Dwarf darter (Sympetrum haritonovi)

Female dwarf darter
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Dwarf darter fact file

Dwarf darter description

GenusSympetrum (1)

Very little information is available on the dwarf darter (Sympetrum haritonovi), but it is known to be one of the smallest dragonfly species within the genus Sympetrum (3).

In general, dragonflies are relatively large, colourful insects, recognisable by their long, slender abdomen and long wings. They also have short antennae and large, globular eyes, making up a large portion of the head. In many species, the eyes touch each other. The hindwings of dragonflies are much broader than the forewings, and in most species the wings are spread out when at rest (4).

The general characteristics of species within the genus Sympetrum are very similar, making accurate identification in the field rather difficult (5).


Dwarf darter biology

A relatively weak flier, the dwarf darter has a small home range and rarely ventures far from its breeding habitat (8).

Reproduction in dragonflies generally involves very little courtship behaviour, and begins with the male grasping the female by the neck with claspers at the tip of the abdomen. Mating then takes place in the air, on the ground or among vegetation, with the length of the process varying greatly between species (5).

Species within the genus Sympetrum tend to lay eggs towards the end of the summer and beginning of autumn. The female lays the eggs while flying over water, or over dried out water beds which will become submerged during the winter. The larvae hatch the following spring and complete their development by June, when large numbers of adults can be seen flying around water bodies (9).

Like other dragonfly species, the dwarf darter has a complex life cycle which includes a fully aquatic larval stage (5). As larvae or ‘nymphs’, dragonflies are effective sit-and-wait predators, with the fascinating feature of being able to fire out the lower portion of the mouth, known as the ‘mask’, in order to grasp passing prey (5) (10).

As well as being able to walk, dragonfly larvae are able to move through the water by jet propulsion, expelling water from a specialised rectal chamber in order to propel themselves along (10).

Dragonflies are skilled aerial predators, usually catching various small insects on the wing. However, members of the Libellulidae family tend to hunt from perches, pursuing prey once sighted before returning to the perch to consume it (5). Dragonflies within the Sympetrum genus, such as the dwarf darter, tend to spend a lot of time on the ground, and have been found to have three parts to the eye, one of which is specialised to detect small objects against the blue sky overhead (11).


Dwarf darter range

Due to the inaccessibility of its habitat (1), there is very little information available on the distribution of the dwarf darter (1) (6). However, it is known to be restricted to higher altitudes throughout Central Asia, occurring in a number of countries including India, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan (1), and eastwards to Turkey (1) (7).


Dwarf darter habitat

Freshwater montane areas such as pools, small streams and marshy spots along mountain brooks are the preferred habitat of the dwarf darter (1) (8).

Although this species is generally found at elevations greater than 1,750 metres above sea level (1) (8), it has also been found at slightly lower elevations in certain parts of its range (7).

The larvae of Sympetrum species prefer benthic habitats with dense aquatic vegetation (9).

The dwarf darter is known to breed in shallow, marshy depressions with vegetation and slow but steadily flowing water. In certain parts of its range, the dwarf darter’s breeding habitat is associated with plants such as brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) and toad rush (Juncus bufonius). These breeding areas have been reported to be found within open, dry, meadow-like vegetation (8).


Dwarf darter status

The dwarf darter is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), but is considered to be Critically Endangered (CR) in the Mediterranean Basin (2).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Dwarf darter threats

As a result of the inaccessibility of its habitat, the threats to the dwarf darter are largely unknown (1). However, in Kyrgyzstan where the dwarf darter inhabits intensively grazed areas with high livestock densities, trampling by cattle is a major threat, as the water-filled breeding depressions are used as drinking areas for livestock. One site which held a small population of the dwarf darter in 2008 was found to be completely trampled the following year, and no dwarf darters were located (8).

It is thought that human activities could be destroying suitable dwarf darter habitat in Central Asian mountain regions, and ploughing and draining has led to the disappearance of a well-known isolated population in Turkey (8).


Dwarf darter conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures in place for the dwarf darter. Recommended conservation actions include research into the population size and trends of this species, and the threats to its habitat (1).


Find out more

Find out more about the conservation of dragonflies and damselflies:

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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.
A pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
Relating to the lowermost region of a body of water such as an ocean or lake, or to the organisms that live there.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Home range
The area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
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.
Of or relating to the 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.
Of mountains, or growing in mountains.
Stage of insect development, similar in appearance to the adult but sexually immature and without wings. The adult form is reached via a series of moults, and the wings develop externally as the nymph grows.


  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
  2. Aggio, C. and Packer, S. (2009) The Status and Distribution of Dragonflies of the Mediterranean Basin. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland.
  3. Dumont, H.J., Borisov, S.N. and Seidenbusch, R. (1995) Redescription and geographic range of Sympetrum haritonovi Borisov, 1983 (Odonata, Libellulidae) with notes on its habitat and ecology. Bulletin et Annales de la Société Royale Belge d’Entomologie, 131(1): 65-74.
  4. Kalkman, V.J., Boudot, J-P., Bernard, R., Conze, K-J., De Knijf, G., Dyatlova, E., Ferreira, S., Jović, M., Ott, J., Riservato, E. and Sahlen, G. (2010) European Red List of Dragonflies. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
  5. Gibbons, B. (1986) Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Northern Europe. Hamlyn Limited, London.
  6. Kalkman, V.J., van Pelt, G.J., Dumont, H.J., Haritonov, A.Y. and Tailly, M. (2004) Critical species of Odonata in Turkey, Iran and the Caucasus. International Journal of Odonatology, 7(2): 325-339.
  7. Kazanci, N. (2010) Contribution to the knowledge of Odonata (Insecta) fauna of Turkey: Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia. Review of Hydrobiology, 3(1): 1-11.
  8. Schröter, A. (2010) The Odonata of Kyrgyzstan, part I - Critical national checklist, annotated list of records and collected data of the summer half-years 2008 and 2009. International Dragonfly Fund, 28: 1-72.
  9. Popov, A. (2007) Biogeography and Ecology of Bulgaria. Springer, USA.
  10. Mikolajewski, D.J., De Block, M., Rolff, J., Johansson, F., Beckerman, A.P. and Stoks, R. (2010) Predator-driven trait diversification in a dragonfly genus: covariation in behavioral and morphological antipredator defense. Evolution, 64: 3327-3335.
  11. Labhart, T. and Nilsson, D-E. (1995) The dorsal eye of the dragonfly Sympetrum: specializations for prey detection against the blue sky. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 176: 437-453.

Image credit

Female dwarf darter  
Female dwarf darter

© Jean-Pierre Boudot

Jean-Pierre Boudot
Université Henri Poincaré Nancy I
Faculté des Sciences
Boulevard des Aiguillettes
BP 239
Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy Cedex


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