Alpine emerald (Somatochlora alpestris)

Male Alpine emerald perched on branch
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Alpine emerald fact file

Alpine emerald description

GenusSomatochlora (1)

Like other emerald dragonflies of the Corduliidae family, the Alpine emerald is named for it characteristic metallic-green colouration. This emerald colouration is broken up on the head by yellow stripes and two yellow spots, one on either side of the head, and by its blue-green eyes (2). The thorax is hairy and metallic-green, while the abdomen is bronze-black with thin yellow rings between the first, second and third segments (3). The glassy wings are often slightly yellow in colouration depending on the age or sex of the individual, with the colour of the wings getting darker with age (3).

As with all dragonfly larvae, it can be assumed that the larvae of the Alpine emerald are broad (4) and possess a ‘mask, which is an extendable structure that has strong hooks to grip prey and then retracted back to the mouth to eat it (5).

Total length: 4.5 - 5 cm (2)
Abdomen length: 3.1 - 3.6 cm (2)

Alpine emerald biology

Although little is known about the eating habits of the Alpine emerald, dragonflies are generally highly skilled, opportunistic predators (5) (11), detecting their insect prey by sight. Dragonflies will congregate in areas where prey is abundant and termite nests and beehives are popular feeding grounds. The larvae of dragonflies are also opportunistic predators and use their rapidly extendable ‘mask’ to capture their prey (5).

The flight period of the Alpine emerald is from mid-June to August or September, depending on the altitude and latitude of its habitat (2) (3). It can be assumed that this species, like other dragonflies, adopts the ‘wheel’ position while mating (11). This is where the male grips the back of the female’s head with the claspers on its lower abdomen, creating a circular formation during copulation (5). After mating, the female will immediately lay a clutch of eggs while skimming along the water, close to the banks (3). The eggs of the Alpine emerald hatch in four to six weeks, releasing larvae which develop over three years and eventually metamorphose into the adult form (3).


Alpine emerald range

The distribution of the Alpine emerald is mostly centred in Scandinavia, including Sweden, Finland and Norway (6). The range of the Alpine emerald also extends across the mountainous regions of central Europe, including the Czech Republic (7), France, Poland, Germany and Romania (8), as well as northeast Asia (9).


Alpine emerald habitat

The Alpine emerald inhabits areas surrounding stagnant water bodies such as bogs, moorlands, puddles, ponds and upland pastures just below the treeline (2), in which the vegetation is dominated by Sphagnum moss (8). It is mainly associated with areas above 1,200 metres (10), and can be found up to elevations of 2,200 metres (3).

The larvae of the Alpine emerald are found in acidic lakes, ponds, peat bogs and marshes (3).


Alpine emerald status

The Alpine emerald has yet to be globally assessed, but is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Mediterranean Red List (1)


Alpine emerald threats

Like other alpine dragonflies in the Mediterranean region, the Alpine emerald is likely to be sensitive to global warming (1). In the future, the changing climate could threaten this species by confining it to higher altitudes and more northerly distributions (2) (8), and may ultimately lead to local extinctions (10).


Alpine emerald conservation

There are currently no specific conservation measures known to be in place for the Alpine emerald.


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In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree (but not visibly in most spiders). In crustacea (such as crabs), some of the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen.
Immature stage in an animal’s lifecycle, after it hatches from an egg and before it changes into the adult form. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but are usually unable to reproduce.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Part of the body located between the head and the abdomen in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs. In vertebrates the thorax contains the heart and the lungs.


  1. IUCN Mediterranean Red List (November, 2011)
  2. Dijkstra, K.D.B. (2006) Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe. British Wildlife Publishing, Dorset, UK.
  3. d’Aguilar, J., Dommanget, J-L. and Préchac, R. (1985) A Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain, Europe and North Africa. Collins, London.
  4. Brooks, S. (2002) Dragonflies. The Natural History Museum, London.
  5. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Procter, D. and Harding P.T. (Eds.) (2005) Red Lists for Invertebrates: Their Application at Different Spatial Scales - Practical Issues, and Pragmatic Approaches. JNCC Report, Peterborough, UK. Available at:
  7. Thompson, D.B.A., Price, M.F. and Galbraith, C.A. (2005) Mountains of Northern Europe: Conservation, Management, People and Nature. The Stationary Office Limited, Edinburgh.
  8. Knijf, G.D., Flenker, U., Vanappelghem, C., Manci, C.O., Kalkman, V.J. and Demolder, H. (2011) The status of two boreo-alpine species, Somatochlora alpestris and S. arctica, in Romania and their vulnerability to the impact of climate change. International Journal of Odonatology, 14: 111-126.
  9. Zasypkina, I.A. and Ryanbukin, A.S. (2001) Amphibiotic Insects of the Northeast of Asia. Pensoft Publishers, Sofia, Bulgaria.
  10. Cordoba-Aguilar, A. (2008) Dragonflies and Damselflies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  11. Gibbons, B. (1986) Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Northern Europe. Hamlyn Publishing Group, London.

Image credit

Male Alpine emerald perched on branch  
Male Alpine emerald perched on branch

© Sulka Haro

Sulka Haro


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