Meadowhawks will make you crazy
Nine species of Meadowhawk have been recorded in New Jersey.
Six of them are quite uncommon, pose few identification
problems or both. But the other three more than make up for it.
These species are small red dragonflies with a row of black
triangles down the side of the abdomen. If you are smart, you
will probably leave it right there. But if you insist on
trying to put a label on all of them, read through this and then, if
you still have the urge, grab a cold beer, sit
down, and wait for the feeling to go away.
Still with us? Ok...here goes:
Most authorities consider this complex to consist of three species, Cherry-faced,
Ruby, and White-faced.
Representatively, Dunkle (2000) treats the common New Jersey bug as
a race of Cherry-faced. Needham, Westfall and May (2001),
however, recognize it as an additional species,
These four types can not be definitively distinguished in the
field in New Jersey. Sure, fully adult "true" Cherry-faced has a red face and
White-faced has a white face. And most of the
time Ruby has a yellowish face. But the eastern form of
Cherry-faced (AKA "Jane's"), which usually has
a sort of dirty yellow face, can vary to mimic the others.
If any of you think face color is reliable, talk about variation to Ann Johnson over
at www.iowaodes.com where, in
theory, bugs like ours don't normally occur. Plus, all of them apparently interbreed from time to time and the
face color of the babies is anybody's bet. Bob Barber had a
scan of the genitalia of an interesting hybrid on his web site,
whatever it is, it ain't in the book!
Further complicating the issue is the fact that in addition to
the "dirty-faced" Meadowhawk, occasionally we find an
individual of the "typical" red-faced Cherry-faced
form. And...there is a lot of variation in the
"dirty-faced" complex. Just to make it really
whacky, the ones with the whitest faces seem to have secondary
genitalia most resembling Cherry-faced in the author's observations.
What the heck is this complex anyway? 4 species? 3 species
that hybridize regularly? One big species with lots of
variation? Honestly, at this point we aren't real sure.
Anybody out there want some good material for a thesis? Go for
it! If not, grab that cold beer, relax and enjoy them as cute
little red bugs.
For tracking purposes, we do maintain data
on the "dirty-faced" meadowhawk, just as we maintain data
on two subspecies of River Cruiser and Common Spreadwing. As a
result, it is possible that in a few of our checklists, the numbers
may be off from the true totals. We apologize for any
confusion this may cause. If you catch such an instance,
please notify the webmaster.