Vaal Sprite (Pseudagrion vaalense)

View the above photo record (by Ryan Tippett) in OdonataMAP here.

Find the Vaal Sprite in the FBIS database (Freshwater Biodiversity Information System) here.

Family Coenagrionidae

Pseudagrion vaalenseVAAL SPRITE

Identification

Small size but is the largest of the ‘Red’ sprites in South Africa.

Length up to 39mm; Wingspan attains 49mm

Like many other Pseudagrion species the males colouration is variable and changes gradually with age. The postocular spots in particular range from greenish when young through greenish-orange to orange-brown in aged individuals. The sides of the thorax are greenish-blue when young. The light blue pruinosity starts low down and eventually extends up to the antehumeral stripe with maturity.

Females are khaki brown, often with a thin pale blue dusting on the sides of the thorax. They are best identified by their association with the males.

Click here for more details on identification.

Pseudagrion vaalense – Mature Male
Near Prieska, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett
Pseudagrion vaalense – Young Male
Upington, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Habitat

The Vaal Sprite inhabits strong flowing rivers in open landscapes. The preferred habitat is fast flowing water with abundant rocks and some emergent and bank side vegetation such as reeds and grasses. It appears to somewhat avoid large stretches of broken or white water. In areas where they are numerous, this species will also occupy slow-moving parts of rivers and quiet backwaters. Pseudagrion vaalense mostly occupies undisturbed habitats and generally avoids dams and degraded stretches of rivers.

Typical habitat – Orange River near Keimoes, Northern Cape

Behaviour

Seldom found away from rivers. They perch prominently at sunny locations on rocks and vegetation close to the water. Weary and alert, often flying to midstream rocks and reeds when disturbed. Frequently hovers over eddies and swirls where the current is strong. The flight is rapid and low over the water. The females are usually found in the same vicinity as the males.

Active from October to May (see Phenology below)

Status and Conservation

Pseudagrion vaalense is locally common at suitable sites within its restricted distribution. It is listed as of Least Concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Vaal Sprite is moderately sensitive to habitat degradation and occurs mostly in undisturbed places. The species has not adapted to man-made habitats.

Distribution

Endemic to South Africa and extreme Southern Namibia. It is restricted to the Orange/Vaal River system and its major tributaries.

Below is a map showing the distribution of records for Vaal Sprite in the OdonataMAP database as at February 2020.

The next map below is an imputed map, produced by an interpolation algorithm, which attempts to generate a full distribution map from the partial information in the map above. This map will be improved by the submission of records to the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum.

Ultimately, we will produce a series of maps for all the odonata species in the region. The current algorithm is a new algorithm. The objective is mainly to produce “smoothed” maps that could go into a field guide for odonata. This basic version of the algorithm (as mapped above) does not make use of “explanatory variables” (e.g. altitude, terrain roughness, presence of freshwater — we will be producing maps that take these variables into account soon). Currently, it only makes use of the OdonataMAP records for the species being mapped, as well as all the other records of all other species. The basic maps are “optimistic” and will generally show ranges to be larger than what they probably are.

These maps use the data in the OdonataMAP section of the Virtual Museum, and also the database assembled by the previous JRS funded project, which was led by Professor Michael Samways and Dr KD Dijkstra.

Phenology

Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Sally Hofmeyr, Ryan Tippett & Les Underhill
Dragonfly Atlas: Megan Loftie-Eaton, Sally Hofmeyr, Ryan Tippett & Les Underhill
Megan Loftie-Eaton is our communications, social media and citizen science coordinator. Prior to her work for the BDI, she coordinated OdonataMAP, the Atlas of African Odonata. Sally Hofmeyr has many years' experience in the academic world, writing her own material and editing the work of others. Her academic background is in the natural sciences: her PhD and first postdoc in ornithology and environmental change (Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town). Ryan Tippett is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the VMU since 2014 and has currently submitted over 11000 records. He is also on the expert identification panel for the Odonata Map project. Prof Les Underhill has been Director of the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town since it started in 1991. Although citizen science in biology is Les’s passion, his academic background is in mathematical statistics.