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Ophiogomphus howei

What do they look like?

Larvae of pygmy snaketail dragonfly are flat and smaller than many other related species. Larvae are 19 to 22 mm in length. This species does not have spines on the back of their abdomens. They are greenish brown in color. Younger larvae have more of a yellowish-brown body.

The adults of Ophiogomphus howei are the smallest members of the genus Ophiogomphus at 31 to 37 mm long, and one of the smaller dragonflies in North America. This is why they are called pygmy snaketails. Adults have three body sections: the head, the middle thorax, and the long, thin abdomen. The thorax is bright green, with bright yellow marks. Each wing has a large yellow-orange patch on it. The abdomen is described as having a "clubtail" since it is slightly widened at the end. The abdomen is black in color with small, yellow spots on top that are triangular in shape and of various sizes. Their eyes are green. Females have horns just behind the eyes that the males do not. (Brunelle, 2008; Hamill, 2013; Kennedy and White III, 1979; Lee, 2009; "Ophiogomphus howei - Bromley, 1924", 2013; Tennessen, 1993)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Range length
    31 to 37 mm
    1.22 to 1.46 in
  • Range wingspan
    19 to 21 mm
    0.75 to 0.83 in

Where do they live?

Ophiogomphus howei, commonly known as the pygmy snaketail dragonfly, is a native species to North America. Pygmy snaketail dragonflies are found on the eastern half of North America in two separate locations; one population along the Appalachian region extending from Tennessee to New Brunswick, Ontario, and the western populations in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Pygmy snaketail dragonflies can be found in the Canadian territories of Ontario and Quebec in various locations. (Abbott and Donnelly, 2013; Brunelle, 2008; Hamill, 2013)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Larvae are aquatic and live in large rivers with clear, fast flowing water. These rivers need fine sand or tiny pieces on gravel on the bottom. They are typically found at depths of 1 to 4 m.

The majority of adult life for pygmy snaketail dragonflies is spent hidden in forests along large rivers, which makes this species difficult to study. The forest surrounding the river is needed to provide habitat for hunting and mating. (Abbott and Donnelly, 2013; Brunelle, 2008; Hamill, 2013)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams
  • Range depth
    1 to 4 m
    3.28 to 13.12 ft

How do they grow?

Pygmy snaketail dragonflies go through incomplete metamorphosis. They have a life cycle of egg, larva/nymph, and adult. After the eggs hatch underwater, the larvae burrow into gravel or sand in the river. They stay as larvae for most of their lives, going through several stages called instars over the course of a year or more. When they finish their larval development, the larvae climb out of the water and attach themselves to surfaces like rocks or plants. They then shed their skin and emerge as winged adults. When they first emerge, they are called tenerals. The tenerals have to stay and rest for several hours while their wings expand and dry. They then fly away and are able to mate as adults in a week or so. (Bradeen and Boland, 2004; Lee, 2009; "The University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Education Outreach", 1997)

How do they reproduce?

Adult pygmy snaketail dragonflies are able to mate 1 to 4 weeks after emerging. Males initiate mating by grabbing females with their legs and the end of their abdomen. The pair flies together to a nearby plant or tree to mate. Breeding occurs during the spring or early summer. Both males and females will mate with many other mates many times during their lives. (Lee, 2009; "Ophiogomphus howei - Bromley, 1924", 2013)

After mating, females put their abdomen into the water of rivers and streams to lay their eggs. The eggs are carried away by the water current and end up in spaces in the rocks and sand in the bottom of the water. (Bradeen and Boland, 2004; Lee, 2009)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Ophiogompus howei mates multiple times during its breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place in the spring or early summer.
  • Average time to independence
    0 minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 3 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 3 weeks

Males do not provide any care after mating. Males leave, and the females lay the eggs in a river or stream where the larvae can live when they hatch. Females also provide nutrients in the eggs for the offspring to grow and develop. After the eggs are laid, the female leaves and does not return. (Lee, 2009; "Ophiogomphus howei - Bromley, 1924", 2013)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

The lifespan for pygmy snaketail dragonflies is not known, but most dragonfly species live for about a month as adults. They also spend 1 to 3 years as larvae. (Lee, 2009)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years

How do they behave?

Adult dragonflies need sunny warm weather to fly, with a temperature over 65°C. During cold and rainy days, pymgy snaketail dragonflies tend to hide in plants. Adult male dragonflies often have territories along the edges of ponds or streams that they defend against other males. Larvae live in rivers and streams and spend their time alone. (Hammond, 2014)

Home Range

How do they communicate with each other?

Adult pygmy snaketail dragonflies use vision, touch, and detect chemicals. Males find female mates visually, and they also communicate through touch during mating, as the male holds onto the female. (Hammond, 2014; Harris, et al., 2011; Lee, 2009)

What do they eat?

Both adults and larvae are carnivores. They are predators and eat most insect species. Pygmy snaketails are very fast, which allows them to catch prey. Larvae have been reported to feed on water mites, mayfly nymphs, and midge larvae as they hide behind rocks, gravel, and sticks, from which they make surprise attacks. Adult dragonflies typically hunt for flying insects, such as butterflies, moths, damselflies, mosquitoes, and flies, in sunny areas including open grassy fields, forest openings, and over streams and rivers. (Kennedy and White III, 1979; Lee, 2009)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • aquatic or marine worms

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of adult dragonflies include birds, frogs, lizards, fish, and other large dragonflies. Pygmy snaketail dragonflies are fast fliers and are able to escape many predators that way. When it is cold, they hide in plants. Larvae are able to blend into their habitat to escape from predators, due to their brownish-green coloring. (Hammond, 2014; Lee, 2009)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Pygmy snaketail dragonflies are an important species in their habitats. They have a significant place in the food web, as many species eat them (such as birds, frogs, lizards, fish, and other large dragonflies), and these dragonflies also eat many other species themselves (such as water mites, mayfly nymphs, chironomids or midges, butterflies, moths, damselflies, mosquitoes, and flies). Without the pygmy snaketail dragonfly, many species within the food web would be affected. Larvae also get air into the gravel and sand in the bottom of rivers when they dig holes and move around. (Lee, 2009)

Do they cause problems?

Pygmy snaketail dragonflies do not cause any problems for humans.

How do they interact with us?

Pygmy snaketail dragonflies eat many mosquitoes that are harmful to humans. These dragonflies also provide opportunities for scientists to study and research their biology and their environment. (Hamill, 2013)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Pygmy snaketail dragonflies are not an endangered species, but in the southern parts of their range, many of their populations are threatened. Habitat destruction causes the most problems for these dragonflies, as humans put chemicals in the water, drain pollution into the rivers, and do other activities that can cause changes to their habitats. To prevent this species from becoming endangered, people need to be careful of how their activities change the environment and how that can cause problems for the animals living there. (Abbott and Donnelly, 2013)


Brock Bermel (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


NatureServe. 2013. "Ophiogomphus howei - Bromley, 1924" (On-line). NatureServe. Accessed March 26, 2014 at

The University of Arizona. 1997. "The University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Education Outreach" (On-line). Insect Information: Life Cycles. Accessed April 28, 2014 at

Abbott, J., N. Donnelly. 2013. "Ophiogomphus howei" (On-line). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed March 26, 2014 at

Bradeen, B., D. Boland. 2004. Spatial and Temporal Segregation Among Six Species of Coexisting Ophiogomphus (Odonata: Gomphidae) in the Aroostook River, Maine. Northeastern Naturalist, 11: 295-312.

Brunelle, P. 2008. "COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Pygmy Snaketail Ophiogomphus howei in Canada" (On-line). Accessed March 26, 2014 at

Hamill, S. 2013. "Recovery Strategy for the Pygmy Snaketail (Ophiogomphus howei) in Ontario" (On-line). Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Accessed March 26, 2014 at

Hammond, G. 2014. "BioKIDS" (On-line). Anisoptera. Accessed April 23, 2014 at

Harris, W., D. Forman, R. Battell, M. Battell, A. Nelson, P. Brain. 2011. Odonata colour: more than meets the eye?. International Journal of Odonatology, 14: 281-289. Accessed April 23, 2014 at

Kennedy, J., H. White III. 1979. Description of the Nymph of Ophiogomphus howei (Odonata: Gomphidae). Proc. Entomol. Soc. Wash., 81: 64-69.

Lee, Y. 2009. "Special animal abstract for Ophiogomphus howei (pygmy snaketail)" (On-line). Accessed March 26, 2014 at

Tennessen, K. 1993. New Distribution Records for Ophiogomphus howei (Odonata: Gomphidae). Great Lakes Entomologist, 26: 245.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Bermel, B. 2014. "Ophiogomphus howei" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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