Meadowhawks will make you crazy...

White-faced Meadowhawk

Nine species of Meadowhawk have been recorded in New Jersey. Six of them are quite uncommon, pose few identification problems or both. But the other three more than make up for it.

These species are small red dragonflies with a row of black triangles down the side of the abdomen. If you are smart, you will probably leave it right there. But if you insist on trying to put a label on all of them, read through this and then, if you still have the urge, grab a cold beer, sit down, and wait for the feeling to go away.

Still with us? goes:
Most authorities consider this complex to consist of three species, Cherry-faced, Ruby, and White-faced. Representatively, Dunkle (2000) treats the common New Jersey bug as a race of Cherry-faced. Needham, Westfall and May (2001), however, recognize it as an additional species, Jane's Meadowhawk.

These four types can not be definitively distinguished in the field in New Jersey. Sure, fully adult "true" Cherry-faced has a red face and White-faced has a white face. And most of the time Ruby has a yellowish face. But the eastern form of Cherry-faced (AKA "Jane's"), which usually has a sort of dirty yellow face, can vary to mimic the others. If any of you think face color is reliable, talk about variation to Ann Johnson over at where, in theory, bugs like ours don't normally occur. Plus, all of them apparently interbreed from time to time and the face color of the babies is anybody's bet. Bob Barber had a scan of the genitalia of an interesting hybrid on his web site, whatever it is, it ain't in the book!

Further complicating the issue is the fact that in addition to the "dirty-faced" Meadowhawk, occasionally we find an individual of the "typical" red-faced Cherry-faced form. And...there is a lot of variation in the "dirty-faced" complex. Just to make it really whacky, the ones with the whitest faces seem to have secondary genitalia most resembling Cherry-faced in the author's observations.

What the heck is this complex anyway? 4 species? 3 species that hybridize regularly? One big species with lots of variation? Honestly, at this point we aren't real sure. Anybody out there want some good material for a thesis? Go for it! If not, grab that cold beer, relax and enjoy them as cute little red bugs.

For tracking purposes, we do maintain data on the "dirty-faced" meadowhawk, just as we maintain data on two subspecies of River Cruiser and Common Spreadwing. As a result, it is possible that in a few of our checklists, the numbers may be off from the true totals. We apologize for any confusion this may cause. If you catch such an instance, please notify the webmaster.