Brazil Trip Recap #2 – Dragonflies

In the first of this series I wrote about REGUA, the wonderful nature reserve that was my home base while I was in Brazil. This time I’m going to start showing you some of the dragonflies I found. To recap, the reason I chose this location was because they’ve documented more than 200 species of Odonata on and around the property, with about 60 of them occuring at the wetlands right beside the lodge. Tom Kompier did an extensive survey of their Odonata in 2011, resulting in a field guide specific to this part of Brazil, A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos (available from REGUA or the British Dragonfly Society).

Carmine skimmer (Orthemis discolor), with water droplet.

REGUA doesn’t have a dedicated dragonfly specialist guide on staff, so I was mostly on my own to see what I could turn up (except for two mornings with guides). Because of that, lots of rain, and my own low tolerance for heat (95F plus humidity!), I barely scraped the surface of the Odonata diversity. I’m still sorting through my photos, but so far I’ve only got about 36 species identified. I do regret that I didn’t try a little harder to visit more of the different habitats, but I can only do what I can do. I wanted to spend some time relaxing and just enjoying a new place; I spent a couple lazy afternoons napping to the sounds of thunderstorms. After all, this was a vacation, not a job. So I hope to make a return trip to explore more of this beautiful area, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some of my finds.

One morning I had the pleasure of being driven by Alcenir. If you check their website, he’s listed as the airport shuttle driver, but during my stay I was able to go out in the field with him for a memorable morning. Keep in mind that he doesn’t speak much English and I speak virtually no Portugese, and we were driving around in a rural area where I couldn’t get a cell signal to use the Google Translate app. You can imagine our “conversation,” right? But despite the struggle to communicate, we managed to have a lot of fun. It’s amazing how far you can get with hand gestures and lots of smiles. From my understanding, Alcenir accompanied Tom Kompier on his outings as he did research for his odonata field guide. So even though he’s not an expert on dragonflies, he’s very enthusiastic and knew some special spots to show me. He said he wanted me to enjoy my time, and he was more than willing to do whatever I wanted to do.

Clearspot Bluewing (Zenithoptera lanei)
Clearspot Bluewing (Zenithoptera lanei) with wings open in mating or territorial display

Our purported destination for this outing was a place called Vecchi, where we would explore some large and small ponds. But we took the long way, driving very slowly along rutted rural roads, stopping often to get out and look for bugs. Our first stop was a short distance from REGUA, and Alcenir said he wanted to show me a very special dragonfly. We opened a barbed wire gate and headed up into some brush toward a creek and pond. The trek wasn’t very far (maybe 75 yards) but it involved jumping across some deep creek channels. Keep in mind that I was wearing a heavy camera and binoculars, and I’m an old chick with short legs, so…he crossed ahead of me and held out his hand and I jumped…and landed halfway across, knee deep in muddy water. (He actually washed my legs off for me when we got back to the van!) No injuries involved, and I was laughing the whole time, but that’s how this 45 minute adventure went. Jumping channels, sinking ankle deep in mud to the point that my shoes almost got sucked off my feet, and almost bumping into a nest of Executioner wasps (yeah, that’s what I said, executioner wasps…yikes). But sure enough, when we got to the pond it only took him a few minutes to find the special bug, this Clearspot Bluewing.

Bluewing? Yep, but the iridescent blue color only shows on the topside of the wings, and we only got underside views of the wings this time, which appear black. But I was thrilled to see it anyway. Males of this species are known to display by moving the wings up and down to flash the brilliant blue color, which might be what was happening in the second photo. Those of you who are interested in the science of their coloration might like to take a look at this study.

Spine-bellied dryad (Nephepeltia phryne)

This next species was a surprise to me. I knew that this area had more than a dozen species of dashers, similar to the Blue Dasher I’m familiar with from home. I initially thought this one was a dasher, but I found that that it’s a Spine-bellied Dryad, in the same family (skimmers) but a different genus. So much to learn!

Complicating my preparation for this trip was the fact that many of these South American species don’t have common names, and I didn’t study the scientific names enough to have them all organized in my head. But as I upload my photos to iNaturalist, I’m slowly absorbing it all. By the way, if you want to see all of the insects and birds I’ve uploaded so far from this trip, you can browse my iNat records here. (I’m grateful that Tom Kompier was gracious enough to go through my iNat observations and correct some of the misidentifications.)

I saw large numbers of this next species every day, and liked this photo where I captured a quick head tilt. I’ve included an inset so you can see the lateral view with the wing markings and pretty red and blue abdomen. This is the Red-faced Dragonlet.

Red-faced Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax fusca)

When we finally got to the ponds at Vecchi, we found these large clubtail dragonflies that are always highlights for me. Members of the clubtail family are distinguished by having a separation at the top of the eyes (other dragonflies have eyes that touch at least partially). Clubtails also have varying amounts of enlargement at the end of their abdomens (thus, “clubbed tails”). The bigger the club, the more dramatic the appearance of the insect. So you can imagine how I felt when I peeked into a small inlet on the edge of a pond and found this amazing dragon looking at me. I’ve never seen a clubtail that has flat flanges at the end of the abdomen like this! I encourage you to click on the pic to see it even larger.

South American Tigertail (Cacoides latro)

I only got about three seconds to take a shot before he flew out over the pond. A few minutes later I was able to find another individual and get this lateral view. From my other photos I could see that the markings on the front of the thorax were slightly different, and therefore these were two different individuals. It was very exciting to see such a large and beautiful insect!

The only other big clubtail I found at this location was the Ringed Forceptail below, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to get as good a photo of it. But it still shows the lovely markings on the thorax and abdomen, and the forcep-like appendages.

Ringed Forceptail (Aphylla theodorina)

In addition to the Carmine Skimmer I showed you earlier, I was pleased to see so many species with bright red coloration. And you know I take pleasure in the imaginative names of Odonata — I saw Scarlet Dragonlet, Scarlet Spiderlegs, Flame-tailed Pondhawk, Claret Pondhawk, Cardinal Redskimmer, Red-faced Dragonlet, and Coral Firetail (a damselfly). Here are pictures of some of those species.

Scarlet Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax castanea)
Flame-tailed Pondhawk (Erythemis peruviana)
Rhodopygia cardinalis – unofficial common name Cardinal Redskimmer
Claret Pondhawk (Erythemis mithroides)
Scarlet Spiderlegs (Paniplax arachne)

Notice the beautiful metallic blue face on that Scarlet Spiderlegs! I’m glad I got to see it from the front. From a distance, many of these similarly-colored insects might seem to be the same, but when you take a closer look you notice different markings on the wings, varying colors on the faces, or other distinguishing features. One of the challenges in identifying these amazing bugs from photographs alone is that you quite often don’t get a chance to see and photograph them from all the necessary angles to show the identifying marks. That’s why many of them will remain ambiguous in the iNat database for a long, long time. But that’s okay. My enjoyment of them isn’t diminished by not knowing every single name.

Of the many dashers I photographed on this trip, only two of them have been confirmed to species so far. They’re all in the Micrathyria genus of so-called speckled dashers. These two photos will illustrate how similar they are to each other.

Square-spotted Dasher (Micrathyria ocellata)
Little Swamp Dasher (Micrathyria pseudeximia)

Have you noticed in these photos that some of the odes perch with their abdomens pointed to the air or otherwise hanging, while others perch with most of their bodies sitting on a leaf or branch? Those perching postures also vary by family and are another way to help you pin down a name; they’re not laws written in stone, but they’re a good thing to keep in mind if you’re trying to learn about dragonflies.

I haven’t shown you any damselflies today, mostly because I wasn’t all that excited by the ones I was able to see and I didn’t get that many good photos of them either. I guess I was too distracted by the larger dragons; if I get to go back to REGUA one day, I can focus more on the little guys.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos. I might come up with one more post from this trip; I’ve got some birds, butterflies, and other insects you might enjoy seeing. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!


  1. I enjoy these posts so much that if I’m a little busy when they come into my mailbox, I wait and come back to them later. So this morning I sat at my computer with a cup of coffee and felt transported as I read about your excursion into this special place. Thanks for sharing it with us!


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