Frey’s damselfly (Coenagrion hylas freyi)

Male Frey's damselfly
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Frey’s damselfly fact file

Frey’s damselfly description

GenusCoenagrion (1)

Europe’s rarest damselfly, Frey’s damselfly is currently known only from a small alpine region in Austria (1). With its conspicuous blue-and-black colouration, Frey’s damselfly is typical of the Coenagrion genus, commonly known as ‘northern bluets’ (4). Both sexes can be easily recognized through the two lateral black lines running along the sides and underside of the whole abdomen, and by the occurrence of black markings on the sides of the thorax at the base of the hindlegs, two characters shared with only the Scandinavian and Siberian C. johanssoni (2). As in many northern bluets, females come in two forms. Blue, green and black ‘heterochromatic’ females show a peculiar triangle- or diamond-shaped black pattern on the dorsal part on their second abdominal segment and are easily distinguishable from males; others (homeochromatic forms) share a common U-shaped black pattern on the dorsal part on their second abdominal segment with males (2).

Also known as
Siberian bluet.
Agrion freyi, Coenagrion hylas.
Length: 33 - 38 mm (2)
Length of abdomen: 25 - 32 mm (2)
Hindwing: 19 - 28 mm (2)

Frey’s damselfly biology

Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata) start their life as aquatic larvae or naiads, passing through a series of developmental stages or ‘stadia’, undergoing several moults as they grow. Before the final moult (emergence), metamorphosis occurs in which the larvae transform into the adult form. After emergence, adults undergo a pre-reproductive phase known as the maturation period, and this is when individuals normally develop their full adult colour (5). In C. hylas, larvae grow over two years. Adults of this species are mainly active from about 10:30am to 14:30pm from mid-May to mid-August, during which time they must mate (2) (6). Males don't seem to defend territories. Females lay eggs (oviposit) in plant tissue, using their ovipositor to cut a slit in the tissue into which they lay their eggs.


Frey’s damselfly range

Frey’s damselfly is currently only known from the Lech and Inn rivers watersheds, Tyrol, Austria, having become extinct in Germany in 1967, just a few years after its discovery there in 1952 (1).


Frey’s damselfly habitat

Found in clear, shallow, mountain lakes densely bordered with sedges and sometimes with areas of slow running water, such as from incoming streamlets, between 800 and 1600 metres above sea level (1) (2).


Frey’s damselfly status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive (under C. hylas) and Annex II of the Bern Convention (Listed under the synonym C. freyi) (3).


Frey’s damselfly threats

With only seven small reproducing populations out of 14 localities recorded over a restricted area of Austria (around 500 km²), Frey’s damselfly is the rarest damselfly in Europe. In Germany, the damselfly is now regionally extinct. Threats to this subspecies are thought to include water pollution, changes in water regimes, eutrophication, the introduction of fish and climatic change. This damselfly appears to be a habitat specialist, dependant upon a complex combination of mountain lakes with aquatic vegetation and areas of slow moving waters, which makes it very sensitive to changes within this habitat (1) (6).


Frey’s damselfly conservation

Frey’s damselfly is listed on Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive and Annex II of the Bern Convention (2). There is an urgent need to control the water regimes and levels of water pollution that impact this rare subspecies, if Europe’s rarest damselfly is to have any chance of survival (1).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.


Authenticated (18/12/2006) by Jean-Pierre Boudot, CNRS, Université Henri Poincaré Nancy I, France.



Excessive growth of aquatic plants that occurs when dissolved nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen run-off into lakes and ponds, which also ultimately increases the plant death rate with the result that the bacterial decomposition of the dead plants uses up oxygen. Natural eutrophication may occur gradually, but is often accelerated by run-off of agricultural fertilizers.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
The aquatic nymph or larvae of certain insects such as mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies.
Egg-laying organ in female insects consisting of outgrowths of the abdomen (the hind region of the body in insects).
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2008)
  2. Dijkstra, K.D.B. and Lewington, R. (2006) Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe. British Wildlife Publishing, Gillingham.
  3. UNEP-WCMC Species Database (August, 2006)
  4. Idaho Museum of Natural History (August, 2006)
  5. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Landmann, A., Lehmann, G., Mungenast, F. and Sonntag, H. (2005) Die Libellen Tirols. Berenkamp Verlag, Germany.

Image credit

Male Frey's damselfly  
Male Frey's damselfly

© 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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