Posts Tagged ‘hover guarding’

Banded Pennants (mating pair, in wheel)

August 8, 2017

“In wheel”

A mating pair of Banded Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis fasciata) was spotted at Mulligan Pond, Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge (JMAWR), Fairfax County, Virginia USA. This pair is “in wheel.”

02 AUG 2017 | JMAWR | Banded Pennants (mating pair, “in wheel“)

02 AUG 2017 | JMAWR | Banded Pennants (mating pair, “in wheel“)


In a recent blog post, I mentioned that I used to photowalk the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park frequently. In deference to the many women and children who visit the park, I coined the term “insex” (sounds like “insects” to the uninitiated) as a family-friendly way to alert my fellow odonate hunters/photowalkers that I heard/saw a mating pair of dragonflies.

More often than not, I hear the clatter of wings before I see a mating pair. When I hear that unique sound, “insex” is the code word I use to give people a heads-up to search for the noisy couple.

In this case, the male Banded Pennant made a silky-smooth, soundless hook-up with the female. I had been watching the female oviposit along the shoreline of the pond while a male was hover guarding her. The fact is, I’m not sure whether he was actually hover guarding or an interloper waiting for an opportunity to grab the female. Either way, I was able to shoot just two photos of the mating pair before they flew in wheel to the top of a nearby tree.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

What happens after, well, you know?

September 9, 2014

Guarding Behavior in Some Odonates

What happens after odonates copulate? There are three possible outcomes:

  • Nothing, that is, the male and female copulate, separate, and go their own way before the female lays eggs (oviposition) by herself.
  • “Contact guarding,” in which the male and female fly “in tandem” to egg-laying sites.
  • Non-contact guarding,” also known as “hover guarding,” in which the male flies frantically back-and-forth over the female as she lays eggs in an effort to guard the female from other opportunistic males looking for a mate.

Field Observations

The following photos and videos show a few examples of contact guarding and non-contact guarding, recorded during several years of photowalks at Huntley Meadows Park.

The first photo shows a mating pair of Orange Bluet damselflies (Enallagma signatum) spotted on 24 August 2014. The pair is “in tandem”: the male is on the upper-left; the female on the lower-right. Notice the female is partially submerged as she inserts eggs into aquatic vegetation (endophytic ovipostion). Orange Bluet is a member of the “Pond Damsels” family of damselflies.

Orange Bluet damselflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The next photo shows a mating pair of Common Green Darner dragonflies (Anax junius) spotted on 26 August 2014. The pair is “in tandem”: the male is on the upper-right; the female on the lower-left. The female is laying eggs on the surface of underwater plants (epiphytic ovipostion). The Common Green Darner dragonfly is the only North American darner that usually oviposits in tandem.

Common Green Darner dragonflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The last photo shows a mating pair of Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (Sympetrum vicinum) spotted on 06 November 2013. The pair is shown “in tandem,” resting between periods of egg-laying: the male is on top; the female is on the bottom. Autumn Meadowhawk is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies.

Autumn Meadowhawk dragonflies (mating pair, in tandem)

The first two movies feature mating pairs of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans); in both videos, the male is shown hover guarding the female as she lays eggs. The first video was recorded on 06 June 2012; the second video was recorded on 24 July 2011.

The last movie features a mating pair of Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia) spotted on 24 July 2011; the male is shown hover guarding the female. Common Whitetail is a member of the Skimmer Family of dragonflies.


There are three common families of damselflies in the mid-Atlantic United States: Pond Damsels, also known as the “Narrow-winged Damselflies” (Family Coenagrionidae); Broad-winged Damselflies (Family Calopterygidae); and Spreadwings (Family Lestidae).

And there are seven families of dragonflies: Clubtails (Family Gomphidae); Cruisers (Family Macromiidae); Darners (Family Aeshnidae); Emeralds (Family Corduliidae); Petaltails (Family Petaluridae); Skimmers (Family Libellulidae); and Spiketails (Family Cordulegastridae).

I consulted the members of two odonate-related Facebook groups in preparation for writing this post: Northeastern Odonata; and Southeastern Odes. I posed a couple of questions related to odonate reproduction, with the goal of answering one over-arching question: Which families of damselflies and dragonflies engage in some form of post-copulatory guarding?

  1. Is there a common species of dragonfly in which the male abandons the female immediately after mating? No contact guarding, no non-contact guarding, just “Adios muchacha!”
  2. Do all damselfly females lay eggs in tandem with males? If not, then please cite at least one example.

My sincere thanks to two renowned odonate experts who kindly replied to my questions!

Not sure about the first question. I’ve seen plenty of females of many different species arriving alone at a water body to lay eggs but without seeing a mating pair break tandem, it’s hard to say when they separated. Females can store sperm so will often lay eggs without the company of a mate. As for damselflies, off the top of my head, Eastern- and Fragile Forktails typically oviposit alone. Slender Spreadwings too. Source Credit: Ed Lam, author and illustrator of Damselflies of the Northeast.

Skimmers are the only dragonflies in which guarding is common. It doesn’t happen in clubtailscruisers, darners (except of course in a few kinds of green darners that oviposit in tandem), emeralds, petaltails, and spiketails. Among skimmers, stream breeders such as clubskimmers and sylphs don’t have any kind of guarding. In genera such as Pantala gliders and Tramea saddlebags, if they’re not in tandem then the female oviposits by herself. Forktails are among the few pond damsels that don’t oviposit in tandem (a couple of western species are an exception to the exception). Source Credit: Dennis Paulson, author of Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East.

Coming full circle to the title of this post, most dragonfly males do not engage in post-copulatory guarding; most damselfly males do.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (mating pair)

February 26, 2013

The following photo gallery, shown in reverse chronological order, shows a mating pair of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) spotted along the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows Park on 26 June 2012.

Photo 2 (of 4) shows the pair “in wheel”; Photo 1 shows the female resting on the boardwalk after copulation; the male is “hover guarding” the female to protect her from other males. Hover guarding is also known as “non-contact guarding.” Photos 3-4 are close-ups of the male and female dragonflies shown in Photo 1: Photo 3 shows the male; Photo 4, the female.


Photo 1


Photo 2


Photo 3


Photo 4

Copyright © 2013 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (mating pair, female ovipositing)

July 16, 2012

The following gallery shows a mating pair of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (Libellula vibrans) spotted in the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 June 2012. Photo 1 (of 2) shows the pair “in wheel.” All dragonflies and damselflies have a 10-segmented abdomen: male dragonfly secondary genitalia are located in segments two and three (2 and 3); female genitalia in segment eight (8). Therefore, the male dragonfly is on top in Photo 1; the female is on the bottom. Photo 2 shows the female half of the mating pair, resting immediately after copulation.

The following video shows the same mating pair of Great Blue Skimmer dragonflies (‘in wheel”), and the female resting (after copulation) before laying eggs by the process of oviposition. The female dragonfly skims the water repeatedly, picking up drops of water that are used to flick fertilized eggs toward the shore. The process typically lasts a few seconds to a few minutes. The male half of the mating pair “hover guards” the female as she lays eggs, also known as “non-contact guarding” (see slow motion segment of video).

Copyright © 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: