How to Identify Darner Dragonflies

picture of a phantom darner dragonfly

The large, often blue and green indefatigable fliers found around the ponds, streams and lakes of the United States, go by the common name darners.

While the darner dragonfly family breaks down into approximately forty different species, divided into thirteen genera, almost forty per cent of the species belong to the genus Aeshna, or Mosaic Darners. They, along with the physically related Rhionaeschna species are presented separately.

Many darner species also share some common physical characteristics. For convenience sake, think of darner identification in terms of two general rules of thumb. First, body color serves as the distinguishing gender detail. Most darners have bodies covered in shades of brown,green and/or blue. The absence or presence of thoracic stripes (top and side), along with their shape when present, serve as a second important darner identification clue.

Subtropical Darners


Darner diversity in the United States is aided by the presence of a variety of climates. Two separate subtropical genera of darners demonstrate that fact.

Starting with Tricanthagyna darners. They make their presence known in North America with the Phantom Darner (Tricanthagyna trifida), pictured at the top of the page. Also called Three-spined Darners because of the three spines that protrude from the lower abdomen of females, Phantom Darners inhabit the forest areas of southern Georgia and Florida.

Adults emerge during the late summer and fall, and can be found flying through most of the warm spells of early Florida winter. Typically adults hang out on trees and shrubs during the day, preferring to hunt for food as dusk approaches.

Male eye color changes over time from green to blue. Female eye color changes from green to brown over time.

picture of a Four Mangrove Darner. Credit Melissa McMasters. Flickr dragonfly
Four Species of Pilot Darners also get classified as neotropical. They can be found flying or perching in areas on the Southern tier.

The picture shows a Mangrove darner, named for is habitat preference, the mangrove forests of Florida. .

picture of a Regal Darner dragonfly
Regal Darners (Coryphaeschna ingens) are fairly large dragonflies with a thin abdomen. The green stripes on the thorax and the green circles on an otherwise dark color abdomen are good field identification clues. They are the most common of the Pilot darners and inhabit many areas in the Gulf Coast region.

Darners: genus Anax

picture of a common green darner dragonfly
North American hosts three Anax species, with an additional species sporadically migrating across the Mexican border to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

The Common Green Darner (Anax junius), the widest ranging of the Anax species, inhabits lakes and ponds from coast to coast. The video on the right column shows both the male and female. Large in size, Green Darner bodies grow up to three inches in length. A wing span extending to four inches in length insures they do not get overlooked by spectators within their territory.

In their southern ranges such as Texas and Florida, Common Green Darners can be found flying during the entire year. In their northern ranges, Common Green Darners prefer flying during the warm summer months.

The name Green Darner refers to the dragonfly’s eye and thorax color. Males, like the one pictured at the top of the page also have blue coloring along the abdomen. Females lack the blue coloring.

In 1997, the school children of Washington State voted the Common Green Darner the official state insect.

Comet Darners, the second most common species, inhabit a variety of eastern pond and lake areas, with a range extending from the Great Lakes in the north, to Florida in the south.

picture of a Cyrano Darner dragonfly, Credit Wplynn Flickr
Cyrano Darners are the only species in the Genus Nasiaeschna. The name Cyrano refers to the extended nose on the dragonfly. It is especially apparent on a side view. For adult males, green on the thorax and blue on the abdomen is a good set of identification clues.

Otherwise, they are a fairly common species in the east

picture of a
Fawn Darner dragonfly, Credit Katja Schultz Flickr
Fawn Darners are one of two Spotted Darners (Genus Boyeria) in the Eastern parts of the United States.

The presence of spots on the thorax and abdomen, rather than the traditional stripes, easily explains the common name.

picture of a Harlequin Darner dragonfly, Credit Melissa McMasters Flickr
Just as there exists a genera of smaller skimmer dragonflies called dragonlets, the genus Gomphaeschna refers to the smallest of the darner dragonflies. The two species are often collectively referred to as Pygmy Darners, and they both inhabit eastern areas of the United States.

The Harlequin Darner has a set of interrupted stripes on the top of the thorax, giving it an exclamation point kinda look. Both males and females have a greenish hue to the patterns on their body.

picture of a Springtime Darner. Credit Judy Gallagher Flickr dragonfly
The presence of the Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata) means spring has sprung across most of the east. Their rusty brown thorax is also a good field identification clue.

They are the sole representative of their genera.

picture of a Swamp Darner dragonfly, credit Daniella Brigida
The name Swamp Darner might be a bit misleading because these darners are common east of the Rocky mountains in any area with slow running water and forested land.

Their large size and the presence of rings around the abdomen make them fairly easy to identify.

picture of a female Swamp Darner dragonfly
Male Swamp darners have a blue and green coloration. Female Swamp darners have a more muted brown coloration.