Friday, June 22, 2012

The Celithemis Dragonflies of the Mid Atlantic Region

Some of my favorite dragonflies belong to the genus Celithemis.  Flying throughout the summer, these showy dragonflies are called Pennants.  In the Mid Atlantic region there are eight species and they are usually fairly common if you seek them out in the correct habitats.  Below I will describe all eight species.

Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa)

Photo:  Calico Pennant, Wayne National Forest Services

Calico Pennants are arguably the most common of the Celithemis dragonflies.  They have a long flight period that ranges from May into September depending on the locale.  They can be found throughout the Mid Atlantic around lakes and other bodies of still freshwater.  Males are easily distinguished from other pennants by the extensive red wing coloration and the red diamonds on the black abdomen.

Photo: Calico Pennant, Steve Collins

Females are a little more tricky but still fairly easy to identify.  Females are colored black and yellow.  The wing pattern is the same as the males but the color is much more yellow and the abdomen diamonds are also yellow.

Photo: Calico Pennant, Jim Brighton

The only other female pennant with black wing tips is the Halloween Pennant.  That said, the wing patterns are way different and with a little practice the two species can be easily differentiated in the field.

Halloween Pennant (Celithemis eponina)

Photo: Halloween Pennant, Vicki Deloach

Halloween Pennants are also common dragonflies that are found throughout the Mid Atlantic.  Their flight period is a little later than Calico Pennants with flights starting in June through the beginning of September.  Unlike the Calico Pennant their wing markings are smaller and more spread out across the wing.  Males are typically more reddish than the females which usually have a more brownish yellow tinge.

Photo: Breeding Halloween Pennants, Douglas Mills

In the above photo the male is the top bug and you can see the more reddish coloration compared to the dingier looking female.  Like most of the Celithemis dragonflies Halloween Pennants can be found around freshwater lakes and marshes.

Photo: Halloween Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennant (Celithemis ornata)

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennants are small Celthemis that in the Mid Atlantic are found from New Jersey south through North Carolina.  Not nearly as common as the previous two species, Ornate Pennants can be found in still freshwater lakes and marshes with lots of vegetation.  Unlike Halloween and Calico Pennants, Ornate Pennants lack extensive wing markings, but they are very similar to Amanda's Pennant.  Amanda's Pennant has the same type of wing marking but unlike the Ornate Pennant the wing marking goes almost all the way down to the lower wing edge.  As you can see in the above and below photo Ornate Pennants have a definite clear area between the bottom of the wing and the beginning of the wing marking.

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Like the other pennants, the males are more brightly colored with reddish wing markings and red diamonds that run down a black abdomen.

Photo: Ornate Pennant, Steve Collins

Ornate Pennant is also known as Faded Pennant and in Maryland they are know to hybridize with Martha's Pennant.

Amanda's Pennant (Celithemis amanda)

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Steve Collins

In the Mid Atlantic, Amanda's Pennants are only found in North Carolina.  This species is the smallest of the Celithemis.  They frequent vegetated freshwater lakes and are only found along the coastal plain. As noted above, Amanda's Pennant is very similar to Ornate Pennant, but a good look at the wing marking should allow the observer a positive id.  

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Bill Hubick

As you can see in the above photo, the wing markings almost extend the entire width of the wing unlike the Ornate Pennant which has a noticeably larger clear area between the wing markings and the bottom edge of the wing.

Photo: Amanda's Pennant, Mary Keim

Like many of the other pennants, the male has deep red wing markings and red spots down a black abdomen.

Red-veined Pennant (Celithemis bertha)

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Dan Irizarry

In the Mid Atlantic, Red-veined Pennants are only found in North Carolina and extreme southeastern Virginia.  More common on the coastal plain, these bright red pennants can also be found less commonly in the piedmont.  They prefer very shallow vegetated small lakes.  Red-veined Pennants can easily be identified by the bright red veins on the leading edge of their wings.

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Steve Collins

Unlike the previously mentioned species, Red-veined Pennants do not have extensive or large wing markings.

Photo: Red-veined Pennant, Dan Irizarry

The above photo is a young male whose coloration hasn't changed to the deep red of an adult.  Females are very similar in appearance except they typically lack the dark wing vein coloration.  Females look similar to the other yellow female pennants except they lack large wing markings. A female Red-veined Pennant has two small round areas on the lower wing that hug the abdomen.  This should differentiate them from all other female pennant species.

Banded Pennant (Celithemis fasciatus)

Photo: Banded Pennant, Steve Collins

Banded Pennants are one of my favorite dragonflies.  Unlike the other pennants described above both the male and female have a more blue black coloration.  Banded Pennants can be found through the Mid Atlantic at lakes and ponds.  The males blue body with extensive wing markings is diagnostic which makes identification very easy.

Photo: Banded Pennant, Vicki Deloach

The female Banded Pennant has yellow spots that run down the abdomen along with yellow on the thorax.  This color scheme coupled with the extensive black wing markings is unique and once again makes for easy identification.

Photo: Banded Pennant, Steve Collins

Martha's Pennant (Celithemis martha)

Martha's Pennant is a small pennant with a more northerly range than most of the Celthemis pennants.
With a few records from Virginia and only a couple populations in Maryland, Martha's Pennant becomes very common in New Jersey and then once again becomes uncommon in New York and northward.  Like the Banded Pennant, the male has a blue body but only has two wing markings that hug the abdomen on the lower wing.

Photo: Martha's Pennant, Steve Collins

Female Martha's Pennants are more yellowish with yellow on the sides of the thorax and yellow spots that run down the back of a black abdomen.  The females wing markings match the males in size but are more yellow in coloration.

Photo: Martha's Pennant, Steve Collins

Like most other pennants they can be found at still freshwater lakes with lots of vegetation.

Double-ringed Pennant (Celithemis verna)

Double-ringed Pennants can be found from New Jersey south through the Mid Atlantic into the Carolinas and beyond.  Like Banded and Martha's Pennants, the Double-ringed Pennant male is all blue, but is different in that the bug has two very small markings on the lower wings that hug the abdomen.

Photo: Double-ringed Pennant, Steve Collins

As you can see in the above photo, the wing markings are very small.  Double-ringed Pennants have the smallest wing markings of any of the Celithemis pennants.  The female and young males have one distinguishing feature that is unique and makes for easy identification.  They have two yellow rings around the abdomen.  This feature is easily seen in the photo below.

Photo: Double-ringed Pennant, Dan Irizarry

I would like to thank all the photographers who made this post possible, especially Steve Collins who graciously opened up his photo coffers for the taking.  Please go to their websites and check out their incredible photography.

For more information on Dragonflies in Maryland I highly recommend Richard Orr's website which contains great photos and a wealth of checklists --

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Invasive Species - Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus)

Normally when one thinks of invasive species the large showy in your face species come to mind like Garlic Mustard, House Sparrows, or Snakeheads. But some invasive species most people would never notice.  The Rusty Crayfish is one such species.

Rusty Crayfish, Ashour Rehana

The Rusty Crayfish is an aggressive species of crayfish with a voracious appetite.  This species of crayfish eats almost anything.  Here is a list of the Rusty Crayfishes diet; small fish, fish eggs, other species of crayfish, aquatic worms, snails, leeches, fresh water molluscs, aquatic insects like mayflies, stoneflies, midges, other crustaceans, decaying plants and animals, bacteria and fungi, and live aquatic plants.  The Rusty Crayfish is a serious omnivore!  The metabolism of the Rusty Crayfish is much higher than our native species of crayfish which causes the Rusty Crayfish to have a much stronger appetite. When surveys were done in the Monocacy River watershed where the Rusty Crayfish was first observed, no other crayfish were caught during the study, but down river of the Rusty Crayfish population many native crayfish were observed.  Of all the horrible impacts that the Rusty Cray can have on the environment, the two things that bother me the most are that they eat aquatic vegetation and they eat fresh water molluscs.

Rusty Crayfish, Ashour Rehana

Rusty Crayfish eat aquatic vegetation by pulling the plant up by its roots.  This completely kills the plant.  Entire stretches of streams can become plant free causing erosion and water quality to plummet. Once riverbeds are free of native aquatic plants non-native species have an easier time of taking over.  Explosions of invasive plants like Eurasian Watermilfoil usually follow in the footsteps of a Rusty Crayfish introduction.

Eurasian Watermilfoil, Wiki pages

In Maryland over 70% of the native freshwater molluscs are endangered.  Most of the time we can blame water pollution for our molluscs problems, but when you add an over eager, super hungry, demon crayfish to the molluscs problems they don't really stand a chance.  This scares me greatly.

In June of 2007 while conducting stream surveys along Marsh Creek, a tributary of the Monocacy River, Maryland DNR discovered the first Rusty Crayfish in Maryland waters.  Soon after the Marsh Creek population was discovered another population was found along Conowingo Creek in the lower Susquehanna River.  Recent surveys have found them at the mouth of Antietem Creek on the Potomac River.

So, how did they get here.  From everything that I have read, it sounds like the crayfish migrated south from Pennsylvania following the Monocacy River.  The Susquehanna and Antietem Creek populations may have been caused by fisherman.  Rusty Crayfish were once regularly used as bait.  Unused bait could have been thrown overboard as a means of disposal.  It is now illegal in Maryland to have Rusty Crayfish in your possession.

Range map of Rusty Crayfish, University of Minnesota

As you can see from the above map, the Rusty Crayfish is native to certain parts of the Ohio River and its tributaries, but it has spread throughout the east and even into certain portions of the western United States.  

Rusty Crayfish, University of Michigan

Recognizing this alien species is really easy.  Even though the Rusty Crayfish can come in many different colors (like many crayfish) there are a few distinguishing marks that make identification rather easy.  Firstly, the rusty splotch just forward of the tail and above the legs on the carapace is diagnostic. Other distinguishing marks include claws that are relatively large and smooth that lack any large bumps and the tips of the claws have black bands. 

Rusty Crayfish, University of Michigan

Maryland DNR asks that anyone who discovers a Rusty Crayfish to catch the animal and freeze it.  Make sure you write down the exact location of where the crayfish was discovered and contact them as soon as possible.  Lets hope that we can contain this invasive species and that it doesn't reek to much havoc on our sensitive freshwater streams.

I would like to thank the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota for allowing the use of photos and maps. Their websites contain lots of information that I haven't discussed that is very interesting and scary.

The military even has a website about the Rusty Crayfish's destructiveness.

Most states that have Rusty Crayfish invasions have detailed websites.  Maryland's is especially informative.

Finally, I would like to thank Ashour Rehana for his great photos.  His Flickr site can be viewed at 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New Photo Site

For the past seven years I have used Smugmug to host my nature photography.  Smugmug is a great platform for the world to see your photos.  The freedom the website allows their subscribers is wonderful and their tech support is excellent. Over the past year I became very disillusioned with my Smugmug site mainly due to the amount and quality of the photos that I had posted.  I would become lost and frustrated on my own site.  So, over the past couple weeks I have created a new site that is hosted by Picasa.  I have cut the amount of posted photos by half and I feel the site has a very clean and organized look.  To view my photos go to

I hope that everyone that goes to my site will enjoy the photographs as much as I do.  Below I am going to post my favorite photo from each of my galleries on my Picasa photo website.

Gray-hooded Gull - Paracas, Peru.  From my Birds Gallery.

Big Horn Sheep - Guanella Pass, Colorado. From my Mammals Gallery.

Black Racer - Caroline County, MD. From my Reptiles Gallery.

Northern Cricket Frog - Caroline County, MD. From my Amphibians Gallery.

Viceroy caterpillar - Hart Miller Island, MD. From my Butterflies (minus skippers) Gallery.

Silver-spotted Skippers - Tuckahoe SP, MD. From my Skippers Gallery.

Himmelman's Plume Moth - 1000 Acre Heath, ME. From my Moths Gallery.

Gallinipper Mosquito - Talbot County, MD. From my Insects Gallery.

Blue-faced Meadowhawks - Caroline County, MD. From my Dragonflies Gallery.

Painted Damsel - Parker Creek, AZ. From my Damselflies Gallery.

Late Lowbush Blueberry - Garrett County, MD. From my Trees and Shrubs Gallery.

American Climbing Fern - Anne Arundel County, MD. From My Ferns and Fern Allies Gallery.

Seaside Amaranth - Worcester County, MD. From my Flowering Plants Gallery.

Large Twayblade - Garrett County, MD. From my Orchids Gallery.

Northern Pitcher Plants, Wicomico County, MD. From my Carnivorous Plants Gallery.

Sunset - Flamingo, FL. From my Landscapes Gallery

And finally because they are both new daddies.  From my soon to be made People Gallery, Bill and Hans from 2007 at Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Once again, my new photo site can be viewed at