A large dragonfly found along the West Coast from southern British Columbia to Northern Baja is the grappletail (Octogomphus specularis). Like most members of the clubtail group of dragonflies, male grappletails have an enlarged, club-like widening at the end of the abdomen. The “club” in females is less pronounced.
Grappletails have clear wings with wide stigmas (small, rectangular-shaped, colored, thickened area on the front edge of the wing toward the tip). Their legs are sprawling. The grappletail face is yellow with small dark eyes that are widely separated. The thorax has large yellow patches while the abdomen is almost all black with some yellow showing near the tip and near the thorax. Although the abdomen is mostly black the grappletail appears quite colorful because of the bright yellow areas.
Adult grappletails prefer to be near rivers and streams with riffles and moderate current, yet will range far from the water to forage. The female only goes on the water to lay her eggs. Grappletail larvae inhabit the woody debris and organic accumulations at the bottom of pools below riffles. It takes approximately three years for grappletail development from egg to adult.
Dragonflies regulate their body temperature with sunlight and can often be seen basking on rocks, logs and vegetation in the early mornings. Grappletails are more sensitive to cool temperatures than many other dragonflies and will not fly at all on overcast or chilly days. I have definitely noticed that it is usually mid-morning or later before dragonflies begin to fly in numbers. This grappletail, photographed in the morning along Ash Creek near the Lower Campground (Lassen County CA), was a cooperative subject – probably because it was still cold.
A brief mention of the dragonfly life cycle can be found in an earlier post (Twelve Spotted Skimmer).