Dragonfly & Damselfly (Odonata) Guide

Damsel or Dragon?

Dragonflies and damselflies are two related groups (suborders) that make up the insect order Odonata. Although very similar in many ways, they are also very easy to distinguish.

Dragonfly adults have a rather robust body, and perch with wings held out to the side. Their eyes are huge, often meeting at the top of the head. The bodies of damselfly adults are quite slender, and for most species the wings are folded together over their abdomen while at rest. While their eyes are very large, they are set somewhat to the side of the head rather than dominating the front. Dragonflies are swift and strong fliers, reminiscent of tiny airplanes, while damselflies have a rather fluttering flight.

Their aquatic nymph stage is also quite distinct. Damselflies have three leaf-like gills at the tip of their abdomen, while the more robust dragonfly nymphs lack these. Damselfly nymphs swim with a side-to-side “snake-like” motion, while dragonflies spurt water out through the anus to swim with a “jet-propulsion” type of movement.

DRAGONFLIES

Fawn Darner
Green Darner
Shadow Darner
Springtime Darner
Dragonhunter
Boreal Snaketail
Dusky Clubtail
Lilypad Clubtail
Arrowhead Spiketail
Common Baskettail
Prince Baskettail
Swift River Cruiser
Eastern Pondhawk
Chalk-fronted Corporal
Dot-tailed Whiteface
Widow Skimmer
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Blue Dasher
Common Whitetail
White-faced Meadowhawk
Ruby Meadowhawk
Yellow-legged or Autumn Meadowhawk
Black Saddlebags

DAMSELFLIES

Ebony Jewelwing
American Rubyspot
Emerald Spreadwing
Sweetflag Spreadwing
Slender Spreadwing
Lyre-tipped Spreadwing
Blue-fronted Dancer
Variable Dancer
Powdered Dancer
Rainbow Bluet
Tule Bluet
Boreal Bluet
Familiar Bluet
Subarctic Bluet
Marsh Bluet
Stream Bluet
Hagen’s Bluet
Orange Bluet

 

Dragonflies

 

Family Aeshnidae (Darners)

Dragonflies in this family are large-bodied insects with noticeable finger-like projections at the end of their long abdomens and possess large compound eyes which meet each other at the top of the head. They are strong fliers, difficult to catch and most perch in a vertical position.

Fawn Darner

Boyeria vinosa

Length: 60 -71 mm

Description: fairly uniform brown, two bright yellow to white spots on each side of thorax, smaller and paler yellowish spots on abdomen, wings dark brown at base

Habitat: shady streams and rivers, adults may also patrol ponds and lakes

Flight Season: June to October

Range: southern and central Ontario, west to Manitoba but south of boreal forest and absent north of Lake Superior

True Fact: This species may land on people’s legs while attempting to lay eggs (this is the source of the myth that dragonflies sting).

female Fawn Darner, Photo: Stephen Durrenberger

Female fawn darner, Photo: Stephen Durrenberger

male Fawn Darner, Photo: stylurus

Male fawn darner, Photo: Stylurus

Green Darner

Anax junius

Length: 68 – 98 mm

Description: Solid green thorax (hence name), abdomen bluish for males and reddish-brown for females

Habitat: Lakes, ponds, marshes, slow streams

Flight Season: May to October

Range: Southern and central Ontario to north shore area of Georgian Bay, west to Lake of the Woods areabut south of the boreal forest

True Fact: A large proportion of this species is migratory. Green darners returning from migration are often seen earlier in spring than other dragonflies. Their larvae develop in summer, emerge late in the season and fly south to the southern United States, Mexico or the Caribbean before returning in spring. This species is the only North American darner that usually lays eggs (oviposits) while the male clasps the female, flying in tandem.

Female green darner, Photo: Lisa Brown

Female common green darner, Photo: Lisa Brown
Male common green darner, Photo: Benjamin 1970

Male common green darner, Photo: Benjamin 1970

 

Lance-tipped Darner

Aeshna constricta

Length: 65 – 73 mm

Description: Male and female with blue to green diagonal stripes on thorax, not outlined in black, abdomen with many bold blue marks (female may have green or yellow marks), cerci (paired, finger-like extensions on tip of abdomen) large and lance -shaped (hence name) on females.

Habitat: Often in seasonal ponds, especially marshy ponds and slow-moving streams

Flight Season: July to October

Range: Southern and central Ontario to the northeastern shore of Lake Superior, and also reported from Lake of the Woods area

True Fact: Females are as brightly coloured as the males, and patrol over water like them, perhaps to avoid harassment. To avoid overtures from other amourous males, females will sometimes fly with their abdomens inclined downward.

Female lance-tipped darner, Photo: Bev Edwards

Female lance-tipped darner, Photo: Bev Edwards

Male lance-tipped darner, Photo: Chris Earley

Male lance-tipped darner, Photo: Chris Earley

Shadow Darner

Aeshna umbrosa

Length:64 – 73 mm

Description:relatively dark darner, thorax with stripes outlined in black, light markings on abdomen pale and fairly small

Habitat:somewhat shaded streams, ponds, and other water bodies, adults may be found in upland clearings and other open areas

Flight Season:June to October

Range: throughout Ontario except extreme northwest

True Fact:This species is one of the last seen in autumn.It regularly flies in shaded areas and is active until dark.

Female shadow darner, Photo: Chris Earley

Female shadow darner, Photo: Chris Earley

Male shadow darner, Photo: Harry Adams and Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com.

Male shadow darner, Photo: Harry Adams and Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Springtime Darner

Basiaeschna janata

Length: 53 – 64 mm

Description: fairly small early-season darner, thorax with bright yellow to white diagonal stripes, abdomen blue-spotted (may be green-spotted for females).

Habitat: prefers forest lakes and ponds, and shaded, gently-flowing rivers and streams

Flight Season: May to July

Range: throughout Ontario north to southern boreal forest area

Female springtime darner, Photo: Janet Nelson and Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Female springtime darner, Photo: Janet Nelson and Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male springtime darner, Photo: Chris Earley

Male springtime darner, Photo: Chris Earley

 

Family Gomphidae (Clubtails)

These dragonflies are named for the enlarged posterior abdominal segments in many species (most pronounced in males, females have a somewhat thicker abdomen).

Dragonhunter

Hagenius brevistylus

Length:73 – 90 mm

Description:large dragonfly, black and yellow, long legged, small head, in flight abdomen tip may be curled down; male with green eyes, yellow face, thorax boldly striped yellow and black, abdomen black with yellow patches on sides of basal segments and near tip of abdomen with small yellow side spots in between; female similar colour and pattern to male but much more yellow on abdomen sides

Habitat:usually streams and rivers with moderate to fast current, sometimes lakes

Flight Season:June to September

Range: throughout the Great Lakes region west to Manitoba, including southern edge of boreal forest

True Fact:This species is well named, as it preys on dragonflies and damselflies.A particular favourite is reported to be the ebony jewelwing damselfly.They also prey on butterflies. This species is the largest of the clubtails.

Female dragonhunter, Photo: Per Verdonk

Female dragonhunter, Photo: Per Verdonk

Male dragonhunter, Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male dragonhunter, Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Boreal Snaketail

Ophiogomphus colubrinus

Length:41 – 48 mm

Description:bright green with distinct markings, dark facial stripes; male eyes green crossed by four narrow black lines, thorax mostly green, brownish abdomen with many greenish spots, enlarged “club” at tip; female similar coloration but abdomen thicker with less prominent club at tip, sides of abdomen marked with white

Habitat:clear, fast-flowing streams and rivers with gravelly or rocky beds

Flight Season:May to September

Range:All of Ontario north of Georgian Bay from Ottawa River in the east to Manitoba border in the west

True Fact:This northerly species is most active in morning and mid-afternoon, not mid-day.Females lay eggs in riffles or upstream of riffles in fast-moving streams and rivers.

Dusky Clubtail

Gomphus spicatus

Length: 46 – 50 mm

Description: fairly slender clubtail, blue eyes, thorax with black and yellow stripes, abdomen mostly black with yellowish, rear-pointed markings, overall greyish (females may be brown as well)

Habitat: prefers marshy or boggy ponds and lakes

Flight Season: May to August

Range: throughout Ontario extending into boreal forest

True Fact: While newly-emerged adults and mature females hunt in woodland clearings, males perch along the shore on the ground, on water lily pads or other low vegetation.

Female dusky clubtail, Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Female dusky clubtail, Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Male dusky clubtail, Photo: Janet Nelson and Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male dusky clubtail, Photo: Janet Nelson and Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Lilypad Clubtail

Arigomphus furcifer

Length: 46 – 54 mm

Description: fairly slender, eyes blue, black stripes on thorax, abdomen with yellowish marking

Habitat: Lakes, ponds and slow-moving streams with floating vegetation such as lily pads

Flight Season: May to August

Range: through southern Ontario to south part of Georgian Bay

True Fact: As its name suggests, males of this species like to perch on lily pads, but also on other low vegetation, rocks and sandy shores.

Female lilypad clubtail, Photo: Stylurus

Female lilypad clubtail, Photo: Stylurus

Male lilypad clubtail, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male lilypad clubtail, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

 

Family Cordulegastridae (Spiketails)

Large dragonflies, with black to brown bodies and with conspicuous yellow markings on the thorax and abdomen, are typical of the Spiketail family.

Arrowhead Spiketail

Cordulegaster obliqua

Length: 72 – 81 mm

Description: large spiketail, eyes green, thorax dark brown with two bold yellow stripes on each side and two smaller ones on the front, abdomen black with striking yellow arrowhead markings on abdomen; female similar but with long, pointed ovipositor extending beyond tip of abdomen (therefore named spiketail)

Habitat: small, usually muddy streams in forests, often in streams with only a series of pools in drier weather, often in areas where skunk cabbage is present

Flight Season: May to July

Range: southern Ontario to north shore of Georgian Bay, west to Sault Ste Marie area

True Fact: Males perch on twigs or stems along water or patrol by flying low, and often cover the entire length of small streams. A meeting between males will often result in a chase or sometimes a mid-air fight, with each attempting to seize and bite the other.

Female arrowhead spiketail, Photo: bgv23

Female arrowhead spiketail, Photo: bgv23

Male arrowhead spiketail, Photo: Lisa Brown

Male arrowhead spiketail, Photo: Lisa Brown

Family Corduliidae (Emeralds)

As suggested by the family name, emerald dragonflies have shimmering green eyes (the exception being the newly emerged adults whose eyes are reddish-brown at first) and dark, metallic green to black bodies with few if any pale markings. Many have hairy thoraxes and abdomens.

Common Baskettail

Epitheca cynosura

Length: 38 – 43 mm

Description: small, brownish dragonfly, row of yellow spots along sides of abdomen, eyes red and grey for much of life but bright emerald green when fully mature; small to large basal spot on the wing (near the body); large wing spots on some make their flight seem “fluttery”

Habitat: marshes and marshy lakes and ponds, slow-moving streams and rivers

Flight Season: May to August

Range: southeastern and southwestern Ontario to north shore area of Georgian Bay; in the northwest Rainy River to Lake of the Woods

True Fact: The patrolling beat of males may be only 15 metres, which he covers by flying back and forth frequently. After mating, the female carries her eggs in a “basket” at the tip of her abdomen, which she places in floating vegetation such as algae.

Female common baskettail, Photo: Lisa Brown

Female common baskettail, Photo: Lisa Brown

Male common baskettail, Photo: summerazure

Male common baskettail, Photo: summerazure

Prince Baskettail

Epitheca princeps

Length: 59 –75 mm

Description: fairly large and elegant-looking, eyes bright green at full maturity, eyes of female may be red over grey: thorax brown with small yellow spots low on sides, usually with three spots on each wing.

Habitat: quiet waters, in large ponds, lakes and rivers

Flight Season: June to September

Range: throughout southern Ontario to north shores of Georgian Bay, also west of Lake Superior but south of boreal forest

True Fact: This species often feeds in swarms in open areas. Pairs attach while flying over water, and may copulate in flight. Females form an egg mass, then fly over water and drop the mass gradually, dragging out a long string of eggs.

Female prince baskettail, Photo: Harry Adams and Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Female prince baskettail, Photo: Harry Adams and Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male prince baskettail, Photo: Ken Slade

Male prince baskettail, Photo: Ken Slade

 

Family Macromiidae (Cruisers)

Fast-flying, usually up and down streams or along lake shores, these large brown to black dragonflies have large eyes (sometimes brilliant green), usually a pale stripe on each side of the thorax, pale spots or rings on the abdomen and long legs.

Swift River Cruiser

Macromia illinoiensis

Length: 65-76 mm

Description: a large-sized strong flier, dark brown to black with green eyes, a solitary yellow stripe on each side of thorax and small yellowish spots along the abdomen including a very large spot near the posterior end. The abdomen is slightly clubbed in males

Habitat: streams and rivers with slow to fast currents, muddy to rocky bottoms

Flight Season: June to September

Range: southern and central Ontario to Sault Ste Marie, west from Thunder Bay district to Manitoba border

True Fact: Males are quick, like a missile, when pursuing females in lengthy chases.

Female, swift river cruiser, Photo: Larry MeadeMale, swift river cruiser, Photo: Larry Meade

Family Libellulidae (Skimmers)

The skimmers are a large, diverse family of brightly coloured dragonflies that often have boldly patterned wings. Large compound eyes come together at the centre of the head, giving a helmet-like appearance.

Eastern Pondhawk

Erythemis simplicicollis

Length: 38 – 44 mm

Description: medium size skimmer; green face, females and young males have green thorax without black stripes, abdomen with square dark spots, males become bluish grey with maturity.

Habitat: quiet waters such as ponds and lakes that have floating vegetation

Flight Season: May to September

Range: Southern Ontario to northern shores of Georgian Bay; west of Lake Superior in Rainy River area

True Fact: This species often perches on the ground. In fact, ground-foraging tiger beetles sometimes encounter and eat them. They feed on damselflies and dragonflies from its own size to smaller, foraging until dark.

Female eastern pondhawk, Photo: Kerry WixtedFemale eastern pondhawk, Photo: Kerry Wixted

Male eastern pondhawk, Photo: Jimmy Smith

Male eastern pondhawk, Photo: Jimmy Smith

 

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Ladona julia

Length: 38 – 45 mm

Description: rather stout, black markings at base of wings, lighter-coloured shoulder bars that are white in males, grey in females and tan in newly emerged adults or tenerals, male with white base of abdomen

Habitat: lakes and ponds, including bog lakes, prefers muddy bottom

Flight Season: May to September

Range: throughout southern Ontario, west to the Manitoba border and north into southern reaches of the boreal forest

True Fact: This species often perches on the ground and on sides of trees facing the sun. They are often found far from the water. With males guarding by hovering over them, females lay eggs by tapping their abdomen on the water, moving a short distance between taps.

Female chalk-fronted corporal, Photo: Ken Sturm/USFWS

Female chalk-fronted corporal, Photo: Ken Sturm/USFWS

Male chalk-fronted corporal, Photo: Janet Nelson

Male chalk-fronted corporal, Photo: Janet Nelson

Dot-tailed Whiteface

Leucorrhinia intacta

Length: 29 – 33 mm

Description: small, male black with white face and yellow dot on abdomen, female and immature dark brown with yellow markings on thorax and abdomen, most posterior mark on abdomen a distinct yellow dot.

Habitat: lakes and ponds with emergent vegetation

Flight Season: May to August

Range: throughout southern Ontario to north shore of Georgian Bay, west from Lake Superior to Manitoba border

Female dot-tailed whiteface, Photo: Don Henise

Female dot-tailed whiteface, Photo: Don Henise

Male dot-tailed whiteface, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male dot-tailed whiteface, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Widow Skimmer

Libellula luctuosa

Length: 42 – 50 mm

Description: Males’ wings with wide black basal patches, white marks beyond when mature, dark brown eyes, face and thorax, pale top of abdomen; females lighter in colour, top of abdomen with black stripe becoming broader towards rear, this stripe bordered by yellow stripes

Habitat: slow-moving parts of streams, ponds and lakes, prefers muddy bottoms

Flight Season: May to September

Range: southern Ontario north to southern Georgian Bay

True Fact: While hovering during patrol flights, this species may jerk abdomen up and down. Males and females are commonly seen in open areas quite far from water

Female widow skimmer, Photo: Stylurus

Female widow skimmer, Photo: Ed McAskill
Male widow skimmer, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male widow skimmer, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Libellula pulchella

Length: 52 – 57 mm

Description: male and female with three black spots on each wing, white patches between these spots in mature male, male with light grey abdomen as it matures, continuous pale stripes along sides of brownish abdomen in female

Habitat: lakes and ponds with marshy borders, slow streams

Flight Season: June to October

Range: southern Ontario to north shore of Georgian Bay, west of Lake Superior but absent from its north shore and from the boreal forest

True Fact: Males are aggressive and chase other species and well as their own. During competitive displays, males will hover face-to-face. This species is a strong flier, and large numbers have been seen flying south, so this species is suspected to be migratory.

Female twelve-spotted skimmer, Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Female twelve-spotted skimmer, Photo: Jerry Oldenettel

Male twelve-spotted skimmer, Photo: Amy Loves Yah

Male twelve-spotted skimmer, Photo: Amy Loves Yah

Blue Dasher

Pachydiplax longipennis

Length: 28 – 45 mm

Description: fairly small, male with green eyes and striped black and yellow thorax, abdomen becoming blue as it matures and tipped with black; female eyes red but becoming green as it ages, thorax with yellow stripes alternating with black, abdomen with narrow, parallel yellow streaks

Habitat: ponds, lake bays, marshes, bogs; prefers standing water with aquatic vegetation

Flight Season: May to October

Range: southeastern Ontario along St. Lawrence River to southwestern Ontario, north to southern Georgian Bay; Lake of Woods area west of Lake Superior

True Fact: This species often perches with wings held forward and down, often seen on trees. Both sexes defend small feeding territories away from water.

Female blue dasher, Photo: Ken Slade

Female blue dasher, Photo: Ken Slade

Male blue dasher, Photo: Patrick Coin

Male blue dasher, Photo: Patrick Coin

Common Whitetail

Plathemis lydia

Length: 42 – 48 mm

Description: eyes and face dark brown, male with white or powder blue abdomen, each wing with wide black patch near wingtip and narrower black stripe at base, female and immature male have brown abdomen with white or yellow triangular spots along sides, female with three black spots on each wing

Habitat: almost any standing or slow water body, including ponds and marshes

Flight Season: May to September

Range: southern Ontario to north shore of Georgian Bay, in north west from Rainy River district to Manitoba, absent north of Lake Superior

True Fact: This is a common and widespread dragonfly. Common whitetails often perch on open ground, rocks or logs. They are strongly territorial, and males will elevate abdomens in face to face flight displays.

Female common whitetail, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.comFemale common whitetail, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male common whitetail, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male common whitetail, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

White-faced Meadowhawk

Sympetrum obtrusum

Length: 31 – 39 mm

Description: mature males appear overall red and black with white face, small orange patch at base of wings, black, triangular, lateral markings on abdomen; females and immature males similar pattern on abdomen but yellowish to brown face

Habitat: ponds, lakes, marshes, bogs, slow streams

Flight Season: June to October

Range: throughout Ontario north to James Bay, absent from extreme northwest

True Fact: This species’ copulation is lengthy, and pairs are often seen in “wheels” (female’s abdomen curled forward beneath male). The eggs are dropped from above into shallow water or in dry areas that will flood later in fall or spring.

Female white-faced meadowhawk, Photo: Gary Yankech

Female white-faced meadowhawk, Photo: Gary Yankech

Male white-faced meadowhawk, Photo: Stylurus

Male white-faced meadowhawk, Photo: Stylurus

Ruby Meadowhawk

Sympetrum rubicundulum

Length: 33 – 34 mm

Description: male overall red with sharply contrasting black triangular markings on abdomen, light brown or yellowish face; female tan or olive in colour; difficult to distinguish from white-faced meadowhawk in field

Habitat: marshes and marshy ponds, ditches and lakeshores

Flight Season: June to September

Range: southern Ontario north to southeastern shores of Georgian Bay

True Fact: This species oviposits by dropping eggs into vegetation along water, and also lays eggs directly in water.

Female ruby meadowhawk, Photo: Bev Edwards

Female ruby meadowhawk, Photo: Bev Edwards

Male ruby meadowhawk, Photo: Chris Earley

Male ruby meadowhawk, Photo: Chris Earley

Yellow-legged or Autumn Meadowhawk

Sympetrum vicinum

Length: 31 – 35 mm

Description: male overall red, abdomen with less black than most other meadowhawks, female yellowish with a projecting scoop, the sub genital plate, near the tip of the abdomen (visible in side view). Unlike other adult meadowhawks, this species has yellow or light brown legs.

Habitat: ponds, lakes, slow streams, wooded habitats

Flight Season: July to November

Range: southern Ontario to north of Georgian Bay, in far west Rainy River to Lake of the Woods

True Fact: This species flies late into autumn, until the first heavy frost. The females form balls of eggs, which the pair in tandem drop from several centimetres up.

Female autumn meadowhawk, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Female autumn meadowhawk, Photo: Harry Adams, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male autumn meadowhawk, Photo: Per Verdonk

Male autumn meadowhawk, Photo: Per Verdonk

Black Saddlebags

Tramea lacerata

Length: 51 – 55 mm

Description: hind wings with broad black band near base (some suggest they resemble theatre comedy masks facing each other across the abdomen), overall black or dark brown appearance, yellow squarish marks near tip of abdomen, female and immature male show more yellow dorsally on abdomen

Habitat: Shallow open lakes, ponds, ditches with much vegetation, including temporary ponds

Flight Season: May to October

Range: southern Ontario to south shore of Georgian Bay and Bruce peninsula

True Fact: This species has a large territory, often exceeding 30 metres along shoreline. As it flies over, the black bands (saddlebags) can be observed to identify this species. They are very migratory, often found with green darners in autumn swarms.

Female black saddlebags, Photo: Vicki DeLoach

Female black saddlebags, Photo: Vicki DeLoach

Male black saddlebags, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

Male black saddlebags, Photo: Janet Nelson, www.pursuitofpixels.com

 

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