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Coastal Petaltail Dragonfly - Petalura litorea

FAMILY PETALURIDAE

This page contains pictures and information about Coastal Petaltail Dragonflies that we found in the Brisbane area, Queensland, Australia. 
 
  
Body length 100mm, male
 
The Coastal Petaltail Dragonflies are vary large in size, the largest dragonfly that we found. They are one of the very rare species and only found in Southeast Queensland.  
 
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Their eyes are well separated.  They have the black thorax with yellow spots. Their abdomen is yellow with black pattern. 
 
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The pterostigma (darkened cell at the leading edge of each wing near the tip) are thin and long. The males have the anal appendages enlarged like the petal, and this is why they are called.
 

Their Habitat

The Coastal Petaltail Dragonfly likes to hide among the thick vegetations and camouflage well, hardly be seen a few meters away. In the above pictures, the dragonfly was resting on Sword Grass (also known as Saw Sedge or Saw-leaf, Gahnia aspera, family Cyperaceae). The grass is about one to two meters tall, with skins-cutting edges. We had been cut many times before we saw the dragonflies.
 
 
 
The Coastal Petaltail Dragonflies only breed in swamp and boggy seepage. They seldom fly far away from their breeding ground. They rest most of the time, with their body hanging 45 degree from a branch among the thick vegetations. While searching for them in the thick vegetations, you may suddenly see a small aeroplane-like insect fly away from two meters in front of you. Then you know that you just miss another rare chance to look at them. They may not have the very good eye-sight as other dragonflies. If you state motionless ( and you are lucky enough), they may land and perch near you.  
 
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In Yugarapul Park, there were a number of small pools covered with dance water plants and surrounded by very tall grass. They are the breeding ground of the dragonfly. The male Coastal Petaltail Dragonflies perch on plants near those pool waiting for the female. The male dragonflies defend for their territory when another male fly nearby. We saw the male and female Petaltail Dragonflies fly in tandem over those pools and mating in wheel position. We also saw those huge dragonflies captured other smaller dragonflies in the mid-air. 
 
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In Yugarapul Park, we sometimes found the Petaltail Dragonfly resting very high up on the tree. It is believed that they rest on trees at the swamp edge during night time. During the day they rest on the swamp where they perch on top of low vegetation or hang 45 degree from a branch. The dragonflies do not fly as good as the smaller dragonflies. Usually they fly for a few meters then come down to rest. We never found them outside the site. 
 
 

Male advertisement  

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The about pictures show the Petaltail Dragonfly perched on plants waiting for the female. Notice that the male's petaltails were bright orange in colour under the sun. It was easy noticeable even far away (in the first picture). We believed the bright colour petaltails is the sexual advertisement to the female. 
 
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We noticed that usually the Petaltail Dragonfly rests with the body hanging 45 degree from a branch, however, when the males were perching near the pools, they rested at horizontal to 30 degrees position. We guessed they may perch at an angle best for showing their petaltails bright colour.
 
We also noticed that when the male dragonflies perching near the pools, they did not too care if we came very close. Some of the pictures we took were within one meter range. 
 
 

Mating  

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We are lucky enough to record the Petaltail Dragonflies mating. At about 2:00pm, we saw two huge dragonflies flying in tandem over a pool 2 to 5 meters high in the sky. A few minutes later we saw a mating pair in wheel position rested on grass about 1.5 meters above ground. We were not sure if they are the same pair. We found that they remained in wheel position for over half an hour. Then the female separated from the male. The male flied away first. After about ten seconds, the female flied away at another direction and disappear on a tree top. We did not see how the female lays her eggs. 
 
The female is about the same size as the male, with thicker abdomen and no petaltail. The base of her hind wings are round instead of angular, otherwise, look the same as the male.  
 

In the web  

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The above first picture shows a Petaltail male wrapped up in a spider web. By carefully inspect the contents, as shown in the second picture, we found the Petaltail was wrapped up together with another smaller dragonfly, the Pale Hunter. Usually dragonflies 'know' where the spider webs are and will avoid them most of the times. We imagined that the Petaltail got caught in the spider web was because it was chasing the Pale Hunter and forgot the danger. We recorded another dragonfly get caught in spider web with similar reason in the Australian Emerald page.
 
 

The Larvae  

The larvae construct burrows in the mud, which open to surface and they are believed active at night. They feed on other insects which come need the burrow entrance. They may also prey on dragonfly larvae and other creatures in water via the underwater entrance. Their life cycle is very long, some estimated being as long as 6 years. 
 

Dragon Hunting

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On the 2001-02 summer, I joined the Australian Dragonfly Society hunting team, leaded by Deniss Reeves and Ric Nattrass, to search for the Coastal Petaltail Dragonfly in Yugarapul Park. Yugarapul Park is a boggy seepage, a rather unique habitat in Brisbane suburbia. We were very lucky to have captured one male, so that we can let the Brisbane City Council know that the area is an breeding place for a rare and vulnerable species. May be we can get the park declared as Australia's first dragonfly reserve/preserve. The above pictures show the captured dragonfly held in Deniss's hand.
 

Reference:
1. A Field Guide to Dragonflies of South East Queensland - Ric Nattrass, 2006, p59.
2. The Complete Field Guide to Dragonflies of Australia - CSIRO, GŁnther Theischinger and John Hawking, 2006, p108.
3. Petalura gigantea - endangered species listing amendment -  NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 2006.
4. Southeast Queenslannd's Giant Dragonfly - Petalura litorea - Deniss Reeves, Austrolestes-Newsletter of Australian Dragonfly Society, spring 2001. 

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Last updated: May 25, 2007.