Sussex Dragonfly Group

Black Darter (Black Sympetrum)
Sympetrum danae (Sulzer, 1776)
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Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

Black Darter
(Black Sympetrum)
Sympetrum danae

Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

Our smallest dragonfly, only 32 mm long, the Black Darter is confined to acid heathland waters but can occur in large numbers. It is a late summer species. The male is almost entirely black from head and thorax to the slightly ‘waisted’ abdomen. The female is mainly yellow-brown with black markings on the sides of the abdomen. Colours are more variable in young and old individuals.

Sympetrum danae
1 / 10
immature male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
2 / 10
young male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
3 / 10
pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
4 / 10
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
5 / 10
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
6 / 10
male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
7 / 10
male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
8 / 10
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
9 / 10
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
10 / 10

Photo: David Sadler

More images

National status
Widespread and can be abundant, especially in the north; locally abundant in eastern and central England.

Status in Sussex
Rare. Ashdown Forest and the Greensand heaths around Midhurst are the main haunts.

Distribution at 1km scale

Sympetrum danae distribution (all)
Sympetrum danae distribution pre 1980
Sympetrum danae distribution 1980 - 1989
Sympetrum danae distribution 1990 - 1999
Sympetrum danae distribution 2000 - 2009
Sympetrum danae distribution 2010 - 2019
Sympetrum danae distribution 2010 on

Historical records
Recorded at Ore, Hastings in 1900 by E. Butler (Dannreuther 1939) and at Frant on 2 and 6 October 1941 by Attlee (1942). However, by the 1965-1978 survey, the only records were for Wealden Greensand sites in the extreme north-west of the county (Chelmick 1979). Since then the species has apparently been spreading. Havers (1993) recorded the species at Buchan Ponds in 1992 (as did P Belden) and at Holmbush Pond, Faygate in 1993. Curson (1998) also reported a sighting at Buchan in 1997 but failed to find any himself. On Ashdown Forest - for which Fowles (1985) had no records - Marrable (1999) found it at eight sites. The species is occasionally reported from sites away from Ashdown Forest and the Wealden Greensand but as yet there has been no establishment of colonies.

Flight times
Mid July - late September.

Phenology (adult)

Sympetrum danae phenology (all)
Sympetrum danae phenology pre 1980
Sympetrum danae phenology 1980 - 1989
Sympetrum danae phenology 1990 - 1999
Sympetrum danae phenology 2000 - 2009
Sympetrum danae phenology 2010 - 2019
Sympetrum danae phenology 2010 on
Sympetrum danae habitat
1 / 1
Black Darter habitat at Lavington Common
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
Shallow, acidic pools on heathland, with a good range of aquatic and marginal vegetation.

Conservation
Conservation action should be directed to conserving and restoring our remaining heathland and providing more pools with the right balance of vegetation and open water. This is happening on Ashdown Forest, including in the Old Lodge reserve. Summer drought, resulting in dried-out pools (as occurred on Ashdown in 2020) could have a significant impact on populations.

Similar species
Given its size and coloration, the male Black Darter is unlikely to be confused with other species in Sussex especially given its restricted heathland distribution. The female and immature male could potentially be confused with other darter species at these heathland sites. See Common Darter for a discussion of identification features of female / immature darters (and a photographic comparison).

Our smallest dragonfly, only 32 mm long, the Black Darter is confined to acid heathland waters but can occur in large numbers. It is a late summer species. The male is almost entirely black from head and thorax to the slightly ‘waisted’ abdomen. The female is mainly yellow-brown with black markings on the sides of the abdomen. Colours are more variable in young and old individuals.

Sympetrum danae
1 / 10
immature male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
2 / 10
young male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
3 / 10
pair in mating wheel
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
4 / 10
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
5 / 10
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
6 / 10
male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
7 / 10
male
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum danae
8 / 10
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
9 / 10
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum danae
10 / 10

Photo: David Sadler

National status
Widespread and can be abundant, especially in the north; locally abundant in eastern and central England.

Status in Sussex
Rare. Ashdown Forest and the Greensand heaths around Midhurst are the main haunts.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
Recorded at Ore, Hastings in 1900 by E. Butler (Dannreuther 1939) and at Frant on 2 and 6 October 1941 by Attlee (1942). However, by the 1965-1978 survey, the only records were for Wealden Greensand sites in the extreme north-west of the county (Chelmick 1979). Since then the species has apparently been spreading. Havers (1993) recorded the species at Buchan Ponds in 1992 (as did P Belden) and at Holmbush Pond, Faygate in 1993. Curson (1998) also reported a sighting at Buchan in 1997 but failed to find any himself. On Ashdown Forest - for which Fowles (1985) had no records - Marrable (1999) found it at eight sites. The species is occasionally reported from sites away from Ashdown Forest and the Wealden Greensand but as yet there has been no establishment of colonies.

Flight times
Mid July - late September.

Phenology (adult)

Sympetrum danae phenology (all)
Sympetrum danae phenology pre 1980
Sympetrum danae phenology 1980 - 1989
Sympetrum danae phenology 1990 - 1999
Sympetrum danae phenology 2000 - 2009
Sympetrum danae phenology 2010 - 2019
Sympetrum danae phenology 2020 on
Sympetrum danae habitat
1 / 1
Black Darter habitat at Lavington Common
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
Shallow, acidic pools on heathland, with a good range of aquatic and marginal vegetation.

Conservation
Conservation action should be directed to conserving and restoring our remaining heathland and providing more pools with the right balance of vegetation and open water. This is happening on Ashdown Forest, including in the Old Lodge reserve. Summer drought, resulting in dried-out pools (as occurred on Ashdown in 2020) could have a significant impact on populations.

Similar species
Given its size and coloration, the male Black Darter is unlikely to be confused with other species in Sussex especially given its restricted heathland distribution. The female and immature male could potentially be confused with other darter species at these heathland sites. See Common Darter for a discussion of identification features of female / immature darters (and a photographic comparison).