Common Darter - Sympetrum striolatum

Adult size

Overall length: 33 - 44mm   Hindwing length: 24 - 30mm

Distinguishing features

The commonest and largest of the darters, a late summer and autumn species that can be seen flying as late as November. Distinguishing feature is that this is the only darter with yellow and black striped legs (need to view at close quarters!) Males can be variable in their orange–red colouration.

Identification - for help with terms see glossary

Mature males

The abdomen colour of males can vary from pale orange to dark orange red and may be confused with the male Ruddy Darter. They do not have a strong waisted appearance and have a longer abdomen. The thorax is brown with pale yellow antehumeral stripes and eyes are red-brown. From side thorax has alternating brown & yellow patches. Legs are brown-black with a yellow stripe.

Immature males

Immature start as with many dragonflies with colours very similar to the females so will be have a pale yellow abdomen, pale brown thorax and eyes. As they age the abdominal red-orange colour will gradually develop.

Mature females

Females have brown eyes and thorax with pale yellow antehumeral stripes the abdomen being all yellow. Legs have a yellow stripe against brown-black base. As they mature females can take on a male like orange-red colouration along the edges of segments and down centre of abdomen and in very mature females the abdomen turns a dull olive-brown colour, but there can be a large variation in the colouration of females.

Immature females

Not very different from mature female perhaps slightly paler.


Ponds and other still, stagnant or even brackish waters are favoured and they are frequently found at small garden ponds. They are frequently found away from water, resting on the tops of plants in woodland rides.


Males will be territorial as with other darters and will often find a favoured perch from which to chase of rivals. They also, like the skimmers, often perch on open ground, logs and rocks in order to warm up in cooler weather. The male and female can be seen in tandem while egg laying where the female will dip her abdomen in the water, but females will also do this alone.

Status and distribution

Abundant in England, Wales and Ireland. Less common in Scotland, and commonly found at most suitable sites. Will tolerate a wide range of conditions. Very common across Dorset.

Flight period

Main flight period is May to December peaking in August & September.

Similar species

May be confused with the Ruddy Darter, however the latter is noticeably smaller, there is a waisted appearance as the abdomen broadens out towards the tip. Ruddy Darter legs are black not striped. The colour of a mature male Ruddy Darter is a much deeper blood-red than the Common Darter. Female Ruddy Darters have no antehumeral stripes but do have a ‘T’ shaped marking on the top of the thorax. Female Black Darters from the side have a thick black stripe running down the side of the abdomen, a broader ‘T’ shape on thorax, have yellow and black stripes on the thorax when seen from the side with small yellow dots, unique to this species.

More photographs

Click on the photos below to enlarge...


Mature Male (Photo © Richard Gabb)

Mature Female

Immature Male

Immature Female 

All photographs by kind permission & © of Ken Dolbear unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.