Cordulegaster dorsalis
Pacific Spiketail is a huge, striking, fearless dragonfly. It is an agile predator of flying insects, including other dragonflies, and has a fearsome face close up (above). But when perched it is a gorgeous jewel (below). The black-and-yellow dragon is so impressive that it has been known by various evocative colloquial names, including "biddy" and "flying adder." In England, members of this family are called "goldenrings." Pacific Spiketail is the only member of this family (Cordulegastridae) in California.
photo (uppermost head detail) 28 Sep 2006 Mud Creek
photo (above, full body; male) 9 Sep 2006 Wagon Caves, The Indians
photo (below; female) 3 Sep 2006 Soberanes Creek, Garrapata SP

Both sexes are similar in size (3+ inches long) and color pattern but females (right) can be recognized by their impressive ovipositor at the tip of the abdomen. It looks like a spike, but is actually an enlarged vulvar lamina from the bottom side of the 8th abdominal segment. Females rarely visit water except to breed and oviposit. The ovipositor is used to deposit her eggs. This is "accomplished alone by hovering vertically over shallow water and repeatedly plunging the ovipositor into the muddy or sandy substrate;" (Manolis 2003). This is an exceptional sight to see.

Manolis (2003) says that Pacific Spiketails are "nearly always seen in flight." This has certainly been my experience — they are constantly on the move, and thus quite difficult to watch. You know something impressive just went by... but it happened so fast! The photos of individuals on this page were lucky, serendipitous events. The story of a couple of these interactions, along Soberanes Creek and at Wagon Caves, are told elsewhere on this web site.

Males patrol long stretches along streams, or even along back roads, looking for females. Although they attract aggressively toward other males, they are not thought to delimit or defend specific territories (Vick 2001). The male below was patrolling a dirt road in northeastern Monterey County; however, in MTY, most are found along shaded streams. Even then, they "are not commonly seen except at just the right time and place;" Dunkle (2000).
photo (above; male) 28 Sep 2006 along upper Old Stage Road
photo (below; male) 9 Sep 2006 Wagon Caves, The Indians
On the rare occasions when a Pacific Spiketail is perched, it can still be difficult to spot because in hangs low from multicolored leaves, weeds, or bushes, and its colorful pattern blends remarkably well. When it is spotted, it might look like a displaced child's toy to the non-odonite eye (below).
In European species, individual spiketails (goldenrings) may live 3-5 years. Of course much of this is in a nymph stage underwater, but this is still much longer than most other odes. Presumably the adults may be active for several months.
This map (right) shows the approximate locations of MTY records to date. Some 11 of these records are specimens from Hastings NHR and vicinity in upper Carmel Valley, and another is a specimen of a larvae collected 29 Mar 1988 in Piney Creek, 14 miles west of Greenfield (#UC Sacramento). The other currently 'known' locations are Soberanes Creek in Garrapata State Park; tributaries of the north fork of the San Antonio River; and adjacent to Mud Creek, along Old Stage Road, east of Salinas.

Records of flying spiketails range between 3 June-28 Sep. Elsewhere in California flight dates are mid-May to early October (Manolis 2003). In MTY it is mostly seen between July and September.

Literature cited:
  • Dunkle, S.W. 2000. Dragonflies through Binoculars: a Field Guide to the Dragonflies of North America. Oxford Univ. Press, New York.
  • Manolis, T. 2003. Dragonflies and Damselflies of California. Univ. of Calif. Press, Berkeley.
  • Vick, G.S. 2001. Family Cordulegastridae (Goldenrings) in Dragonflies of the World (J. Silsby, ed.). Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.
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 15-18 Feb 2007