photo (above) 7
Oct 2006 Salinas River at
Black-fronted Forktail is a very small and delicate forktail. It is a
flyer and easily overlooked among low, emergent vegetation in shallow
Yet, when found and viewed at close range, the male (above) is a
captured this particular male — the shot (below) shows it actual
only 1 inch long. That should convince you just how tiny this ode
Manolis (2003) says that "this is the smallest damselfly found in most
of California." But through a hand-lens — or, here, close-up
(left) — many details can be observed.
Note that the black-and-torquoise includes the eyes (top half
half aqua) and legs.
notice the small blue spots adjacent to the eyes and the very
black upper surface to the thorax. This solid, iridescent pattern to
top of the thorax — without stripes or spots — is unlike any other
forktail . ... except one: San Francisco Forktail I. gemina. The latter
is so similar in pattern that it can only be identified by the male's
Black-fronted and San Francisco Forktails hybridize where the ranges
There is now evidence that Black-fronted Forktail has 'swamped
the more specialized San Francisco Forktail in the southern part of the
latter's former range. Specimens of San Francisco Forktail were
on the Salinas River in 1946. It is now 50 years later and no I.
have been found in MTY for decades. They are also missing from their
range around the southern end of San Francisco Bay. Today, only
occur at these spots.
Adult female Black-fronted Forktail (not shown)
are similar but not
as bright. The rich turquoise color of the male is replaced by paler
or tan. Immature females are orangey-tan.
all photos 7 Oct 2006 Salinas River at Salinas
(left) is an enlarged, close-up view of the male's appendages. The
black hook atop the 10th segment is not an appendage. Rather, the cerci
are the final blackish thin disc at the end of the segment. Below that,
note the paraproct: a pale (whitish) spur that extends the farthest to
the right of any portion of the segment. Male I. gemina lack this
spine at the lower edge of the inferior appendage.
|Viewed from above, Black-fronted Forktail is
extensively black. Only
the tiny eyespots and the extensive turquoise blotch across the 8th
9th abdominal segments relieve the otherwise all-shiny-black
Given the tiny size of this insect, it almost 'disappears' into the wet
Black-fronted Forktail is widespread in
California. It frequents low
sedges and beds of grass near springs, small ponds, and "still
lagoons of rivers" (Manolis 2003). Dennis Paulson once stopped along
Salinas River, 5 miles south of San Ardo, back on 1 Sep 1977. He
a pair of Black-fronted Forktail, and wrote in his notes: "very
in marsh, few at the river." Indeed, we located the one shown in these
photos on a little backwater side-branch of the Salinas River — well
from the strong currents in the main river. At the right date and in
right microhabitat, it can be a very common species.
map shows the currently known MTY locations of Black-fronted Forktail.
Most are along either the Salinas or the Carmel rivers, although there
are records from Laguna Grande in Seaside. It likely
occurs at other locales which have the same shallow backwater habitat
of low grass or sedges.
Flight dates in MTY range from 12 March to 7
Elsewhere in California
the flight dates range from March to November (Manolis 2003).
- Manolis, T. 2003. Dragonflies and Damselflies of
California. Univ. of
Major identification web sites with much information on California
For sites with excellent photos to compare for identification or to
Many of these sites have links to other useful pages. Kathy Biggs's
is particularly useful in her selection of links.
All photos © Don Roberson 2007