Skip Navigation LinksOdes For Beginners : Identifying Odonates : ID 101 : Dragonfly ID : Behavior

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Dragonfly Behavior

In making an identification, observing behavior can be almost as important as noting appearance.  But be careful, frequently some ornery ode will behave in a totally unusual or unexpected fashion. Some things to look for:

Flying: Is the dragonfly flying high, cruising low over the water surface, or just flittering around at the waters edge?

  • Darners and Emeralds commonly fly high, rarely stopping to perch.
  • Cruisers and Spiketails take long patrols just barely skimming the water surface.
  • Skimmers are usually found fluttering around at the waters edge, occasionally taking higher flights.
  • Clubtails often fly patrols low over the water, seeking mates. They are notorious for flying up into the treetops when startled.

Perching: Perching postures can serve as a useful tool in identification but keep in mind that while each species and family may have "normal" perching posture, they can and do adopt more than one perching posture.  For example, Pennants are named for their flag-like habit of perching at the very tip of a long stem and waving in the breeze, but other species may do this as well.

  • Most Skimmers commonly perch horizontally or obliquely on stems and branches.
  • Others, such as Pondhawks, Corporals and Whitetails regularly perch on the ground or flat surfaces.
  • Darners and Emeralds typically hang from foliage and branches or perch vertically on tree trunks,  but on cold days you may find them flat on the ground warming up.
  • Most Clubtails perch on flat surfaces, but some land on leaves and hang from them.
  • Cruisers and Spiketails are usually seen flying but when they do perch it is usually vertically from foliage.

Feeding: Is the dragonfly actively flying to catch prey or sitting perched waiting for insects to get within its reach and then darting after them?

  • Darners and Emeralds commonly patrol to catch their prey, often forming feeding swarms in the early mornings and evening
  • Skimmers patiently wait for a meal to fly by, darting from their perch in pursuit of it.
  • Spiketails and Cruisers actively seek prey by skimming over the waters surface.
  • Clubtails usually perch on the ground or a low perch and fly out to attack their prey.

Habitat Selection: Where did you observe your dragon? Many odes have a preference for specific habitats, whether they are rivers, streams, swampy boggy areas, ponds or lakes. Listing the exact habitat for each species is beyond the scope of this site, but most field guides describe the appropriate breeding sites.

  • Skimmers can be found in a wide variety of habitats but most prefer marshes, ponds and lakes.
  • Most Darners prefer marshy areas for breeding, although a few may use small streams and trickles.
  • Emeralds breed in a wide variety of habitats, but each species usually has very specific requirements.
  • Spiketails breed and patrol along seeps and woodland streams while Cruisers patrol fairly large rivers.
  • Many Clubtails require specific habitats for breeding, most, but not all may only be found along moving water.

Note: while many dragons have specific breeding habitats, they may leave that area to mature or to feed and can be found most anywhere.

Flight Season: Typically each species has a limited period when they are active in your area.  Consult a field guide or some of our web references for data on this.

Flight season can vary from one geographical area to the next.  A species that flies in February in Texas may not be active until July in Ontario. A few species are active year round in warm climes, but most have short flight periods that are specific to a particular season (spring, early-mid summer, late summer to early fall)

Time of day: Is your dragonfly more active in the mid-afternoon or at dawn or dusk.  It won't rule anything out, but may provide an important clue to its ID.  Again, refer to your field guide for information on individual species.

© 2020 Sheryl Chacon Search