Dragonflies are abundant and diverse across the vast lands and waters of Australia. From tiny bluets that dart near trickling streams to large darters that hunt over expansive wetlands, these aerial acrobats display a stunning array in form and function. Although small sentinels to our wet realms, dragonflies play an outsized role as both predators and prey. This guide surveys 20 of the most representative species one may encounter in native habitats from northern rainforests to southern woodlands. Within these pages explore their intriguing lives through illustrations and descriptions – from remarkable foraging maneuvers to vibrant courtship dances above. Join us to marvel at nature’s magnificent midge masters plying their ancient skies.
|Common Bluetail (Ischnura heterosticta)||Small dragonfly with bright blue abdomen in males, brownish females. Lives near freshwater.||Eastern and northern Australia|
|White-tailed Pygmy Bluet (Nostomesticta cultellata)||Endangered small dragonfly with powder blue abdomen and white tip. Inhabits small streams and wetlands.||Eastern Australia|
|Forrest’s Bluetail (Ischnura forresti)||Resembles Common Bluetail but found in Western Australia. Lives near slow rivers, claypans and salt marshes.||Western Australia|
|Slender Bluet (Indolestes gracilis)||Small dragonfly with blue-black banded abdomen. Lives near streams, swamps and billabongs with vegetation.||Northern and eastern Australia|
|Australian Darter (Anax papuensis)||Medium to large dragonfly that lives near permanent water bodies and preys on insects and small fish.||Northern and eastern Australia|
|Western Pygmy Bluet (Nesobasis chrysis)||Very small dragonfly endemic to WA. Lives in ephemeral spring-fed pools and seepages.||Southwest Western Australia|
|Variable Hairy Skydamer (Diplacodes bipunctata)||Large dragonfly that perches prominently and patrols territories over water.||Northern and eastern Australia|
|Violet aurora (Hemicordulia tau)||Large dragonfly with iridescent wings that preys on other flying insects in forests.||Eastern Australia|
|Brown Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum)||Medium skimmer dragonfly that hovers to catch prey at marshes and wetlands.||Northern and eastern Australia|
|Rambur’s Hunter (Mekistostigma glaucinum)||Medium dragonfly that patrols calmly near streams in dense forests.||Eastern Australia|
1. Common Bluetail (Ischnura heterosticta)
The Common Bluetail is one of the smallest and most frequently encountered dragonflies in Australia. Their bodies are around 22-30mm long with transparent wings that have dark veins. The males have a bright blue abdomen with black stripes along the sides, while the females are usually brownish-yellow. They are found near still or slow-moving freshwater habitats like rivers, ponds, lakes and swamps across much of eastern and northern Australia. Common Bluetails perch prominently on riparian vegetation, often in large numbers. They fly with a slow fluttering wingbeat as they hunt smaller flying insects like gnats and mosquitoes. Males establish territories to attract females for mating. Eggs are laid directly into plant tissues at or near the water’s edge. Common Bluetails emerge as adults in spring and summer, typically living 4-6 weeks as adults.
2. White-tailed Pygmy Bluet (Nostomesticta cultellata)
The White-tailed Pygmy Bluet is a small endangered dragonfly that is only found in a few scattered locations in eastern Australia. Its body length is around 20-25mm long with transparent wings held tent-like over its body when at rest. The thorax is black with a pale stripe down the middle, and the abdomen is bright powder blue with black stripes and a distinctive white tip. Males have more extensive black markings than females. This species inhabits small streams, wetlands and swamps within eucalyptus forest and woodland habitats. It prefers areas with dense emergent vegetation and woody debris. White-tailed Pygmy Bluets perch inconspicuously amongst foliage near water and fly close to vegetation when hunting small flying insects. Very little is known about their breeding habits but eggs are likely laid into thin plant tissues. They appear mainly from November to March.
3. Forrest’s Bluetail (Ischnura forresti)
Forrest’s Bluetail is a small dragonfly that resembles the Common Bluetail but has a more restricted distribution in Western Australia. Adults have a total length of 25-30mm. The male has a bright blue abdomen with bilateral black stripes broadening towards the rear. Females are brownish-yellow. They occur around slow flowing streams, rivers, claypans and salt marshes from Northwest Cape across the Pilbara region to southern parts of the Nullarbor Plain. Forrest’s Bluetails perch conspicuously and in numbers on surrounding vegetation near water bodies. They are strong fliers that feed on small flying insects. Breeding occurs when males try to mate with females, which lay eggs into plant surfaces at or slightly above the waterline. Adults can be seen from late spring through summer. This species appears well-adapted to hot arid areas of WA.
4. Slender Bluet (Indolestes gracilis)
The Slender Bluet is a small delicate dragonfly found across northern and eastern Australia from Cape York to Tasmania. Adults grow 20-30mm long. They have transparent wings held tent-like at rest to reveal the slender blue-black banded abdomen in males and brown striped abdomen of females. This species inhabits slow flowing streams, swamps and billabongs with emergent vegetation. Slender Bluets perch low amid reedy foliage close to water. They fly in a weak fluttering way above and within vegetation where they prey on tiny flying insects. Males aggressively defend territories against intruders. Eggs are probably glued individually to pondweed and reed leaves at or just above the water surface. Adults can be seen throughout spring and summer months. The Slender Bluet is a common but overlooked member of northern wetland habitats.
5. Australian Darter (Anax papuensis)
The Australian Darter is a medium to large dragonfly that grows 70-90mm long. It has a stout dark brown body with prominent dark stripes on the yellowish-brown wings. This species especially the females, loosely resemble the immensely larger Ancient Green Darner (Anax imperator) of North America. Australian Darter is found across northern and eastern Australia wherever there are large permanent wetlands, rivers and lakes. They perch prominently on bushes, sedges and sticks protruding from water. From these lookouts they will swiftly dart to capture flying or swimming prey such as insects, tadpoles and small fish using their forceps-like appendages. Unlike most dragonflies, darters lack ovipositors so females lay eggs into plant tissues held just above the surface by dangling with legs outstretched. Adults can be seen year-round. Despite its wide range, this species is becoming less common.
6. Western Pygmy Bluet (Nesobasis chrysis)
The Western Pygmy Bluet is a rarely encountered micro-dragonfly endemic to the Southwest region of Western Australia. Adults only grow 12-15mm long making it one of Australia’s smallest. Males have a glossy steel blue abdomen while females are brown. They inhabit delicate ephemeral spring-fed rock pools, trickles and seepages within kwongan and woodland habitats on the Swan Coastal Plain and Jarrah Forest. Western Pygmy Bluets perch amongst moss and lichen on adjacent rocks where cool waters issue. Flight is weak and close to ground. Nothing is known of their reproduction but eggs probably develop within flooded mosses and liverworts. Adults may only live a few weeks appearing after sporadic late winter-spring rains that fill their tiny aquatic habitats. Despite diligent searching, this species eludes many observers and remains one of Australia’s greatest dragonfly mysteries.
7. Variable Hairy Skydamer (Diplacodes bipunctata)
The Variable Hairy Skydamer is a large dragonfly reaching 80mm in length. They are common across northern and eastern Australia in rainforests, wet sclerophyll forests and mangroves wherever there are slow flowing streams, pools or billabongs. Adults perch conspicuously and motionlessly for long periods on prominent leaves and twigs over water. The abdomen is hairy and varies between males from bright chartreuse to deep olive and red. Females are typically red-brown. Skydamers are strong fliers that launch themselves into the air at the slightest disturbance to patrol territories. Unlike most dragonflies they lack the ability to capture prey whilst hovering and must drop onto victims from above. Eggs are deposited on flooded leaves above water. With their large size and easy approachability, this is one of northern Australia’s most impressive dragonfly species.
8. Violet aurora (Hemicordulia tau)
The Violet aurora is a large eastern Australian dragonfly growing 60-70mm in length. Adults have transparent forewings overlaid with blue or purple highlights and a similarly colored slender abdomen. They inhabit wet sclerophyll forests and rainforest where still pools, creeks and ox-bow lakes occur. Violet auroras perch high in trees and bushes near water, occasionally fluttering up to survey surroundings. From lookouts they can spot large flying prey like mayflies, caddisflies and damselflies and make rapid swoops to capture victims in mid-air. Eggs are laid into damp ground, moss or plant litter beside pools. This species produces a striking visual impression as it glides about forested wetlands on iridescent wings. Violet auroras emerge from late spring through early summer to feed and reproduce before the next generation.
9. Brown Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum)
The Brown Skimmer is a medium-sized dragonfly 30-50mm long found across northern and eastern Australia. Adults have pale brown bodies and wings with more reddish markings on the thorax. They inhabit marshes, mangroves, lakes and slow flowing streams where emergent and floating plants provide perches. Brown Skimmers adopt a characteristic hovering flight, rapidly beating wings as they search for and pursue flying prey like mosquitoes, flies and small damselflies. Females lay cream coloured eggs on aerial plant tissues held just above the water. Brown Skimmers tend to congregate in numbers at favourable habitats. At times their numbers exploit emergent insect swarms and form dense feeding areas hovering en masse. Adults can be seen from spring through late summer across most of their extensive range.
10. Rambur’s Hunter (Mekistostigma glaucinum)
Rambur’s Hunter is a medium-sized dragonfly growing 40-55mm in length. It has a metallic bluish-green body and transparent yellowish wings marked with brown veins. This species occurs in rainforests and wet sclerophyll forest zones along the Great Dividing Range from northern NSW to southern Queensland. Adults patrol streams and seepages amongst dense riparian vegetation. They have a weak fluttering flight close to ground and foliage where females lay pale yellow eggs into damp woody debris and leaf litter.
11. Tiny Flatwing (Austroagrion miniusculum)
The Tiny Flatwing is one of the smallest Australian dragonflies at just 15-18mm in length. Its body is dark blue-black and it has transparent yellowish wings. This species inhabits boggy seepages, wet rock faces and streams within cool temperate rainforests of southeastern Australia between Victoria and northern Tasmania. Adults perch inconspicuously amid dense mosses, liverworts and ferns where streams issue from the forest floor. They have weak fluttering flight very close to vegetation as they look for small flies and gnats. Tiny Flatwings emerge from spring into early summer. Almost nothing is known of their eggs or larvae but they presumably develop within constantly wet mosses. Despite its small size this little forest specialist dragonfly plays an important role in its limited ecosystem.
12. Iridescent Nomad (Urajina picta)
The Iridescent Nomad is a medium-sized dragonfly growing 45-60mm long. It has a metallic bronze-green to blue-violet body and transparent wings overlaid with purplish highlights. This species is found in forests and woodlands across eastern Australia from Cape York to Tasmania. Nomads have a weak fluttering flight amongst trees and shrubs where they frequently congregate in numbers. At times hundreds can gather together for feeding or rest at patches of good habitat. From treetop perches males establish wing-flashing territories against rivals. Females lay eggs directly into moist soil, leaf litter or ground cover vegetation beneath lookouts. With their metallic coloration and high aerial displays, Iridescent Nomads contribute striking aerial drama to forested areas.
13. Southern Ruddy Darner (Potamarcha congener)
The Southern Ruddy Darner is a medium to large dragonfly growing 60-80mm long. Its colouration varies but most adults have a brown thorax and reddish abdomen with black bands. They are found across southern parts of mainland Australia along rivers, streams, lakes and dams where abundant vegetation occurs. Southern Ruddy Darners perch conspicuously on low branches and reeds near water to bask in sunshine. They have a strong direct flight as males patrol linear territories along shorelines. Females oviposit alone by tapping the water surface until eggs are deposited and sunk. After mating swarms gather at territorial hotspots. Despite its wide distribution this darner is rarely seen in numbers away from core breeding habitats. They appear mostly from late spring into summer.
14. Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens)
The Wandering Glider is notable for being the highest flying dragonfly and one of very few capable of long distance migrations. Adults have a yellow body 50-60mm long and adults have broad dark wings for long soaring flights on thermal air currents. They are found across much of Australia in summer months following migrations from southeast Asia. Wandering Gliders congregate at mass emergence sites often around lakes, swamps and estuaries. From here huge numbers disperse high into the sky at dawn to drift purposefully on winds for many kilometres. In flight they feed on small aerial insects. At night or during storms they roost high in trees. Mating occurs on the wing with eggs laid onto water surfaces from flight. These dragonflies represent one of nature’s most evocative and impressive examples of mass dispersal.
15. Black Rockskimmer (Austroagrion lateralis)
The Black Rockskimmer is a small darkly coloured dragonfly growing 20-25mm long. It has a sooty black body and wings marked with fine brown veins. This species inhabits upland rainforest streams and rockpools on granite boulders in northern NSW, southern QLD and far eastern Victoria. Adults perch motionless amongst dripping wet rocks and associated lush mosses, ferns and liverworts. They have an erratic rock-hugging flight close to ground as they feed on minute flies, springtails and mites. In late spring and summer Black Rockskimmers lay pale eggs closely adhered to damp substrate surfaces. Very little else is known of its biology. Perhaps due to its specialized habitat, this inconspicuous species remains rarely reported outside its limited range. It represents a unique example of Australia’s endemic rockpool specialists.
16. Slaty Skimmer (Orthetrum caledonicum)
The Slaty Skimmer is a common medium-sized dragonfly 40-50mm long found across New South Wales and coastal areas further south. The body is grey-blue while the wings are translucent blue-grey with darker veins. Adults inhabit swamps, lakes, dams and slow streams with abundant emergent vegetation for hunting and perching. They are powerful fliers that hover and glide above the water surface in pursuit of mosquitoes, flies and other flying insects. Slaty Skimmers also frequently congregate in numbers at prime habitats. Males defend linear territories to attract a mate. Creamy white eggs are laid into leaves or stems trailed just above the water by the female. This abundant species plays an important role in local wetland ecology through preying on pest insects.
17. Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis sanguinolenta)
The aptly named Scarlet Skimmer is hard to miss at 50-65mm long when the male’s abdomen glows a vivid cherry red against dark wings. It inhabits northern and northeastern coastal areas from Gladstone in QLD to northwestern NSW. Adults prefer shallow wetlands, streams, irrigation channels and estuaries fringed with tall sedges and shrubs for perching. Scarlet Skimmers have a fast direct flight as males patrol linear territories to ward off rivals. Their coloration signals territory ownership to others. Females oviposit alone by tapping eggs onto water-soaked substrates. At times great numbers can congregate together, adding a dramatic splash of crimson to wetland scenes. Despite their showy nature, Scarlet Skimmers are rarely encountered far from core populations.
18. Azure Skimmer (Orthosomesticta lawsoni)
The Azure Skimmer is a small dainty dragonfly growing 25-30mm long found in eastern Australia. Its body is metallic blue with transparent wings dusted in powdery blue-grey. This species inhabits bogs, swamps and saturated fens where Sphagnum moss and other bog plants dominate. Adults perch almost invisibly amongst clumps of moss but will flush up rapidly to dart after small flies. Little is known of eggs and larvae but they likely develop within constantly saturated Sphagnum substrates. Azure Skimmers represent one of Australia’s few true specialist bog inhabitants. They emerge as adults in late spring through summer. Their metallic coloration provides camouflage within cool acidic habitats that have remained shrouded in mystery to scientists until recent times.
19. Common Blue (Ischnura heterosticta heterosticta)
The Common Blue is Australia’s most familiar and abundant small dragonfly reaching 20-25mm long. Its name stems from the vivid electric blue abdomen of patrolling males contrasting darkly striped females. They occupy almost any permanent or ephemeral freshwater body across eastern and southern Australia including artificial habitats. Common Blues perch in swarms on surrounding grasses, sedges and low shrubs to sunbask and spy for flying prey. Eggs are deposited by females into plant stems and leaves edged just above water or pools. This species forms the base of local aquatic invertebrate food webs. Their familiar natural history and ubiquity arguably make Common Blues Australia’s unofficial ‘king’ dragonfly species recognized by all.
20. Green-fronted Forestfly (Phyllogomphoides vicinus)
The Green-fronted Forestfly is a medium-sized dragonfly only known from wet forests of the Bellinger and Nambucca River Valleys in New South Wales. It grows 45-55mm long with a metallic golden-green thorax and blue-hued abdomen. Adults patrol and perch quietly amid tree ferns, palms and tall riparian vegetation near forest streams and springs. Their flight is agile but rarely ventures beyond dense foliage. Almost nothing of their biology is known. Green-fronted Forestflies likely lay eggs into the damp substrates and leaf litter near looked areas. Despite active searches this rare flightless relic known only from a handful of locations remains highly elusive and enigmatic. It represents a unique facet of Australia’s diminishing coastal rainforest biodiversity.