Wisconsin Odonata Survey


Aeshna sitchensis  Hagen, 1861
Zigzag Darner

Aeshnidae, Darner Family
"Most Wanted" Species

The mosaic darners of the genus Aeshna (aka blue darners) are large, strong-flying dragonflies with late-season flight periods. Most are similar to each other in size and general coloration, so in-hand examination is usually necessary to identify them. The most important distinguishing characteristics for this genus are the shapes and colors of the pale stripes on the sides of the thorax, especially the first or anterior stripes (here referred to as anterior thoracic side stripes [ATSS]), and the shapes of the cerci (upper pair of claspers) at the tip of the abdomen (whether paddle type or wedge type). Other marks that are often helpful include the presence/absence of a black line across the face, and the sizes of the pale spots on top of the abdominal segments (S), including the presence/absence of a spot on S10. Refer to the images of Aeshna species on the species pages of this website to compare shapes of thoracic side stripes and consult any dragonfly field guide for illustrations of the claspers (some guides are listed in the Resources Section).


Global: G5     Wisconsin: S1    

Distinguishing Characteristics:

The anterior thoracic side stripes (ATSS) of both genders are unmistakably thin and zigzagged (hence its common name). The abdomen is unusually heavily spotted, especially in side view; pale blue on males, yellow or white on most females (some are male-like). Further, this is a small species (total body length averages less than 2.5 inches; most mosaic darners are more than 2.5 inches long). The face has a thin black cross-line. Males have paddle-type claspers. Flight is low, with infrequent hovering, and it often perches horizontally on the ground – all unusual characteristics for a mosaic darner in Wisconsin.

Description of Habitat/Range:

This boreal species occurs widely throughout northern Canada, but in the upper Midwest is found only in the northern-most parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The preferred habitat is small, shallow, cold-water pools (typically 10 square meters or less in size) in bogs and sedge fens, including pools that may dry in summer. This species is rare in Wisconsin, documented here for the first time in 2004 in Douglas and Ashland counties, with a known breeding population in a Stockton Island fen.

Flight Season:

Throughout its range, the flight season is from early June to late September.

Shading illustrates monthly percentages of the total flight season records for the species. Each flight season record is a unique date/location/observer combination where one or more adult or an exuvia was recorded (excludes nymphs). The actual number of flight season records for each month is shown in parentheses.

Flight seasons begin earlier in the southern part of the state, often by a week or more. Also, flight charts may not be accurate for rare species because of few data available.
View user-submitted photos

(Click on photos to enlarge)
Photo of Male zigzag darner
Male zigzag darner. © Kurt Mead

Photo of Close-up of male zigzag darner thorax
Close-up of male zigzag darner thorax. © Kurt Mead

Photo of Top view of zigzag darner
Top view of zigzag darner. © W. Smith

Photo of Teneral female zigzag darner
Teneral female zigzag darner. © Dan Jackson

Photo of Male and female zigzag darners
Male and female zigzag darners. © Dennis Paulson

This site is produced in conjunction with the Wisconsin Aquatic and Terrestrial Resources Inventory and sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The information presented on this site is subject to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Legal Notices, Disclaimers, and Terms of Use.