Dragonfly and Damselfly Identification Help

Have you spotted a Dragonfly or Damselfly and need help to identify it? 

The following tips should help you to identify most species.

 

This page does not currently include most vagrant and migratory species. For these species visit our species profile pages.

For a more comprehensive guide to Dragonfly identification please check out the range of fantastic Dragonfly guide books avaliable via our shop.

 

Is it a Dragonfly or a Damselfly?

These are general differences between the two groups.

         

Dragonfly  (suborder = Anisoptera)

Robust body

Wings open at rest

Front wings and back wings different in shape

Eyes touching at top of the head (there are some exceptions)

Flight strong and purposeful

Damselfly  (suborder = Zygoptera)

Thin, delicate body

Wings closed at rest (there are some exceptions)

Both pairs of wings are the same shape

Eyes not touching at top of head

Flight weak and fluttering

 

Dragonflies

Choose which group most closely matches your specimen and then click on the image for more information. 

 

Hawkers and Similar Species

Darters, Chasers and Skimmers

Emeralds

Generally dark with bright spots or stripes. Some mostly brown. Can be brightly coloured with a thick black mid-line stripe. Never with dark wing marks other than the wingspots (rectangular marks at the tip). Generally large, robust but thin bodied.

Generally with a blue, red, yellow or brown body or a combination of some of these colours. Sometimes with black markings. Some with additional dark marks on the wings. Generally smaller and stout bodied.

Almost entirely emerald green coloured, usually metallic. Often bright green eyes. Sometimes with bronze tints.

 

Damselflies

Choose which group most closely matches your specimen and then click on the image for more information. 

 

Largely bright blue and black

 

females dull green, biege or blue and black.

Pale blue or white with black markings

with wide, white edge to legs

 

 

Largely green

 

with blue or brown markings

Largely red

 

Females can be largely black with red

Metallic green-blue

 

with large, fully or partially, coloured wings

                                           

Commonly seen species and ID tips

The markings on each individual can vary, as can flight times, so it is best to check a few identification features before you reach your final verdict on the species.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

 

Large Red Damselfly

Both: red with black markings, black wing spots, black legs and red eyes. Some immature males and females have yellow shoulder stripes. Often the earliest dragonfly to be seen in the year. 

Flight period: April - September

Broad-bodied Chaser

Males: bright blue with yellow down their sides 

Females: yellow-brown with yellow down the sides – these can look like hornets in flight

Both: all four wings have a black mark at the base

Flight period: April - August

 

Common Blue Damselfly

Males: blue and have a 'ball-on-stick' mark at the top of their abdomen

Females: blue or dull green and have a spur on the underside of the tip of their abdomen

Both: the side of the thorax does not have a short black line ('spur') on it

Flight period: April - October

Azure Damselfly

Males: blue and black and has a ‘U’ marking at the top of its abdomen

Female: easily confused with other species so it is best to double check

Both: The side of the thorax has a short black line on it

Flight period: May – September

 Emerald Damselfly 

These can be easily confused with other Emerald damselflies, so take a photo to be sure, particularly in the south-east of England

Male: metallic green/bronze thorax and abdomen with blue colouring on the thorax and 'tail'.

Female: metallic green/bronze body without blue patches

Both: all dark wing spots

Flight Period: July-September (sometimes May-October)

Brown Hawker

Male: small blue markings

Female: small yellow or blue markings

Both: brown body with distinctive amber wings and yellow stripes on the side of the thorax

Flight period: June - October

Southern Hawker

Male: waisted body with black background and paired green spots. Blue stripes at the tip of the abdomen

Female: chunkier brown body with green spots and stripes

Both: broad green shoulder stripes, all green side of the thorax and green triangle at the top of the abdomen

Flight period: June - October

Common Darter

Males: bright orange-red with a slight waist and broad yellow panels on the side of the thorax. Immatures are yellow/orange

Females: yellow, but darken with age, sometimes becoming quite red.  Some individuals have black markings

Both: yellow stripes on the legs (sometimes this fades)

Flight period: May - November

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Males: head and tip of the abdomen are blue with the rest of the body black

Females: head and tip can be blue or one of 5 colour forms with the rest of the body black

Flight Period: April to September (or early November)

Migrant Hawker

Males: black with blue spots

Females: brown with yellow spots

Both: small to no shoulder stripes and a yellow T-shape on the top of the abdomen

Flight Period: July to November

Identifying Dragonflies from photographs

If you can't identify a Dragonfly species in the field try taking photos of the specimen so you can identify it later, either by using this online guide, a guide book or by submitting an ID query. In order to capture all the important features of a species, and to make identification as easy as possible, try to get at least two photos: one taken from directly above and one from the side of your subject. 

Below are examples using a male Southern Hawker. In these photos all the important ID features are in focus.

 

Submit an ID enquiry 

Still can identify your species sighting? Contact one of our experts. Click here to send us an email.

If you have a photo of the dragonfly, this will help us to identify it. If your image file size is above 5MB please upload it and send it via WeTransfer so your images don't clog up our inbox.

 

Dragonflies abroad 

If your sighting was from outside of the UK, the following sites may help you:

African Dragonflies 
American Dragonflies
Asian Dragonflies 

There are helpful further sites on our Links page.

 

Images from top, left-right: David Kitching, Neil Malton, David Kitching, David Kitching, Kees Waterlander, Neil Malton, Dave Mitchell, António A Gonçalves, David Kitching, Tim Melling, David Kitching, Val Perrin, David Kitching, Jules Oliver, David Kitching, Paul Appleyard, David Kitching, David Kitching, David Kitching, David Kitching, Kentish Plumber (flikr), Mark Robinson.