Maathai’s longleg (Notogomphus maathaiae)

Also known as: Maathai’s clubtail
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderOdonata
FamilyGomphidae
GenusNotogomphus (1)
SizeMale abdomen length: 35.1 mm (2)
Female abdomen length: 35.7 mm (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2006.

First described in 2005, Maathai’s longleg is a clubtail (Gomphidae spp.) belonging to the genus Notogomphus, commonly referred to as ‘longlegs’ on account of their extended hind thighs (3). The conspicuously contrasting bright green sides of the thorax of this otherwise fairly dark clubtail dragonfly immediately distinguished it as a species previously unknown to science (2) (3). For a clubtail - a family of dragonflies named for the enlarged tip of their abdomen - this species has a relatively little expanded tip (2).

Recorded from the forests of Mount Elgon National Park, Katamayu Forest and Marioshoni Forest, Kenya (1).

Found from around 2,200 to 2,600 m above sea level in and around clear montane forested streams (1) (2).

Odonata species start their life as aquatic larvae or nymphs, passing through a series of developmental stages or ‘stadia’, and undergoing several moults as they grow. This larval period can last anything between three months and ten years, depending upon the species. 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, when individuals normally develop their full adult colour. Soon after this, individuals will begin to mate (4). Mature Maathai’s longlegs have been recorded in January, April, June, September and November, and emerging individuals have been seen in March and November, indicating that this species is not seasonal (2). Of the two female Maathai’s longlegs observed laying eggs (ovipositing) in the water, neither were guarded by males (2), as is the case for many Odonata species (4).

Odonata usually feed on flying insects and are generalised, opportunistic feeders, often congregating around abundant prey sources such as swarms of termites or near beehives (4).

The montane forest habitat on which this species appears to rely has been widely destroyed in recent decades, and Maathai’s longleg is therefore presumed to have suffered significant declines. As deforestation continues due to an expanding and encroaching human population, this rare dragonfly is expected to be up-listed to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List before too long (1).

In the densely populated Kenyan highlands, Maathai’s longleg serves as an indicator of habitat quality and is therefore being promoted as a flagship species to raise awareness about the need to protect the natural forest and watershed (1) (5). Protection of its riverside forests will not only help this endangered dragonfly, but also the farmers of the foothills, by guaranteeing soil stability and a steady flow of water (5). To this end, dragonflies such as this species are being dubbed the "guardians of the watershed" in East Africa, helping to raise their profile in the field of conservation (5) (6).

For more information on Maathai’s longleg see:

Authenticated (28/11/2006) by Dr. Viola Clausnitzer, Chair, IUCN/SSC Odonata Specialist Group.

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2006)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Clausnitzer, V. and Dijkstra, K.B. (2005) Honouring Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai: Notogomphus maathaiae sp. nov., a threatened dragonfly of Kenya’s forest streams (Odonata: Gomphidae). International Journal of Odonatology, 8(2): 177 - 182.
  3. Boy, G. (2005) Maathai’s clubtail. SWARA, 0: 8 - 9.
  4. O’Toole, C. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Insects and Their Allies. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. IUCN News Release: Release of the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals ongoing decline of the status of plants and animals (October, 2006)
    http://www.iucn.org/en/news/archive/2006/05/02_pr_red_list_en.htm
  6. 2006 Red List of Threatened Species: Fighting the extinction crisis: conservation in action  (October, 2006)
    http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/redlist2006/fighting_extinctioncrisis.htm