Female Colour Morphs
Did you know that female dragonflies can come in a variety of colour morphs?
Such dragonflies are known as andromorph females and often display male colourations. They can either maintain male colouration throughout their mature adult life, display it only when immature (Shao-Chang et al, 2012) or develop it in old age. For example, female Common Darter’s begin to develop red (male) colouration with age.
Other examples of this include female Southern Hawkers with all blue abdominal markings (see photo right, © Keith Noble), female Keeled Skimmers beginning to develop blue colouration with age and female Banded Demoiselles displaying colour bands on their wings. The many wonderful colour morphs of the female Blue-tailed Damselfly are already well known.
It is not yet fully understood what causes unusual colour morphs in dragonflies. In some cases age seems to be the cause, but other potential factors are environmental stress, temperature and genetic variations.
Some female dragonflies also display male behaviour and body shapes. Some female Blue-tailed Damselflies have been observed reacting with the same behaviour as males to other approaching males (Van Gossum et al, 2001a).
Colour morphs in dragonflies is a rich area of research, with fascinating questions as to why and how this phenomenon occurs still to be answered.
One way we can research the occurrence of female colour morphs is to collect more data on them. We would love you to get involved by sending us your photos of colour morph dragonflies along with the location, date, time, temperature and weather conditions. This will help us to better map the spread of colour morphs in the UK and perhaps begin to understand the causes behind it.
Photos: Top: A female Common Darter developing red (male) colouration with age. © Stuart Anthony. Above: a female Banded Demoiselle (subspecies: amasina) with male-style colour bands on the wings. © Richard Gabb.