Observations of Dragonflies Visiting Lights at Night

Dragonflies (order Odonata, suborder Anisoptera) and normally diurnal. However some dragonflies are active by night. This is particularly true of long distance migrants that travel over open water where they cannot roost so must continue to fly even after dark (Corbet 1984; Hong-Qiang et al 2006). Some species of non-migratory dragonflies are also occasionally observed moving at night. Almost all of these cases are observations of dragonflies coming to lights (Corbet 1999). Reports of nocturnal adult dragonfly activity appear to be relatively scarce, especially with regard to North American species.

Canada darner (Aeshna canadensis) perched just before dusk. The second most frequently recorded species at lights. Photo: Mark Andrew Conboy.

Since April 10, 2010 I have recorded 16 instances (7 species) of dragonflies attending black, mercury vapor and incandescent porch lights at QUBS Point. Here is a summary of those observations. Note that the times given below refer to the time when the dragonfly was discovered at the light and not necessarily when it first arrived there.

Canada darner (Aeshna canadensis); 4 records; all at combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 23:00 and 2:45

Black-tipped darner (Aeshna tuberculifera); 1 record; combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 2:45

Dusky clubtail (Gomphus spicatus); 1 record; combination black light/mercury vapor; time: 4:00

Prince baskettail (Epitheca princeps); 6 records; all at combination black light/mercury vapor; time: between 1:00 and 4:00

Common baskettail (Epitheca cynosura); 3 records; 2 at combination black light/mercury vapor, 1 incandescent porch light; time: 4:00 for all

American emerald (Dorocordulia shurtleffi); 1 record; incandescent porch light; time: 4:00

Yellow-legged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum); 1 record; at black light; time: 12:30.

In addition I have recorded one other species from a different location:

Common green darner (Anax junius) – non-migratory population; 1 record; perched on screen door in morning; Kingston, ON.

Most dragonflies that come to lights are from the families Aeshnidae (darners), Gomphidae (clubtails) and Libellulidae (skimmers) (Corbet 1999). My species list includes representatives from each of these families plus three species of Corduliidae (emeralds and baskettails). With regard to nocturnal movement, I was unable to find species-specific references for most of the dragonflies on the list except for prince baskettail. Both sexes of prince baskettail have been observed perching at street lights between 23:00 and 1:30, staying for about 20 min then departing (Young 1967).

Dragonflies often emerge from their larval exoskeletons after dark, so nocturnal activity among teneral dragonflies might be expected. There are some instances of teneral dragonflies coming to lights during their maiden flights (Corbet 1999). None of the dragonflies collected at QUBS lights in 2010 have been teneral however. Why fully adult dragonflies appear at lights after dark is unknown. It may be that they are disturbed form a nearby roost and fly toward a light because that is all they can see in the dark (Pinhey 1976 in Corbet 1999). It seems unlikely that they are foraging around lights because no active hunting behaviour has been observed.

I will continue to keep records of dragonflies attending lights and make occasional updates to the above list as comments to this post. Thanks to Line Faber and Georgia Lloyd-Smith for collecting dragonflies at the lights.

Corbet, P.S. 1984. Orientation and reproductive condition of migrating dragonflies (Anisoptera). Odonatalogica 13: 81-88.

Corbet, P.S. 1999. Dragonflies: behaviour and ecology of Odonata. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY.

Hong-Qiang, F., Kon

Posted by Mark Andrew Conboy

25 thoughts on “Observations of Dragonflies Visiting Lights at Night”

  1. Interesting, I did not know that dragonflies were active at night. This does not entirely surprise me since we’ve had many nights this summer that were warm enough for insects to be active. I found one lake darner on the side of a building just above moonlights on July 19, 2010 at about 7:00 a.m., and wondered about it since I had not seen it the night before. This was right beside a doorway, and an area I’m always checking for moths, this dragonfly is large enough that I definitely would have noticed it.


  2. interesting! Good to know Wasn’t seeing things tonight. I work second shift at a rural warehouse building that has a god population of large unidentifed dragonflies (my species identification skills are essentially non-existant) and tonight as I was leaving work I noticed one of them cruising around the lights in the parking lot at about 1:10. I had never seen dragonflies at night before and wondered if I had mistaken some sort of moth for one, but the flght patterns were deinately typical dragonfly. This one looked like it might have been hunting, hovering and then pouncing on other insects attracted to the large array of mercury vapor lamps, but I couldn’t see any obvious prey and when I approached it left the area… There were numerous other smaller insects around the light which it may or may not have been feeding on.

  3. Just found this because I was doing a search on dragonfly activity at night. A dragonfly was just attacking the kitchen window screen and driving the cats nuts while I was on the phone just now. It did this repeatedly over about ten minutes and when I got off the phone I used a flashlight to see that it was a large dragonfly! I went outside to try to find it but had no luck.

    Leda Beth Gray
    Blue Hill, ME

    1. Just about an hour ago, a little after 9:00 p.m.,when I was letting out my dogs, I heard a rustling sound in my open garage and upon investigation found a dragonfly unable to negotiate the window sill. I helped it out by making it climb on a stick, it was large and black. It was still zooming around the garage, when I came back with the dogs, we have only moderate floodlights but live on a heavily wooded 10 acres.

      Heike Hinrichs
      Milton, Georgia

  4. FYI … a friend of mine a few days ago had 86 darners come to his MV light at the Algodones Dunes in California (during a full moon)

  5. I live in Kingsburg California, and this evening there was a dragonfly flying around outside my porch light. The kids were trying to catch it. I told them to leave it alone and around midnight I checked outside and it was just there no movement at all on the base where the light is. Never have I seen this before. But thought I would look it up.

  6. Hello & thank you for the information! A Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis) was just attacking our bright kitchen window at around 9:30 pm or so (it’s fully dark outside). About 45 minutes earlier, I saw it catching insects about 7′ away from the window. I’ve had to leave the lights off to keep it from returning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. We also live in Eastern Ontario – in rural Greater Napanee. It makes me slightly nervous when I see something out of the ordinary, but hopefully they have a fairly good ecosystem around here. Hydro One is preparing to clear brush from under their lines this summer & fall and will be using a herbicide to keep it from growing back quickly (Garlon Ultra, it’s called). Landowners can request that the herbicide not be used. If only we had a zero tolerance for negative impacts (or potentially so) on habitats. The Hydro One guy said that species at risk were becoming an issue. Great!! Good to hear that awareness & concern seems to be increasing.


  7. TW (Nick) Donnelly, 18 May 2012

    I caught Boyeria vinosa in 1949 when it was too dark to see the insect, and I simply swung at the noise of the wings. It was evidently foraging, whether for prey or females I do not know.

    In 1969 I stood on the edge of a weedy-banked river in Kentucky where Neorocordulia yamaskanensis had been patrolling. They continued to patrol in the dark, and finally I could still hear their wings when it was so dark that starlight was reflected on the water surface.

    1. Didn’t know yamaskanensis made it over here. I live in a different part of India so have never seen there there, either. Sounds like a rare and beautifully experienced occasion
      Laurie/Milton and india

  8. I live in auburn california, it’s 12:17am, I turned my pourch light on around 11:11 and to my surprise, I have a very big dragonfly on my pourch light, not sure what kind, but it has a blue metallic body. It’s beautiful, and I have never seen anything like this, especially this big of a dragonfly!!!

  9. A monster flapping against our 9th floor window in Vancouver turned out to be a dragonfly, it seems. Hadn’t seen this before – good to confirm it’s possible through this blog post.

  10. Just caught one on a video surveilance camera at 12:42 AM. Seems strange to see in the middle of winter but It was mild last night — upper sixties. Glad to find these sitings since I was trying to figure out what the heck it was. Very blurry images.

  11. I looked at this site because last night, well after dark, a noise attracted my attention on the porch outside our front door (in North Carolina). To my surprise, the noise was caused by a dragonfly against the stone wall of the house, and by the the dragonfly entering the bottom of the porch light, apparently to capture small insects flying around the relatively dull bulb. After emerging from the light, the dragonfly clung to the stone wall, and I gave it its space, and went back in the house.

    First time I’d noticed a dragonfly at night, and it’s gratifying to know that others have observed the same thing. Dragonflies are fascinating in any case.

  12. I had been trying to attract dragonflies to my yard to help control the mosquito population, I suppose I’ll need to throw the ol’ bug zapper in the shed and not use it at all. I wouldn’t want one of these wonderful creatures zapped.

  13. I just had an adult dragonfy bowncing at the hallway screen. There was a light on in the hall that it was drawn to. I have never seen a dragonfly at night. It was cool and weird at the same time!

  14. So giant nocturnal dragonfly really IS a thing! I’m in Austin, TX and plenty used to seeing them during the day, but at 10PM was not expecting one to fly out of the bushes and start circling my patio light!

  15. It’s 11:25pm in Sacramento and still 75 degrees outside. I’m watching a large metallic silver dragonfly bounce around my incandescent porch light. As many others here I’d never seen a dragonfly at night and searched Google to see if this were common on warm nights – hoping he may be taking advantage of the many mosquitoes (do they eat mosquitoes?). This is the first I’ve ever seen at night. Pretty awesome.

  16. While working at my computer last night, I was startled by a whirring noise at the window. I went out to investigate, and soon afterward realized it was a large (4 inch wing span) dragonfly, which came into my kitchen when I opened the door. It hung on my kitchen overhead light until I coaxed it off and brought it outside once more. It hung out for 5 or 10 minutes in the potted plant in which I placed it, and then it sped off into the night. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one at night before (10 p.m.). The body appeared black and the double set of wings were a purple/brown iridescence. What a gift!

  17. I just witnessed a large dragonfly, about 4 ” long hovering in front of my neighbor’s doorbell that was lit with an inch long soft amber light in the center! It would stay for a few seconds, fly off but kept coming back and hovering 3-4″ in front of it. It’s just about 8pm so rught at dusk. This went on for a good 5 mins. It probably would have stayed longer but my other neighbor’s cat was trying to catch it when it dipped down low enough so I’m sure she ruined its night. It was definitely not hunting….unless the color was associated with prey.
    All the previous posts seem to be seen around much larger, brighter lights so …..anyone have thoughts?

  18. I saw what I believe to be a six inch long dragonfly last night in East Northport, New York. At first I thought it was a Bat but it had 2 sets of wings, it was flying near bright lights. Appeared to be a yellowish color

  19. Wow! I heard some heavy tapping on my window tonight while laying in bed about 9:30pm and managed to see it was a big green dragonfly! It was beautiful but I was confused, so I had to Google it and happened upon this. Thanks (:

  20. Just went outside on my deck & had a rather large dragonfly against the bottom off my glass door, when I stepped outside it was no longer on the door it was now laying on its back (wings) it appeared to be dead as it laid there for a few minutes perfectly still & then suddenly popped up & began flying. It was going back and forth between my sliding door & the outdoor lights, it was unusually large & louder than the typical dragonflies I’ve ever seen, & very strange to see it at 10:15 pm EST.

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