Dragonflies in British Columbia are classified in the Order Odonata with two sub-orders. The Anisoptera sub-order comprises the larger dragonflies that many people see around marshes while the sub-order Zygoptera consists of the smaller and more fragile-looking Damselflies. This latter group consists of at least 24 species in the province. Identification to species on the wing can be challenging, with some characters visible more readily with a hand lens or microscope. To add to the challenge, the females of some species are polymorphic, existing in one form that resembles the brightly-coloured males while a second form is more dull and considered typically female-like. In addition, there are immature individuals that look different again.
The accompanying photos show 3 colour morphs of the adult Pacific Forktail (Ischnura cervula.) This is a widespread and common species south of about 55 degrees latitude and flies around pond edges from early April through October. This is one of the longest flight seasons of any dragonfly in the province.
The above photo depicts a male I. cervula. Note the 2 blue dots on the top of the thorax and the blue abdominal segments near the rear with all black segments between the thorax and the blue segments.
This photo shows a female I. cervula that looks very much like a male. But note the extensive blue lines on the top surface of the thorax and the slightly different blue patterns on the segments near the end of the abdomen. She is known as an andromorph because of the male-like appearance.
This third photo shows yet another form of female I. cervula known as a heteromorph. She looks much less like a male with brownish/pink areas on the thorax and abdomen, but the blue-coloured segments of the abdomen remain distinctive.
So when next visiting one of our local ponds, look carefully around the margins for one of the numerous damselfly species that add so much to the diversity of our area. The different forms relating to gender and age will provide lots of challenges in determining just what you are seeing, but the reward is worth the effort. Two books that I would recommend are “Introducing the Dragonflies of British Columbia and the Yukon” by Rob Cannings, and “Dragonflies and Damselfliesof the West” by Dennis Paulson. There is an accompanying volume of this latter book for eastern North America.
I sincerely appreciate the help of Rob Cannings in confirming my identifications of the forktails and alerting me to some of the variations in this species.
Rick Howie RP Bio