Damselfly and Dragonfly Taxonomy

We have always been fascinated with the insect order Odonata, which contains damselflies and dragonflies.  Dragonflies are by far the more familiar for they are more conspicuous.  In my opinion, the evolutionary track of today’s naturalist is:  1st) Birds, 2nd) Butterflies, 3rd) Dragonflies and then wildly chasing after multiple taxa. This list, as with the birds and butterfly list, will lay out our damselflies and dragonflies that we can expect to see in Arkansas.  Like butterflies, we will get the occasional vagrant.  Unless they are regularly encountered AR I have omitted them from this list.  The main resource we use is Dennis Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East which is phenomenal.  Not only is it up-to-date and comprehensive but it also gives the reader great identification tools for each species.  Out of all the field guides we own, this is probably my personal favorite.  Also, it features several great Arkansan/Oklahoman contemporary naturalists’ photos.  Another good resource is the quasi-citizen science project OdonataCentral.

Here is the list of Arkansas’ Odonata.  The first suborder of Odonata is Zygoptera, which are the damselflies.  The second suborder is Anisoptera, which are the dragonflies.  Most damselflies are small than dragonflies with a few exceptions.  The most obvious difference between the two is how the hold their wings: damselflies hold their wings behind them for the most part while dragonflies keep their wings out to the side.  These will be organized by family.  The species that we have seen will be in red.


Broad-winged Damsels (Calopterygidae)

These are the denizens of shady, flowing water.  They are very graceful in flight and always a crowd favorite.

  • Sparkling Jewelwing
  • Ebony Jewelwing
  • American Rubyspot
  • Smoky Rubyspot
American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

Spreadwing Damsels (Lestidae)

As the name suggests, these keep their wings spread, but still behind them.  They are large damselflies.

  • Great Spreadwing
  • Spotted Spreadwing
  • Southern Spreadwing
  • Sweetflag Spreadwing
  • Lyre-tipped Spreadwing
  • Slender Spreadwing
  • Swamp Spreadwing
  • Elegant Spreadwing
  • Amber-winged Spreadwing

Pond Damsels (Coenagrionidae)

Our largest family of damsels.  The bluets are medium sized damsels that fly with a somewhat smooth pattern and keep their wings around their abdomen.  Forktails are tiny and fly with a smooth pattern.  Dancers have a rather jerky flight and keep their wings above their abdomen.

  • Familiar Bluet
  • Skimming Bluet
  • Azure Bluet
  • Stream Bluet
  • Attenuated Bluet
  • Turquoise Bluet
  • Slender Bluet
  • Double-striped Bluet
  • Burgundy Bluet
  • Orange Bluet
  • Vesper Bluet
  • Lilypad Forktail
  • Furtive Forktail
  • Rambur’s Forktail
  • Eastern Forktail
  • Fragile Forktail
  • Citrine Forktail
  • Aurora Damsel
  • Duckweed Firetail
  • Southern Sprite
  • Seepage Dancer
  • Blue-fronted Dancer
  • Powdered Dancer
  • Blue-winged Dancer
  • Variable Dancer
  • Aztec Dancer
  • Kiowa Dancer
  • Springwater Dancer
  • Blue-tipped Dancer
  • Dusky Dancer
Rambur's Forktail

Rambur’s Forktail

Blue-tipped Dancer

Blue-tipped Dancer


Petaltails (Petaluridae)

This is our largest dragonfly.  A primitive one that is common and found in forest with water.

  • Gray Petaltail
Gray Petaltail

Gray Petaltail

Darners (Aeshnidae)

Darners are large, long dragonflies that like to sustain flight.  Many of these will patrol certain areas and photographing them takes a lot of patience.

  • Harlequin Darner
  • Fawn Darner
  • Swamp Darner
  • Cyrano Darner
  • Springtime Darner
  • Regal Darner
  • Shadow Darner
  • Blue-eyed Darner
  • Comet Darner
  • Common Green Darner
Cyrano Darner

Cyrano Darner

Clubtails (Gomphidae)

To an Arkansan birder, Clubtails are like shorebirds.  There are a lot of them, they can be hard to distinguish, and they may be observable for only a short time.  Likewise, they are fun to chase and present an intriguing challenge to identify.  They can be stocky in appearance as some have enlarged terminal segments of their abdomen.

  • Common Sanddragon
  • Two-striped Forceptail
  • Unicorn Clubtail
  • Jade Clubtail
  • Stillwater Clubtail
  • Bayou Clubtail
  • Lancet Clubtail
  • Oklahoma Clubtail
  • Rapids Clubtail
  • Ashy Clubtail
  • Sulphur-tipped Clubtail
  • Pronghorn Clubtail
  • Banner Clubtail
  • Midland Clubtail
  • Ozark Clubtail
  • Cocoa Clubtail
  • Plains Clubtail
  • Cobra Clubtail
  • Gulf Coast Clubtail
  • Splendid Clubtail
  • Laura’s Clubtail
  • Russet-tipped Clubtail
  • Arrow Clubtail
  • Black-shouldered Spinyleg
  • Flag-tailed Spinyleg
  • Dragonhunter
  • Eastern Ringtail
  • Westfall’s Snaketail
  • Interior Least Clubtail
Jade Clubtail

Jade Clubtail

Spiketails (Cordulegastridae)

Large dragonflies that are boldly marked with black and yellow stripes on their abdomen.  In fact, abdominal patterns are very useful in their identification.  The Ouachita Spiketail is endemic.

  • Tiger Spiketail
  • Twin-spotted Spiketail
  • Arrowhead Spiketail
  • Ouachita Spiketail
Arrowhead Spiketail

Arrowhead Spiketail

Cruisers (Macromiidae)

Another group of large dragonflies.  These have big eyes (some of which are very colorful) and long legs.  They “cruise” up and down streams and/or rivers.

  • Stream Cruiser
  • Swift River Cruiser
  • Allegheny River Cruiser
  • Gilded River Cruiser
  • Royal River Cruiser

stream cruiser

Emeralds (Corduliidae)

A large group named for the color of their eyes.  Some have a unique ring around the base of their abdomen.  The group is very diverse with some not resembling other family members at all.  Not well represented in AR.  With 47 species listed for the eastern U.S./Canada, we only have 14.

  • Selys’s Sundragon
  • Uhler’s Sundragon
  • Mocha Emerald
  • Fine-lined Emerald
  • Ozark Emerald
  • Clamp-tipped Emerald
  • Stygian Shadowdragon
  • Cinnamon Shadowdragon
  • Smoky Shadowdragon
  • Orange Shadowdragon
  • Common Baskettail
  • Mantled Baskettail
  • Slender Baskettail
  • Prince Baskettail

Skimmers (Libellulidae)

The most familiar group of dragonflies.  This is the group that most dragonfly enthusiasts cut their teeth on.  If you go out on a summer’s day in AR and keep a list of Odonates, at least 50% of them will be skimmers.  Like the emeralds, this group is very diverse with many different shapes and sizes.  These don’t get terribly big but some can be surprisingly small.  There are around 982 species of skimmers in the world (slightly larger than the clubtails at 961).  These, generally, have a straight abdomen.  Some like to hawk from a perch while others “glide” for most of the day.

  • Common Whitetail
  • Blue Corporal
  • Painted Skimmer
  • Twelve-spotted Skimmer
  • Widow Skimmer
  • Yellow-sided Skimmer
  • Spangled Skimmer
  • Bar-winged Skimmer
  • Slaty Skimmer
  • Great Blue Skimmer
  • Golden-winged Skimmer
  • Needham’s Skimmer
  • Roseate Skimmer
  • Eastern Amberwing
  • Four-spotted Pennant
  • Calico Pennant
  • Banded Pennant
  • Halloween Pennant
  • Double-ringed Pennant
  • Great Pondhawk
  • Eastern Pondhawk
  • Little Blue Dragonlet
  • Band-winged Dragonlet
  • Variegated Meadowhawk
  • Blue-faced Meadowhawk
  • Autumn Meadowhawk
  • Blue Dasher
  • Checkered Setwing
  • Swift Setwing
  • Pale-faced Clubskimmer
  • Hyacinth Glider
  • Striped Saddlebags
  • Red Saddlebags
  • Carolina Saddlebags
  • Black Saddlebags
  • Wandering Glider
  • Spot-winged Glider
Slaty Skimmer male

Slaty Skimmer male

Spot-winged Glider female

Spot-winged Glider female

Blue Dasher male

Blue Dasher male

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