Dragonflies and Damselflies

Widow Skimmer (male)
Photo by Jim Mason
Widow Skimmer (male) Photo by Jim Mason

Dragonflies and Damselflies in Kansas

Dragonflies and damselflies are insects in the Order ODONATA. They are some of the more noticeable insects, especially around the bodies of water that they call home.

Their amazing aerial capabilities and superb sense of sight make them fascinating creatures to watch.

As with birds, learning to tell the different species apart would seem to be an obvious first step into their world. But an easier step is to observe their different behaviors instead! A small pond may have 6 or more different species active at one time.

The observant naturalist will notice that:

  • A lot of their activity has to do with breeding. Being insects, this is no surprise, but their high visibility means this is all out in the open where it can be easily seen.
    • Males joust with other males for territory and chase females.  (Males confident of their status may just raise their tail in the air while perched to fend off rivals.)
    • Mated pairs of some species fly around in tandem.  The male flies in front, holding the female by the nape of her "neck" with special claspers on the end of his abdomen as the female lays her eggs.
    • Males of some other species will guard the airspace around a female they have mated in an attempt to prevent other males from mating with her.
    • The method of egg-laying is quite variable.  Some species dab their eggs one at a time into algae mats or in open water.  Others drop their eggs from above without touching the water.  Darners use bladelike structures on the tip of their abdomen to make tiny slits in the stems of aquatic plants and insert their eggs individually into these. 
  • Different species have distinct habitat preferences. Some species spend all their time around water.  Other species, when not courting, may be found cruising over meadows.  Some are only found along wooded streams.  
  • And then there is the ongoing pursuit of food in the form of other flying insects, which they catch - and eat - in mid-air!  


Since they can see so well, getting close enough to these flighty insects to make accurate species identification and see the details of their behavior can be quite a challenge.  Many species can be easily identified with the naked eye, but others require more careful inspection.  As with butterfly watching, a pair of close-focusing binoculars is a great help in this matter.  These keep you outside the dragonflies' comfort zone so you can view their normal behavior rather than behavior driven by fear of your presence.

Odonates have an amphibious life history

Beginning as a water-breathing, aquatic juvenile stage called a naiad and finishing as a winged air-breathing adult. As either naiads or adults they are strictly predatory feeders. The feeding strategy of the naiads is almost as remarkable as that of the adults. The naiads have a unique, hinged lower jaw with a pincer on the end. They use this to grab their prey, which may - for the larger species of dragonfly naiaids - be as big as small minnows! For defense, they can use jet-propulsion to get away from their enemies by squirting a blast of water out their cloaca!

The following is a list of all verified species seen in Kansas.  It was compiled by Roy BeckemeyerCommon names follow those used by the Dragonfly Society of the Americas.

Checklist of Kansas Odonata PDF

Suborder of Damselflies - Zygoptera

Ebony Jewelwing - Calopteryx maculata 
American Rubyspot - Hetaerina americana
Smoky Rubyspot - Hetaerina titia

Great Spreadwing - Archilestes grandis
Common Spreadwing - Lestes disjunctus australis
Amber-winged Spreadwing - Lestes eurinus Say
Slender Spreadwing - Lestes rectangularis
Lyre-tipped Spreadwing - Lestes unguiculatus

Red Damsel - Amphiagrion sp.
Paiute Dancer - Argia alberta
Blue-fronted Dancer - Argia apicalis
Seepage Dancer - Argia bipunctulata
Variable Dancer - Argia fumipennis violacea
Kiowa Dancer - Argia immunda
Powdered Dancer - Argia moesta
Aztec Dancer - Argia nahuana
Springwater Dancer - Argia plana
Blue-ringed Dancer - Argia sedula
Blue-tipped Dancer - Argia tibialis
Dusky Dancer - Argia translata
Rainbow Bluet - Enallagma antennatum
Azure Bluet - Enallagma aspersum
Double-striped Bluet - Enallagma basidens
Tule Bluet - Enallagma carunculatum
Familiar Bluet - Enallagma civile
Turquoise Bluet - Enallagma divagans
Stream Bluet - Enallagma exsulans
Skimming Bluet - Enallagma geminatum
Arroyo Bluet - Enallagma praevarum
Orange Bluet - Enallagma signatum
Slender Bluet - Enallagma traviatum westfalli
Vesper Bluet - Enallagma vesperum
Desert Forktail - Ischnura barberi
Plains Forktail - Ischnura damula
Mexican Forktail - Ischnura demorsa
Black-fronted Forktail - Ischnura denticollis
Citrine Forktail - Ischnura hastata
Western Forktail - Ischnura perparva
Fragile Forktail - Ischnura posita
Eastern Forktail - Ischnura verticalis
Sphagnum Sprite - Nehalennia gracilis
Desert Firetail - Telebasis salva

Suborder of Dragonflies - Anisoptera

Gray Petaltail - Tachopteryx thoreyi

Lance-tipped Darner - Aeshna constricta
Variable Darner - Aeshna interrupta lineata
Blue-eyed Darner - Aeshna multicolor
Shadow Darner - Aeshna umbrosa
Common Green Darner - Anax junius
Comet Darner - Anax longipes
Springtime Darner - Basiaeshchna janata
Fawn Darner - Boyeria vinosa
Swamp Darner - Epiaeschna heros
Cyrano Darner - Nasiaeschna pentacantha

Stillwater Clubtail - Arigomphus lentulus
Jade Clubtail - Arigomphus submedianus
Black-shouldered Spinyleg - Dromogomphus spinosus
Flag-tailed Spinyleg - Dromogomphus spoliatus
Eastern Ringtail - Erpetogomphus designatus
Plains Clubtail - Gomphus (Gomphurus) externus
Ozark Clubtail - Gomphus (Gomphurus) ozarkensis
Cobra Clubtail - Gomphus (Gomphurus) vastus
Pronghorn Clubtail - Gomphus (Gomphus) graslinellus
Sulphur-tipped Clubtail - Gomphus (Gomphus) militaris
Dragonhunter - Hagenius brevistylus
Rusty Snaketail - Ophiogomphus rupinsulensis (Probably O. westfalli)
Pale Snaketail - Ophiogomphus severus
Common Sanddragon - Progomphus obscurus
Least Clubtail - Stylogomphus albistylus
Riverine Clubtail - Stylurus amnicola
Brimstone Clubtail - Stylurus intricatus
Russet-tipped Clubtail - Stylurus plagiatus

Arrowhead Spiketail - Cordulegaster obliqua

Stream Cruiser - Didymops transversa
Illinois River Cruiser - Macromia illinoiensis
Gilded River Cruiser - Macromia pacifica
Royal River Cruiser - Macromia taeniolata

Stripe-winged Baskettail - Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) costalis
Common Baskettail - Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) cynosura
Dot-winged Baskettail - Epitheca (Tetragoneuria) petechialis
Prince Baskettail - Epitheca (Epicordulia) princeps
Smoky Shadowdragon - Neurocordulia molesta
Orange Shadowdragon - Neurocordulia xanthosoma
Mocha Emerald - Somatochlora linearis
Ozark Emerald - Somatochlora ozarkensis
Clamp-tipped Emerald - Somatochlora tenebrosa

Pale-faced Clubskimmer - Brechmorhoga mendax
Calico Pennant - Celithemis elisa
Halloween Pennant - Celithemis eponina
Banded Pennant - Celithemis fasciata
Double-ringed Pennant - Celithemis verna
Checkered Setwing - Dythemis fugax
Swift Setwing - Dythemis velox
Eastern Pondhawk - Erythemis simplicicollis
Great Pondhawk - Erythemis vesiculosa
Band-winged Dragonlet - Erythrodiplax umbrata
Blue Corporal - Ladona deplanata
Dot-tailed Whiteface - Leucorrhinia intacta
Comanche Skimmer - Libellula comanche
Bleached Skimmer - Libellula composita
Spangled Skimmer - Libellula cyanea
Yellow-sided Skimmer - Libellula flavida
Slaty Skimmer - Libellula incesta
Widow Skimmer - Libellula luctuosa
Twelve-spotted Skimmer - Libellula pulchella
Flame Skimmer - Libellula saturata
Painted Skimmer - Libellula semifasciata
Great Blue Skimmer - Libellula vibrans
Roseate Skimmer - Orthemis ferruginea
Blue Dasher - Pachydiplax longipennis
Wandering Glider - Pantala flavescens
Spot-winged Glider - Pantala hymenaea
Eastern Amberwing - Perithemis tenera
Common Whitetail - Plathemis lydia
Desert Whitetail - Plathemis subornata
Blue-faced Meadowhawk - Sympetrum ambiguum
Variegated Meadowhawk - Sympetrum corruptum
Saffron-winged Meadowhawk - Sympetrum costiferum
Cherry-faced Meadowhawk - Sympetrum internum
White-faced Meadowhawk - Sympetrum obtrusum
Western Meadowhawk - Sympetrum occidentale fasciatum
Ruby Meadowhawk - Sympetrum rubicundulum
Yellow-legged Meadowhawk - Sympetrum vicinum
Carolina Saddlebags - Tramea carolina
Black Saddlebags - Tramea lacerata
Red-mantled Saddlebags - Tramea onusta