Deer in Spring Landscape

Maryland's Wildlife Species
Common Dragonflies of Maryland

In Maryland, there are 7 main families of dragonflies:

Petaltails (Petaluridae),
Darners (Aeshnidae),
Clubtails (Gomphidae),
Spiketails (Cordulegastridae),
River cruisers (Macromiidae),
Emeralds (Corduliidae), and
Pond Skimmers (Libellulidae).

This page will focus on several common species.

Petaltails
Family: Petaluridae

Petaltails are the most ancient of the dragonflies around today. Only 11 species exist worldwide, two of which can be found in the United States. The gray petaltail is the only petaltail found in Maryland. It is uncommon, and its larvae are semi-aquatic, making the gray petaltail unique among other dragonflies (whose larvae are fully aquatic). To learn more about the gray petaltail, check out its page here.

Darners
Family: Aeshnidae

The Darner family contains some of the largest dragonflies found in North America and some of the larger dragonflies in the world. The name ‘darner’ comes from the fact that the female abdomen looks similar to a sewing needle. These large dragonflies spend most of their time in the air.

Common Green Darner (Anax junius)

The male common green darner has a bright green thorax which contrasts with its blue abdomen. Females are less colorful, with rusty brown to purple markings. These darners can get up to 3.3. inches in length and can be found in almost any aquatic habitat in Maryland. Interestingly, common green darners are migratory and travel north in early spring until the fall when they return south. When conditions are favorable, common green darners can travel up to 60 miles in a day!

Common green darner by: Kerry Wixted

Swamp Darner (Epiaeschna heros)

Swamp darners are large dragonflies that can get up to 3.5 inches in length. Their size, blue eyes and green striped thorax make them easy to identify. Swamp darners have brown abdomens patterned with green rings. Swamp darners typically prefer wooded swamps and wet areas with shade.

Swamp darner by Richard Orr

Clubtails
Family: Gomphidae

Clubtails are named after the club-like widening of the end of the abdomen. This feature can be found in most species of clubtails, though not all. For dragonflies, clubtails have widely separated eyes.

Dragonhunter (Hagenius brevistylus)

Dragonhunters are large dragonflies that have bright green eyes, a yellow face and a small head compared to its thorax. Often, male dragonhunters will fly with their abdomen curved in a J-shape. True to their name, they frequently prey on other dragonfly species as well as butterflies. These dragonflies can get up to 3.5 inches in length and can be found in woodlands along streams and rivers.

Dragonhunter, photo by Richard Orr

Ashy Clubtail (Gomphus lividus)

Ashy clubtails are small dragonflies that have drab brown and green markings with yellow stripes. They can be found along the edges of slow moving streams. Often, ashy clubtails will perch above the water and will fly off in a roller-coaster like flight if disturbed. Ashy clubtails can range from 1.9-2.2 inches.

Ashy clubtail, photo by Richard Orr

Spiketails
Family: Cordulegastridae

Spiketails are mostly found along streams in Maryland. Spiketails have a large brown or black body with yellow markings. Maryland has 5 species of spiketails, most of which are rare or uncommon in the state. Some taxonomists lump spiketails under the skimmer family, Libellulidae.

River cruisers
Family: Macromiidae

River cruisers are medium-sized dragonflies that tend to fly down the center of streams and rivers. Interestingly enough, females of this family lack an ovipositor, which is a structure used to deposit eggs. River cruisers lay their eggs directly in the water, eliminating the need for an ovipositor. Some taxonomists lump river cruisers under the skimmer family, Libellulidae.

Emeralds
Family: Corduliidae

As their name suggests, most emerald dragonflies have large, green eyes. Members of this family include baskettails, emeralds, sundragons, shadowdragons and boghaunters. Emeralds are usually black or dark brown in color with splotches of metallic green or yellow.

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura)

Common baskettails are hairy dragonflies that have yellow stripes on the sides of their abdomen. These common dragonflies tend to be 1.5-1.7 inches in length and can be found on the edges of ponds, lakes and streams.

Common baskettail, photo by Richard Orr

Skimmers
Family: Libellulidae

The skimmer family is the largest dragonfly family in the world. Dragonflies in the skimmer family are highly variable in size and color patterns. Common skimmers tend to be fast flyers that can easily zip up and down stretches of streams.

Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)

Autumn meadowhawks, true to their name, are some of the latest flying dragonflies in Maryland. Males usually have bright red to orange abdomens while females have a brownish-red abdomen with a brown thorax. These small dragons can get up to 1.4 inches in length and can be found along ponds and slow moving streams.

Male autumn meadowhawk, photo by Richard Orr

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis)

Male blue dashers have a small powdery-blue abdomen, blue-green eyes and a striped thorax. Females are similar looking, with just a bit more brown. These little dragonflies can be found in and around most aquatic habitats. Males tend to be very territorial. These little dragons can range from 1-1.8 inches in length.

Male Blue dasher, photo by Richard Orr

Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)

Black saddlebags have very distinct wings with large black blotches present at the base of their hindwing. Black saddlebags tend to have ashy blue-gray colorings on their abdomen as well as black eyes. These dragonflies can be found around ponds, lakes and marshes. They can reach a length of 1.8-2.2 inches.

Black saddlebags, photo by Richard Orr

Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia)

Male common whitetails are easily recognized by their bright white abdomen that contrasts with black banded wings. Females are brownish with striped black wings. These common dragonflies can be found along ponds, lakes and slow moving streams. They can reach  ranging from 1.5-1.9 inches. 

Common whitetail, photo by Kerry Wixted

Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera)

Eastern amberwings are small dragonflies that have a rich amber-orange color. Males have amber colored wings while females have clear wings with brown patches. These small odonates reside along ponds, lakes, marshes and streams. Often, you can see them flying low over the water surface or perching on aquatic plants. These tiny dragons can reach up to 1 inch in length.

Eastern amberwing, photo by Richard Orr

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis)

Eastern pondhawk females and immature males are bright green. As the males age, they gradually turn a powdery blue from their abdomen to their thorax. These dragonflies can get up to 2 inches in length and can be found along ponds, lakes and streams.

Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta)

Slaty skimmer males are colored a rich bluish-black. The tips of their wings have black marks while their abdomens are long and thin. Females and immature males are less colorful and have beige and black thoraxes. These dragonflies range from about 1.8-2.2 inches in length. They can be found in marshes, ponds and slow moving streams. Often, you can see slaty skimmers making short patrols before returning to a favored perch above the water.

Slaty skimmer, photo by Kerry Wixted

For Additional Information, Contact:

Kerry Wixted
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
kwixted@dnr.state.md.us
Phone: 410-260-8566
Fax: 410-260-8596

Acknowledgements:

  • Common green darner, common whitetail, eastern pondhawk and slaty skimmer by: Kerry Wixted
  • All other photos courtesy of Richard Orr