Black pennant (Selysiothemis nigra)

Black pennant on a rock
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Black pennant fact file

Black pennant description

GenusSelysiothemis (1)

A small and graceful dragonfly, the black pennant (Selysiothermis nigra) is distinguished by its large, fragile-looking wings and distinctive ‘equals sign’ shaped pterostigma (the dark coloured cells near the tip of the wings) (2). The male black pennant is uniformly black in colour, although it may sometimes develop a whitish patch on the thorax and abdomen, giving it a frosty or dusty appearance, while females and immature males have a more sandy-brown colouration, with extensive black markings (2) (3). The wings of the black pennant are clear and shiny, with very fine veins patterning the surface (4). The alternative name for this agile species, ‘the desert darter’, comes from the way in which the black pennant makes short, exploratory flights, or darts, from perch to perch when it hunts or flies (5) (6).

Selysiothemis advena.

Black pennant biology

An energetic dragonfly, the black pennant is an opportunistic predator which will catch a wide variety of small insect prey (5). Like other dragonflies of the Libellulidae family, the black pennant may adopt a distinctive ‘obelisk posture’ when temperatures soar during the day, pointing the abdomen directly at the sun in order to prevent the body from overheating (5) (8).

Breeding occurs in a characteristic ‘mating wheel’ which is initiated when the male black pennant grasps the head of the female using a pair of claspers on the tip of the abdomen (3). Following mating, the female returns to areas of standing water, brackish lagoons or temporary pools to lay a batch of fertilised eggs, which will develop into aquatic larvae (3) (5), before undergoing metamorphosis and emerging as a fully developed adult dragonfly after two to four months (5) (7).


Black pennant range

The black pennant has a scattered distribution in northern Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and in several European Mediterranean countries (1) (7).


Black pennant habitat

The black pennant uses wetland habitats such as temporary pools of water, shallow standing coastal waters, reservoirs, canals and irrigation ditches during the aquatic larval stages of its life cycle, while terrestrial habitats of the adult include desert, grassland and riparian forests (1) (8)


Black pennant status

The black pennant is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Black pennant threats

The biggest threat to the black pennant appears to be habitat degradation and the development of wetland and marsh habitat for tourism, especially in the more coastal areas of the European parts of its range (1) (9) (10).


Black pennant conservation

The black pennant is dependent on wetland ecosystems for at least part of its life cycle, and will benefit from limiting the amount of development in and around these habitats, especially in coastal areas that are under pressure from tourism. There is little information available regarding the population size and habitat requirements of the black pennant, and further fieldwork is needed (1).

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about dragonflies, damselflies and their conservation, see:

To find out more about conservation in the UAE, see:



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In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented (but not visibly in most spiders).
Slightly salty water, usually a mixture of salt and freshwater, such as that found in estuaries.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
Of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Riparian forest
Forest that is situated along the bank of a river, stream or other body of water.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
  2. Dragonflypix (November, 2010)
  3. Bitzer, R.J. (2003) Odonates of the Middle East and their Potential as Biological Indicators for Restoring the Mesopotamian Marshlands of Southern Iraq. Report for the Eden Again Project to Restore the Mesopotamian Marshlands, Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Iowa. 
  4. Giles, G.B. (1998) An illustrated checklist of the damselflies and dragonflies of the UAE. Tribulus, 8(2): 9-15.
  5. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. BBC Wildlife Finder (November, 2010)

Image credit

Black pennant on a rock  
Black pennant on a rock

© Tommy Pedersen

Tommy Pedersen


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