Sunday, 12 July 2015

Trip to Nam Bung (Yen Bai) - a superb surprise and a second Anotogaster*

*Adjusted on June 1, 2016. This subspecies now published as Orthetrum melania superbum.

July 11 I drove all the way to Nam Bung along the QL32 (in Yen Bai Province) in search of an enigma large Periaeschna species, of which I caught a female two weeks back. But I failed to see it again. I spent the beautiful day along a stream that runs through forest and a canyon, the same place where I had seen the Periaeschna.

The trail through the forest had some puddles and it was here that I spotted a large pale-blue Orthetrum with pale appendages, a dark face, and a black dorsum to the thorax with very prominent and clear antehumeral stripes. The wingtips had a darker crescent and the wing bases had a prominent blue-and-black basal patch. I was pretty convinced that by now the genus Orthetrum was not going to present surprises, but here I was faced with what was obvious a new species for Vietnam.

I collected a single male of the 4 males present at the puddles. It is very weird. These puddles were dirty, with buffalo crap and mud, nothing special. If you consider this, why on earth would this species be rare? Also interesting, Orthetrum triangulare was omnipresent (it is a very common species in this area), and also all around, but not at these few puddles. Clearly it can not compete with this species (in fact the abdomen of O. triangulare is 30mm, but of the present species 37mm, so it is much larger).

From the shape of the appendages, the coloration (face, wing base and tip, abdomen, thorax (but not the dorsum) I can only conclude this is Orthetrum melania. This species was long considered to be a subspecies of O. triangulare, although that is no longer the case and the co-exist in the south of China. Indeed, structurally the caudal appendages and sex apparatus look similar unless you look carefully. Originally this species was thought to be restricted to Japan, but it is now known to have a much larger range. O. melania has also been found in Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan. Therefore it is maybe not surprising it also occurs in Vietnam.

There are however a few aspects that indicate that this may be an (unknown) subspecies. The specimen is right at the top of the range for Japanese specimens, with abdomen 37mm. The median space in the hindwing is clear, but integral part of the basal patch in the Japanese specimens. The basal patch is also smaller, not covering the base of the anal loop. But most prominently, the dorsum of the thorax has no pruinosity. It is solid black with clearly demarcated antehumeral stripes that are not pruinose, but truly blue in color. These antehumerals are surprising, because they are absent in the true O. melania, which has a unicolored pale dorsum as immature, that gets covered in pruinosity like the rest of the thorax. Most Japanese specimens have all black appendages, but some have paler tips of varying extent. As can be seen in the photos of the Yen Bai specimens there is some variety there too, from all pale to pale in the apical halve. Nevertheless, the overlap in characteristics makes it unlikely this is a completely different species. I am curious to hear what specimens in the south of China look like. If they are the same as in Japan the present specimens are even more remarkable. I have not been able to find any similar species on the web.

Another surprise was Anotogaster klossi. I have seen A. gigantica in the same general area, but A. klossi only at Pia Oac. Interestingly, it passed over the same track and puddles where I found O. melania.

Let's get this out of the way. Anotogaster klossi, with characteristic reddish colour on abdomen, yellow mandible bases and long superior appendages in which no obvious tooth visible halfway. 

To start the argument: scan of Orthetrum triangulare (top) and O. melania (bottom). The size difference is obvious.
The first male O. melania I noticed. This specimen has completely pale appendages.
The same male in dorsal view. 

The same male in hand. The dark face clearly visible. But what is especially eye-catching is the dorsal pattern. Although the lateral grey is a powdery substance that is easily scratched, the antehumeral stripes (or maybe dorsal stripes is better) are not the result of powder. They contrast very strongly with the solid black remainder.

Note the lack of colour in the median space

Another male, with mostly black appendages with only pale apices.

Appendages in ventral view
In dorsal view
And in lateral view
The hamulus and lamina in lateral view

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