Dragonfly Families

When most people refer to "dragonflies" they are thinking generically of the Order Odonata which has two main families: dragonflies and damselflies. This page provides a brief overview of dragonfly and damselfly subfamilies common in the Pacific Northwest. See the species page for more detail

Damselflies (Family Zygoptera)

Damsels perch with their wings back or somewhat spread, but never straight out. They are typically much smaller than Dragonflies so are often overlooked by the casual observer. There are three Subfamilies.

Jewelwings (Subfamily Calopterygidae)

Jewelwings tend to be fairly large and have swept back wings.

River Jewelwing

Spreadwings (Subfamily Lestidae)

As their name implies, Spreadwings spread their wings, but hold them at an angle, not flat out like Dragonflies.

California Spreadwing

Pond damsels (Subfamily Coengrionidae)

The small pond damsels are tricky to identify but all have swept back wings.

Vivid Dancer

Dragonflies (Family Anisoptera)

Darners (Subfamily Aeshnidae)

Darners are large and aggressive fliers. They are almost always seen in flight. In most habitats you'll find them patrolling the reeds, shrubs, and trees around the pond, flying fast one minute then hovering in place or slowly cruising the next.

Blue-eyed Darner

Skimmers (Subfamily Libellulidae)

Skimmers are a large, diverse group covering many common, widespread species. Walk up to any pond in summer and you'll likely see more than one species from this group. They are most easily viewed when while resting on vegation along the lake.

Some of the most distinctive members are from the gensus Libellual like this Twelve-spotted Skimmer. Each has a different pattern of wing spots.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Meadowhawks (Sympetrum) are also very common. While it is relatively easy to see that you have a meadowhawk like the Cardinal below, is takes skill and experience to tell some species apart.

Cardinal Meadowhawk

Clubtails (Subfamily Gomphidae)

The Clubtails are more often seen along streams or rivers. The name reflects their enlarged abdomen.

Pacific Clubtail

Emeralds (Subfamily Corduliidae)

Emeralds are uncommon in the northwest, especially in the lowlands. They tend to be more cold hardy than other families and are most often seen around high mountain lakes. The bodies are not particularly colorful but note the bulbous abdomen.

Ringed Emerald

These are just a few examples to give you an overview of the diversity of Odonata. For simplicity, I have not included two subfamilies with only a single species in our area.