16 Types of Dragonflies Found in Washington (2023)

What kinds of dragonflies can you find in Washington?

Types of dragonflies in Washington

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 Washington 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.

16 Dragonflies in Washington:

#1. Widow Skimmer

  • Libellula luctuosa

Types of dragonflies in Washington

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Washington.

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

Types of dragonflies in Washington

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Washington.

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

Types of dragonflies in Washington

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 Washington 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. Halloween Pennant

  • Celithemis eponina

Types of dragonflies in Washington

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Washington!

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 Washington, 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.

#5. Common Green Darner

  • Anax junius

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 Washington.

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!

#6. Variegated Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum corruptum

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 Washington!

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.

#7. Flame Skimmer

  • Libellula saturata

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.93-2.4 in long.
  • Males are entirely red or dark orange, including their eyes, legs, and wing veins.
  • Females are medium or darker brown with some thin yellow markings.

Interestingly, the Flame Skimmer’s fiery color matches its habitat preference. These dragonflies are generally found around hot springs or warm ponds in Washington.

Flame Skimmers generally hunt from perches on twigs or rocks. When they spot prey, they fly out after it. Their diet is made up of soft-bodied insects, including mosquitoes, mayflies, butterflies, flies, moths, and termites.

Larval-stage Flame Skimmers, called naiads, hunt similarly to adults. To avoid predators, they lurk in the mud at the bottom of the water, waiting to grab prey that passes by. The naiads are highly successful hunters and eat insect larvae, freshwater shrimp, small fish, and tadpoles.

#8. Vivid Dancer

  • Argia vivida

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 Washington.

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.

#9. 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 Washington 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.

#10. Blue-eyed Darner

  • Rhionaeschna multicolor

Identifying Characteristics:

  • 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 Washington 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.

#11. Cardinal Meadowhawk

  • Sympetrum illotum

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.5-1.57 in long.
  • Males are almost entirely bright red with a pair of yellow spots on the upper body. They have brownish wings with red veins.
  • Females are brownish-red with translucent golden-brown wings.

Cardinal Meadowhawks are named for the males’ flashy bright red coloring that’s thought to resemble a Catholic cardinal’s robes. They inhabit areas around ponds and lakes. You’ll often spot the males around the shore or over the open water. In contrast, females travel farther from the water, visiting when it’s time to mate and lay eggs.

These brilliantly colored dragonflies are “perchers.” You’ll often spot them perched on a twig, plant, or other material overhanging the water, waiting for prey to pass. When an insect flies by them, a Cardinal Meadowhawk will zoom out to catch it with better than a 95% success rate.

This species’ flying skills aren’t limited to hunting. When the female returns to the water to mate, she and the male will assume the “wheel position.” Flying in tandem, the male grasps the head of the female, and their bodies then curl and pair at their abdomens, where the male deposits his sperm. It may look awkward, but they can fly this way surprisingly well!

#12. Eight-spotted Skimmer

  • Libellula forensis

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 1.73-2.01 inches long.
  • Males are brownish-black with a powder blue or white coating and two large dark spots paired with two large white spots on each of their wings, one near the base and one near the middle.
  • Females are similar in color but often have yellow or orange markings along the sides of their bodies and sometimes lack white markings on the wings.

The spotted wings of these beautiful dragonflies in Washington make them easy to see in the air. Some of the females of this species have white wing spots like the males and are the only female dragonflies in North America to have them!

Eight-spotted Skimmers prefer bodies of water with weedy vegetation and muddy substrates. However, you may not have to visit these places to find them. They also visit habitats away from the water, including uplands, clearings, backyards, and parks.

Unlike many dragonflies, male Eight-spotted Skimmers don’t guard specific territories. Instead, they fly continuously through suitable shoreline habitats and are aggressive towards other male dragonflies, including those of other species. They also spend time perched near the shore on branches, twigs, or plants, offering great photo opportunities for naturalists!

#13. 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 Washington.

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.

#14. 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 Washington 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.

#15. 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 Washington 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.

#16. 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 Washington, 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 Washington?

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