Ophiogomphus susbehcha    Vogt and Smith, 1993

St. Croix Snaketail 

MN Status:
Federal Status:


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Ophiogomphus susbehcha Ophiogomphus susbehcha Ophiogomphus susbehcha

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Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation


Ophiogomphus edmundo

  Basis for Listing

Ophiogomphus is primarily a Holarctic genus, with the greatest diversity of species being in North America. The St. Croix snaketail, a species described in the scientific literature only in the past decade, was thought to be endemic to the upper St. Croix River Valley along the Wisconsin/Minnesota border; however, recent evidence indicates that it may have a disjunct Nearctic distribution that ranges eastwards to Pennsylvania and Maryland. On examination of specimens in Pennsylvania, T. Vogt (pers. comm.) suggested that the species previously identified as an "O. edmundo" allotype is actually either a previously undescribed subspecies or a sister species of the St. Croix snaketail. This report was followed by Orr's discovery of the St. Croix snaketail along the Potomac River near Frederick, Maryland (Orr 2002 ).

However, even though the St. Croix snaketail has now been found outside the St. Croix River valley, the species seems to be extremely rare wherever it is found, and it is still believed to have fewer than 10 occurrences globally (NatureServe 2008). Its distribution seems to be very spotty, and its range is highly disjunct. This type of distribution pattern is very typical of sensitive species, which are affected by habitat disturbance and fragmentation. Established St. Croix snaketail populations have been found along the upper St. Croix River on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border, and may also be present along its tributaries. In addition to its rarity, the species merits listing because of its apparent need for high water quality and its sensitivity to pollution, siltation, and reduced levels of dissolved oxygen. The St. Croix snaketail was listed as a special concern species in Minnesota in 1996.


The St. Croix snaketail is a large, black and green dragonfly with a cobra-like clubtail. Adults have a large body, approximately 5 cm (2 in.) long. They have widely separated, gray eyes, and their thorax is a dark bluish-green with a single lateral black stripe. They also have a black shoulder stripe and black legs. Their abdomen has yellow dorsal spots, which are pale triangles in segments S2-S7, a brighter rectangle on S8, and a rounded spot on S9. Segment S10 is all yellow, which is distinctly different from the S10 segment on similar closely related species. The female has black postocular horns.

St. Croix snaketail larvae are slightly flattened dorso-ventrally, and their abdomen is oval, cylindrical, and slightly pointed with brownish-black spots. Dorsal abdominal spines are absent and the wing cases are divergent. The male's epiproct (middle anal appendage) is longer than its cerci (outermost paired anal appendage). Larvae of this species are larger than larvae of most other Ophiogomphus species in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Although the St. Croix snaketail larvae resemble that of the pygmy snaketail (O. howei), the pygmy snaketail larvae are much smaller.


In general, ophiogomphid larvae prefer clear, swift flowing rivers. Adults patrol these rivers and forage in adjacent wetlands, lowland forests, and mature upland forests with closed canopy and low understory. They tend to disappear from cleared or cultivated regions due to the reduction of sheltered shoreline vegetation for adults, and changes in flow and siltation in the larval habitat.

The known locations of the St. Croix snaketail in Minnesota are riverine habitats in relatively undisturbed forest. Steffens and Smith (1999) observed that larger numbers of this species are found along medium-sized rivers with fast current, pools and riffles, and clear, clean, unpolluted water. The substrate is commonly gravel and cobble. Overall habitat diversity and biodiversity is high in these areas.

A GIS analysis of known St. Croix snaketail locations in Minnesota (Minnesota Planning Land Management Information Center 2002) indicates an association with forested riverbottom wetlands bordered by upland deciduous or mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. These forested wetlands have typically included elm (Ulmus spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), and cottonwood (Populus spp.) trees, transitioning to mature second-growth aspen (Populus spp.), birch (Betula spp.), and pine (Pinus spp.) forests, with late-stage or old growth pine and maple (Acer spp.)-basswood (Tilia americana) inclusions. The terrestrial vegetation is relatively unfragmented, with a high percentage of the land in state and federal land ownership. Human population density is relatively low, between 10 and 50 people per square mile.

Geologically, the known range of the St. Croix snaketail in Minnesota is characterized by deposits of sandstone, shale, and limestone. The terrain is flat to moderate, with elevations usually between 244-305 m (800-1,000 ft.). Sites are commonly located in glacial outwash plains. Soils are predominantly alfisols, with sand and sandy loam at the surface and a sand and gravel subsurface. The hydrology of the area is influenced by the presence of many springs and small pristine streams. Water quality is high. There is an input into the system of 48-53 cm (19-21 in.) of precipitation annually during the growing season.

  Biology / Life History

In Minnesota, the St. Croix snaketail is only known to occur along the upper St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. This stretch of the river flows through relatively undisturbed forest areas in Washington, Pine, and Chisago counties. This species' larvae may be locally abundant in selected sites, but adults have been observed in much smaller numbers at those same sites. This may indicate high mortality at emergence. Adult ophiogomphids are not known to be territorial, but they patrol areas along streams when searching for a mate. Although they forage for food in woodland areas, they often remain within 30 m (98 ft.) of the shoreline from which they emerged. They perch or rest in treetops in evening and early morning. Larval ophiogomphids generally eat other insect larvae such as midge and mayfly nymphs. Adult ophiogomphids usually forage for other flying insects that are approximately their size or smaller. They hunt away from the water's edge in adjacent forest areas, flying up to treetop level in the canopy in search of food.

Ophiogomphids generally have a 2-year life cycle, wherein the larvae overwinter and then emerge as adults the following summer. Males patrol rivers and usually mate while perched on bushes and trees along the shoreline. Females oviposit alone by irregularly tapping their abdomens into the river, dispersing their eggs directly into the current. After hatching, larvae burrow into the sandy substrate of the river bottom. St. Croix snaketail larvae are frequently found in assemblages with related ophiogomphids such as the uncommon pygmy snaketail and the more common rusty snaketail (O. rupinsulensis) (Vogt and Smith 1993). At maturity, larvae emerge from water in midmorning and crawl away from the shoreline for some distance. Over the course of several hours, they undergo transformation while resting on rocks, vegetation, or even high up on the trunks of large trees. Emergence of the St. Croix snaketail has been observed from late May to late June, with a flight season extending into early August.

  Conservation / Management

Searches for St. Croix snaketails outside the upper St. Croix basin have been unsuccessful (Steffens and Smith 1999). Known occurrences of this species coincide with remote, minimally fragmented riverine forest habitat (Minnesota Planning Land Management Information Center 2002). Recent environmental disturbance along other streams in the vicinity of these known occurrences may have degraded the habitat quality beyond the threshold of tolerance for St. Croix snaketails. Appropriate conservation measures for this species include maintaining wide riparian forest buffer zones and preventing fragmentation of the larger forest areas in watersheds where the species is found. Shoreline land clearing increases runoff and sedimentation that can have a negative impact on the larvae, which depend on cool, clear water that is free of siltation. Additionally, chemical and organic pollution from agricultural, municipal, and industrial sources may compromise water quality beyond the tolerance of this sensitive species. Shoreline clearing may also negatively impact adults of this species, which seem to require forested riparian areas and nearby forested wetlands for their feeding and reproductive activities. The spread of zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) populations in the Lake Superior basin may negatively impact the St. Croix snaketail, as there have been reports of other gomphid populations being impacted by this non-native invasive species (Tucker and Camerer 1994).

As the St. Croix snaketail prefers high quality streams with undisturbed riparian forest zones, the lack of adequate dispersal corridors may become a concern if pollution, land clearing activities, or even climate change impact their current habitats. Special attention should be given to the management of streams flowing into the St. Croix River, and to improving the quality of aquatic and terrestrial habitats downstream of Marine on St. Croix, where the St. Croix snaketail is apparently absent.

Other common names for this species include susbehcha snaketail, Wisconsin snaketail, and Potomac snaketail.

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

Documentation of St. Croix snaketail occurrences in Minnesota has been provided primarily by Vogt and Smith (1993), Haarstad (1997), and Steffens and Smith (1999). These researchers have also done some unsuccessful sampling elsewhere along northern and eastern Minnesota rivers. While dragonfly surveys have been conducted by other researchers in many other parts of Minnesota, the St. Croix snaketail has not been documented elsewhere. However, some areas of potential habitat in Minnesota have not been surveyed. These include the main streams and drainages of the Mississippi River south of Grand Rapids and north of Mille Lacs; the St. Louis River between Virginia and Cloquet; the Big Fork River east of Red Lake; the Mississippi River from east of Lake Bemidji to Cass Lake (especially downstream of the power dam), as well as east of Lake Winnie until it leaves the Chippewa National Forest; the Crow Wing River basin to its juncture with the Mississippi River; the Snake River southeast of Mille Lacs; and the Kettle River east of Mille Lacs.