Migrating Dragonflies

Common Green Darner Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.
Eastern Pondhawk, Dragonfly. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Dragonfly migrate in the spring, late summer, and autumn. In August I often see dragonflies flying across asphalt parking lots and wonder where they are going. Now I know, it is the beginning of their fall migration and they are traveling to warmer regions where there are plenty of insects to eat. In the spring they return north to breed.

Insect Migration

Data collected from a 10-year study in the UK found that more than 3.3 trillion insects migrate above southern Britain every year especially in the spring and fall. Dragonfly migration is receiving attention.

Insects migrate or fly from place to place hundreds or thousands of feet above our heads. Most insects flying high over head use the blowing winds to carry them from place to place. The dragonflies are different. They are strong enough to journey under their own steam and wing power.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum_corruptum) male
Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum_corruptum) male. Eugene Zelenko, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Dragonfly Migration

Many of the world’s 3,000 species of dragonflies alive to today, live in the tropics. But many migrate to the warm and wet habitats where they breed. Moving from the tropics to temperate areas during the warm, wet summers is less crowded with more breeding water habitats and food.

The same generation that migrates north is not the same generation that arrives in the south or returns the following year. It takes two or more generations to complete the migration journey. The individuals that fly north in the spring are the offspring of the individuals that flew south the previous autumn and vice versa.



Studies have found that migrating dragonflies use the same flyways as hawks and falcons. Perhaps the hawks and falcons are following the dragonflies, since the insects can be a food sources for birds both large and small.

Where to See Migrating Dragonflies

Most often I see migrating dragonflies zooming across parking lots. I don’t know why this is, but staking out a parking lot and watching in a southerly direction or toward the ocean or other large body of water is a good spot.

The dragonflies I have seen fly straight toward their destination, in a straight line over buildings and trees. They fly with the same unchanging direction as migrating butterflies.

Head of the Common Green Darner.
Head of the Common Green Darner dragonfly. Photo by Mark Nenadov [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

When to Observe Dragonfly Migration

I see migrating dragonflies in September and October. And some as early as August. I saw dragonflies migrating right along with butterflies and hawks at Cape May State Park in New Jersey. See my post on Cape May and Monarch Migration.


The study of the migration habits of the order Odonata (damselflies and dragonflies), is still pretty new. It seems there are several studies out of India. For a long time, those of us in the north didn’t know where the home habitat of Monarch butterflies was located. Now we know Monarchs migrate to conifer forests in Mexico, In time we’ll learn the destinations of dragonfly migrations, too.


Five Main Migrating Dragonflies in North America

In North America there are 16 species in two families (darners and skimmers) that are know to migrate. Here are the five main migrating species.

  1. Common Green Darner (Anax junius)
  2. Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)
  3. Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata)
  4. Wandering Glider Dragonfly also called Global Skimmer (Pantala flavescens)
  5. Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea)

These dragonflies are known to migrate in spring and fall. Do you see any of these acrobatic fliers near you?


How the Green Darner Dragonfly Migrates

Global Skimmer: The Dragonfly that Flies from India to Africa (video)



I hope this short introduction to dragonfly migration is helpful. While writing this I thought of the millions of animals that high-tail-it out of North America as the cold weather approaches. Birds, butterflies, dragonflies, and many species of insects we don’t even know about yet. It makes me appreciate our human ability to survive the cold.


Download A Free Dragonfly Field Guide

I stumbled across this colorful guide and thought I would share it with you. The brochure is provided by the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP).



Dragonfly Natural History and Field Guides

These Amazon.com affiliate links. If you buy using these links I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson

Dragonflies and Damselflies: A Natural History by Dennis Paulson


Dragonfly Focused Citizen Science Projects

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership helps science track the migration of the five main migrating dragonflies.



“Odonata Central is a citizen science database concerning the distribution and abundance of Odonates including Dragonflies and Damselflies.”

More on Dragonflies

Dragonflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist

The Blue Dasher: A Dragonfly that Zings


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