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The Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies) of Papua

by Vincent J. Kalkman

Dragonflies are a well known group due to their bright colours and their conscious behaviour. Their larva live in freshwater and they are often used as indicators of water quality. Many dragonflies can be recognised in the field, which makes them relatively easy study objects.
In total 5680 dragonflies have been described and it is estimated that between 1000 and 1500 dragonflies await description. From New Guinea and adjacent isles about 430 species are known and it is likely that the actual number will be well over 500 species. So 8 to 10% of the world’s dragonflies occur in New Guinea. The table beneath gives an overview of the number of species per family occurring in New Guinea. In general the diversity is highest on the lower parts of the mainland (< 1000 m). The higher parts are relatively species poor but do have an intriguing fauna with many endemic species and genera.

[Large parts of the text below were taken from: Kalkman, Clausnitzer, Dijkstra, Orr, Paulson & Van Tol (in prep). Diversity and biogeography of dragonflies. Hydrobiologica]

The PDFStudying tropical dragonflies’ contains information on catching, collecting and preserving dragonflies.

Click on the pictures for the Odonata suborders checklist of Papua Indonesia

thumbnail gallery Anisoptera, Zygoptera

For a complete checklist of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands click here.
The checklist in this website is based on the checklist published by Lieftinck (1949) and the literature published thereafter. A small number of papers were not available when the checklist was compiled, mainly with relevance for New Britain, New Ireland and the Solomon Islands.

Dragonflies and damselflies

Dragonflies form their own order and are recognised by their long slender abdomen, large globular eyes, often making up a large portion of the head, short antennae and their long wings, which have a conspicuous node and usually a pterostigma. Dragonflies are divided into two suborders, the Zygoptera or damselflies and the Anisoptera or true dragonflies. Damselflies have a broad head with widely separated eyes and similar fore and hind wings. Most species rest with wings closed. The larvae are slender and rely mainly on two or three caudal gills for respiration. Anisoptera are on average larger and more robust than Zygoptera. Their hind wings are distinctly broader at their base than the fore wings and in most families the eyes touch on top of the head. At rest most species spread their wings. The larvae are typically much sturdier than those of damselflies and lack caudal gills: oxygen is absorbed through gills in the rectum.


In total 5680 dragonflies have been described and it is estimated that between 1000 and 1500 dragonflies await description. From New Guinea and adjacent isles more than 400 species are known and it is likely that the actual number will be well over 500 species. So 8 to 10% of the world’s dragonflies occur in New Guinea. The table beneath gives an overview of the number of species per family occurring in New Guinea. In general the diversity is highest on the lower parts of the mainland (< 1000 m). The higher parts are relatively species poor but do have an intriguing fauna with many endemic species and genera.

Number of species per region

Number of species per region:

Misool 21
Waigeo 29
Salawati 20
Biak 4
Japen 13
West New Guinea 106
North New Guinea 189
Central New Guinea 109
East New Guinea 130
South New Guinea 99
Aru Islands 52
Torres Islands 21
New Britain 39
New Ireland 19
Solomon Islands (including Bougainville) 54
Kai Islands 14
Tanimbar Islands 12

Number of species per family in New Guinea and Solomons:

Zygoptera Lestoideidae 1
Zygoptera Calopterygidae 3
Zygoptera Chlorocyphidae 2
Zygoptera Coenagrionidae 112
Zygoptera Lestidae 10
Zygoptera Megapodagrionidae 34
Zygoptera Platycnemididae 34
Zygoptera Platystictidae 14
Zygoptera Protoneuridae 34
Zygoptera Isostictidae 21
Anisoptera Macromiidae 9
Anisoptera Libellulidae 111
Anisoptera Synthemistidae 9
Anisoptera Aeshnidae 22
Anisoptera Gomphidae 1
Anisoptera Corduliidae 10


New Guinea was formed during the mid-late Caenozoic when the northward moving Australian plate collided with island arcs to the north, resulting in the uplifting of large mountain chains. The island arcs were part of a complex archipelago that probably played a part in faunal exchange between the Oriental region and the Australasian region, resulting in unexpected affinities between the Philippines and New Guinea (Van Tol & Gassmann, 2005). Although New Guinea and Australia were connected as recently as 8000 years ago and generally have strong biogeographical affinities, their dragonfly faunas are very different. Especially striking is the absence of species of the family Platystictidae and Platycnemididae in Australia and conversely the virtual lack of the family Gomphidae and Brachytroninae (Aeshnidae) in New Guinea (Lieftinck, 1949). Additional information on biogeography and areas of endemism you find on the Biogeography page.

Habitats and biology

Dragonfly larvae live in freshwater environments and only a few are tolerant to brackish conditions. Both running and standing waters are used and a few species even inhabit water held in tree holes, leaf axils and other phytotelmata. The majority of the New Guinean dragonflies is confined to running waters. These vary from large open rivers to small, shaded trickles in deep forest. Often it is easier to find dragonflies at standing water, however species occurring there are often only common and widespread species, while species of running waters are often the more interesting and localised species.
Larvae prey on all kinds of small animals up to the size of tadpoles and small fish. Larvae take a few weeks up to a few years to develop. Emergence takes place above water on plants or on the shore after which most species leave the waterside to mature. Males return to the water to search for females or to establish territories. Females frequently only return to mate and to oviposit.

Identification of New Guinean dragonflies

New Guinea has a rich fauna and identifying the species is therefore not easy. However the majority of the dragonflies was (re)described by Maus Lieftinck. His work is of a very high quality and he published high quality drawing of details of most species. At the moment John Michalski is working on a book on the dragonflies of New Guinea based on the work of Lieftinck. This book will contain illustrated keys to all species. However at the moment identification must be done based on a large number of papers by Lieftinck (see literature). Identification to family level can be done using the key in: Watson, J.A.L., G. Theischinger & H.M. Abbey, 1991. The Australian Dragonflies. CSIRO, Canberra and Melbourne.


The following list contains all publications on New Guinea and the Solomon Islands published since Lieftinck (1949) (included). The references preceded by an asterisk have not been used for the checklist.

Asahina, A., 1967. A revision of the Asiatic species of the damselflies of the genus Ceriagrion (Odonata, Agrionidae). Japanese journal of Zoology 15: 255-334.
Brooks, S.J. & Richards, S.J., 1992. A new species of Oreagrion (Odonata: Coenagrionidae): montane damselflies from New Guinea. Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 135:141-144.
Donnelly, T.W., 1993. Two new genera of isistictid damselflies from New Britain, Bougainville, and the Solomon Islands (Odonata: Zygoptera). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 136: 125-132.
Gassmann, D., 1999. Taxonomy and distribution of the inornata species-group of the Papuan genus Idiocnemis Selys (Odonata: Zygoptera: Platycnemididae). Invertebrate Taxonomy 13: 977-1005.
Gassmann, D., 2000. Revision of the Papuan Idiocnemis bidentata-group (Odonata, Platycnemididae). Zoölogische Mededelingen, Leiden 74: 325-402.
Kitching, R.L., 1990. Foodwebs from phytotemata in Madang, Papua Guinea. Entomologist 109: 153-164.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1949. The dragonflies (Odonata) of New Guinea and neighbouring islands. Part VII. Results of the Third Archbold expedition 1938-1939 and of the Le Roux Expedition 1939 to Netherlands New Guinea (II. Zygoptera). Nova Guinea (N.S.) 5: 1-271.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1949a. Synopsis of the odonate fauna of the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands. Treubia 20: 319-374.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1952. On the Papuasian representatives of the genus Macromia Rambur. Treubia 21: 437-468.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1953c. Revision of the Australasian species of Synthemis Selys (Odon., Corduliidae). With descriptions of four new species and key to their identification. Idea 9: 70-88.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1953g. Revisional notes on the genera Diplacina Brauer and Huonia Förster (Odon.). Treubia 22: 153-216.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1953h. Additions to the odonate fauna of the Indo-Australian archipelago. Treubia 22:233-269.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1955. Note on Lanthusa donaldi Lieftinck: a correction. Zoölogische Mededelingen, Leiden 34: 87.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1955b. Notes on Australasian species of Neurobasis Selys (Odonata, Agriidae). Nova Guinea (N.S.). 6: 155-166.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1955c. Two new species of Lanthusa Ris, from the high mountains of New Guinea (Odonata). Zoölogische Mededelingen, Leiden 33: 157-164.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1955e. Notes on species of Nannophlebia Selys from the Moluccas and New Guinea (Odonata). Zoölogische Mededelingen, Leiden 33: 301-318.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1956c. Revision of the genus Argiolestes Selys (Odonata) in New Guinea and the Moluccas, with notes on the larval forms of the family Megapodagrionidae. Nova Guinea 7: 59-121.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1956d. Two new Platycnemididae (Odonata) from the Papuan region. Nova Guinea (N.S.) 7: 249-258.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1957a. Notes on some argiine dragonflies (Odonata) with special reference to the genus Palaiargia Förster, and with descriptions of new species and larval forms. Nova Guinea (N.S.) 8: 41-80
Lieftinck, M.A., 1958. A review of the genus Idiocnemis Selys in the Papuan region, with notes on some larval formsof the Platycnemididae (Odonata). Nova Guinea (N.S.) 9: 253-292.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1959. On the New Guinea species of Ischnura Charpentier and Oreagrion Ris, with special reference to the larval forms and notes on the species of adjacent regions (Odonata, Coenagrionidae). Nova Guinea (N.S.) 10: 213-240.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1959f. Results of the Archbold expeditions. New and little known isostictine dragonflies from the Papuan region (Odonat, Protoneuridae). Nova Guinea (N.S.) 10: 279-302.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1960. Considerations on the genus Lestes Leach, with notes on the classification and descriptions of new Indo-Australian species and larval forms (Odonata, Lestidae). Nova Guinea 8: 127-171.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1960c. Three new species of Notoneura Tillyard from western New Guinea (Odonata, Protoneuridae). Nova Guinea, Zool. 7: 117-126.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1963. New species and records of Libellulidae from the Papuan region (Odonata). Nova Guinea, Zool. 25: 751-780.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1967b. Notes on the genus Austrocnemis Tillyard, 1913 (Odonata, Coenagrionidae). Tijdschift voor Entomologie 110: 1-12.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1968a. The Odonata of Renell Island Solomon Archipelago. Natural History of Renell Island, Britisch Solomon Islands 5: 67-74.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1971. Studies in Oriental Corduliidae (Odonata) I. Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 114: 1-63.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1972. New taxa in the Papuasian genus Palaiargia Foerster, with a key to the identification of species. Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift (N.F.) 19: 245-256.
Lieftinck, M.A., 1987. New and little known Platycnemididae and Coenagrionidae from New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (Odonata). Tijdschift voor Entomologie 129: 263-291.
Lohmann, H., 1979. A new species of Ischnura from New Guinea (Zygoptera: Coenagrionidae). Odonatologica 8(3): 221-225.
Lohmann, H., 1981. Zur Taxonomie einiger Crocothemis-Arten, nebst Beschreibung einer neuen Art von Madagaskar (Anisoptera: Libellulidae). Odonatologica 10(2): 109-116.
Lohmann, H., 1984. Zwei neue Rhodothemis-Arten, mit Bemerkungen zur Systematik der Gattung (Anisoptera: Libellulidae). Odonatologica 13(1): 119-127.
Michalski, J.C., 1996. Description of Hylaeargia magnifica Michalski, a damselfly from Papua New Guinea (Odonata: Zygoptera). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie 139(1): 29-32.
Oppel, A., 2005. Odonata in the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area, Papua New Guinea. IDF-Report 7: 1-28.
Oppel, S., 2006a. Comparison of two Odonata communities from a natural and a modified rainforest in Papua New Guinea. International Journal of Odonatology 9: 89-102.
Oppel, S., 2006b. Using distance sampling to quantify Odonata density in tropical rainforest. International Journal of Odonatology 9: 81-88.
* Polhemus, D.A., 1995. A preliminary biodiversity survey of aquatic heteroptera and other aquatic insect group in the Kikori River Basin, Papua New Guinea. In: WWF (ed.): Field survey of biodiversity in the Kikori River Basin, Papua New Guinea: 33-47. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, D.C.
* Polhemus, D.A., A.R. Englund & G.R. Allen, 2004. Freshwater biotas of New Guinea and nearby islands: analysis of endemism, richness, and threats. Final Report Prepared For Conservation International, Washington, D.C.
* Richards, S., M. Kawanamo & G. Torr, 1998. Insects part 2: Odonata (Dragonflies and damselflies). Conservation International: A biological assessment of the Lakekamu basin, Papua New Guinea. Washington. Rapid Assessment Programm 9. ISBN 1-881173-20-8, pp. 10-11, 47-49, 144-148.
* Watson, J.A.L., 1984. A second Australian species in the Orthetrum sabina complex (Odonata: Libellulidae). Journal of the Australian entomological Society 23: 1-10.
* Yule, C.M., 1993. The ecology of an aseasonal tropical stream on Bougainville Island. PhD thesis, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia.
* Yule, C.M., 1995a. Benthic invertebrate fauna of an aseasonal tropical mountain stream on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea. Marine and freshwater research 46: 507-518.
* Yule, C.M., 1995b. The ecology of an aseasonal tropical river on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea. In: Timotius, K.H. & Göltenboth, F. (Ds.): Tropical Limnology Vol. III. Satya Wacana University Press, Salatiga, Indonesia
* Yule, C.M., 1996. Spatial distribution of the invertebrate fauna of an aseasonal tropical stream on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea. Arch. Hydrobiol. 137(2): 227-249.
* Yule, C.M., Pearson, R.G., 1996. Aseasonality of benthic invertebrates in a tropical stream on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 137(1): 95-117.
Theischinger, G. & S.J. Richard, 2005. Two new species of Drepanosticta Laidlaw from Papua New Guinea (Zygoptera: Platystictidae). Odonatologica 34: 307-312.
Theischinger, G. & S.J. Richard, 2006a. Two new species of Nososticta Hagen in Selys from Papua New Guinea (Zygoptera: Protoneuridae). Odonatologica 35:75-79.
Theischinger, G. & S.J. Richard, 2006b. Two new Zygoptera species from Papua New Guinea (Protoneuridae, Coenagrionidae). Odonatologica 35: 199-204