Aquatic Insects of Michigan

by Ethan Bright, Museum of Zoology Insect Division and School of Natural Resources and Environment
University of Michigan

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Odonata (Dragon- and Damselflies) of Michigan - Identification

The insect order Odonata is an old insect order having evolved in the Pennsylvannian and dominated in the Permian. Today, there are more than 5,000 species grouped into two extant suborders: Zygoptera (damselflies) and Anisoptera (dragonflies). Anisozygoptera (family Epiophlebiidae), previously considered a third suborder and intermediate to the previous two, is now considered to share an ancestor with Anisoptera and the three Asian species are now considered as primitive Anisoptera (Tennessen 2003, Dumont et al. 2010; however, see Dijkstra et al. 2013 for a competing view).

Distinguishing between the two suborders of Michigan is rather easy. Both nymphs and adults of all Odonata are carnivores. Nymphs of all our species are aquatic (some semi-terrestrial species exist in other parts of the world), respiring by means of gills (internal with Anisopera, external with Zygoptera, the later that may also respire cutaneously). The modified labium, used by nymphs to capture food, characterizes the immature stage of this order from from all other insects. It is held underneath the head, and, when prey is detected, thrusted out in a lightning-like strike. Prey is then seized with palpal lobes at the end of the labium, brought to the mouth and finally macerated with the larva's mandibles. Adults are large, agile fliers. The wings of anisopterans, which are dissimilarly shaped, are held horizontally (sometimes flexed below the body line) when at rest, whereas those of zygopterans, which are similarly shaped, are held together above the body (sometimes partly spread apart in Lestes and Chromagrion) (Westfall and Tennessen 1996). The eyes of zygopterans are generally situated further apart than with most anisopterans. Wing venation is commonly used to distinguish higher level taxa.

(adapted from Needham et al. 2014, Westfall and May 1996)

    1a a. Front and hind wings similar in shape and size, each with a quadrangle instead of a triangle and subtriangle Zygoptera, 2
    b. Eyes separated by more than their own width
    c. Males with 2 inferior appendages (paracprocts)
    d. Females with a fully developed ovipositor bearing styli
    e. When perched, wings held together above abdomen or only partly spread
    1b a. Front and hind wings dissimilar in shape and size, the hind wing considerably wider at base than the front wing, each having a triangle and subtriangle Anisoptera, 4
    b. Eyes meeting middorsally or not separated by a space grater than their own width
    c. Males with a single inferior appendage (epiproct), which my be bifid
    d. Females with or without an ovipositor
    e. When perched, wings usually held horizontally
    2a a. Antenodal cross veins numerous Calopterygidae
    b. Postnodal crossveins not in line with the veins below them
    c. Anal vein at its base separate from posterior border of wing
    d. Quadrangle with several crossveins
    2b a. Only 2 antenodal crossveins present 3
    b. Postnodal crossveins in line with the veins below them
    c. Anal vein joined with wing margin for a distance from the wing base
    d. Quadrangle never with crossveins
    3a(2b) Veins M3 and Rs arising nearer the arculus than the nodus Lestidae
    3b Veins M3 and Rs arising nearer the nodus than the arculus Coenagrionidae
    also: Anal vein and Cu2 present, quadrangle distinctly trapezoidal
    4a(1b) a. Triangles of forewings < 2x as far from arculus as those of hind wings 5
    b. Triangles of both wings similar in shape, generally elongated in long axis of wings
    c. The 2 antenodal crossveins thickened, most of the other antenodals of the 1st series not aligned with those of the 2nd series
    4b a. Triangles of forewings at least > 2x as far from arculus as those of hind wings 8
    b. Triangles of forewings generally elongated transversely, those of hind wings elongated longitudinally
    c. No thickened antenodal crossveins, those of the 1st series aligned with those of the 2nd series
    5a(4a) a. Brace crossvein absent Cordulegastridae
    b. Eyes barely contiguous dorsally or very slightly separated, by distance much less than distance between lateral ocelli
    c. In ventral view, prementum with large anteromedian cleft
    d. Ovipositor of female with gonapophyses extending well beyond posterior margin of Ab10 and without styli
    5b a. Brace crossvein present near proximal end of pterostigma 6
    b. Eyes either in contact for some distance dorsally (Aeshnidae), or widely separated (Gomphidae, Petaluridae), distance about equal to distnace between lateral ocelli
    c. prementum variable
    d. ovipositor variable
    6a(5b) a. Eyes in contact for some distance dorsally, forming a distinct eye seam Aeshnidae
    b. In ventral view, anterior margin of prementum with median cleft small, sometimes nearly obsolete
    c. Male epiproct usually triangular (except Gomphaeschna and Anax)
    d. Female ovipositor with well-developed, bladelike gonapophyses, the outer pair each bearing a stylus
    6b a. Eyes widely separated, distance about equal to distance between lateral ocelli 7
    b. Male epiproct not triangular
    c. Prementum and ovipositor variable
    7a(6b) a. In ventral view, prementum with large anteromedian cleft Petaluridae, Tachopteryx thoreyi (Hagen)
    b. Pterostigmata each at least 0.25x the distance from the nodus to the end of vein R1, narrow, slightly concace along posterior side
    c. Ovipositor with well-developed, blade-like gonapophyses, the outer pair each bearing a stylus
    Note: very rare in Michigan, currently known from around areas of groundwater seeps at only two localities in SW Michigan
    7b a. In ventral view, prementum entire Gomphidae
    b. Pterostigmata each much less than 0.25x the distance from the nodus to the end of vein R1, slightly widened at midlength, and thus not concave posteriorly
    c. Ovipositor reduced to small subgenital plate
    8a(4b) a. Triangle of each hindwing about 0.5x as far from arculus as that of each forewing Macromiidae
    b. Anal loop short and wide, without midrib
    c. Abdomen without lateral carinae
    8b a. Triangle of each hindwing much less than 0.5x as far from arculus as that of each forewing 9
    b. Anal loop elongate, divided lengthwise by distinct midrib into 2 rows of cells (absent in Nannothemis)
    c. Lateral carinae on Ab3, 4, or 5 to Ab8 or 9
    9a(8b) a. Anal loop slightly expanded distally but without distinct "toe" Corduliidae
    b. In lateral view, posterolateral margin of each eye distinctly sinuate
    c. Anal border of male hind wing with an anal triangle and the anal margin angulate
    d. Males: anal border of each hindwing of angulate, auricles present on Ab2, and keels present on metatibiae
    9b a. Anal loop usually markedly expanded distally, with distinct "toe" (absent in Nannothemis) Libellulidae
    b. In lateral view, posteriorlateral margin of each eye hardly sinuate
    c. Anal border of each hindwing of both sexes rounded, and males without an anal triangle
    d. Males: without auricles on Ab2, and without metatibial keels

(adapted from Westfall and Needham 1996, Needham et al. 2014, and Walker & Corbet 1975)

    1a a. Body slender, head wider than thorax and abdomen Zygoptera, 2
    b. Abdomen terminating in three caudal lamellae
    1b a. Body stout, head usually narrower than thorax and abdomen Anisoptera, 4
    b. Abdomen terminating in 5 short, stiff, pointed appendages
    2a a. First antennal segment elongate, greater than segments 2-5 combined Calopterygidae
    b. Prementum with deep median cleft
    2b a. First antennal segment not so elongate, less than segments 2-5 combined 3
    b. Prementum with at most a tiny median cleft
    3a Basal half of labium greatly narrowed and elongate, folded labium extends back to mesocoxae or beyond Lestidae
    3b Basal half of labium not greatly narrowed, folded labium extends back only to procoxae Coenagrionidae
    4a a. Mentum flat or nearly so, without dorsal premental setae 5
    b. Labial palps nearly flat, not greatly expanded distally, not covering labrum, usually lacking setae
    4b a. Prementum transversely concave upward, with prominent premental setae 7
    b. Palpal lobes forming spoon-shaped structure covering labrum, greatly expanded distally with prominent setae
    5a a. Antennae 4-segmented, third segment often enlarged Gomphidae
    b. Pro- and metatarsi 2-segmented
    c. Ligula without a median cleft
    5b a. Antennae 6- and 7-segmented 6
    b. Pro- and metatarsi tarsi 3-segmented
    c. Ligula with a median cleft
    6a a. Antennae segments short, thick, and hairy Petaluridae, Tachopteryx thoreyi (Hagen)
    b. Prementum with sides sub-parallel in distal three-fifths, abruptly narrowed near base
    c. A pair of lateral-dorsal abdominal hair tuft present
    Note: rare, in groundwater seeps, known from only 2 localities in SW LP Michigan
    6b a. Antennal segments slender and bristle-like Aeshnidae
    b. Prementum widest in distal half, then much narrower in basal half or more
    c. Abdomen without lateral-dorsal abdominal hair tufts
    7a a. Distal edge of lateral lobe with large, irregular teeth without associated setae Cordulegastridae
    b. Ligula with a median tooth-like cleft
    7b a. Distal edge of lateral lobe entire, or with even-sized dentations, with associated setae 8
    b. Ligula not as above
    8a a. Head with thick, erect frontal horn postitioned between antennae Macromiidae
    b. Metafemur very long, reaching at least to apex of Ab8
    c. Metasternum with broad, median tubercle
    d. Abdomen markedly depressed
    8b a. Head without frontal horn positioned between antennae 9
    b. Metafemur not reaching apex of Ab8
    c. Metasternum without median tubercle
    d. Abdomen usually not markedly depressed
    9a a. Prementum almost always with a distinct longitudinal medial groove at the base on the ventral surface Corduliidae
    b. Crenations on the distal margin of the labial palps mostly 1/4-1/2 as high as broad, separated by relatively deep notches
    c. Cerci usually at least 0.6x the length of the paraprocts
    d. Lateral spines of Ab8 absent, or distinctly shorter than the middorsal length of Ab9
    b. Abdomen generally ends abruptly
    9b a. Prementum almost always lacking a distinct longitudinal medial groove as above Libellulidae
    b. Crenations on the distal margin of the labial palps usually nearly smooth, or mostly 0.10-0.17 as high as broad, separated by shallow notches
    c. Cerci most often <0.6x the length of the paraprocts
    d. IF neither of the above (Pantala), then lateral spines of Ab8 at least as long as the middorsal length of Ab9


    Dijkstra KDB, Bechly G, Bybee SM, Dow RA, Dumont HJ, Fleck G, Garrison RW, Hämäläinen M, Kalkman VJ, Karube H, May ML, Orr AG, Paulson DR, Rehn AC, Theischinger G, Trueman JWH, van Tol J, von Ellenrieder N, Ware J. 2013The classification and diversity of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata), in Zhang, Z.-Q. (Ed.) Animal Biodiversity: An Outline of Higher-level Classification and Survey of Taxonomic Richness (Addenda 2013). Zootaxa 3703:1–82.)
    Dumont HJ, Vierstraete A, Vanfleteren JR. 2010. A molecular phylogeny of the Odonata (Insecta). Systematic Entomology 25:6-18.
    Needham JG, Westfall MJ, May ML. 2014. Dragonflies of North America, Third Edition. Scientific Publishers: Gainesville, Florida. xvi + 657 pp.
    Tennessen KJ. 2003. Odonata (Dragonflies, Damselflies), pp. 814-823 in Encyclopedia of Insects. Resh VH, Cardé RT (eds.). Academic Press, San Diego, California, USA.
    Walker EM, Corbet PS. 1975. The Odonata of Canada and Alaska, Vol. 3. University of Toronto Press: Toronto. xvi + 308 pp.
    Westfall MJ, Tennessen KJ. 1996. Odonata, pp. 164-211 in An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America, 3rd Ed. Merritt RW, Cummins KW (eds.). Kendell/ Hunt Publishing Company: Dubuque, Iowa.

Last updated: March 4, 2017 (EB)