Black pennant (Selysiothemis nigra)

Synonyms: Selysiothemis advena
GenusSelysiothemis (1)

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

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

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) . 

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).

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).

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).

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

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

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  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)