9 Types of Dragonflies Found in Alberta (2024)

What kinds of dragonflies can you find in Alberta?

Types of dragonflies in Alberta

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 Alberta 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.

9 Dragonflies in Alberta:


#1. Autumn Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum vicinum

Types of dragonflies in Alberta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Alberta 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.


#2. Common Green Darner

  • Anax junius

Types of dragonflies in Alberta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Alberta.

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!


#3. Variegated Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum corruptum

Types of dragonflies in Alberta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Alberta!

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.


#4. Vivid Dancer

  • Argia vivida

Types of dragonflies in Alberta

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.16-1.38 in long.
  • Males are bright blue or violet-blue and have black markings.
  • Females may be a blue morph resembling males or a red morph with subdued red or orange coloration.

These stunning damselflies live in various habitats in Alberta.

They have an extensive range due to their unusual ability to thermoregulate. They do this by moving to different sites throughout the day. At night, they settle into sheltered trees to avoid heat loss, but during the day, they move into open or thin forest areas to bask in the sun.

Vivid Dancers use bodies of water for mating, egg-laying, and their larval stage. They often choose areas with nearby woods, sedge vegetation, and rocks.

Although they’re known for their bright blue color, Vivid Dancers aren’t always blue. They may appear red, brown, or grey depending on the sex, type of morph, and temperature. In some populations, Vivid Dancers may appear noticeably brighter or lighter colored as temperatures rise above 77°F (25°C) during the day.


#5. Pacific Forktail

  • Ischnura cervula

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 0.91-1.18 inches long.
  • Males are black with brilliant blue on the sides, four blue dots on top, and a blue band near the end of their abdomen.
  • Females are nearly all brown or black, but some resemble males.

The Pacific Forktail is often the first damselfly in Alberta to emerge in spring and the last you’ll spot in the fall. You’re most likely to find them around lowland, calm-water habitats such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, and slow streams. They are also often abundant around alkaline and saline ponds.

Despite their small size and delicate appearance, Pacific Forktails are fierce predators. Adults feed on various soft-bodied flying insects, including mosquitoes, mayflies, flies, and moths, by grabbing them out of the air. These clever damselflies will also grab aphids and other small insects from vegetation.

While females often spend much of their time away from the water, males stick closely to the shorelines. The males set up and fiercely guard territories in prime mating and egg-laying habitat. The males that hold the best territories are those that get the females.


#6. Striped Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum pallipes

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.34-1.5 in long.
  • Males are mostly red.
  • Females are greenish-yellow to olive green.
  • Both sexes have a pair of diagonal yellow stripes on each side of their bodies and clear wings that may sometimes be clouded yellow where they attach to their bodies.

Striped Meadowhawks are one of the most abundant dragonflies in Alberta.

You can spot these insects around slow and stagnant streams, ponds, ditches, and marshy areas. They spend much of their time perched near the shoreline on bare rocks and branches where they bask to absorb heat during the day. Striped Meadowhawks also hunt from these perches, flying out and capturing soft-bodied insects, including flying ants, flies, small moths, mayflies, and mosquitoes.

Like many dragonflies, male Striped Meadowhawks are territorial. They guard grassy areas near the water. When it’s time to mate, a female will visit a male’s territory and pair up. When they’re finished mating, the pair will remain flying in tandem as the female deposits eggs. Spreading out the eggs helps increase their odds of survival, so a single predator can’t take them all at once.


#7. Band-winged Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum semicinctum

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.1-1.4 in long.
  • Males have bright red abdomens with black markings on the sides, dark red faces, and red eyes.
  • Females are greenish-yellow or orange with red and green eyes and blackish markings on their abdomens.

These bright dragonflies in Alberta are often easy to spot perched near ponds, marshes, bogs, and fens. They prefer water sources with a gentle flow, plenty of weedy growth, and tall grasses.

Band-winged Meadowhawks are incredibly skillful fliers that can move backward and forward, hover, and fly straight up and down. Males perch high above the water and fly out on short patrols. When they’re ready to mate, females visit these areas and pair up with a male.

The eggs hatch into the larval stage, and these naiads live under the water in areas with dense aquatic vegetation. From their hiding places in the vegetation, the naiads grab passing prey, including mosquito larvae, mayfly larvae, other fly larvae, small fish, and tadpoles. The larval phase can last up to two years. When they’re mature, the naiads leave the water, crawling out to shed their skin and metamorphosing into adults.


#8. Chalk-fronted Corporal

  • Ladona julia

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.6-1.8 in long.
  • Males are black with pale shoulder bars and clear wings.
  • Females are dark brown with light gray on the front of their abdomens and clear wings.

Chalk-fronted Corporals like slow-moving water with plenty of emergent vegetation for mating and egg laying. You’ll commonly spot them around ponds, swamps, marshes, lakes, and bogs. When they’re not mating, they fly in sunny patches of nearby forests.

These dragonflies in Alberta often perch horizontally on the shoreline or floating objects in the water. From their perches, they hunt, flying upward to grab various soft-bodied flying insects, including mosquitoes, mayflies, flies, moths, butterflies, and flying ants. If you’re on or near the water, it’s not uncommon to have these dragonflies swooping around you. Don’t worry! They’re just grabbing the mosquitoes that you’ve attracted.

Larval dragonflies, called nymphs or naiads, live in decaying vegetation at the bottom of the water. They feed on insect larvae and freshwater shrimp. When they mature, they emerge from the water at night, shed their skin and metamorphose into adults.


#9. Twelve-spotted Skimmer

  • Libellula pulchella

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Alberta, 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.


Which of these damselflies and dragonflies have you seen in Alberta?

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