Dragonflies are insects in the sub-order Anisoptera (meaning “unequal-winged”).

The term ‘dragonflies’ is sometimes used for the whole scientific order Odonata that also includes the sub-order Zygoptera (damselflies).

Characteristics Of True Dragonflies

Body: Large and robust.

Wings: Hind wings are usually shorter and broader than the forewings.

Eyes: Very large and usually touch at the top of the head.

Southern Hawker image by Christophe Brochard


Body: often thinner in the abdomen with a narrow ‘waist’ near the top of the abdomen.

Accessory genitalia: Used for transferring sperm to the female during copulation. Located under segment 2 of the abdomen.

Anal appendages: Visible at the very end of the abdomen.

Male Southern Hawker dorsal image by Airwolfhound

Male Southern Hawker side image by Ian Preston


Body: Often thicker in the abdomen.

Ovipositor: Appendage used for egg laying. Located under segment 8-9 of the abdomen.

Female Southern Hawker dorsal image by Ian Worsley

Female Southern Hawker side image by Ian Preston


In many species of dragonflies adults change colour as they mature.

Tenerals: Newly emerged adults are often paler in colouration.

Mature adults: As an adult becomes sexually mature this is often indicated by a change in coloration.

Over mature: In some species, adults become darker in coloration as they age.

Mature Female Common Darter image by Andrew Holloway

Immature Male Common Darter by Iain Leach

Over-mature Female Common Darter image by Charlie Jackson

Mature Male Common Darter by Suzy Shipman

Nationally Important Species


Endangered:              Norfolk Hawker            White-faced Darter

Vulnerable:                Azure Hawker               Brilliant Emerald

Near threatened:     Northern Emerald        Scarce Chaser           Common Clubtail


Title image: Black Darter by Iain Leach