A Visit To Huu Liên Turns Up A Calopterygid Unknown To Science !

Huu Liên Nature Reserve. Typical scenery along the main road: jagged karst peaks (300-400m altitude) overlooking cultivated valleys. But behind these stretches of agricultural land start a vast no man's land hard to penetrate.  In much of that inaccessible territory, few fauna and flora surveys have been undertaken. 
Many new species (new to science) have been discovered at Huu Liên in the last few years: rodents (Tonkinomys daovantieni), reptilians (Scincella apraefrontalis, Canh’s Gecko Gekko canhi, Huulien Leopard Gecko Goniurosaurus huulienensis) and also a good number of odonata: Nihonogomphus shorri, Platycnemis doi, 1 Coeliccia sp.

Last week (9th November), I decided to visit Huu Liên Nature Reserve, 110 km north from Hanoi, in Lang Son Province. I’ve been meaning to visit this place for a couple of years.
A 2 hours motorcycle ride… however, it was all worth it, as I saw two new species for me, including one species still unknown to science! 

The first one was Atrocalopteryx atrocyana.  I spotted 2 or 3 males resting at a rocky stream, in the shady edges. A gorgeous blue winged Calopterygid.... after this, anything else was a bonus! It is easy to see why it is called C. atrocyana.... its wings are completely dark blue, stunning when opened. I didn't spot the female, but I will return soon and hopefully find her then.

To my amazement, the same site was full of Vestalaria miao, a rare species “twitched” the previous week at Xuân Son National Park. I managed to improve my photos and spotted for the first time some pairs in copula.

As I was shooting Vestalaria miao, I noticed 2 brownish winged male Calopterygids with metallic bluish-green abdomen chasing each other. One landed not far but it was in a deep section of the stream so I could not get close enough to get photos. On first sight, I thought it was Matrona taoi, a recently described species (2011) known from only 2 localities. I sent immediately a message to Dô Manh Cuong who answered: “COLLECT ! “. Aye Aye Captain! I only managed to catch one male.  
When looked it closely, I noticed the ventral sides of S8-10 conspicuous pale olive-yellow as Matrona taoi. However, the sides of thorax were different from Matrona taoi (metepimeron very dark, no yellow portions), but I considered it might be a slight individual pattern variation. 
And in any case, what other species could it be ? I thought about it and found no other male Calopterygid among the 18 species currently known in Vietnam which could match this one.

 Atrocalopteryx sp. nov. Note the open median space (no crossveins).

I sent some photos to Matti (Hämäläinen) who quickly informed me that I had incorrectely identified the species : too dark synthorax and, especially, no crossveins in median space (taoi : 1-3) and no hyaline or subhyaline portions in forewings (apical 1/3rd subhyaline in M. taoi). He concluded that it was an Atrocalopteryx sp., but which one? 

A while later he found three male specimens of the same peculiar species from his own collection, collected in June 2008 a few kilometers north of my place. He sent me a picture of a male - taken before being collected. Undoubtedly the same species as mine! These specimens had been misidentified 5 years ago, and then forgotten. Later, Matti found also a female specimen, collected at the same place and the same day where the three males were collected. After comparison of all this material with Atrocalopteryx atrocyana and A. atrata, he concluded that it was a distinct species, an Atrocalopteryx sp. nov. He will describe it soon*. Wow, what a story!

* update (May 2014) : species described as Atrocalopteryx auco. The specific epithet auco is named after Âu Cơ, a character in the Vietnamese mythology. Âu Cơ was a young, beautiful mountain fairy who fell in love with Lac Long Quân (the Dragon Lord of Lac). They married and she gave birth to an egg sac from which hatched a hundred children known collectively as the Bach Viet, the ancestors of the Vietnamese people (Hämäläinen, 2014).

Male Atrocalopteryx sp. nov. - photo taken in June 2008 at Huu Liên by Matti Hämäläinen.

Another interesting species I spotted at Huu Liên (shady margins of a large pond) was Mortonagrion aborense, a bluish male - probably the 3rd locality known in the country.

Best photos of the session:

Male Atrocalopteryx atrocyana.
This species is currently known only from Vietnam (Huu Liên) and 
southern China (Guizhou and Guangdong Provinces). 

Wing-clapping, opening wings slowly and closing them suddenly, showing stunning blue sheen and not hyaline/subhyaline portions.

Male Vestalaria miao.

Pair of Vestalaria miao in copula.

Mortonagrion aborense. 
I have seen many specimens of this species, but never a bluish male.

The site of Atrocalopteryx atrocyana, Atrocalopteryx sp. nov. and Vestalaria miao.
This stream winds around small karst peaks.

Many thanks to Matti Hämäläinen for his accessibility and his helpfulness!

As for me, I learned from this story 3 lessons: 


2/ Color and "jizz" (overall impression or appearance) are definitely not a good way to identify odonata - a bad habit inherited from decades of birding.

3/ I am in Vietnam, not in Europe... Always keep in mind that around every corner (of good habitats of course...) there is a possibility of discovering a new species, so avoid the temptation to take shortcuts in identification. The easy path does not often lead to good results!
A Vietnamese-style sign at Huu Liên :

Burning the forest is like burning our home,
Burning the forest is like burning our skin and our flesh.”

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