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 dragonflies and damselflies to species.

 

If you do not already have a identification book for dragonflies we strongly recommend you obtain one. ID books are a brilliant resources for improving your dragonfly identification. They will also cover the more difficult aspects of dragonfly ID, such as immature and female colour variants. A range of dragonfly books can be found in our shop.

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

 

Is it a dragonfly or a damselfly?

These are general trends – there are always exceptions to the rule!

         

Dragonfly  (suborder = Anisoptera)

Wings open at rest

Eyes touching at top of the head

Flight strong and purposeful

Damselfly  (suborder = Zygoptera)

Wings closed at rest

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

 

 

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 club sign 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

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

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

Flight period: May – September

 Emerald Damselfly 

These can be easily confused with other Emerald damselflies, so take a photo to be sure

Male: metallic green/bronze thorxa 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 (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 and blue with yellowy thorax stripes

Females: brown and yellow

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

Flight Period: July to November

 

Species photos and fact sheets

 

Dragonflies
Damselflies

 

Still Stuck?

 

Where did you see it?

We can help you identify dragonflies observed in Britain.  If your sighting was from abroad the following sites may help you:

African Dragonflies 
American Dragonflies
Asian Dragonflies 

There are helpful further sites on our Links page.

 

Submit an ID enquiry

 

If you have a photo of the dragonfly, this will help us to identify it.  Please tell us both where and when you took the photograph and email to our ID enquiries helpline.

Advice for dragonfly photographers

Many photographers focus on the eyes of dragonflies, which means that the rest of the insect is often out-of-focus. Unfortunately, such images often cannot be identified because the critical identification features aren’t visible or are too fuzzy. Please try to get more than one image, taken from directly above and from the side of your subject.  If your image file size is above 5MB you can upload it to a publicly-viewable site like Flickr and then send us a link.

 

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