Document Type

Peer-Review Article


The exhaustive studies of nymphs of Aeshna Fabricius and Rhionaeschna Förster by E. M. Walker (1912-1958) have long guided the taxonomy of these groups and formed the basis for keys still in use today. However, uncertainty about how he measured the length of the labium, including the varied terminology he used over the duration of his career concerning this structure, has led to confusion about application of his taxonomic recommendations. We recalculated ratios of the maximum width/length [W(max)/L] by measuring the illustration dimensions of folded labia and prementums in publications throughout his career and compared these data with the ratios he stated in those publications and with ratios derived from measurements of specimens in our collections. Our results show that from 1912 to 1941, Walker restricted length measurement to the prementum proper (which he called the “mentum of the labium”), exclusive of the ventrally visible portion of the postmental hinge. However, in 1941 he reported ratios from length measurements done two ways, excluding the postmental hinge in his description of the nymph of A. verticalis Hagen, but including the hinge in his description of the nymph of A. septentrionalis Burmeister (Whitehouse 1941). In Walker’s most recent and influential work (1958), he included the postmental hinge in labium length measurements of nine species, but restricted length measurements to the prementum for five others. He was consistent with the use of terms, using both “folded labium” by which he meant the prementum plus the postmental hinge, and “prementum” by which he meant only that structure. However, Walker’s descriptions of the labium in his latest work are buried in long, frequently punctuated sentences that for most species include the terms “folded labium” and “prementum” in the same sentence, so careful reading is required to know which term is intended in the width/length ratio. Width/length ratios we each calculated independently were invariably similar for a given species and were usually similar to Walker’s stated ratio for that species. These similarities affirm our conclusion that while labium measurements must be done with care, they are closely repeatable among workers and will consistently lead to correct determinations in properly designed couplets of dichotomous keys to these genera. We recommend measuring the length of the prementum proper in future studies of these genera when labium ratios are calculated because we found less variability in those cases than when the measurements included the postmental hinge. An approximate conversion between the two methods of calculating W(max)/L ratios can be made as follows: ratio calculated when the length of the prementum excluding the postmental hinge is used x 0.88 is approximately equal to the ratio when the postmental hinge is included for species of Aeshna and Rhionaeschna in North America.

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