Sussex Dragonfly Group

Common Darter (Common Sympetrum)
Sympetrum striolatum (Charpentier, 1840)
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Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

Common Darter
(Common Sympetrum)
Sympetrum striolatum

Suborder: Anisoptera
Family: Libellulidae

This is one of our most common and easily spotted dragonflies. It is a robust species, surviving into October or even November in dry, sunny and mild autumns. The males have a parallel-sided, orange-red abdomen and a brown thorax. Females are dull yellow-brown on both the abdomen and thorax. It can be distinguished from the Ruddy Darter by its yellow-striped legs.

Sympetrum striolatum
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female
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum striolatum
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female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
3 / 9
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
4 / 9
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
5 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
6 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
7 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
8 / 9
mating
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum striolatum
9 / 9
ovipositing
Photo: David Sadler

More images

National status
Abundant in England and Wales, less common in Scotland.

Status in Sussex
Common. Very well distributed over the whole of the county, especially in the east. The number of records for this species exceed the figures for any other Anisopteran (Dragonfly). The Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) shows an offshore record of one seen on 16 June 1958 by S. Sharman on the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
Dannreuther (1939) stated that it was “generally distributed and may become very common, due to migration”. He was certainly correct in his prediction as it now one of the most common species in the county and country. Chelmick (1979) consideration that it is the “commonest Anisopteran in Sussex” is supported by subsequent data.

Flight times
Early June - mid November, the latter especially in mild autumns.

Phenology (adult)

Sympetrum striolatum phenology (all)
Sympetrum striolatum phenology pre 1980
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 1980 - 1989
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 1990 - 1999
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2000 - 2009
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2010 - 2019
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2010 on
Sympetrum striolatum habitat
1 / 1
Common Darter habitat at Carters Farm scrape, Pett Level
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
All forms of water, including ponds, lakes, dykes, canals and slow-moving rivers, even brackish water.

Conservation
Pollution and the over-shading of sites are the two main concerns. Males can be attracted by the provision of light-coloured, sun bathing surfaces such as bare ground or stones. Larger habitat considerations include sunny hedgerows or woodland rides and clearings.

Sympetrum striolatum similar species
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Photos: David Sadler & Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum similar species
2 / 2
Photos: Simon Linington & David Sadler

Similar species
The main confusion species is Ruddy Darter though Red-veined Darter is increasingly possible and the even rarer Yellow-winged Darter has had invasion years. Vagrant Darter has been recorded but not since 1966 and Scarlet Dragonfly was recorded for the first time in 2019. The female Black Darter could be confused with females of the commoner two species though it is restricted in distribution and unlikely to be encountered away from the few areas of heathland in Sussex where it normally occurs.

Separating Common Darter from Ruddy Darter is relatively straightforward (see photographic comparison). A couple of identification characteristics apply to both sexes and to insects at different ages. Common Darter has legs striped paler (yellow) whereas Ruddy has black legs. Secondly, there is a dark line across the top and down the sides of the frons (upper part of face) in Ruddy Darter whereas in Common Darter the line is just along the top.

Males. The male Common Darter has an orange-red abdomen whereas that of Ruddy Darter is blood-red. The abdomen in Common Darter is almost straight-edged, that of Ruddy Darter has more of a waist, though this feature can sometimes be difficult to discern. The sides of the thorax are well-marked with two yellow panels in the male Common Darter whereas the Ruddy Darter has an all-brown thorax. The male Red-veined Darter has, as its name suggests, red veins in the leading veins of its wings. This brick-red species that may turn up outside the flight time of the commoner species has wing spots that are pale edged darker, it has a bluish base to the eyes, the top part of the face (frons) is red edged with white and the thorax has pale bluish stripe down each side. There is a dark line that extends down the side of the frons as in Ruddy Darter. The Yellow-winged Darter has very distinct yellow patches at the base of its wings though beware that mature Ruddy Darters may develop a yellowish wash to their wings. The Broad Scarlet lives up to its name and is a larger dragonfly than those already mentioned with a broad scarlet abdomen. It has a brownish thorax. The reddish eyes have blue at the base. The wings have reddish veins and yellow patches at the base (particularly the hind wing).

Females. The leg and line around the frons are key characteristics in separating females of Common Darter and Ruddy Darter. The female Black Darter has a dark triangle on the top of the thorax near the front. It also has black and yellow panels on the side of the thorax and there are three clear yellow spots on one of the black panels. Unlike Common Darter and Ruddy Darter, the wing spots (pterostigmas) are black rather than brownish. The female Red-veined Darter has eyes that are bluish at the base. They also have yellow-striped legs like the Common Darter. The female Yellow-winged Darter has distinct yellow patches at the base of its wings as does the larger female Broad Scarlet.

This is one of our most common and easily spotted dragonflies. It is a robust species, surviving into October or even November in dry, sunny and mild autumns. The males have a parallel-sided, orange-red abdomen and a brown thorax. Females are dull yellow-brown on both the abdomen and thorax. It can be distinguished from the Ruddy Darter by its yellow-striped legs.

Sympetrum striolatum
1 / 9
female
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum striolatum
2 / 9
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
3 / 9
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
4 / 9
female
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
5 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
6 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
7 / 9
male
Photo: Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum
8 / 9
mating
Photo: David Sadler
Sympetrum striolatum
9 / 9
ovipositing
Photo: David Sadler

National status
Abundant in England and Wales, less common in Scotland.

Status in Sussex
Common. Very well distributed over the whole of the county, especially in the east. The number of records for this species exceed the figures for any other Anisopteran (Dragonfly). The Dragonflies of Sussex (2004) shows an offshore record of one seen on 16 June 1958 by S. Sharman on the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel.

Distribution at 1km scale

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

Historical records
Dannreuther (1939) stated that it was “generally distributed and may become very common, due to migration”. He was certainly correct in his prediction as it now one of the most common species in the county and country. Chelmick (1979) consideration that it is the “commonest Anisopteran in Sussex” is supported by subsequent data.

Flight times
Early June - mid November, the latter especially in mild autumns.

Phenology (adult)

Sympetrum striolatum phenology (all)
Sympetrum striolatum phenology pre 1980
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 1980 - 1989
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 1990 - 1999
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2000 - 2009
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2010 - 2019
Sympetrum striolatum phenology 2020 on
Sympetrum striolatum habitat
1 / 1
Common Darter habitat at Carters Farm scrape, Pett Level
Photo: Fran Southgate

Habitat
All forms of water, including ponds, lakes, dykes, canals and slow-moving rivers, even brackish water.

Conservation
Pollution and the over-shading of sites are the two main concerns. Males can be attracted by the provision of light-coloured, sun bathing surfaces such as bare ground or stones. Larger habitat considerations include sunny hedgerows or woodland rides and clearings.

Sympetrum striolatum similar species
1 / 2
Photos: David Sadler & Simon Linington
Sympetrum striolatum similar species
2 / 2
Photos: Simon Linington & David Sadler

Similar species
The main confusion species is Ruddy Darter though Red-veined Darter is increasingly possible and the even rarer Yellow-winged Darter has had invasion years. Vagrant Darter has been recorded but not since 1966 and Scarlet Dragonfly was recorded for the first time in 2019. The female Black Darter could be confused with females of the commoner two species though it is restricted in distribution and unlikely to be encountered away from the few areas of heathland in Sussex where it normally occurs.

Separating Common Darter from Ruddy Darter is relatively straightforward (see photographic comparison). A couple of identification characteristics apply to both sexes and to insects at different ages. Common Darter has legs striped paler (yellow) whereas Ruddy has black legs. Secondly, there is a dark line across the top and down the sides of the frons (upper part of face) in Ruddy Darter whereas in Common Darter the line is just along the top.

Males. The male Common Darter has an orange-red abdomen whereas that of Ruddy Darter is blood-red. The abdomen in Common Darter is almost straight-edged, that of Ruddy Darter has more of a waist, though this feature can sometimes be difficult to discern. The sides of the thorax are well-marked with two yellow panels in the male Common Darter whereas the Ruddy Darter has an all-brown thorax. The male Red-veined Darter has, as its name suggests, red veins in the leading veins of its wings. This brick-red species that may turn up outside the flight time of the commoner species has wing spots that are pale edged darker, it has a bluish base to the eyes, the top part of the face (frons) is red edged with white and the thorax has pale bluish stripe down each side. There is a dark line that extends down the side of the frons as in Ruddy Darter. The Yellow-winged Darter has very distinct yellow patches at the base of its wings though beware that mature Ruddy Darters may develop a yellowish wash to their wings. The Broad Scarlet lives up to its name and is a larger dragonfly than those already mentioned with a broad scarlet abdomen. It has a brownish thorax. The reddish eyes have blue at the base. The wings have reddish veins and yellow patches at the base (particularly the hind wing).

Females. The leg and line around the frons are key characteristics in separating females of Common Darter and Ruddy Darter. The female Black Darter has a dark triangle on the top of the thorax near the front. It also has black and yellow panels on the side of the thorax and there are three clear yellow spots on one of the black panels. Unlike Common Darter and Ruddy Darter, the wing spots (pterostigmas) are black rather than brownish. The female Red-veined Darter has eyes that are bluish at the base. They also have yellow-striped legs like the Common Darter. The female Yellow-winged Darter has distinct yellow patches at the base of its wings as does the larger female Broad Scarlet.