Sussex Dragonfly Group

Southern Hawker
Aeshna cyanea (Muller, 1764)
« Aeshna caerulea | Aeshna grandis »

Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Aeshnidae

Southern Hawker
Aeshna cyanea

Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Aeshnidae

A large dark brown- or black-bodied hawker with most abdominal spots being green in the male and all of them being yellowish green in the female. Both sexes are distinguished from other hawkers (Aeshna spp.) by segments 9 and 10 of the abdomen having a band - blue in the male, green in the female - rather than paired spots. It is often seen beating along woodland rides and is a regular visitor to garden ponds. The males are strongly territorial and engage in noisy, aerial combat. Both sexes will readily approach observers.

Aeshna cyanea
1 / 8
young female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
2 / 8
male in flight
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
3 / 8
ovipositing female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
4 / 8
female
Photo: David Sadler
Aeshna cyanea
5 / 8
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
6 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
7 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
8 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington

More images

National status
Appropriately named, being very common in southern England and Wales; extending its range northwards.

Status in Sussex
Common all over the county, even away from water.

Distribution at 1km scale

Aeshna cyanea distribution (all)
Aeshna cyanea distribution pre 1980
Aeshna cyanea distribution 1980 - 1989
Aeshna cyanea distribution 1990 - 1999
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2000 - 2009
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2010 - 2019
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2010 on

Historical records
With an extremely catholic taste as regards habitat, it is not surprising that this species has always been well recorded throughout the county. Dannreuther (1939) suggested that its numbers might occasionally be reinforced by immigration from the south. Chelmick (1979) felt that this species was under-recorded. The survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) added a considerable number of records, resulting in a map showing much greater coverage across the county and this has continued to date.

Flight times
June - late October. Some evidence that the flight time is extending at both ends of the calendar. However, the extremely early dates in the chart below relate to larval records which are not easily excluded when not specified in the original record.

Phenology (adult)

Aeshna cyanea phenology (all)
Aeshna cyanea phenology pre 1980
Aeshna cyanea phenology 1980 - 1989
Aeshna cyanea phenology 1990 - 1999
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2000 - 2009
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2010 - 2019
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2010 on
Aeshna cyanea habitat
1 / 1
Southern Hawker habitat at Woods Mill
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
A wide range, such as lakes, ponds, canals, slow-moving streams, ditches and garden ponds.

Conservation
Although very common, the Southern Hawker still faces the same threats of pollution and habitat destruction as other species. At home in the urban environment, it can benefit from the digging of new garden ponds.

Aeshna cyanea similar species
1 / 2
Aeshna cyanea similar species
2 / 2

Similar species
The ‘Blue Hawkers’ can be quite a challenge to identification skills. Along with the Southern Hawker, the other species comprise the Emperor Dragonfly, Migrant Hawker, Hairy Dragonfly, Southern Migrant Hawker, Common Hawker, Lesser Emperor and Vagrant Emperor. The Southern Migrant Hawker is a relatively new addition to the Sussex dragonfly fauna having colonised only since the Millennium. The Common Hawker is far from common and is a very irregular visitor to the county. The Lesser Emperor has become more frequent since the Millennium while there have been a handful of Vagrant Emperor records in the decade to 2020.

From an identification viewpoint, unfortunately these species spend a lot of time on the wing. Getting a clear view through close-focussing binoculars, let alone being able to take a good photo, of such a flying insect is a challenge. Luckily, most perch eventually.

Fortunately, the emperor dragonflies are sufficiently different that they can quickly be eliminated from investigations. The Emperor Dragonfly has apple green eyes and thorax (both sexes). The male has a sky blue abdomen (green-blue in the female) with a black dorsal line running its length. It has a yellow leading edge to the wings (costa). The smaller Lesser and Vagrant Emperor respectively have bright blue (both sexes) and purplish-blue (male) bases to their brownish abdomens.

The Southern Hawker is most easily distinguished from the Migrant Hawker by its complete coloured bands at the tip of the abdomen as opposed to paired spots and by its much more brightly-marked thorax particularly the antehumeral stripes (see photographic comparison). The latter is perhaps the best identification feature in both sexes to distinguish between the two species in flight. The Southern Hawker is slightly larger but this is only of much use if the two species are seen together. Southern Hawker is often seen singly flying at low height in woodland rides. Migrant Hawker also occurs around woodland and being non-aggressive, it can occur in numbers; it is often the last of the ‘Blue Hawkers’ to be seen on the wing.

The Southern Migrant Hawker is very much a dragonfly of marshland ditches; its distribution in Sussex is currently very restricted. The male is a strikingly blue insect with bright blue eyes earning itself the name ‘Blue-eyed Hawker’. The underlying abdominal colour is blue and the sides of the thorax are distinctly bluish-green. The female is extremely similar to the Migrant Hawker, the key differences being the clearly marked yellow stripes on the thorax of that species and its narrower yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen. The shorter anal appendages of the Southern Migrant Hawker and its slightly longer pterostigma, being relative characters, are of less use. The young Southern Migrant Hawkers have a gingery appearance with eyes the colour of marrow-fat peas. In this regard they might be mistaken for Norfolk Hawkers (a much rarer species in Sussex) though the latter has less markings on the abdomen and brighter green eyes (hence its other name of ‘Green-eyed Hawker’).

Identification of the Hairy Dragonfly is aided by the fact that it is one of the first dragonflies on the wing each year and there is just a limited overlap of flight season with the Southern and Migrant Hawkers. It is not easy to identify in flight and it spends much of its time restlessly weaving through reeds at low height. When perched it lacks the prominent yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen present on both of the larger Southern and Migrant Hawkers. The abdominal markings are neatly paired and the thorax is distinctly hairy.

The Common Hawker is very similar to both the Southern and Migrant Hawkers but lacks a noticeable yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen. It also has a yellow leading edge to the wings (the costa - brown in the other species). The male has a markedly narrow waist to the abdomen. Unfortunately for identification purposes, it is a very shy and restless insect.

A large dark brown- or black-bodied hawker with most abdominal spots being green in the male and all of them being yellowish green in the female. Both sexes are distinguished from other hawkers (Aeshna spp.) by segments 9 and 10 of the abdomen having a band - blue in the male, green in the female - rather than paired spots. It is often seen beating along woodland rides and is a regular visitor to garden ponds. The males are strongly territorial and engage in noisy, aerial combat. Both sexes will readily approach observers.

Aeshna cyanea
1 / 8
young female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
2 / 8
male in flight
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
3 / 8
ovipositing female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
4 / 8
female
Photo: David Sadler
Aeshna cyanea
5 / 8
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
6 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
7 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Aeshna cyanea
8 / 8
male
Photo: Simon Linington

National status
Appropriately named, being very common in southern England and Wales; extending its range northwards.

Status in Sussex
Common all over the county, even away from water.

Distribution at 1km scale

Aeshna cyanea distribution (all)
Aeshna cyanea distribution bre 1980
Aeshna cyanea distribution 1980 - 1989
Aeshna cyanea distribution 1990 - 1999
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2000 - 2009
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2010 - 2019
Aeshna cyanea distribution 2020 on

Historical records
With an extremely catholic taste as regards habitat, it is not surprising that this species has always been well recorded throughout the county. Dannreuther (1939) suggested that its numbers might occasionally be reinforced by immigration from the south. Chelmick (1979) felt that this species was under-recorded. The survey for the Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) added a considerable number of records, resulting in a map showing much greater coverage across the county and this has continued to date.

Flight times
June - late October. Some evidence that the flight time is extending at both ends of the calendar. However, the extremely early dates in the chart below relate to larval records which are not easily excluded when not specified in the original record.

Phenology (adult)

Aeshna cyanea phenology (all)
Aeshna cyanea phenology pre 1980
Aeshna cyanea phenology 1980 - 1989
Aeshna cyanea phenology 1990 - 1999
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2000 - 2009
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2010 - 2019
Aeshna cyanea phenology 2020 on
Aeshna cyanea habitat
1 / 1
Southern Hawker habitat at Woods Mill
Photo: Simon Linington

Habitat
A wide range, such as lakes, ponds, canals, slow-moving streams, ditches and garden ponds.

Conservation
Although very common, the Southern Hawker still faces the same threats of pollution and habitat destruction as other species. At home in the urban environment, it can benefit from the digging of new garden ponds.

Aeshna cyanea similar species
1 / 2
Photos: Simon Linington & David Sadler
Aeshna cyanea similar species
2 / 2
Photos: Simon Linington & David Sadler

Similar species
The ‘Blue Hawkers’ can be quite a challenge to identification skills. Along with the Southern Hawker, the other species comprise the Emperor Dragonfly, Migrant Hawker, Hairy Dragonfly, Southern Migrant Hawker, Common Hawker, Lesser Emperor and Vagrant Emperor. The Southern Migrant Hawker is a relatively new addition to the Sussex dragonfly fauna having colonised only since the Millennium. The Common Hawker is far from common and is a very irregular visitor to the county. The Lesser Emperor has become more frequent since the Millennium while there have been a handful of Vagrant Emperor records in the decade to 2020.

From an identification viewpoint, unfortunately these species spend a lot of time on the wing. Getting a clear view through close-focussing binoculars, let alone being able to take a good photo, of such a flying insect is a challenge. Luckily, most perch eventually.

Fortunately, the emperor dragonflies are sufficiently different that they can quickly be eliminated from investigations. The Emperor Dragonfly has apple green eyes and thorax (both sexes). The male has a sky blue abdomen (green-blue in the female) with a black dorsal line running its length. It has a yellow leading edge to the wings (costa). The smaller Lesser and Vagrant Emperor respectively have bright blue (both sexes) and purplish-blue (male) bases to their brownish abdomens.

The Southern Hawker is most easily distinguished from the Migrant Hawker by its complete coloured bands at the tip of the abdomen as opposed to paired spots and by its much more brightly-marked thorax particularly the antehumeral stripes (see photographic comparison). The latter is perhaps the best identification feature in both sexes to distinguish between the two species in flight. The Southern Hawker is slightly larger but this is only of much use if the two species are seen together. Southern Hawker is often seen singly flying at low height in woodland rides. Migrant Hawker also occurs around woodland and being non-aggressive, it can occur in numbers; it is often the last of the ‘Blue Hawkers’ to be seen on the wing.

The Southern Migrant Hawker is very much a dragonfly of marshland ditches; its distribution in Sussex is currently very restricted. The male is a strikingly blue insect with bright blue eyes earning itself the name ‘Blue-eyed Hawker’. The underlying abdominal colour is blue and the sides of the thorax are distinctly bluish-green. The female is extremely similar to the Migrant Hawker, the key differences being the clearly marked yellow stripes on the thorax of that species and its narrower yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen. The shorter anal appendages of the Southern Migrant Hawker and its slightly longer pterostigma, being relative characters, are of less use. The young Southern Migrant Hawkers have a gingery appearance with eyes the colour of marrow-fat peas. In this regard they might be mistaken for Norfolk Hawkers (a much rarer species in Sussex) though the latter has less markings on the abdomen and brighter green eyes (hence its other name of ‘Green-eyed Hawker’).

Identification of the Hairy Dragonfly is aided by the fact that it is one of the first dragonflies on the wing each year and there is just a limited overlap of flight season with the Southern and Migrant Hawkers. It is not easy to identify in flight and it spends much of its time restlessly weaving through reeds at low height. When perched it lacks the prominent yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen present on both of the larger Southern and Migrant Hawkers. The abdominal markings are neatly paired and the thorax is distinctly hairy.

The Common Hawker is very similar to both the Southern and Migrant Hawkers but lacks a noticeable yellow triangle at the base of the abdomen. It also has a yellow leading edge to the wings (the costa - brown in the other species). The male has a markedly narrow waist to the abdomen. Unfortunately for identification purposes, it is a very shy and restless insect.