lucky the appropriately named and scarce Ebony boghaunter (Williamsonia fletcheri) (Figure 8).
Above: Figure 6 Beaverpond baskettail. Cow Moose Lake, 1 June, 2009. Photo by Larry de March
Above: Figure 7 American emerald. near Buffalo Point, 6 June, 2012. Photo by Larry de March
Above: Figure 8 Ebony boghaunter. Moss Spur Road, 24 May, 2011. Photo by Larry de March
Dusky clubtail (Phanogomphus spicatus) (Figure 9) heads up the appearance of 3 other spring clubtail species. Of our two cruisers, only Stream cruiser (Didymops transversa) appears in spring. Rounding out the spring species are 2 more skimmers, Four-spotted skimmer (Libelulla quadrimaculata) (Figure 10) and Chalk-fronted corporal (Ladona julia).
Above: Figure 9 Dusky clubtail. Whiteshell Provincial Park, 16 June, 2009. Photo by Larry de March
Above: Figure 10 Four-spotted skimmer. Cow Moose Lake, 22 May, 2015. Photo by Larry de March
Below is a list of species to be expected during the spring period and some resources with further information to help in your hunt for these beautiful insects.
List of Manitoba’s spring Odonata
- River jewelwing Calopteryx aequabilis
- Taiga bluet Coenagrion resolutum
- Subartic bluet Coenagrion interrogatum
- Northern bluet Enallagma annexum
- Eastern forktail Ischnura verticalis
- Plains forktail Ischnura damula
- Common green darner Anax junius
- Springtime darner Basiaeshna janata
- Dusky clubtail Phanogomphus spicatus
- Pronghorn clubtail Phanogomphus graslinellus
- Horned clubtail Arigomphus cornutus
- Midland clubtail Gomphurus fraternus
- Stream cruiser Didymops transversa
- American emerald Cordulia shurtleffi
- Ebony boghaunter Williamsonia fletcheri
- Beaverpond baskettail Epitheca canis
- Spiny baskettail Epitheca spinigera
- Delicate emerald Somatochlora franklini
- Kennedy’s emerald Somatochlora kennedyi
- Hudsonian whiteface Leucorrhinia hudsonica
- Crimson-ringed whiteface Leucorrhinia glacialis
- Boreal whiteface Leucorrhinia borealis
- Dot-tailed whiteface Leucorrhinia intacta
- Belted whiteface Leucorrhinia proxima
- Four-spotted skimmer Libelulla quadrimaculata
- Chalk-fronted Corporal Ladona julia
- Variegated meadowhawk Sympetrum corruptum
Manitoba Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata) is a local Facebook group for sightings, other Odonata observations and photographs. More resources are listed there, including other field guides.
Odonatacentral.org is a fairly easy to navigate data depository which can output species lists and species maps.
iNaturalist has observations of all kinds of organisms including Odonata
My favourite field guide is: Paulson, D. 2009. Dragonflies and damselflies of the west. Princeton Field guides. Princeton university press. 535 pp.