Odonata of the Western Cape

Underhill LG, Loftie-Eaton M and Navarro R. 2018. Dragonflies and damselflies of the Western Cape – OdonataMAP report, August 2018. Biodiversity Observations 9.7:1-21

Biodiversity Observations is an open access electronic journal published by the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town. This HTML version of this manuscript is hosted by the Biodiversity and Development Institute. Further details for this manuscript can be found at the journal page, and the manuscript page, along with the original PDF.

Les G Underhill

Animal Demography Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa; Biodiversity and Development Institute, 25 Old Farm Road, Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa

Megan Loftie-Eaton

Animal Demography Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa; Biodiversity and Development Institute, 25 Old Farm Road, Rondebosch, 7700 South Africa

Rene Navarro

Animal Demography Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa; FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa

What is this document about, and for whom was it written?

This paper is about the Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) of the Western Cape. It contains a summary of the information in the combined database of the OdonataMAP project and the ODA initiative. It provides a species list for the province. It gives instructions that enable the reader to obtain up-to-date distribution maps for each species, and to obtain up-to-date lists of species for quarter degree grid cells in the Western Cape.

The main users will be the citizen scientists who collect photographic data of dragonflies and damselflies and submit it to OdonataMAP. We believe the information contained here will be useful for planning purposes, and to guide citizen scientists to the areas within the Western Cape where the data needs are greatest.

The paper also aims to provide a model for the presentation of biodiversity data in such a way that can be used by managers and policy makers, by researchers, and by conservation advocacy NGOs. For these groups of people it aims (1) to provide a snapshot, at a point in time, of the quality and volume of data available for the Western Cape, and (2) to provide links to the relevant databases, so that they have access to useful summaries of the ongoing data collection effort. The data can clearly be repackaged in many different formats (for example, species lists for individual sites, such as nature reserves). The aim here is to provide a broad brush overview at the provincial level.

What are the headlines?

  • In the two-year period 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2018, citizen scientists added seven species to the list of dragonflies and damselflies in the Western Cape, bringing the total to 76 species (Figure 1).
  • The database available for this report contained 11,267 records of dragonflies and damselflies. This includes the specimen record dating back to the start of the 20th century.
  • Of these records 2,433 records (22%) were added between July 2016 and June 2017, and 4,202 (37%) between July 2017 and June 2018.
  • Thus 59% of the entire Western Cape database of records of dragonflies and damselflies was contributed by citizen scientists in two years.

Fig 1. This was the third record of the Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger in the Western Cape. Somerset West, 15 May 2017, Corrie du Toit. (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-33845)

Where is the study area?

The Western Cape is a province of South Africa, situated on the southwestern section of the country (Figure 2). Of South Africa’s nine provinces, it is the fourth largest with an area of 129,449 km2. The Western Cape is the third most populated province, with an estimated 6.5 million inhabitants in 2017 (Statistics South Africa 2017).

Fig 2. Map of the Western Cape, showing some of the keys centres of human population, and the main road network.

The Western Cape Province is roughly L-shaped, extending northward and eastward from the Cape of Good Hope, in the southwestern corner of South Africa. It stretches 400 km northward along the Atlantic Ocean coast, about halfway to Namibia, and 500 km eastward along the south coast, ending at Natures Valley on the Indian Ocean. It is bordered on the north by the Northern Cape and on the east by the Eastern Cape.

The province has large variation in rainfall, with the eastern end, bordered by the warm Indian Ocean, being almost forest, and the northern end, bordered by the cold Atlantic Ocean, being semi-desert. This wet-dry gradient has a strong influence on the distribution of Odonata within the province. The other major factor in Odonata distribution is a series of almost linear ranges of mountains, roughly parallel to the coast, but at varying distances from it.

There are 262 quarter degree grid cells (Figure 2) which are entirely or partly within the Western Cape. 186 are entirely within the Western Cape. 76 are partly within the Western Cape; 52 are shared with the Northern Cape, 22 are shared with the Eastern Cape, and there are two which are shared between the three provinces (3124CA Winterhoekberge and 3124CC Winterhoek). This report is based on all 262 grid cells which are “in” the Western Cape.

What data are available for the dragonflies and damselflies in the Western Cape?

On 14 August 2018, there were 11,267 records of Odonata in the combined database of OdonataMAP and the Odonata Database of Africa (ODA), recorded since 1980 for Western Cape (Table 1). These were the records strictly within the boundaries of the Western Cape. Of these, 8,938 (80%) had been submitted by citizen scientists as photographic records and the balance were from ODA.

The Odonata Database of Africa (ODA) is an open access database developed by a JRS-funded project (Clausnitzer et al. 2012, Dijkstra 2016). It contains records of the distribution of dragonflies and damselflies across Africa and includes most of the museum specimen records for the region. It is available online as the African Dragonflies and Damselflies Online (ADDO) (http://addo.adu.org.za/). ADDO is a collaboration between the Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology (University of Stellenbosch) and the ADU (University of Cape Town). Although the two databases are separate, search queries made to the OdonataMAP database can include a search of the Odonata Database of Africa. This was done for this report. This collaboration represents a major consolidation of data resources.

The records in the database are georeferenced, often to an accuracy of metres. But for the purposes of this report each record has been allocated to its “quarter degree grid cell”, a well-known mapping standard in South Africa, which has been used for many biodiversity atlases. The quarter degree grid cells are defined on a geographical grid, and are 15 minutes of latitude north to south, about 27 km, and 15 minutes of longitude east to west, about 25 km at the latitude of the Western Cape (Figure 2). Each quarter degree grid cell has a six-character code, and a name, usually that of a town (or farm) in the grid cell. Exact localities are not disclosed in this report, but are available to anyone with a bona fide need for them.

The Western Cape section of the database has seen spectacular growth over the past two years: 2,433 records were added between July 2016 and June 2017, and 4,202 between July 2017 and June 2018. The total for the six-year period from 2010 to June 2016 was 2,275 records (Loftie-Eaton et al. 2018). In percentages, 22% of the database was added in the 2016/17 year, and 37% in the 2017/18 year. Thus 59% of the 11,267 records in the Western Cape database was contributed by citizen scientists in two years.

Table 1: The 76 species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) in the Western Cape based on the combined databases of OdonataMAP and ODA (see text). The species are sorted first by family, then genus and species names. The Red List (RL) classification of the species is that of Samways and Samaika (2016) and the eight species in threat categories are in boldface. The quantitative information is the number of quarter degree grid cells, in the parts strictly within the Western Cape each species has been recorded in since 1980 (QDGC), and the number of records of the species (N). The final column gives the last date on which the species was recorded, prior to 14 August 2018, when this table was created from the database.

Family Species code Scientific name Common name RL QDGC N Last recorded
Aeshnidae 664070 Anaciaeschna triangulifera Evening Hawker LC 6 6 23/01/2017
Aeshnidae 664120 Anax ephippiger Vagrant Emperor LC 2 3 15/05/2017
Aeshnidae 664140 Anax imperator Blue Emperor LC 66 350 30/07/2018
Aeshnidae 664170 Anax speratus (Eastern) Orange Emperor LC 23 83 05/04/2018
Aeshnidae 664180 Anax tristis Black Emperor LC 1 2 01/01/2005
Aeshnidae 664470 Pinheyschna subpupillata Stream Hawker LC 27 126 18/03/2018
Aeshnidae 664510 Zosteraeschna minuscula Friendly Hawker LC 30 75 14/04/2018
Chlorocyphidae 661180 Platyypha caligata Dancing Jewel LC 2 2 12/03/2018
Chlorocyphidae 661210 Platycypha fitzsimonsi Boulder Jewel LC 13 100 27/02/2018
Coenagrionidae 662330 Africallagma glaucum Swamp Bluet LC 45 202 27/07/2018
Coenagrionidae 662370 Africallagma sapphirinum Sapphire Bluet LC 2 3 20/12/2013
Coenagrionidae 662470 Agriocnemis falcifera White-masked Wisp LC 6 12 16/12/2017
Coenagrionidae 662630 Azuragrion nigridorsum Sailing Bluet LC 21 72 04/05/2018
Coenagrionidae 662720 Ceriagrion glabrum Common Citril LC 41 301 15/05/2018
Coenagrionidae 663100 Ischnura senegalensis Tropical Bluetail LC 87 859 08/08/2018
Coenagrionidae 663160 Proischnura polychromatica Mauve Bluet EN 3 45 21/10/2017
Coenagrionidae 663260 Pseudagrion citricola Yellow-faced Sprite LC 11 21 06/02/2018
Coenagrionidae 663300 Pseudagrion draconis Mountain Sprite LC 38 254 01/04/2018
Coenagrionidae 663350 Pseudagrion furcigerum Palmiet Sprite LC 36 329 30/04/2018
Coenagrionidae 663410 Pseudagrion hageni Painted Sprite LC 5 48 26/03/2018
Coenagrionidae 663460 Pseudagrion kersteni Powder-faced Sprite LC 43 245 05/06/2018
Coenagrionidae 663820 Pseudagrion massaicum Masai Sprite LC 28 160 29/05/2018
Coenagrionidae 663560 Pseudagrion salisburyense Slate Sprite LC 3 3 03/12/2009
Coenagrionidae 663880 Pseudagrion sublacteum Cherry-eye Sprite LC 1 1 04/05/2018
Gomphidae 664550 Ceratogomphus pictus Common Thorntail LC 31 121 08/04/2018
Gomphidae 664560 Ceratogomphus triceraticus Cape Thorntail NT 20 58 14/02/2018
Gomphidae 665740 Paragomphus cognatus Rock Hooktail LC 38 202 12/03/2018
Gomphidae 665790 Paragomphus genei Common Hooktail LC 11 18 21/04/2018
Lestidae 660360 Lestes plagiatus Highland Spreadwing LC 7 35 04/05/2018
Lestidae 660330 Lestes tridens Spotted Spreadwing LC 3 4 08/04/2018
Lestidae 660300 Lestes virgatus Smoky Spreadwing LC 5 21 06/06/2018
Libellulidae 667030 Brachythemis leucosticta Southern Banded Groundling LC 1 1 30/04/2017
Libellulidae 667130 Crocothemis erythraea Broad Scarlet LC 83 712 06/07/2018
Libellulidae 667140 Crocothemis sanguinolenta Little Scarlet LC 46 259 05/06/2018
Libellulidae 667200 Diplacodes lefebvrii Black Percher LC 16 60 27/04/2018
Libellulidae 667690 Nesciothemis farinosa Eastern Blacktail LC 21 154 01/04/2018
Libellulidae 667780 Orthetrum abbotti Little Skimmer LC 1 1 01/01/2004
Libellulidae 667860 Orthetrum caffrum Two-striped Skimmer LC 49 244 15/05/2018
Libellulidae 667890 Orthetrum capicola Cape Skimmer LC 61 1002 03/08/2018
Libellulidae 667900 Orthetrum chrysostigma Epaulet Skimmer LC 22 31 22/06/2018
Libellulidae 667950 Orthetrum julia Julia Skimmer LC 40 125 23/03/2018
Libellulidae 668000 Orthetrum machadoi Highland Skimmer LC 1 1 01/01/1991
Libellulidae 668120 Orthetrum trinacria Long Skimmer LC 37 150 22/04/2018
Libellulidae 668180 Palpopleura deceptor Deceptive Widow LC 1 1 23/03/2017
Libellulidae 668190 Palpopleura jucunda Yellow-veined Widow LC 13 25 12/03/2018
Libellulidae 668230 Pantala flavescens Wandering Glider LC 15 32 22/06/2018
Libellulidae 668370 Rhyothemis semihyalina Phantom Flutterer LC 5 11 14/03/2018
Libellulidae 668420 Sympetrum fonscolombii Red-veined Darter or Nomad LC 77 531 09/08/2018
Libellulidae 668540 Tetrathemis polleni Black-splashed Elf LC 2 2 01/04/2018
Libellulidae 668620 Tramea basilaris Keyhole Glider LC 3 3 21/03/2014
Libellulidae 668630 Tramea limbata Ferruginous Glider LC 27 106 22/06/2018
Libellulidae 668660 Trithemis annulata Violet Dropwing LC 6 31 06/07/2018
Libellulidae 668670 Trithemis arteriosa Red-veined Dropwing LC 81 963 31/05/2018
Libellulidae 668800 Trithemis donaldsoni Denim Dropwing LC 2 3 05/01/2017
Libellulidae 668870 Trithemis dorsalis Highland Dropwing LC 31 104 18/05/2018
Libellulidae 668890 Trithemis furva Navy Dropwing LC 58 370 05/06/2018
Libellulidae 669120 Trithemis kirbyi Orange-winged Dropwing LC 44 103 30/06/2018
Libellulidae 668900 Trithemis pluvialis Russet Dropwing LC 10 79 09/04/2018
Libellulidae 669080 Trithemis stictica Jaunty Dropwing LC 40 286 05/05/2018
Libellulidae 669180 Urothemis assignata Red Basker LC 1 8 03/05/2018
Libellulidae 669390 Zygonyx natalensis Blue Cascader LC 20 63 27/02/2018
Libellulidae 669420 Zygonyx torridus Ringed Cascader LC 1 1 18/01/2018
Libelluloidea incertae 666270 Syncordulia gracilis Yellow Presba VU 7 82 19/11/2017
Libelluloidea incertae 666280 Syncordulia legator Gilded Presba VU 7 28 21/10/2017
Libelluloidea incertae 666290 Syncordulia serendipator Rustic Presba VU 3 13 28/03/2016
Libelluloidea incertae 666300 Syncordulia venator Mahogany Presba VU 10 34 22/02/2018
Macromiidae 666620 Phyllomacromia picta Darting Cruiser LC 6 10 18/11/2012
Platycnemididae 661480 Allocnemis leucosticta Goldtail LC 23 162 05/04/2018
Platycnemididae 661790 Elattoneura frenulata Sooty Threadtail LC 28 240 18/03/2018
Platycnemididae 661810 Elattoneura glauca Common Threadtail LC 31 85 27/02/2018
Platycnemididae 662140 Spesbona angusta Ceres Streamjack EN 4 71 30/11/2017
Synlestidae 660070 Chlorolestes conspicuus Conspicuous Malachite LC 19 135 22/04/2018
Synlestidae 660120 Chlorolestes fasciatus Mountain Malachite LC 5 5 30/03/2018
Synlestidae 660130 Chlorolestes tessellatus Forest Malachite LC 12 118 14/05/2018
Synlestidae 660080 Chlorolestes umbratus White Malachite LC 23 305 03/08/2018
Synlestidae 660150 Ecchlorolestes nylephtha Queen Malachite NT 12 67 06/06/2018
Synlestidae 660160 Ecchlorolestes peringueyi Rock Malachite NT 10 99 21/03/2018

Table 2: The number of records of Odonata for each of 157 quarter degree grid cells in the Western Cape, South Africa. The six-character codes for the grid cells are given and the official names of the 1:50,000 map sheets for the grid cell. The final column gives the total number of records available for the grid cell for which identifications have been made at species, genus or family level. The third column gives the number of species in each grid cell, and the fourth column the number of records that were identified to species level. The fifth column provides a count of the overall number of taxa, including species, genus and family.

QDGC QDGC Name Species Records Taxa Total
3118AD Kliphoek 1 1 2 2
3118BB Douse The Glim 2 2 2 2
3118BC Wolwenes 1 1 1 1
3118BD Grootdrif 1 2 1 2
3118CA Papendorp 1 1 1 1
3118CB Lutzville 8 9 8 9
3118CC Doringbaai 1 1 1 1
3118DA Van Rhynsdorp 7 14 7 14
3118DB Urionskraal 8 27 9 28
3118DC Klawer 7 11 7 11
3118DD Bulshoek 11 15 13 18
3119AC Nieuwoudtville 13 45 17 53
3119CA Lokenburg 1 2 2 3
3119CC Doringbos 4 6 4 6
3124CC Winterhoek 4 4 4 4
3217DD Vredenburg 1 1 1 1
3218AB Lambert’s Bay 2 2 2 2
3218AD Elandsbaai 6 6 6 6
3218BA Graafwater 1 1 1 1
3218BB Clanwilliam 21 39 22 41
3218BC Redelinghuys 1 1 1 1
3218BD Oliewenboskraal 12 18 15 24
3218CB Aurora 2 2 2 2
3218CC Velddrif 3 3 3 3
3218CD Bergrivier 2 4 2 4
3218DA Goergap 4 4 4 4
3218DB Eendekuil 1 1 1 1
3218DC Moravia 1 1 1 1
3218DD Piketberg 8 19 9 20
3219AA Pakhuis 26 154 31 166
3219AB Uitspankraal 6 9 6 9
3219AC Wuppertal 28 103 31 110
3219AD Grootberg 25 39 25 39
3219BC Elandsvlei 7 7 7 7
3219BD Middeldrif 1 1 1 1
3219CA Citrusdal 23 48 24 51
3219CB Grootrivier 23 76 24 77
3219CC Keerom 21 38 21 38
3219CD De Meul 5 6 7 8
3219DC Groenfontein 5 7 5 7
3219DD Kareekolk 2 3 2 3
3220DB Komsberg 1 1 1 1
3220DC Kruispad 4 6 4 6
3221DD Fraserburg Road 1 1 1 1
3222AB Rosedene 1 1 1 1
3222AC Paalhuis 3 3 3 3
3222AD Klipbank 4 4 4 4
3222BA Kuilspoort 1 1 1 1
3222BB Renosterkop 3 4 4 5
3222BC Beaufort West 8 18 8 18
3223AA Nelspoort 1 1 1 1
3223AD Oorlogspoort 1 1 2 3
3223BA Toorfontein 15 26 20 32
3224AA Toorberg 0 0 1 1
3318AA Saldanha Bay 5 12 6 13
3318AC Yzerfontein 2 2 2 2
3318AD Darling 2 4 2 4
3318BA Mooreesburg 6 11 7 12
3318BB Porterville 6 7 6 7
3318BC Malmesbury 7 10 7 10
3318BD Riebeek-Kasteel 20 42 21 43
3318CB Melkbosstrand 7 15 7 15
3318CD Cape Town 27 377 30 404
3318DA Philadelphia 5 10 5 10
3318DB Paarl 26 77 29 80
3318DC Bellville 25 182 30 193
3318DD Stellenbosch 42 357 48 382
3319AA Groot-Winterhoek 22 70 23 71
3319AB Gydopas 4 4 5 5
3319AC Tulbagh 27 43 28 44
3319AD Ceres 39 155 40 156
3319BA Baviaanshoek 2 4 2 4
3319BB Inverdoorn 8 10 8 10
3319BC De Doorns 11 14 11 14
3319CA Bain’s Kloof 43 573 49 591
3319CB Worcester 35 109 37 111
3319CC Franschhoek 38 389 43 396
3319CD Villiersdorp 33 134 34 135
3319DA Nuy 9 10 9 10
3319DB Koo 10 17 10 17
3319DC Langvlei 5 7 5 7
3319DD Robertson 19 43 19 43
3320AC Touwsrivier 1 1 1 1
3320AD Bloutoring 5 6 5 6
3320BA Matjiesfontein 2 2 2 2
3320BC Fisantekraal 1 2 1 2
3320CB Allemorgens 4 6 4 6
3320CC Montagu 10 13 10 13
3320CD Scheepersrus 10 28 10 28
3320DA Kareevlakte 3 3 3 3
3320DB Plathuis 2 2 2 2
3320DC Barrydale 17 25 19 27
3320DD Warmwaterberg 7 10 8 11
3321AC Vleiland 4 4 5 5
3321AD Ladismith 33 85 33 85
3321BC Matjiesvlei 14 22 17 26
3321BD Kruisrivier 1 1 1 1
3321CA Algerynskraal 4 4 4 4
3321CB Van Wyksdorp 1 1 1 1
3321CC Muiskraal 1 1 1 1
3321DA Calitzdorp 7 7 9 13
3321DB Vleirivier 1 1 1 1
3321DC Langberg 5 6 5 6
3321DD Attakwaskloof 1 1 1 1
3322AA Prince Albert 1 1 1 1
3322AC Kangogrotte 15 54 19 62
3322AD Rosselerf 7 11 9 15
3322BA Seekoegat 1 1 1 1
3322BC De Rust 3 4 3 4
3322CA Oudtshoorn 8 11 8 11
3322CB Dysselsdorp 14 41 15 44
3322CC Jonkersberg 22 60 26 65
3322CD George 27 144 31 170
3322DA Stompdrift 18 49 21 58
3322DB Buffelsdrif 1 1 1 1
3322DC The Wilderness 41 594 48 633
3322DD Karatara 39 354 42 377
3323AC Barandas 10 15 10 15
3323AD Willowmore 5 7 5 7
3323BC Willowmore (East) 4 4 4 4
3323CA Uniondale 4 4 4 4
3323CC Kruisvallei 40 383 47 422
3323CD The Crags 32 111 36 115
3323DA Voorkloof 1 1 1 1
3323DC Nature’s Valley 46 594 52 612
3418AB Cape Peninsula (central) 21 239 26 269
3418AD Cape Peninsula (Cape Point) 16 42 16 42
3418BA Mitchells Plain 16 38 16 38
3418BB Somerset West 36 2166 49 2230
3418BD Hangklip 42 1212 51 1268
3419AA Grabouw 36 116 38 118
3419AB Caledon 16 39 17 40
3419AC Hermanus 21 52 22 53
3419AD Stanford 22 117 25 122
3419BA Greyton 33 179 39 195
3419BB Riviersonderend 10 21 11 23
3419BC Jongensklip 2 2 2 2
3419BD Napier 6 6 6 6
3419CB Gansbaai 15 82 18 89
3419DA Baardskeerdersbos 7 9 8 10
3419DD Elim 2 2 2 2
3420AA Stormsvlei 1 1 1 1
3420AB Swellendam 40 177 44 184
3420AD Wydgelee 3 6 3 6
3420BB Heidelberg 15 23 15 23
3420BC Malgas 6 11 6 11
3420CA Bredasdorp 11 14 11 14
3421AB Riversdale 1 1 1 1
3421AC Vermaaklikheid 9 10 9 10
3421AD Stilbaai 16 51 16 51
3421BA Albertinia 1 1 1 1
3421BB Herbertsdale 2 2 2 2
3422AA Mosselbaai 27 219 32 269
3422AB Pacaltsdorp 6 12 6 12
3422BB Sedgefield 18 122 22 130
3423AA Knysna 22 86 23 88
3423AB Plettenberg Bay 21 59 22 60

Fig 3. Numbers of species of dragonflies and damselflies recorded per quarter degree grid cell in the Western Cape. Based on OdonataMAP database, January 1980 to August 2018.

Of the 262 quarter degree grid cells “in” the Western Cape, there is at least one species of dragonfly or damselfly for 157 (60%) of them (Table 1, Figure 3). The total number of records submitted for these grid cells was 11,885 (Table 2), reflecting the fact that there were 618 records in the sections of the 74 grid cells which were part of the Northern Cape or Eastern Cape.

From this database, a total of 76 Odonata species were recorded in the Western Cape (Table 1). The Cape Skimmer Orthetrum capicola had the most, 1002, records; the most recent observation was on 3 August 2018, 11 days prior to the data extraction for this report (Table 1). The second most abundant species was Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa with 963 records, followed by Tropical Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis (859), Broad Scarlet Crocothemis erythraea (712) and Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii (531). There were 26 species with between 100 and 500 records, and 23 with between 20 and 99 records. The five species with between 10 and 18 records, and the 18 species with fewer than 10 records were all given careful consideration, with checks to confirm identifications. Eight of the 76 species recorded in the Western Cape were in IUCN Threat Categories (Table 1).

Two quarter degree grid cells had more than a thousand records: 3418BB Somerset West had 2,230 and 3418BD Hangklip had 1,268 (Table 2), both on the eastern side of False Bay. There were 25 grid cells with 100 or more records, and 57 with between 10 and 99 records.

How many new species been added to the Western Cape list recently?

Amazingly, seven species of Odonata were added to the Western Cape list in the most recent two years, 2016/17 and 2017/18.

There are three records of the Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger in the Western Cape. They come from two quarter degree grid cells: two records, in April and May 2017, from distinct sites within 3219AA Pakhuis in the northern Cederberg range; one record, in May 2017, in quarter degree grid cell 3418BB Somerset West (Figure 1). The nearest record to these is in the Great Karoo in the Northern Cape, from quarter degree grid cell 3022CA Garskolk near Carnarvon, made in December 2016. There are five records in the Eastern Cape in three quarter degree grid cells: from west to east these are from 3324DD Hankey in March 2017, three from 3325DC Port Elizabeth in May 2017, November 2017 and February 2018, and from 3237CB Stutterheim, an older record from March 2006.

Fig 4. The third record of Spotted Spreadwing Lestes tridens in the Western Cape. Plettenberg Bay, 6 January 2018, Andre Marais. (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-42514)

The Spotted Spreadwing Lestes tridens also has four Western Cape records, all at the eastern end of the Western Cape, with a scattering of records in the adjacent part of the Eastern Cape. The Western Cape records, arranged from west to east are in three quarter degree grid cells 3322CD George in April 2018, 3322DC The Wilderness in December 2016 (two records), and 3423AB Plettenberg Bay in January 2018 (Figure 4). Over the border in the Eastern Cape, there are six records from quarter degree grid cell 3424BA Kruisfontein (with Oyster Bay as a more well-known locality within the grid cell) dated between January and April 2017, one record from the adjacent quarter degree grid cell 3424BB Humansdorp in September 2014, six records from quarter degree grid cell 3325CC Loerie dated between December 2017 and April 2018. There are four more records between Port Elizabeth and East London, then a gap to the KwaZulu-Natal border, and many records in the start of the core of the distribution, along the KwaZulu-Natal coast.

There are eight records of Red Basker Urothemis assignata in the Western Cape, all made in the quarter degree grid cell 3322DD Karatara, immediately north of Sedgefield (Figure 5). The eight records were made by three observers at two localities between February and May 2018. There is a single record in the Eastern Cape (quarter degree grid cell 3325DC Port Elizabeth) made in May 2017. There are multiple records in coastal KwaZulu-Natal.

Fig 5. The seventh record of Red Basker Urothemis assignata in the Western Cape. Karatara, inland from Sedgefield, 1 May 2018, Andre Marais. The first record had been made only three months earlier (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-50295)

The Denim Dropwing Trithemis donaldsoni has three Western Cape records from two quarter degree grid cells, which are both in the interior: 3119CC Doringbos, north of the Cederberg range, in November 2016, and 3321BC Matijesvlei, north of Calitzdorp (two records in January in 2017). There are no records for the Eastern Cape and a single record for the Northern Cape in 2823DA Danielskuil, northwest of Kimberley, in January 2017. This record is itself vastly out of the known range, in the savanna biome in the northeast of South Africa.

The first Western Cape record of the Cherry-eye Sprite Pseudagrion sublacteum was made in January 2018 in quarter degree grid cell 3323DC Nature’s Valley, close to the border with the Eastern Cape. There are seven records of Cherry-eye Sprite from five quarter degree grid cells in the western half of the Eastern Cape in the database, all dated 2014 or later; the suggestion is that the distribution of this species is moving westwards from KwaZulu-Natal through the Eastern Cape and has recently reached the Western Cape.

The single record of Southern Banded Groundling Brachythemis leucosticta for the Western Cape was made in April 2017, in quarter degree grid cell 3320CC Montagu (Figure 6). The nearest records are in the western Eastern Cape, with four records in quarter degree grid cell 3325CD Uitenhage, west of Port Elizabeth. There is a thin scattering of records along the Eastern Cape coast, all dating from 2012 or later, suggesting that the distribution of Southern Banded Groundling is expanding westwards along the coast from KwaZulu-Natal.

Fig 6. The first record of Southern Banded Groundling Brachythemis leucosticta in the Western Cape. Montagu, 30 April 2017, Shaun Hayes, Christine Hayes and Kathy de Wet. (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-34004)

The single record of Deceptive Widow Palpopleura deceptor for the Western Cape was made in March 2017, in quarter degree grid cell 3319BB Inverdoorn, south of the Cederberg range, north of Ceres. There is a single record for the Eastern Cape, from quarter degree grid cell 3129CB Tombo (near Port St Johns) and there are eight records, from four quarter degree grid cells for KwaZulu-Natal.

There are two alternative explanations of the occurrence of these species in the Western Cape. They have been present for decades, but have been overlooked until the proliferation of citizen science observers and observations associated with OdonataMAP. Alternatively, these are genuine range expansions. Many bird species have, during various decades of the past 50 years, extended their ranges westwards into the Western Cape. Well known examples are Hadeda Ibis Bostrychia hagadash and Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis (Ainsley et al. 2016, Second Southern African Bird Atlas Project unpubl. data). Perrisnotti et al. (2011) reported on range expansions in South Africa between 1980s and the 2002 of some conspicuous insects: fruit chafers (Coleoptera, Scarabaeidae, Cetoniinae), longhorn beetles (Coleoptera, Cerambycidae) and butterflies (Lepidoptera, Rhopalocera). All except one of the eight species they considered showed range expansions of the order of 500-800 km from KwaZulu-Natal in the direction of the Western Cape along the coastline. Although the evidence is anecdotal, it seems that the Golden Orb-web Spider (or Black-legged Nephila) Nephila fenestra expanded its range westwards reaching the Cape Peninsula in the first 10 years of the 21st century, and have become abundant.

How do I obtain up-to-date maps of species?

Up-to-date distribution maps (i.e. for use in the future) for all species can be obtained from the following link:

http://vmus.adu.org.za/vm_map_afr.php?spp=668670&database=odonata&grid=1&key=1&map=25&cell_m=15&outline=1 .

This gives the Western Cape distribution map for the species with species code number 668670, the Red-veined Dropwing (Figure 7). The species codes are provided in the second column of Table 1. (The method to create a species map for South Africa from the Virtual Museum database is described in this slideshow: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-create-aspeciesmap .)

Fig 7. The distribution of the Red-veined Dropwing Trithemis arteriosa in the Western Cape. See text.

How do I obtain lists of species for quarter degree grid cells?

Up-to-date lists of the species recorded in a quarter degree grid cell can be obtained from the following link: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-create-a-species-list-from-the-virtual-museum-data The list of grid cell codes is provided in Table 1. In the link below, replace the “locus” with the code for the QDGC required (consult also Figure 2). The link below provides the species list for the quarter degree grid cell 3219AA Pakhuis, in the northern Cederberg:


This link provides a map of the quarter degree grid cell, a list of the species recorded in it, the number of records for each species and the date of the most recent record. In addition, you can look at all the details for all the individual records of a species. It is also possible to get the list of all the records for the quarter degree grid cell. These are presented in batches of 30 records. This feature is particularly useful if there is a relative handful of records for a grid cell, and you want to see the details for all of them at once.

How up-to-date is the database?

In Table 1, the most recent date on which each of the 77 species has been recorded in the Western Cape is provided in the last column. The median of these dates was 5 April 2018; in other words, half of the species recorded in the Western Cape have been recorded there since 5 April, in the most recent four months prior to the download of the database for this. Of the 77 species, 59 species had last been recorded in the Western Cape during 2018 and a further 10 during 2017 (Table 1). This is a remarkable achievement. Seven of the eight species in IUCN threat categories had most recently been recorded in 2017 or 2018, and one Rustic Presba Syncordulia serendipator was last recorded in March 2016 (Table 1, Figure 8).

Fig 8.  The most recent record of the Vulnerable Rustic Presba Syncordulia serendipator was made near Stellenbosch on 28 March 2016 by Corrie du Toit. (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-21577)

In the same way as the up-to-dateness of the provincial database can be assessed using the median of the most recent date for each species, this same approach can be applied to individual quarter degree grid cells. This median date is calculated and presented whenever the species list for a grid cell is downloaded (see section above). Special fieldwork attention needs to be paid to quarter degree grid cells for which the median date is more than three years from the present. For example, quarter degree grid cell 3223BA Toorfontein, in the Great Karoo near Murraysburg, contains 15 species, but their median date is 24 January 2013, more than five years ago. The species list for this grid cell can be downloaded using http://vmus.adu.org.za/vm_locus_map.php?vm=OdonataMAP&locus=3223BA

Are there species which have not been recorded in recent years?

For four species, the most recent record was prior to 2010. All these records come from the Odonata Database for Africa, and are supported by specimens, mostly curated in the Stellenbosch University Entomology Collection.

The Highland Skimmer Orthetrum machadoi has been recorded only once in the Western Cape, in 1991, in quarter degree grid cell 3219CB Grootrivier, in the southern Cederberg range. Until 2017, the nearest records to this one were in KwaZulu-Natal. However, in February 2017, Highland Skimmer was recorded in the western Eastern Cape, in QDGC 3325CB Uitenhage North (http://vmus.adu.org.za/?vm=OdonataMAP-30854), and seven further records have been made from this locality.

There is a single record of Little Skimmer Orthetrum abbotti for the Western Cape, made in 2004 in quarter degree grid cell 3421AC Vermaaklikheid, along the south coast. There are OdonataMAP records for this species in five grid cells of the Eastern Cape, two of which are near Port Elizabeth (3325CC Loerie, four records in May 2018, and 3325CB Uitenhage North, 16 records between November 2017 and April 2018).

Both Western Cape records of the Black Emperor Anax tristis were made in 2005 in quarter degree grid cell 3418BD Hangklip, which includes the village of Bettys Bay. The nearest record was made in quarter degree grid cell 2930CB Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal in 1991, with recent records slightly to the northeast (2830DA Collessie in November 2012 and 2831DA Nkwalini in January 2018).

There are three records of the Slate Sprite Pseudagrion salisburyense in the eastern half of the Western Cape: in quarter degree grid cells 3321AD Ladismith in 2005, in 3322CA Oudtshoorn in December 2009 and in 3323DC Nature’s Valley in April 2008. There is a scattering of records throughout the Eastern Cape.

The continued occurrence of these four species in the Western Cape needs confirmation. The first place to search is at the location of the original discovery.

What are the priority areas for data collection in the Western Cape?

There were 156 quarter degree grid cells in, or partially in, the Western Cape with at least one species of dragonfly or damselfly identified to species level (Table 2, Figure 3). The largest number of species record in a quarter degree grid cell was 46 (in 3323DC Nature’s Valley, at the eastern limit of the province (Figure 2). 13 quarter degree grid cells had 36 or more species, and are shaded brown in Figure 3, and a further 12 had between 24 and 35 species, and were shaded dark green-brown in Figure 3.

These 25 quarter degree grid cells are characterised by areas of rugged and mountainous terrain. The grid cells of the mountains of the Boland, immediately east of Cape Town, show consistently large species richness, as do the mountains along the Garden Route in the eastern edge of the Western Cape. The intervening mountain ranges have patchy coverage. In simplistic terms, there are ranges of mountains to the south and the north of the Little Karoo. The main range to the south is the Langeberg; the quarter degree cell 3420AB Swellendam which lies along this axis has 40 species. The range to the north is known as the Groot Swartberge; within this range, quarter degree grid cell 3321AD Ladismith has 33 species. This gap, between the eastern and western ends of the Western Cape, probably represents the biggest challenge of fieldwork in the province, in the summer of 2018/19.

The second biggest challenge lies north of the mountains of the Boland, towards the Cederberg, and northwards along the Escarpment immediately inland of Vanrhynsdorp.

The third challenge is the Great Karoo, where the majority of the quarter degree grid cells without any coverage lie. The fact that quarter degree grid cell 3223BA Toorfontein, south of Murraysberg, has a list of 15 species (Table 2) is indicative of what is achievable in the Great Karoo.

The fourth coverage challenge lies in the Swartland and Overberg regions north and east of Cape Town, respectively. Large parts of these regions are almost totally transformed to agriculture, with complete loss of natural habitats to fields of wheat and canola, to vineyards and to orchards. A sensible strategy in these areas would be to increase the number of records per quarter degree grid cell to at least 50, and preferably 100, and to examine the species accumulation curves. Three candidate quarter degree grid cells in the Swartland, chosen only because they are conveniently close to Cape Town, are 3318DA Philadelphia (five species, 10 records), 3318BC Malmesbury (seven species, 10 records) and 3318BA Moorreesburg (six species, 12 records) (Table 2).

Any quarter degree grid cell in the Western Cape with fewer than 100 records should be regarded as a priority. That excludes only 25 grid cells (Table 2). Even for the grid cells with large volumes of data, every record should be submitted to the OdonataMAP database. There are three reasons for this: (1) it “refreshes” the record for the species, confirming the continued presence of the species in the grid cell; (2) it is only in the grid cells with the most data that studies of changes in species composition through time are going to be feasible; (3) every record contributes to our understanding of the “phenology” (the flight period) of the species. Studies of phenology require large data volumes.

How do I go about participating in data collection for this project?

In a nutshell, the protocol is simple. Take photos of dragonflies and damselflies, and upload them to the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum website. There is no need to identify the species in the photograph. This gets done by an expert panel.

There is a slideshow entitled “How to shoot your dragon” at https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-shoot-your-dragon

Taking photographs of dragonflies and damselflies is less challenging than most people anticipate. Most individuals have a perch which they return to routinely after each foraging flight and generally remain on the perch for long enough for several photographs to be taken, from different angles. The foraging flights seldom last for more than a few minutes, so a measure of patience is required. Each time they land, they tend to perch differently, so this provides an opportunity to take photographs at several angles. The entire spectrum of cameras are in use; the most versatile for this type of photography are the new generation of “compact” cameras

Before you can upload into the Virtual Museum you need to register as a citizen scientist. The procedure for doing this is described here: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-register-as-a-citizen-scientist-with-the-animal-demography-unit

Once you are registered you logon to the website using your email address and password. A “Data upload” section now becomes visible. The critical information that needs to be uploaded into the database is date, place and a series of one to three photographs of a single species, usually different angles on the same individual. Guidance on the upload process is provided in this slideshow: https://www.slideshare.net/Animal_Demography_Unit/how-to-submit-records-to-the-virtual-museums

The expert panels for each project consists of taxon experts and the most experienced citizen scientists. For OdonataMAP, many records get confirmed identifications within a week. Some records take longer, and for some photographs a positive identification to species level is not possible. Records are sometimes identified to genus or family level. Some species can readily be identified from a poor, even partially blurred photograph. At the other extreme a few species can only be identified in the hand. As a beginner participant, the best strategy for a positive confirmed identification is to submit the best one, two or three photographs, preferably from different angles. The most important parts of the dragonfly or damselfly to get in sharp focus are the thorax and a wing.

There is an exceptional fieldguide to the dragonflies and damselflies of South Africa. It was written by Warwick and Michèle Tarboton. It is called A Guide to the Dragonfllies and Damselflies of South Africa, and published by Struik Nature. It describes and illustrates 164 species of Odonata recorded in South Africa at the time of publication (Tarboton & Tarboton 2015). It is widely available in good bookshops, and an ebook version is also available (see https://www.warwicktarboton.co.za/Dragonfly%20Book.html).


Many friends and colleagues made helpful suggestions which improved this report: Sharon Stanton, Eugene Moll, John Wilkinson, Alan Manson, Warwick Tarboton and Lappies Labuschagne. Pete Laver prepared the maps. We acknowledge funding from the JRS Biodiversity Foundation, Seattle, USA. But above all, we celebrate the amazing contributions made by the citizen scientists responsible for 80% of the data upon which this report is based.


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Underhill LG, Navarro R, Manson AD, Labuschagne JP, Tarboton WR 2016. OdonataMAP: progress report on the atlas of the dragonflies and damselflies of Africa, 2010-2016. Biodiversity Observations 7.47: 1-10. Available online at https://journals.uct.ac.za/index.php/BO/article/view/340