Ethiopian Highlander (Atoconeura aethiopica)

Ethiopian highlander resting on branch
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Ethiopian Highlander fact file

Ethiopian Highlander description

GenusAtoconeura (1)

Like other members of the Libellulidae family, the Ethiopian highlander has a relatively short, broad abdomen, with its whole body markedly shorter than its wingspan (3). Distinctive features of this species include its pale-blue abdomen when mature and large, emerald-green eyes.

Also known as
common skimmer.
Atoconeura biordinata aethiopica.

Ethiopian Highlander biology

Virtually nothing is known of the Ethiopian highlander’s reproductive biology, life history patterns or feeding behaviour. Nevertheless, there are general biological characteristics of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) that are likely to apply. Odonata species start their life as aquatic larvae or nymphs, passing through a series of developmental stages or ‘stadia’, undergoing several moults as they grow. This larval period can last anything between three months and ten years, depending upon the species. Before the final moult (emergence), metamorphosis occurs in which the larvae transform into the adult form. After emergence, adults undergo a pre-reproductive phase known as the maturation period, and this is when individuals normally develop their full adult colour. Odonata usually feed on flying insects and are generalised, opportunistic feeders, often congregating around abundant prey sources such as swarms of termites or near beehives (5).

There is often fierce competition between males for access to reproductive females, and females typically begin to lay eggs in water immediately after copulation, often guarded by their mate. However, females of some species can store live sperm in their body for a number of days (5).


Ethiopian Highlander range

Endemic to the Ethiopian highlands south of Addis Ababa (1).


Ethiopian Highlander habitat

Dragonflies of the African genus Atoconeura are commonly known as "highlanders" due to their restriction to higher altitudes. The Ethiopian highlander occurs along clear montane streams and rivers with surrounding forest, and is currently found between 1,300 and 2,400 m above sea level (1) (4).


Ethiopian Highlander status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2006 (1). Atoconeura aethiopica was formerly considered a subspecies of A. biordinata, but it is now regarded as a valid species (1) (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Ethiopian Highlander threats

The Ethiopian highlander is threatened by loss and degradation of its habitat as a result of water pollution and widespread forest clearance. Forest destruction has been dramatic in Ethiopia’s highlands over the last 10 years, mostly for conversion to agricultural land, and the few remaining fragments are being rapidly exploited (1) (4).


Ethiopian Highlander conservation

There are currently no conservation measures targeting this rare dragonfly. There is an urgent need to halt the rapid rate of deforestation in Ethiopia and re-plant indigenous trees, for the benefit of this, and many other, endangered species found nowhere else on Earth (1).



Authenticated (24/07/2006) by Dr. Viola Clausnitzer, Chair, IUCN/SSC Odonata Specialist Group.



A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.


  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2006)
  2. Dijkstra, K.B. (01/01/0001 00:00:00) The Atoconeura problem revisited: taxonomy and biogeography of a dragonfly genus in the highlands of Africa (Odonata, Libellulidae). Tijdschrift voor Entomologie,.
  3. Brisbane Insects and Spiders (July, 2006)
  4. Clausnitzer, V. and Dijkstra, K.B. (2005) The dragonflies (Odonata) of Ethiopia, with notes on the status of endemic taxa and the description of a new species. Entomologische Zeitschrift, 115: 117 - 130.
  5. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Ethiopian highlander resting on branch  
Ethiopian highlander resting on branch

© Dr Viola Clausnitzer

Dr Viola Clausnitzer
Chair IUCN Odonata Specialist Group
Graefestr. 17


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