What kinds of dragonflies can you find in North Dakota?
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 North Dakota 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.
13 Dragonflies in North Dakota:
#1. 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 North Dakota.
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.
#2. 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 North Dakota.
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.
#3. 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 North Dakota 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.
#4. 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 North Dakota 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.
#5. 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 North Dakota. 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.
#6. 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 North Dakota.
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.
#7. 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 North Dakota.
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!
#8. 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 North Dakota!
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.
#9. Blue-eyed Darner
- Rhionaeschna multicolor
- Adults are 2.6-2.8 in long.
- Males are dark brown with blue eyes, two blue stripes on top, diagonal blue stripes on the sides, and large and small blue spots on their abdomens.
- Females also have blue eyes and a similar pattern but have a brown base color and green markings.
Blue-eyed Darners are common dragonflies in North Dakota during summer.
They’re easy to spot around lakes, ponds, slow-moving streams, canals, and marshes. These insects tend to prefer water bodies that are surrounded by open areas rather than woodlands. Blue-eyed Darners are sometimes found around acid bogs and can also tolerate alkaline water conditions.
Unlike many dragonfly species, Blue-eyed Darners often range far from aquatic habitats when they’re not breeding. You may even spot them in city parks, yards, parking lots, and other urban areas. Blue-eyed Darners may be migratory in some areas, including California, where large numbers show up in the fall.
Blue-eyed Darners are relatively large and well-suited to hunting prey in midair. They have 360-degree vision, can fly forward or backward, and can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. You may spot them feeding in large swarms over the water, taking flying insects like moths, mosquitoes, flies, termites, and mayflies from the air.
#10. Striped Meadowhawk
- Sympetrum pallipes
- 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 North Dakota.
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.
#11. Band-winged Meadowhawk
- Sympetrum semicinctum
- 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 North Dakota 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.
#12. 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 North Dakota.
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!
#13. 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 North Dakota, 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 North Dakota?
Leave a comment below!
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