What kinds of dragonflies can you find in Alabama?
Dragonflies are easy to recognize by their long, slender bodies and distinctively narrow wings. They often live around water, but these adaptable creatures also inhabit other areas.
There are at least 5,000 species of dragonflies in the world! Since it would be impossible to list all of the ones in Alabama in this article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂
You will also notice a similar type of insect, the damselfly, included in this list. Although it can be hard to tell these two apart, there are some key differences to look for.
- First, dragonflies are usually larger and thicker in body, whereas damselflies are thin and twiglike.
- Second, dragonflies hold their wings out from their bodies while resting. Conversely, damselflies fold them back against their bodies.
20 Dragonflies in Alabama:
#1. Eastern Pondhawk
- Erythemis simplicicollis
- Adults are 1.4-1.9 in long.
- Males are powdery blue with yellow-tipped abdomens and green faces.
- Females are bright green with dark brown or black spots on their abdomen and green faces.
These aptly named dragonflies in Alabama spend their time around ponds and other still bodies of water. They are incredibly agile, ferocious aerial predators, which is where the “hawk” moniker comes from. This species feeds on various insects and take down prey its own size.
Eastern Pondhawks often rest on vegetation between hunts and take to their air when prey passes them. They sometimes take larger insects back to their perch. They twist their long legs into a basket shape to carry their prey to hold it securely.
Dragonflies are known for their exciting flight behavior, and Eastern Pondhawks are no exception. You may spot a pair flying across the water’s surface together just an inch or two apart. Occasionally, the leader will fall back, and the other will move into the lead in a cartwheel-like motion.
While they aren’t venomous or dangerous to humans, Eastern Pondhawks can deliver a painful pinch if you grab them. They’re fascinating creatures, but it’s best to leave them alone and observe from a distance.
#2. Blue Dasher
- Pachydiplax longipennis
- Adults are 1-1.5 in long.
- Males are vibrant blue with yellow-striped thoraces and metallic green eyes.
- Females are less colorful and have similar striped thoraces, brown and yellow striped abdomens, and red eyes.
Blue Dashers are one of the most common dragonflies in Alabama.
You’re most likely to find them around calm or slow-moving bodies of water, including lakes, ponds, marshes, ditches, and slow rivers and streams.
Blue Dashers are voracious predators capable of eating hundreds of insects each day! They have fast reflexes and incredible eyesight. Their bulging, round eyes are composed of 30,000 facets, each seeing in a different direction. Combined, the facets allow these dragonflies to see in nearly every direction. Their two independent sets of wings enable them to change direction quickly and to hover in place when necessary.
As adults, they predominately feed on small flying insects like mosquitoes, moths, flies, and mayflies. They catch up to 95% of the prey they pursue, making them one of Earth’s most efficient predators. Both males and females are aggressive toward other dragonflies.
The larval dragonflies, called naiads or nymphs, remain in the water for up to two years. While in this stage, they feed on aquatic insects, tadpoles, and even tiny fish. They’re well camouflaged and often hide in aquatic vegetation until they spot prey. Adults have a much shorter lifespan than naiads and die after only a few weeks.
#3. Widow Skimmer
- Libellula luctuosa
- Adults are 1.7-2 in long.
- They have bulky bodies and large, prominent black bands on the base of their wings.
- Males are steel-blue and develop broad white spots on their wings.
- Females are yellow and black.
The Widow Skimmer is an easy-to-identify dragonfly in Alabama.
The distinctive dark markings on their transparent wings are hard to miss. The black patches resemble a widow’s black shawl, which explains their common name.
You’re likely to find Widow Skimmers around open bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, or slow-moving streams during the summer. They often select areas with muddy banks.
Male Widow Skimmers are incredibly territorial and will patrol their territory and chase away rival males. You may also spot Widow Skimmers mating when a pair forms a “wheel” position in flight.
#4. Fragile Forktail
- Ischnura posita
- Adults are 0.8-1.1 in long.
- Males are yellow, yellow-green, or green.
- Females are light blue, maturing to dark blue with a frosted or powdered appearance.
- Both sexes feature pale shoulder stripes that resemble exclamation marks.
Fragile Forktails are damselflies, which are similar to dragonflies in Alabama.
Look for them from spring through summer and into early fall. You’re likely to find these insects around ponds, wetlands, and slow-moving streams. They often perch or forage in the shade near these areas.
Despite their small, delicate frame, Fragile Forktails are efficient predators. They predominantly feed on small flying insects and sometimes other damselflies, including those of their own species.
Fragile Forktails may have several generations per year. The males don’t guard the females, but the females excel at warding off unwanted attention. They flex their abdomen and beat their wings rapidly in a threat display.
#5. Common Whitetail
- Plathemis lydia
- Adults are 1.7 to 1.9 in long.
- Males are chalky blue with a single, broad, dark band on each wing.
- Females have brown bodies with a row of yellowish, triangular marks on each side of their abdomen and three evenly spaced dark blotches on each wing.
Common Whitetails are easy dragonflies to find in Alabama.
If you spend time near ponds, marshes, and other slow-moving bodies of water, you’ll likely spot one. They zoom above the water feeding on mosquitoes and other small flying insects. Common Whitetails also spend a lot of time perching, and you may spot them resting on vegetation or occasionally even on the ground near the water’s edge.
Males are surprisingly feisty and highly territorial! They guard and patrol a section of the water’s edge and warn off other males using their white abdomen in threat displays. These territories are essential because they are where a female mate will lay her eggs.
The naiads or nymphs that hatch from the eggs receive no parental care or guarding. Unfortunately, they’re an abundant and favorite food source for fish, frogs, birds, and other aquatic insects and have up to a 99% mortality rate.
#6. Eastern Amberwing
- Perithemis tenera
- Adults grow up to 1 inch long.
- Their wings are pure gold, orange, or amber, and females have brown spots.
- Both sexes have large red eyes, red pterostigmata (specialized thicker cells on the outer wing), and brown and yellow stripes on their abdomen.
This species is the only dragonfly in Alabama known to mimic wasps!
Eastern Amberwings have brown and yellow stripes on their abdomen that help them appear wasp-like to warn away predators. They also copy the behavior of wasps, flexing and wiggling their abdomens like the more dangerous insects.
You’ll most likely spot Eastern Amberwings on warm, sunny days near wetlands and small bodies of water. They perch near the water’s edge, occasionally darting out to feed on small flying insects that happen by.
Males protect and patrol a shoreline territory about 20 feet wide. The males look for high-quality egg-laying sites with plenty of aquatic vegetation as they need their territory to appeal to females.
#7. Ebony Jewelwing
- Calopteryx maculata
- Adults are 1.5-2.2 in long.
- Males have metallic blue-green bodies with black wings.
- Females have dull brown bodies, smoky wings, and white spots near the tips.
These stunning damselflies live near wooded streams and rivers. Look for Ebony Jewelwings resting on leaves and branches in sunny spots of nearby forests. They’re agile fliers, using their spiny legs to seize prey on the wing. These insects are great to have around because they feed on mosquitoes, gnats, and crane flies. And if you look closely, you may notice them turning their heads to track you with their large eyes!
Ebony Jewelwings are adventurous damselflies. You might occasionally spot males far from water searching for new territory. In cool climates, you’ll see them through the spring, summer, and early fall, but they’re often present year-round in warmer southern climates.
Look for interesting mating behavior in territorial male Ebony Jewelwings. They attempt to attract females by performing what’s known as a “cross” display. They face the female and then turn their hindwings downward, keeping them perpendicular to the body. Then they raise their forewings and abdomen, displaying their pale underside.
#8. Autumn Meadowhawk
- Sympetrum vicinum
- Adults are 1.2-1.4 in long.
- Males are bright cherry red.
- Females are yellow as young but mature to red and tan.
These dragonflies in Alabama emerge later than many others.
Autumn Meadowhawks usually become active in early summer, and they’re most common during the summer and fall. You may be able to spot adults into November or until there is a hard freeze.
Look for these dragonflies near marshes, ponds, and slow-moving streams. They have a voracious appetite and are capable predators, feeding on pests like moths, mosquitoes, mayflies, flies, flying ants, and termites. They generally perch and then fly out after prey that comes close. Researchers believe that they catch 97% of the insects they pursue!
They’re a unique dragonfly species because the males aren’t territorial and are usually very tolerant of other males. This apparent friendliness is undoubtedly due to their unusual mating system. Autumn Meadowhawks pair up away from the water in the forest. Because of the forest’s privacy, there isn’t as much need for individual territories.
#9. Blue-fronted Dancer
- Argia apicalis
- Adults are 1.3-1.6 in long.
- Males have light blue eyes, blue thoraces, and brown abdomens with blue sides and tips.
- Females vary in color and may be blue, brown, turquoise, or grayish-black.
These damselflies in Alabama are named for their elegant flight.
They’re charming to watch as they flit, flutter, and bounce through the air around ponds, streams, creeks, and rivers. You may see their attractive blue coloring better as they rest on nearby shrubs, grass, logs, and branches.
Male Blue-footed Dancers spend much more time over the water as they guard and patrol small territories. Females will only visit their territory when they’re ready to mate and instead spend their time flying over grassy areas or in forests.
Larval Blue-fronted Dancers, called naiads or nymphs, are incredible aquatic predators. They feed on worms, insects, and even small fish. Eventually, they will crawl out of the water, metamorphose into their adult phase, and repeat the reproduction cycle.
#10. Familiar Bluet
- Enallagma civile
- Adults are 1.1-1.5 in long.
- Males are bright blue with a dark head featuring two blue tear-shaped spots on the top and black patches along the top of their bodies.
- Females have a similar pattern but are generally light brown rather than blue.
Familiar Bluets are less picky about habitat than other damselflies and dragonflies in Alabama. The males of this species are generally easy to spot and are the brightest of the blue damselflies! They need water to complete their lifecycle but use any water source, including muddy puddles, lakes, bogs, marshes, salt marshes, streams, creeks, rivers, and ponds. They quickly take advantage of any new wet habitat that they find.
Despite their charming and almost delicate appearance, Familiar Bluets are formidable predators. They will feed on virtually any soft-bodied insect that crosses their path. These include small moths, mosquitoes, flies, mayflies, flying ants, and termites.
You’ll likely spot male Familiar Bluets over the water, where they spend much of their time on lengthy patrols to guard their territory. Females will visit them when they are ready to mate but spend much of their time in nearby woodlands.
#11. Variable Dancer
- Argia fumipennis
- Adults are 1.1-1.3 in long.
- Males are violet with black markings, pale sides, and blue tips.
- Females have a similar pattern but are usually brown instead of violet.
As their name suggests, this species is variable in looks, and there are currently three recognized subspecies. The Violet Dancer is a northern subspecies with transparent wings, the Smoky Dancer is found in the southeast and has brownish wings, and the Black Dancer is only found in Florida and features black wings.
The second part of their name, “dancer,” refers to their bouncy, fluttering flight, which makes them appear to dance across the sky. This flight pattern is a great way to differentiate “dancers” and “bluets,” two different types of damselflies in Alabama.
You will likely find Variable Dancers around heavily vegetated ponds, lakes, and streams. However, they can occasionally be spotted in other aquatic habitats like sandy lakes and rivers. They feed on tiny, flying insects, including flies, small moths, mayflies, mosquitoes, termites, and flying ants.
#12. Slaty Skimmer
- Libellula incesta
- Adults are 1.8-2.2 in long.
- Males are slaty blue to almost black with black heads and eyes.
- Females have brown abdomens and dark stripes running down their backs.
- Both sexes have a dark spot on the tip and the leading edge of their four wings.
These shy dragonflies can be hard to spot in Alabama.
Slaty Skimmers prefer ponds and other still-water habitats that are surrounded by woodlands. They spend much of their time perched in sunny spots on nearby vegetation or the woodland edge, waiting for prey to pass. Then they fly out and grab insects from midair.
Males are aggressively territorial. They spend much of their time zooming around and chasing other males out of their section of shoreline. You may spot them looping and charging at other males. The females, on the other hand, are tougher to spot and don’t spend much time at the shoreline until they’re ready to mate.
When the eggs hatch into naiads or nymphs (baby dragonflies), they live in the muck at the bottom of ponds or streams. They live underwater, feeding on other aquatic insects until they reach maturity, crawl out of the water, and metamorphose into adults.
#13. Halloween Pennant
- Celithemis eponina
- Adults range from 1.5 to 1.65 inches in length.
- They have orange-yellow wings with dark brown bands and dark bodies with a light yellow or orange stripe down their backs.
- Adults sometimes have pale red markings on their faces.
Halloween Pennants are an easy-to-recognize dragonfly in Alabama!
With their brightly colored, banded wings, it’s easy to see how they got their festive name. They’re predominantly found around vegetated bodies of water such as ponds, marshes, and lakes. You can often spot them perched on the tips of aquatic vegetation.
Halloween Pennants are powerful fliers that hunt during the day, chasing other insects through the air. They’re even able to fly during rain and strong winds. They feed primarily on smaller insects like gnats, mosquitoes, and flies but occasionally take larger prey, including other dragonflies.
Unlike most dragonflies in Alabama, Halloween Pennants are not territorial. Males rest on vegetation near the water’s edge while waiting for females. They primarily mate in flight, forming a wheel shape with their bodies.
#14. Rambur’s Forktail
- Ischnura ramburii
- Adults are 1.1-1.44 in long.
- Males are green with blue abdominal segments near their rear.
- Females may appear similar to males, or orange-red or olive green.
Rambur’s Forktails are damselflies in Alabama that like habitats with slow-moving or still water, vegetation, and sunlight. They’re incredibly widespread, and you can find them flying around ponds, lakes, and marshes. While they never live in saltwater, they have been spotted around brackish and sulfurous waters.
Most forktails prefer to perch amongst vegetation, but Rambur’s Forktails often fly along open shorelines and perch on bare ground. They feed on soft-bodied flying insects like mosquitoes and small moths.
#15. Common Green Darner
- Anax junius
- Adults grow up to 3 in long.
- Both sexes have unmarked green thoraces, bull’s eye marks on their faces, and clear wings that often become amber-tinted with age.
- Males have bluish-purple abdomens with a black stripe down the middle.
- Females may appear like males or have reddish-brown abdomens.
Green Darners are common dragonflies to find in Alabama.
Named for their resemblance to darning needles, these dragonflies are nearly impossible to miss! They’re also one of the largest dragonfly species alive today.
Unlike many dragonflies, some populations of Common Green Darners migrate. Particularly in winter, they travel as far south as Panama. They’re common summertime residents of the northern US and southern Canada, and occasionally, vagrant individuals are spotted well outside their normal range. They’ve been known to show up as far away as Japan, Russia, Bermuda, France, and the UK! Researchers suspect these are individuals who were blown off course during storms.
Common Green Darner migration is complex and challenging to study. Researchers now suspect a full migration takes place over at least three generations. The first generation emerges in spring in the southern part of the range and travels north in the summer. The second generation emerges in the northern part of their range in summer and migrates south during the fall. The third generation emerges in the southern part of the range during the winter and doesn’t migrate. Then the cycle begins again with the next generation.
When researchers equipped Common Green Darners with micro radio transmitters, they found that these big dragonflies traveled about 10 miles per hour and up to 87 miles in a single day!
#16. Variegated Meadowhawk
- Sympetrum corruptum
- Adults are 1.63-1.92 in long.
- Males are dark brown or black with red faces and eyes and bright red, pink, or golden brown abdomens.
- Females are similar in appearance but duller in color; gray and yellow often replace the males’ red, and they have brownish and lavender eyes.
Variegated Meadowhawks are some of the flashiest dragonflies in Alabama!
You’ll likely spot this ornate species around still or slow-moving waters, including ponds, swamps, lakes, and streams. They’re agile predators that feed on soft-bodied flying insects, including mosquitoes, flies, small moths, mayflies, and flying ants or termites.
These insects are savvy travelers and navigators. They’re a migratory species of dragonfly that completes their migration over a few generations. They travel into the northern US and Canada and migrate as far south as Honduras and Belize. They usually appear in northern areas in the spring, and the next generation departs southward in late summer.
Variegated Meadowhawks fly low during migration and navigate visually by the sun. Researchers believe this unique approach may give them an advantage over other migratory species as climate change continues to affect weather patterns.
Despite their migratory nature, male Variegated Meadowhawks are extremely territorial. They fly low, patrolling sections of open water and occasionally perch while watching for intruders. They will chase out other male Variegated Meadowhawks and other species.
#17. Roseate Skimmer
- Orthemis ferruginea
- Adults are 1.8-2.2 in long.
- Males are lavender to rosy-purple with metallic purple faces.
- Females are yellow to golden brown.
- Both sexes feature clear wings with brown pterostigmata (thickened cells) on the leading edge.
It’s impossible to miss this dragonfly in Alabama!
These large skimmers are strong, showy fliers, and the males have a distinct, beautiful appearance. Their rosy pink color is rare among insects and even birds, making them easy to identify.
You’re most likely to spot Roseate Skimmers around water sources like ponds, marshes, ditches, and small pools of water. Here, they spend time feeding on small flying insects. They avoid water sources with abundant Neon Skimmers, another species that more aggressively defends its territory.
Male Roseate Skimmers stake out territories over water sources. They often perch on nearby twigs and vegetation and fly out to patrol the area and chase away intruders. They will aggressively defend their territory from other male Roseate Skimmers.
#18. Eastern Forktail
- Ischnura verticalis
- Adults are 0.87-1.18 in long.
- Males are green with black-striped bodies that have bright blue tips.
- Females are bluish-gray.
Eastern Forktails are common damselflies in Alabama.
You’ll find them around almost any wetland, marsh, pond, or slow-moving stream within their range. They’re particularly fond of water bodies with grassy or weedy edges.
Despite their small size, Eastern Forktails are aggressive predators that feed on other flying insects. They will chase competitors away and occasionally even prey on other damselflies as large as themselves! Surprisingly, this aggressive behavior is more common in females.
Males spend most of their time around ideal breeding sites, perching in and patrolling areas with dense vegetation. Females are also common around the water’s edge. The females are monogamous and mate just once in their life. Despite this, they’re still incredibly productive and can lay thousands of eggs!
#19. Twelve-spotted Skimmer
- Libellula pulchella
- Adults are 2-2.2 in long.
- Males are brownish with twelve black wing spots (three per wing) and eight white wing spots (two per wing).
- Females are brown with yellow stripes down their abdomens and 12 black wing spots (three per wing).
Like most dragonflies in Alabama, Twelve-spotted Skimmers like weedy, slow-moving water.
You can spot them around lakes with marshy shorelines and slow-moving streams. Individuals usually have a favorite perch. If one flies from a perch near you, you should move closer to the location and remain still. Odds are they’ll return to land again in a few minutes, and you can get a closer look!
Twelve-spotted Skimmers also visit nearby fields, prairies, and clearings to hunt, and some populations migrate. They are strong fliers that feed on almost any soft-bodied flying insect, including mosquitoes, flies, small moths, mayflies, flying ants, or termites.
Males often get into territorial disputes, making vertical loops in the air. Thankfully these disputes don’t result in physical harm. The male that can circle the other wins the territory.
#20. Blue-ringed Dancer
- Argia sedula
- Adults are 1.1-1.3 in long.
- Males have blue thoraces with black shoulder and side stripes, black abdomens with blue rings and tips, blue eyespots, and amber-tinted wings.
- Females are brownish and weakly marked.
As their name suggests, their bouncy, dance-like flight patterns can help you distinguish these damselflies from other types. They’re quite widespread, and you’ll often spot them around vegetated slow-moving rivers, streams, ditches, and lakes.
Like other damselflies in Alabama, pairs form a “wheel” position to mate. In this position, the male grasps the head of the female, and their bodies then curl and pair at their abdomens, where the male deposits his sperm. After mating, the pair flies gracefully in tandem, with the male grasping the female. Researchers have noticed that the male’s thorax darkens in color while the pair are flying in tandem.
The females deposit the eggs onto aquatic vegetation. The eggs hatch into nymphs or naiads, which live and feed underwater, preying on aquatic insects. When mature, they emerge from the water, shed their skin, and metamorphose into adult damselflies.
Which of these damselflies and dragonflies have you seen in Alabama?
Leave a comment below!
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