August 2020

small wonders

Small Wonders is a monthly column exploring Minnesota’s insects and other arthropods. Discover their beauty, quirks, and importance. Welcome to the world of Small Wonders!

This month, learn about the common green darner dragonfly, Anax junius:

Appearance

The common green darner dragonfly is about three inches long and has a bright green thorax. Males and females can be distinguished by the color of their abdomens — males’ abdomens are an intense blue while females’ abdomens are reddish brown. Green darner naiads (or immatures) live in ponds and streams and have cylindrical bodies with long legs.

What does it eat?

Like other dragonflies, the green darner is a skilled aerial predator. They eat many types of flying insects, such as flies, gnats, moths, butterflies, mayflies, damselflies, mosquitoes, and even other smaller dragonflies. The aquatic naiads eat other small aquatic insects, and can even eat small fish and tadpoles.

Where and when do you find them?

The common green darner dragonfly is one of the most abundant dragonflies in North America. They are one of the first dragonflies to be seen in the spring, and can still be spotted through late fall, oftentimes near ponds and marshes.

Importance to Minnesotans

Like the monarch butterfly (the state insect of Minnesota), the common green darner dragonfly also migrates across the continent each year. These dragonflies leave Minnesota in July through October to head south. Once there, they lay eggs and die, but the new generation begins to make its way back up north in the spring. However, unlike monarchs, some green darners don’t migrate at all, and live their entire lives in Minnesota. These dragonflies overwinter as naiads in frozen over ponds and emerge as adults the next spring once the weather warms up again.

Fun Fact

The name Anax junius most directly translates to Lord of June, as Anax is a Greek word meaning lord, king, or master. Darner dragonflies (family: Aeshnidae) are also nicknamed “devil’s darning needles,” “mosquito hawks,” or “horse stingers,” although they don’t possess any stingers. 


For more information

bugguide.net

iNaturalist: Common Green Darner

Smithsonian: Dragonflies Embark on an Epic, Multi-Generational Migration Each Year

Odonata Central: Green Darner Dragonfly Sightings Map


Author

Hannah Bodmer

Photo credit

Hannah Bodmer (illustration and second image)

Craig Mullenbach, Flickr (photos 3 & 4)


Small Wonders archive

common green darner illustrationMature male common green darner (Adobe Illustrator illustration)

female common green darnerFemale common green darner

common green darnerJuvenile male.
These look similar to females because of their brown abdomen.

common green darner mated pairMated pair: male (left), female (right)