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Dragons and damsels of our garden

Four-winged hunters

We've seen lots of dragonflies and damselflies in our garden through the years. These fascinating creatures are in the insect order Odonata, whose ancestors flew (in much larger sizes) among the dinosaurs. Some of them seem to never sit still, forever zigzagging the outline of their territory. Others are more accommodating to my camera - their pictures can be found on this page.

The dragons

Dragonflies (suborder Anisoptera) are the larger of the two, grand flyers with robust bodies and large eyes that together span most of the width of their heads. When at rest, their wings are spread apart. Libellula pulchella: twelve-spotted skimmer

This twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella) shows off its white and black wingspots, perched on a fading cattail. The white spots only appear on mature males of the species. Libellula pulchella: twelve-spotted skimmer

Another twelve-spotted skimmer. This one kept returning to perch atop the little bean teepee we built in Max's garden. Libellula luctuosa: widow skimmer

I've been told this is an immature male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa). He stuck around for a while, long enough for a photo op.

Pachydiplax longipennis: blue dasher

Blue dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis) are common throughout the US, so we've encountered them both in our Pennsylvania garden (photo at right) and in our Texas garden (below). Both photos are of male specimens, which develop the characteristic blue color of their abdomen. They like perching on spikey vegetation that gives a good view of the pond – a spent iris stalk at right, and a horsetail below. pachydiplax longipennis: blue dasher dragonfly Pachydiplax longipennis: blue dasher faceted eyes

A marvel of biological engineering: the minutely faceted eyes of insects. Especially when the insect in question has big googly eyes, like this newly hatched blue dasher. I never expected the close-up photograph to come out this clear, but I must admit I'm proud of it. Micrathyria hagenii: thornbush dasher

Thornbush dashers (Micrathyria hagenii) are smaller dragonflies, whose range includes Texas and Mexico. Their distinguishing features include bright blue-green eyes and black abdomens with white markings. They often hold their wings angled downward when at rest.
Texas, October 2017

The two photos below are of the same individual (he wouldn't sit still, hence the different perches). It's a dragon hunter (Hagenius brevistylus), one of the largest dragonflies I've seen in the garden. I spotted him on one of the big rocks adjacent to our big pond one sunny late-summer afternoon; when I kept trying to take his picture he eventually buzzed off to the neighbors' yard.
Pennsylvania, September 2009
Hagenius brevistylis: dragon hunter Hagenius brevistylis: dragon hunter

This female Eastern pond hawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) stopped by one morning to warm herself on our flat-rock pathway. She didn't stay long, and I haven't seen her or her kin near our pond. That first sighting was in Pennsylvania, I've since seen this species in our Texas garden as well.
Pennsylvania, August 2004 Perithemis tenera: Eastern amberwing

When I first spotted this female Eastern amberwing (Perithemis tenera) flitting about our cutting garden, I thought it was a spreadwing damselfly – it was smaller than other common dragonflies in our garden. But closer up, it was clearly a dragon. The way the light hits the wings in this photo, you can't discern the patterning – if I see her again, I'll try to get a top view shot.

Sympetrum vicinum (male): autumn meadowhawk

This male autumn meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) was sunning himself on the edge of a pot one late-October day. My only other siting of this species was also on a sunny day in late October, so the autumn part of their name is appropriate.
Pennsylvania, October 2014

Sympetrum vicinum (female): eastern band-winged meadowhawk

Staying with the meadowhawks for a moment, I found this eastern band-winged meadowhawk female (Sympetrum semicinctum) one early Sunday morning on my car. Not at all inclined to fly at such an hour, she allowed me to take some good photos, even though the background isn't nearly as nice as a pond full of lilypads.
Pennsylvania, July 2014 dragonfly larva: Green darner (Anax junius)


Now that we have a large pond with fairly clear water, we get to enjoy the whole life cycle of dragonflies. My boys found this advanced-stage larva halfway submerged on a rock one day (I'm proud - they were swimming, yet they didn't freak out; instead, they caught the bug for papa!). It's most likely a common green darner (Anax junius). See the little wing stublets on its back?
Pennsylvania, August 2009

Stylurus plagiatus dragonfly russet-tipped clubtail


The first new-to-me dragonfly sighting in Texas didn't happen until a few years after we moved here. I see some species familiar from Pennsylvania regularly, and am aware of some others that never sit down when I'm looking so that I haven't had a chance to identify them. But this one, it turns out, is a russet-tipped clubtail (Stylurus plagiatus). According to Bugguide, its season runs frm June through October, but this photo was actually taken in mid-May, so it starts earlier in the more southern reaches of its range, which spans from the eastern US through the southwest and perhaps into Mexico.
Texas, May 2020

roseate skimmer: orthemis ferruginea dragonfly

A new dragonfly sighting is always exciting, and this one was particularly satisfying: large and with striking coloration, this is a male roseate skimmer (Orthemis ferruginea), majestically holding court over our pond, occasionally chasing away some common blue dashers but mostly just ignoring them. He clearly had our pond as its base, making excursions into the wider backyard but always returning to a few perches around our small water feature. A bit skittish, so I had to wait quite a while for a good opportunity to take his picture – but he finally sat still for me. Apparently quite common through North and Central America, but I hadn't noticed this species before.
Texas, May 2022


Damselflies belong to the other suborder, the Zygoptera. Compared to their dragon cousins, they are more slightly built, and have their eyes well separated on their heads. Most damselflies hold their wings together when at rest (but not all, as you can see from the spreadwing further down the page). Enallagma civile: familiar bluet

While wading chest-deep in our pond one day, busily scooping out algae, all of a sudden I saw them – a pair of bright blue damsels. I rushed back inside, leaving a drippy trail across the kitchen floor, to get my camera. I'd never ventured into the pond with my pricey digital SLR before, but I really wanted to capture their mating dance, flitting from lilypad to lilypad, the lady depositing her eggs under water in each spot. Watching them was more fun than fishing for algae! Ischnura verticalis: Easter forktail (immature female)

This orange-bodied side-eyed beauty was hovering ever so delicately through the flowers alongside our bog filter in early August. I first thought it was an orange bluet (Enallagma signatum), but that one has an orange tailpiece. Which means this is an immature female Eastern forktail (Ischnura verticalis).

Another bluet pond damsel, this is a female, either a marsh bluet (Enallagma ebrium) or Hagen's bluet (Enallagma hageni). She was hovering all around our fading tomato plants in early September.
I had this trio of different damselflies dancing near our pond one day in early June - a gray one, a black one with bright blue tip, and an orange one. Turns out, they're all the same species: Ischnura verticalis. The dull one is the female, the blue-tip the male, and the orange a youngster. They wouldn't pose for a family photo...

Ischnura posita fragile forktail damselfly (male) Ischnura posita fragile forktail damselfly (female)
This damsels above are fragile forktails (Ischnura posita); like the ones before, they enjoy the pond environment, gently moving around the foliage surrounding our various pond areas. They can be recognized by the interrupted stripe on the shoulder (which Cresswell likens to an exclamation point). Males and females are different in coloration of body and eyes: males (above left) are green, while females (above right) are blue or gray. Lestes rectangularis: spreadwing damselfly

This damsel took me by surprise – it was a good bit bigger than most of the ones shown above, so at first I thought it was a dragonfly. Turns out this is a slender spreadwing damselfly (Lestes rectangularis): it holds its wings spread out when it rests, instead of together like most of the others. Argia immunda: Kiowa dancer damselfly

Taking the prize as the first damselfly I found in our new Texas garden, this Kiowa dancer (Argia immunda) is an immature male that hasn't yet developed the rich blue color that it will sport later in life. The species occurs mostly in the southwestern US. Compared to other damselflies, it holds its wings upward, above its abdomen. I'm looking forward to seeing him and his kin develop, as our garden should start attracting damsels and dragons now that it features a pond and a good number of plantings. I'll be on the lookout!
Texas, June 2017

Argia immunda: Kiowa dancer damselfly

Since that first sighting, I've seen plenty more Kiowa dancers. This one is an older male, which has developed its purple and blue coloration.
Texas, June 2017

Argia immunda: Kiowa dancer damselflies mating

And a few days later, I spotted this mating pair flying around our pond, alighting on rocks and vegetation between their graceful stints of joint flight.
Texas, June 2017

Argia apicalis: blue-fronted dancer

Their cousin, the blue-fronted dancer (Argia apicalis) visited us in September a few years after that Kiowa dancer sighting. Despite its common name, this species is variable in color, with the ability to change its abdomen tip from blue to dark grey, the rest of the segments being dark brown. It is widely distributed across North America, where its habitat is usually areas around fresh-water bodies surrounded by woodland. Texas, September 2021

Ischnura hastata: citrine forktail

I was so used to seeing only Kiowa dancers in our backyard, I figured this whispy thing that hovered near my Job's tears was just another color variation of that species. But it turns out it was a citrine forktail (Ischnura hastata), the smallest of the U.S. damselflies, readily identified by its yellow tail. Even though its range is large and includes all of the eastern U.S., I had never spotted this one in Pennsylvania.
Texas, July 2017

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