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How rare are orange dragonflies?

How rare are orange dragonflies?

Orange dragonflies are a truly spectacular sight. Their bright, almost neon orange bodies seem to glow as they zip around ponds and wetlands. But just how unusual are these colorful insects? Here, we’ll take a look at some key facts and figures to understand the rarity of orange dragonflies.

What makes dragonflies orange?

Dragonflies can display a stunning range of colors, from metallic greens and blues to deep reds. The specific colors come from pigments in the insect’s exoskeleton. Orange dragonflies get their hue primarily from high levels of carotenoids – the same pigments that give carrots and pumpkin their vibrant orange color. They absorb wavelengths of light and reflect back orange.

Some key carotenoids that create orange in dragonflies are:

– Astaxanthin – Also found in salmon and flamingos
– Canthaxanthin – Found in some birds and fish
– Beta-carotene – An antioxidant found in many orange fruits and vegetables

The density and combination of these pigments determine the exact orange tone. Temperature and diet as larvae can impact the amounts present in adults.

Only a handful of orange species

There are over 5,000 species of dragonflies around the world. Yet only around 5 species regularly display bright orange colors. This suggests orange is a relatively rare trait. Some of the most vivid orange dragonfly species include:

Ringtail Dragonfly

Latin name: Erythemis simplicicollis

Native to eastern and central North America

Males have bright orange abdomens, while females are yellow-brown

Fiery-tailed Pondhawk

Latin name: Erythemis attala

Found across southern Canada and the eastern United States

Males have bright reddish-orange abdomens with black markings

Rambur’s Forktail

Latin name: Ischnura ramburii

Native to southern North America and Central America

Males develop orange coloration as they mature

Vermillion Pond Cruiser

Latin name: Erythemis collocata

Native to western North America

Vibrant reddish-orange markings on abdomen

Species Range
Ringtail Dragonfly Eastern and central North America
Fiery-tailed Pondhawk Southern Canada and eastern United States

So orange dragonflies are limited to just a handful of species, mainly concentrated in North America. This suggests orange coloration has evolved independently a few separate times, but has not become widespread across dragonflies.

Males are usually more colorful

In most orange dragonfly species, the bright color is limited to mature males. Immature males and females of the species are far drabber in color.

For example, male Vermillion Pond Cruisers develop vibrant orange markings starting a week after emerging as adults. Females remain largely brown with some pale yellow markings in the same species.

This more colorful male trait is linked to reproduction. The bright orange acts as an eye-catching signal to females of the same species. Essentially the male is advertising his fitness. Studies show females seem to prefer males with the most intense orange hues when selecting mates.

So the evolutionary pressure to become orange appears stronger on males than females in most species. This further limits the prevalence of orange dragonflies.

Orange most common in North America

Most orange dragonfly species reside predominantly in North America. This includes:

– Ringtail Dragonfly
– Fiery-tailed Pondhawk
– Rambur’s Forktail
– Vermillion Pond Cruiser

By contrast, orange dragonflies are rare in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. There are a couple exceptions. The Orange-winged Dropwing lives across Europe:

Orange-winged Dropwing

Latin name: Trithemis kirbyi

Native across southern Europe and North Africa

Male’s wings have orange-brown patching

But it does not display the vivid, full-abdomen orange coloration of the American species. Instead, the orange is limited to parts of the wings.

So broadly speaking, orange dragonflies reach peak colors and diversity in North America. They are far less common on other continents. Scientists think this may be linked to evolutionary differences and rainfall patterns affecting dragonfly habitats.

Wetland dwellers

Orange dragonflies are most abundant around wetlands. This includes:

– Ponds
– Lakes
– Slow streams
– Marshes
– Swamps

This wetland habitat preference is common to dragonflies in general. As larvae (nymphs), they live underwater for months to years before metamorphosing into adults. Wetland environments provide stable conditions for larvae to develop and thrive.

Adult orange dragonflies remain dependent on wetlands and waterbodies after transforming. Males patrol wetland territories, defending optimal sites for finding females. Females lay their eggs in marshes, ponds and slow water.

Wetlands may also provide ideal conditions for orange pigments to form through dietary intake and temperature. For example, certain algae and microbes present in wetlands produce carotenoids. So a wetland preference helps orange dragonflies access color-creating nutrients.

Status and threats

None of the orange dragonfly species are considered endangered or under major threat currently. Their common habitats – ponds, streams, marshes – are widespread across North America.

But localized threats to specific wetlands could put pressure on individual orange dragonfly populations. Major threats include:

– Pollution – Runoff into waterbodies from agriculture or industry can create unhealthy larval environments. Dragonfly larvae are sensitive to changes in water quality.

– Drainage – Destroying or altering wetlands through redirection of water sources damages essential dragonfly habitats.

– Invasive species – Introduced predatory fish, bullfrogs, or crayfish may feed on dragonfly larvae or compete for resources.

– Climate change – Could significantly alter rainfall patterns and temperatures around key wetlands long term.

Preserving suitable wetland habitats will be crucial to sustaining orange dragonfly populations into the future.


While a spectacular sight, orange dragonflies are actually quite rare globally. Only around 5 species exhibit bright orange coloration, predominantly limited to mature males. This color is also mostly concentrated in wetland species across North America, making orange dragonflies absent from much of the world. Their wetland habitats face some conservation threats from human activities. But current populations appear stable overall. Orange dragonflies will likely continue gracing North American wetlands with their colorful glow for years to come.


– Orange dragonflies get their color from carotenoid pigments
– A handful of species worldwide, mainly in North America
– Orange limited to mature males as “fitness” signal
– Most abundant around ponds, streams and marshes
– Not currently endangered but wetland habitat preservation is key