Working to conserve dragonflies and their wetland habitats

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 it to species.

1 – Is it a dragonfly or a damselfly?

Feature Dragonfly (suborder = Anisoptera) Damselfly (suborder = Zygoptera)
Wings at rest Open Closed
Fore and hind wings Different shapes Same shape
Eyes Together Apart
Flight Strong and purposeful Weaker and fluttery

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

2 – 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 - AllOdonata with Continent set to Africa
American Dragonflies- AllOdonata with Continent set to North & South America
Asian Dragonflies - AllOdonata with Continent set to Asia

There are helpful further sites on our Links page.

3 – Species photos and more information


4 – Commonly seen species and ID tips

Please note the flight periods are a guide only and will vary across the range from the southern England to northern Scotland.

Large Red Damselfly – A bright red damselfly with black legs and red eyes.  Some individuals may have yellow on their thorax and abdomen.  Often the earliest dragonfly to be seen in the year. 

Flight period: April - September

Large Red Damselfly - male

Broad-bodied Chaser – These are chunky dragonflies.  Males are bright blue with yellow down their sides.  Females are yellowish brown with yellow down the sides – these can look like hornets in flight.  All four wings have a black mark at the base.

Flight period: April - August


Broad-bodied Chaser - male

Common Blue Damselfly – Blue shoulder (antihumeral) stripes are wider than the black stripes and the side of the thorax does not have a short black line on it.  Males are blue and have a club sign at the top of their abdomen.  Females are blue or dull green and have a spur on the underside of the tip of their abdomen. 

Flight period: April - October

Common Blue Damselfly - male

Azure Damselfly – Shoulder (antihumeral) stripes are thinner than the black stripes and the side of the thorax has a short black line on it.  The male is blue and black and has a ‘U’ symbol at the top of its abdomen.  The female is easily confused with other species so it is best to double check. 

Flight period: May – September

Azure Damselfly - male

Brown Hawker – A large brown dragonfly with brown wings. 

Flight period: June - October

Brown Hawker in flight

Southern Hawker – Look for the ‘headlights’ on their thorax behind the eyes – these are large green spots, the green triangle just below the wings and the three bars (rather than paired spots) at the end of their abdomens. 

Flight period: June - October

Southern Hawker - male
Common Darter – A small dragonfly with yellow stripes down its legs.  Males are bright red, females are yellow and darken with age.  Some individuals have black on them. Flight period: May - November Common Darter - male

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

5 – Current Migrant Species

Occasionally dragonflies that are not native to the UK are spotted in the UK.  These are migrant dragonflies.  Here are photos of some migrant species seen in recent years.

Vagrant Emperor - immature Vagrant Emperor – This is a large dragonfly.  The males are yellowish brown with a blue mark below the wings.  The females are yellowish-brown with a green thorax.
Southern Migrant Hawker - male Southern Migrant Hawker – A large hawker with a pale thorax with only a few fine black lines.  The males are blue and black with blue eyes (young males are green).  Females are yellowish-green and brown with green eyes. 

Willow Emerald - male
Willow Emerald Damselfly – These can be easily confused with other Emerald damselflies, take a photo to be sure.  Willow Emeralds have a metallic green body with no blue markings and hold their wings half open when resting.

6 – Still Stuck?

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.

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.