Zoniagrion exclamationis
Exclamation Damsel is a bright blue-and-black damselfly that is named for the pattern atop the thorax: two pairs of a dash and a dot that look like two exclamation points ! ! It was just discovered in MTY in May 2007, so little is known about it here.
all photos 13 May 2007 Pajaro River MTY

Exclamation Damsel was discovered in Monterey County because odites went looking for it. Don Roberson & Rita Carratello (right), having traveled to Marin County in April to see the species as a 'lifer,' and then learning in early May that Nick Lethaby had discovered a population in coastal Santa Barbara County, went searching for it locally on Mother's Day, 13 May. From habitat tips provided by Nick Lethaby, and by Paul Johnson (who had seen it in Santa Cruz city at a site suggested by Tim Manolis), Rita & Don chose to try the MTY side of the Pajaro River. The river was too high at the Thurwachter Bridge so they went upstream to the old railroad trestle at the west end of Walker Street in Watsonville (above).

They were looking for a spot with dense riparian along the river (right; trestle in the background) but also with abundant hemlock. The weedy field on the MTY side (shown above) has much hemlock and wild radish. These plants hosted many female and younger damsels, while the adult males were in sunny patches within the willows and sedge near the river. Here, Exclamation Damsel was by far the commonest species, with ~40 estimated at the single locale. The only other species noted were two Pacific Forktail (which is a smaller damsel that looked rather 'tiny' next to Exclamations) and a couple of Tule/Arroyo-type bluets.

This was a breeding site; here's a tandem mating pair (left).

The chosen habitat is eclectic. Biggs (2006) gives the habitat as "mud-banked streams and ponds." Manolis (2003) says: "quiet pools and backwaters of rivers and streams and, occasionally, ponds bordered by willows (Salix), alders (Alnus), and such. It is particularly associated with sun-dappled, sylvan glades of blackberries (Rubus) and herbaceous vegetation such as poison-hemlock (Conium maculatum), mugwort (Artemisia doublasiana), and Queen Anne's lace (Daucus corota)."

The Pajaro River is a badly abused habitat – destroyed by governments for short-sighted 'flood control' – but here, under the willows, it was indeed a "sun-dappled, sylvan glade."

Male Exclamation Damsels are characterized not only by the exclamation pattern on the thorax, but by triangle-shaped blue eye spots, by an extensive blue patch near the end of the black abdomen (covering the top of segments 7 through 9), blue also at the base of the abdomen (segments 1 and 2), and by appendages that include a long hook for each paraproct and short cerci with a 'fuzzy' brush-like rear edge (below).

Female Exclamation Damsels are more variable in pattern. Some (above) show the same type of exclamation mark pattern atop the thorax as the male. Others, though, have the 'dash' and 'dot' merged together into a single long 'dash' (right and below) but the 'dash' narrows where the merging occurs, producing a mark that looks in shape like a baseball bat (to use the description given by Manolis 2003). They are also variable in color, ranging from pale green (younger ones) to pale blue to a purplish-blue (older ones). Note that females have less blue at the tip of the abdomen, covering only the top of segments 7 and 8, and they lack the male's appendages.

Very young females can be mostly coppery-tan and pale green (left) but they still show either the exclamation marks or the 'baseball bat' pattern to the top of the thorax.

This species is in its own unique genus – Zoniagrion – and is a California endemic !! It ranges from Mendocino and Shasta counties south to its just-discovered southern limit in Santa Barbara County. It was only recently found in San Benito Co. and, now, in Monterey County.

One story I've heard is that when the committee that gave English names to odonates considered this species in the 1990s, they almost named it something entirely inappropriate, like "Sierra Damsel." Horrors! It is not a Sierran specialist but occurs near the coast in many locales (including MTY). Fortunately, Kathy Biggs proposed "Exclamation Damsel" and the day was won!


The map shows the only known site for Exclamation Damsel so far within the county: the MTY side of the Pajaro River within the town of Pajaro. It occurs in similar sites in Santa Cruz County, and further surveys may find it elsewhere in Monterey County.

Exclamation Damsel is an early flier. Elsewhere, it occurs from March into August (Manolis 2003). The peak dates seem to be primarily in April-May (K. Biggs), and so far the MTY date (13 May) is consistent with the peak time.

Literature cited:
  • Biggs, K. 2006. Dragonflies of California: A Beginner's Pocket Guide. Azalea Creek Publ., Sebastopol, CA.
  • Manolis, T. 2003. Dragonflies and Damselflies of California. Univ. of Calif. Press, Berkeley.

Web resources:
Major identification web sites with much information on California odes include:

For sites with excellent photos to compare for identification or to simply enjoy, see: Many of these sites have links to other useful pages. Kathy Biggs's site is particularly useful in her selection of links.

All photos © Don Roberson 2007


Page created 13 May 2007