Dark whiteface (Leucorrhinia albifrons)
|French:||Leucorrhine à Front Blanc|
The dark whiteface is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Like other members of its genus, the dark whiteface is a small, slender, low-flying dragonfly (2). It is similar in appearance to the lilypad whiteface (Leucorrhinia caudalis), with the male having a blue and black abdomen and a white face, but can be distinguished by its much more slender abdomen and its black rather than white wing spots (2) (3). The female and the juvenile male dark whiteface are black and yellow in colour (3).
The dark whiteface is widespread across Russia and is present in most European countries, including southern parts of Scandinavia (1) (4). However, it is absent from the United Kingdom (1).
The dark whiteface occurs in a number of freshwater habitats, particularly shallow forest lakes with abundant floating vegetation (1) (4). It is also known to inhabit ponds, bogs and occasionally gravel quarries (4).
As with other dragonfly species, the dark whiteface has a complex life-cycle which includes a fully aquatic larval stage (2). 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 (2) (5) 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 (5).
The total length of time spent in the larval stage varies between species, with some species spending a few months and others several years as a larva (2). The larva undergoes several moults before finally emerging from the water as the readily recognisable adult dragonfly (2) (6).
The adult dark whiteface is a skilled aerial predator and is usually active between May and June (2). Dragonflies are generally opportunistic predators, typically feeding on small insects caught on the wing (2) (6).
Reproduction in the dark whiteface involves a brief, tandem flight, in which the male flies while grasping the female by the head with claspers on the tip of the abdomen (6) (7). The pair will then mate on the ground or in surrounding trees, with the male often guarding the female from other males after mating (7). The female dark whiteface will then lay the fertilised eggs by flying over open water and repeatedly dipping the abdomen down, releasing an egg into the water each time. The female of this species can produce over 300 eggs (2) (7).
The dark whiteface is not currently considered to be globally threatened, and is believed to be widespread and common. However, it is still faces threats such as the loss of its habitat due to eutrophication. It has also been lost from Denmark where it is now regionally extinct (1).
The dark whiteface is currently protected in a number of countries, including Latvia (1) (4). This species might also benefit from protection as part of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas (8).
Dragonfly species in general are used as indicators of environmental change, and could therefore benefit from future monitoring (8).
Find out more about the conservation of the dark whiteface and other dragonfly species:
IUCN The Status and Distribution of Dragonflies of the Mediterranean Basin:
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- Abdomen: 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.
- Eutrophication: a process in which a water body is enriched with excessive nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) resulting in the excessive growth of aquatic plants and the depletion of oxygen, creating unfavourable conditions for other organisms, such as fish.
- Fertilisation: the fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
- Genus: 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.
- Larva: stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Larval: of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- Moult: in insects, a stage of growth whereby the hard outer layer of the body (the exoskeleton) is shed and the body becomes larger.
- Nymph: 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.
IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
- Gibbons, B. (1986) Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain and Northern Europe. Hamlyn Limited, London.
DragonflyPix (September, 2011) Dark whiteface
- Kalnins, M. (2008) Protected Aquatic Insects of Latvia - Leucorrhinia albifrons (Burmeister, 1839) and L. caudalis (Charpentier, 1840) (Odonata: Libellulidae). Latvijas Entomologs, 45: 5-13.
- 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.
- O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Reinhardt, K. (1998) Reproductive behaviour of Leucorrhinia albifrons (Burmeister) in a non-territorial situation (Anisoptera: Libellulidae). Odonatologica, 27(2): 201-211.
Riservato, E. et al. (2009) The Status and Distribution of Dragonflies of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Malaga. Available at: