Aeshna canadensis

Geographic Range

Aeshna canadensis is native to a broad area in Canada and the United States, including the following states or provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Labrador, Yukon Territory, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2011)


This species inhabits both terrestrial and freshwater environments, including bogs, beaver ponds, lakes and other freshwater areas with plentiful forest vegetation. They aggregate around wet areas that are shallow with floating vegetation and logs to breed and feed within forest limits (e.g. forest edges and small clearings). Most often they can be found flying or perched in fields, pastures, and clearings. In general, dragonflies are limited to live in areas that have relatively clean water. They are sensitive to water current strength and temperature. They are not limited to inhabit specific areas based on food availability. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2011; Nikula, et al., 2002; USDA WRP, 2010)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Canada darners are characterized by blue and brown coloring, and males more brightly colored than females. Males can be identified by the presence of blue stripes on the top and sides of their brown thorax and a deep indentation on the front of their thorax. Their abdomens are also brown with blue markings. Females are duller with three possible color forms: blue, green, and yellow. Blue form females, though rare, can often be mistaken for males since their coloring and pattern are very similar. The green form females have green markings and usually have brown tipped wings. The intermediate and yellow forms are the most common. Females are marked with green lateral thoracic stripes, green dorsal abdominal spots, and blue lateral abdominal spots. As the temperature decreases, the color of this species can darken. (Corbet, 1999; Dunkle, 2000; Needham and Westfall, 1955; Nikula, et al., 2002; Silsby, 2001)

The larva of darners (Aeshnidae) are climbers or weed-dwellers, so they have long, smooth bodies that enable them to move easily through vegetation to stalk and capture their prey. Eggs are usually long and spindle-shaped with a moderately thick, homogeneous vitelline envelope, a many-layered endochorion, and an elastic exochorion which can be covered with many small pores or enveloped in a jelly-like substance. (Corbet, 1999; Dunkle, 2000; Needham and Westfall, 1955; Nikula, et al., 2002; Silsby, 2001)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range length
    68 to 74 mm
    2.68 to 2.91 in


Darners (Aeshnidae) lay eggs endophytically, meaning they are inserted eggs into plants (stems, etc.) at or under the water using their ovipositors. The eggs are long and clyindrical and are coated with a jelly-like substance that helps them attach to substrates. If environmental conditions are harsh, the eggs may undergo a state of dormancy, or diapause, until conditions become more suitable. Larvae are hatched from the eggs usually within one to three weeks and undergo several moltings. Dragonfly larvae lack caudal gills and are able to feed on a wide variety of food, including other insects, small aquatic animals (tadpoles), and other insect larvae. In general, dragonfly larval stages can last anywhere from six months to five years depending on the type of species, the water temperature and food supply. During the final larval stages, all the organs and other characteristics are developed to ensure success as a winged insect. Generally, dragonflies have three stages as adults: pre-reproductive, reproductive, and post-reproductive. During the pre-reproductive stage, the adult is called a teneral adult. It is still colorless, unhardened, and has weak flight. This phase usually lasts for approximately 24 hours after emerging from its larval stage. Once the wings have hardened, the newly molted adult will fly away from water to prevent being preyed upon. For a few days the immature adult will continue to develop gonads and respective gametes. Males develop faster and will go back to the water after maturity to guard and defend territory. (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)


There is little specific information on the mating systems of Canada darners. In general most dragonflies have several mates for both females and males. Usually dragonflies are fiercely competitive for females and optimal egg-laying sites. Males usually come to breeding grounds earlier in the season and earlier in the day than females. They find and guard good breeding grounds and defend their territory from intruders or other males by flashing brightly colored parts of their bodies (wings, legs, etc.) to warn off intruders. As females start to enter the breeding grounds, males begin courtship rituals such as raising his abdomen to the female to identify himself. A female may accept or reject a male. Rejection is displayed by curving the abdomen downward. Once a pair has mated, males can guard the females in two different manners. They can either stay physically attached in tandem while the females lay her eggs, or the male will separate and perch nearby to chase away any intruders (male competitors or predators) as the female lays her eggs. (Corbet, 1999; Mead, 2003; Silsby, 2001)

Although there is no specific information on Canada darners, members of their genus (Aeshna) mate quickly and near the water. Males are typically found hovering over and patrolling water edges while the females keep to the forests, only coming near the water to mate and lay eggs. There is fierce competition for females and optimal egg-laying sites. Males guard breeding areas by flashing brightly colored parts of their bodies (wings, legs, etc.) to warn off intruders. Once a female enters the male territory, her thorax is grabbed by the male's legs. Before the actual mating begins, males will transfer their sperm from their testes (under-segment 2 and 3) to their hamulus (under-segment 9) by arching the abdomen until the bottom-sides of the organs make contact. The male then curves his abdomen in order to fit his apical claspers (anal appendages) behind the eyes of the female to deposit his sperm. This process is often described as a pair "in tandem". While in tandem, the male will attempt to remove any sperm ejected from previous males prior to releasing his own sperm to ensure that his will be the one to fertilize the eggs. He can do this with two methods. First, he can remove the sperm from previous matings using his spoon-shaped penis, or he can shove the sperm deep into the female organ so that they are inaccessible. After the transfer of sperm, the male will arch his abdomen downward while the female arches hers upward towards the male's hamulus, forming the wheel position or "in copula". Females deposit their fertilized eggs into a plant stalk right above the water by cutting into the stem using their ovipositors. (Mead, 2003; Nikula, et al., 2002; Silsby, 2001)

  • Breeding interval
    Canada darners breed once yearly.

Females lay fertilized eggs in the stem of a plant, where they create a nest-like cavity using their ovipositor. Little else is known about parental investment in Canada darners. (Silsby, 2001)


There is no specific information on the lifespan of Canada darners, but the life expectancy of adult dragonflies is usually dependent on environment and where in the world the species is located. Dragonfly adults in generally live a few months as adults. Most of the lifetime of dragonflies is lived in the larval stage. (Silsby, 2001)


Canada darners are active until nightfall, typically feeding within forest or swamp boundaries. These darners may group together into swarms for feeding with organisms from their own species or other darners. Feeding swarms usually start late in the day over fields and clearings. Males tend to patrol an area near or along a water's edge (areas that act as breeding sites), hovering just a few feet above the water. Females are usually away from the water, in forests, until they come out to mate and lay eggs. (Dunkle, 2000; Nikula, et al., 2002; Silsby, 2001)

Communication and Perception

Although there is no specific information on this species, dragonflies in general use their wings and body coloring to communicate with each other. During mating, courtship, and recognition, dragonflies display brightly colored regions of their body (such as their eyes, legs, and wings) to create specific signals. They have acute vision: their compound eyes are one of the largest of all insects and contain the most ommatidia. Adults are able to see in basically all directions except for directly behind their heads since their bodies and wings block their vision. These compound eyes are able to detect not only color, but also UV light, plane of polarization of light, and movement (important for foraging while in flight). (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Food Habits

Dragonfly larvae are skilled predators, able to stalk their prey and eat a variety of different foods. Darner (Aeshnidae) larvae eat snails (and other freshwater gastropods), a variety of flatworms, leeches, fish eggs, zooplankton (fish larvae), juvenile fish, amphibian larvae, and larvae of other insects. In order to capture their prey, dragonfly and damselfly (Odonata) larvae use their prehensile labium, also known as a "mask", that is unique to this order; it is formed from the fused second maxillae. While in rest the prehensile labium is folded underneath the head and thorax. This structure is highly specialized to capture prey and can be quickly protracted which is useful in capturing mobile prey and for ambush. (Brues, 1946; Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

Adult darners capture and eat their prey while in flight. Flight patterns change as dragonflies stalk and capture prey in the air. They are able to dart sideways, upwards, and sometimes downward to pursue their prey. They use only their mouthparts to capture prey, but males will sometimes push the tips of their abdomens towards their mouth in an attempt to subdue and maneuver their catch. After catching their prey, some dragonflies return to the ground, especially when dealing with larger prey. When the prey is smaller and is caught in midair, dragonflies remain in flight while they eat. In general, dragonflies eat according to the abundance of food around them. They do not seem to have a specific diet, mostly eating whatever is most abundant and suitable in size within their habitat. It can be hard to determine what exactly constitutes their diet because adults masticate (chew) their food very thoroughly into a black paste which results in diet identification being difficult. Some examples of their diet include, but are not limited to, spiders, damselflies, butterflies, other dragonflies, and various other insects. (Brues, 1946; Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • eggs
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • zooplankton


On the ground, adult Canada darners can fall prey to ants and spiders. Birds and frogs are huge predators that hunt both adult and nymph forms of dragonflies. Cannibalism also occurs. Nymphs may also be eaten by fish and other, larger aquatic insects. Along with other dragonflies, Canada darners are adept in maneuvering in the air to escape predators such as birds by twisting and turning. Camouflage is another major mechanism through which dragonflies in general utilize to escape being eaten. Depending on their coloring they can blend in with surrounding foliage (grass, bushes, trees, etc.) (Corbet, 1999; Silsby, 2001; Walker, 1953)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Canada darners are not only predators and a food source for other animals, but they can also act as parasitic vectors both in their larval stage and adult stage. They can be infected by several species of flukes (Phaneropsolus bonnei and Prosthodendrium molenkampi) that can cause diseases in birds and humans. Besides internal parasites, adults can be hosts to water mites (Erythraeidae and Hydrachnidiae) and minute flies. In areas of still waters, such as ponds and lakes, water mites deposit their eggs onto the bodies of dragonflies. Minute flies can be found on the bases of dragonfly wings, where they securely attach themselves and drink blood from the wing. (Corbet, 1999; Córdoba-Aguilar, 2008; Walker, 1953)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • flukes (Phaneropsolus bonnei)
  • flukes (Prosthodendrium molenkampi)
  • water mites (Erythraeidae)
  • water mites (Hydrachnidiae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Dragonflies and damselflies have been used in research to assess and monitor several areas of aquatic ecosystems, which include but are not limited to water quality, biodiversity, and testing ecological and evolutionary theories. Their sensitivity to global climate change aids in climate regulation as well. They have increasing significance as an important bioindicators of water flow regulation, purification, and waste treatment, all of which are factors that influence habitat health. Beneficial health services arise from the study of dragonflies in medical laboratory settings. These studies have helped illuminate metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity in humans and have furthered developed genetic studies. Pest regulation, specifically mosquito control, is another important factor that impacts humans. (Córdoba-Aguilar, 2008; Moore, 1997)

Dragonflies, in general, have had significant cultural and provisioning importance in many areas across the world, especially in East Asia. In East Asia they are believed to possess medicinal properties and are used in traditional medicine. Although they are not a staple food, they are enjoyed as delicacies and side ingredients in several areas of Asia and Africa. Like butterflies, their ornamental value can be seen through cabinet displays in homes, museums, and other buildings. They have also developed spiritual values in many cultural societies including the Navajo Indians as a symbol of pure water, and Japanese warriors believe them to be a symbol of strength and beauty. Their aesthetic ideology also provides a rich environment that stimulated the creations of recreational parks and trails specifically for dragonflies that bring many tourists and much public appreciation for these insects. (Córdoba-Aguilar, 2008; Moore, 1997)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although there is little specific information on Canada darners in particular, in general dragonflies cause a negative effect in pollination and seed dispersal. They prey on pollinators, such as bees (both wild colonies and solitary pollinators), which makes "queen rearing" almost impossible in regions of the south-eastern United States. They can also act as an intermediate host to a number of parasites that can cause diseases in both humans and birds. Several genera of trematodes can infect dragonflies that, when passed onto birds, directly causes abnormal egg production. Poultry, as an important food source to humans, are largely affected during spring and summer months by eating adult dragonflies or dragonfly larvae. Many humans can be directly infected by trematodes carried by dragonflies when they eat raw larvae (typically in cultures of south-east Asia). If the larvae is cooked before consumption, infection can be avoided. (Córdoba-Aguilar, 2008)

Conservation Status

Although Canada darners is not a threatened species, conservation for dragonflies are being put forth. Their economic and ecological importance have increased research within the Odonata order. Several methods have been suggested to protect dragonflies, such as establishing protected areas (National Parks, nature reserves, etc.), conserving their natural habitats, and regulating pollution and increasing legislation, and developing programs for public awareness and education of dragonflies. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2011; USDA WRP, 2010)


Esther Yoon (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Renee Mulcrone (editor), Special Projects, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polarized light

light waves that are oriented in particular direction. For example, light reflected off of water has waves vibrating horizontally. Some animals, such as bees, can detect which way light is polarized and use that information. People cannot, unless they use special equipment.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Biodiversity Institute of Ontario. 2012. "BOLD Systems - Taxonomy Browser" (On-line). Aeshna canadensis {species}. Accessed July 30, 2012 at

2008. "Catalogue of Life: 2011 Annual Checklist" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Paul D. Pratt. 2002. "Darners of SW Ontario" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2011. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Aeshna canadensis. Accessed July 30, 2012 at

NatureServe. 2011. "NatureServe Explorer" (On-line). Aeshna canadensis - Walker, 1908. Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Brues, C. 1946. Insect Dietary: an Account of the Food Habits of Insects. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Corbet, P. 1999. Dragonflies: Behavior and ecology of Odonata. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Czaplak, D. 1997. "Aeshna" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Córdoba-Aguilar, A. 2008. Dragonflies and damselflies : model organisms for ecological and evolutionary research. Oxford: Oxford University.

Dunkle, S. 2000. Dragonflies through binoculars : a field guide to dragonflies of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Folini, F. 2007. "CalPhotos" (On-line image). Aeshna canadensis. Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Mead, K. 2003. Dragonflies of the North Woods. Duluth, MN: Kollath-Stensaas Publishing.

Moore, N. 1997. Dragonflies: Status Survey And Conservation Action Plan. International Symposia of Odonatology: 5.

Needham, J., M. Westfall. 1955. A manual of the dragonflies of North America (Anisoptera), including the Greater Antilles and the provinces of the Mexican border. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nikula, B., J. Sones, L. Stokes, D. Stokes. 2002. Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies And Damselflies. Boston: Little, Brown.

Paulson, D. 2011. Dragonflies And Damselflies Of The East. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Pratt, P. 2010. "Canada darner photos" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Silsby, J. 2001. Dragonflies of the World. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

USDA WRP, 2010. "WRP Easement Management Species of Greatest Conservation Need (Odonatas)" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

USGS, 2006. "Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata) of the United States" (On-line). Accessed July 30, 2012 at

Walker, E. 1953. The Odonata of Canada and Alaska. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.