K D ' s s p e c i e s
I discovered, or helped uncover, over 100 species new to science. Some 80 of these dragonflies and damselflies have been named, of which 61 in a single publication. Almost all can be identified from a photograph. These discoveries counter the misconception that most species are known, that new ones are hidden and detectable only by genetics, and that enough people are out there to uncover them in time. This selection of species and genera I found and named shows that each, moreover, is a story waiting to be told:
Swordbearer Emperor Anax gladiator. One of Africa’s largest dragonflies, named for the blade-like spike at its tail tip. Confined to rivers running off plateaus from Angola to Malawi.
Sunrise Firebelly Eleuthemis eogaster, Angola. Firebelly males defend a territory and attract mates by flashing their bright colors, which in this species are like white clouds in the dawn sky.
Polychrome Jewel Africocypha varicolor, Gabon. Males have colorful displays, but why their tail end can be red, yellow or blue is a mystery: the only odonate with such distinct male forms!
Black Relic Pentaphlebia mangana, Gabon. Dark as the manganese ore mined in its range. A family unique to central Africa, all three relic species lurk in the gloom by forest falls.
Lovely Fairytail Lestinogomphus venustus, Gabon. The fairytails are among the few African genera where unnamed species may outnumber named ones.
Rock Threadtail Elattoneura lapidaria, Zimbabwe. Always rests on reflective rocks to absorb heat in mist-shrouded heights of Chimanimani Mts, where threatened by gold mining.
Darkening Citril Ceriagrion obfuscans, central Africa. Glows red when young, but blackens with age, merging with the deep shade of the flooded forest in which it lives.
Red-veined Basker Urothemis venata. First recognized as new on a photo taken in 1983, this species only resurfaced 26 years later, but ranges from Guinea all the way to Angola.
Amazing Hooktail Paragomphus dispar, Gabon. The bold markings are unlike those of any of its relatives. Only descends from the canopy to sunlit streamside spots around noon.
Blue-spotted Pricklyleg Porpax mezierei, Gabon. Honors teacher Nicolas Mézière, who found 18 of the 61 new species we published at once. Few libellulid dragonflies have blue pigment.
Redwater Leaftipper Malgassophlebia andzaba, Gabon. Name means ‘red water’ to the Batéké. The clear water these people and this species rely on is stained by leaf litter.
Tanganyika Sprite Pseudagrion tanganyicum, Lake Tanganyika. Africa’s great lakes are famed for their unique fish species, but this is one of the few insects known only from a ‘freshwater sea’.
Darwall’s Hooktail Paragomphus darwalli, Gabon. Honors IUCN’s Will Darwall. Helping assess the threats to freshwater species around the world, facilitators like Will are conservation’s unsung heroes.
Spikerush Citril Ceriagrion junceum. One of several nearly identical damsels found side by side on sedgy pools in Zambia and its neighbors. Years of experience are needed to notice the small differences.
Mushroom Skimmer Orthetrum agaricum, Liberia. Named for a hook on the male genitals shaped like a toadstool. These hooks are essential to separate Africa’s many skimmer species.
Twenty years before the Peace Sprite Pseudagrion pacale was found here in Sierra Leone, villagers trapped between rebel and government forces jumped off this bridge near Kenema, drowning in the river.
Shadow Firebelly Eleuthemis umbrina, Liberia. Male attracts females with its black-and-yellow underside, but solely in shade. On the same rivers, but in full sun, another species lures its mates with an orange belly.
Lusinga Valley in Upemba N.P., Katanga, D.R. Congo. Ten new species were found here, including the Katanga Junglewatcher Neodythemis katanga, making the province a center of dragonfly discovery.
Unnamed pricklyleg Porpax sp., Angola. Africa’s smallest true dragonfly, being less than 2 cm long. Only discovered hiding in bogs in 2019.
Unnamed malachite Nubiolestes sp., Guinea. Found only in 2019, this is the only member of the ancient family Synlestidae between Cameroon and the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. My most surprising discovery!
Lucifer Jewel Platycypha eliseva, D.R. Congo. Based on Hebrew ‘Elisheva’, name refers to type locality (Elisabetha), love lost after 14 years (Ellis Bettina), and (meaning ‘divine bounty’) even to biodiversity itself.
Gilded Presba Syncordulia legator, South Africa. Barnard described the genus Presba (now Syncordulia) from the Cape with species venator and piscator (now gracilis) in 1933. We honored his legacy.
Unnamed flutterer Rhyothemis sp., Angola. Only discovered in 2018, but among the commonest species at the source of some of southern Africa’s most important rivers. A critical indicator species!
Fiery Darter Trithetrum navasi. Two species were long placed with the boreal darters Sympetrum but are not close to that genus or to Trithemis and Orthetrum, of which the name Trithetrum is an amalgam.
Pemba Featherleg Proplatycnemis pembipes, Tanzania. Discovered only in 2001 and known from a single stream in Pemba’s sole scrap of forest, its nearest relatives are on Madagascar and the Comoros.
Great Jewel Chlorocypha maxima, Gabon. Not named after Queen Máxima of the Dutch royal house of Orange-Nassau. Just notably large and orange!
Attenborough’s Pintail Acisoma attenboroughi, Madagascar. Named to mark Sir David’s 90th birthday and fortunately common across its island home.
Western Highlander Atoconeura luxata, western Africa. Called ‘dislocated’ in Latin, as it is the only species of the genus beyond the uplands of eastern and southern Africa.
Rustic Presba Syncordulia serendipator, South Africa. John Simaika caught the rarest of the four Cape presbas within days of me finding one old specimen in a museum drawer. Serendipity?
Spesbona Spesbona angusta, South Africa. Described in 1869. Lost in 1920. Refound near Cape Town in 2003. Research showed it was a new genus, named Spesbona, Latin for ‘Good Hope’.
Munyaga Junglewatcher Neodythemis munyaga, Uganda. Almost 20 years since its discovery, still known only from one valley in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.