Sinai hooktail (Paragomphus sinaiticus)

Synonyms: Mesogomphus sinaiticus
GenusParagomphus (1)

The Sinai hooktail is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Like other dragonflies in the family Gomphidae, the abdomen of the male Sinai hooktail (Paragomphus sinaiticus) has a characteristically enlarged tip, which in this species takes the form of an orange, hooked appendage (2) (3). The Sinai hooktail is varying shades of dull, greyish-brown and black, providing excellent camouflage on rock perches (2).

This dragonfly is similar in appearance to the green hooktail (Paragomphus genei), although the Sinai hooktail is somewhat less colourful (2). Members of the Gomphidae family can be identified by their small, widely separated eyes, and usually green or yellow abdomen with black stripes (4).

Ranging from Saharan Africa to southeast Arabia, the Sinai hooktail is known from a few sites in Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman (1) (5) (6). In western Africa, the Sinai hooktail can only be found in the Air Mountains of Niger (7).

The Sinai populations are thought to be extinct (1), but the Sinai hooktail was recently recorded in Iran for the first time (8).

The Sinai hooktail prefers clear, running water in desert environments (1) although it can also be found around permanent still water in the Air Mountains (7). The larvae are aquatic, while the adult Sinai hooktail is usually found in nearby vegetation or woodland (3). 

The Sinai hooktail returns to its place of emergence to mate. The male arrives first, and establishes a territory containing areas suitable for mating and laying eggs (3). The male Sinai hooktail will usually perch close to running water, and will defend the territory against intruders (2).

The female Sinai hooktail arrives at the breeding site and selects a mate. The male uses the hooked appendage on the tip of the abdomen to grip the female near the eyes. Once in this position, known as ‘in tandem’, the male bends around to form an uneven heart shape, and copulates with the female (3).

In Gomphidae, copulation begins in the air, although the mating pair often move to the safety of a river bank or vegetation where they stay joined for several minutes. The female deposits the eggs, unattended by the male, by striking the abdomen against the surface of the water (3).

The Gomphidae has an aquatic larval stage which lasts one to three years, depending on the species (3). The larvae are bottom-dwelling, with flat, stubby and hairy bodies. The legs of the larvae are particularly strong and often have tibial hooks to help dig burrows in the silt and mud (3), where the larvae hide from predators in the sediment (9). Gomphidae larvae also have paddle or club-shaped antennae, which help with digging (3).

All Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) undergo incomplete metamorphosis, meaning there is no intermediate pupal stage between a nymph and an adult. The aquatic larvae go through a series of moults called instars. The final instar makes its way up a vertical surface, climbing out of the water, and in Gomphidae this usually happens during early morning (3).

Once out of the water, the larva attaches to its resting surface using its claws. It will then switch from aquatic respiration, using gills, to terrestrial respiration through spiracles. Emergence begins as the skin breaks down the back of the head, and the new head, thorax, legs and part of the new abdomen are slowly pulled out. The individual will then rest for a short period to allow the body to dry out and the legs to harden. The hardened legs are used to grip the shed larval skin and pull itself free (3).

Severe drought is a major threat to the Sinai hooktail (1) (5). The Sinai hooktail is particularly sensitive to water extraction (7), and expanding human populations are putting a strain on freshwater resources (5). The Sinai hooktail depends on natural streams, or wadis, but these are disappearing due to overuse by humans for drinking water and irrigating crops (1) (5) (6). In the next decade a 30 percent decline in wadis may occur as a result of natural drought alone (1).

Gomphidae species are intolerant to water pollution (3), and sewage and chemicals used on farms can enter water bodies (5) (6), causing a decline in population numbers (6). Surrounding vegetation is also being burned and destroyed to make way for farmland (6), and overgrazing is degrading natural dragonfly habitats (5).

Although there are protected natural reserves and national parks in northern Africa and Arabia, it is difficult to protect the isolated water bodies required by the Sinai hooktail (5). Regulations on chemical use and farm land expansion need to be created and upheld (6), and more importantly a permanent water management plan must be introduced to reduce water extraction and pollution (1) (5) (6).

Educating local communities and training local people involved in nature conservation is also recommended to protect Odonata and their habitats in northern Africa and Arabia (5).

 More information on dragonfly and damselfly conservation:

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  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2013)
  2. Giles, G.B. (1998) An illustrated checklist of the damselfies and dragonflies of the UAE. Tribulus, 8(2): 9-15. Available at:
  3. Silsby, J. (2001) Dragonflies of the World. Natural History Museum, London, UK.
  4. Brisbane Insects and Spiders - Gomphidae (July, 2011)
  5. Jödicke, R., Boudot, J-P., Jacquemin, G., Samraoui, B. and Schneider, W. (2004) Critical species of Odonata in northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. International Journal of Odonatology, 7(1): 239-253.
  6. Clausnitzer, V. (2004) Critical species of Odonata in eastern Africa. International Journal of Odonatology, 7(2): 189-206.
  7. Darwall, W., Smith, K., Lowe, T. and Vié, J.-C. (2005) The Status and Distribution of Freshwater Biodiversity in Eastern Africa. IUCN SSC Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment Programme. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  8. Sadeghi, S. and Mohammadalizadeh, J. (2009) Additions to the Odonata fauna of Iran. Iranian Journal of Science and Technology, 33: 355-359.
  9. Remsburg, A. (2011) Relative influence of prior life stages and habitat variables on dragonfly (Odonata: Gomphidae) densities among lake sites. Diversity, 3: 200-216. Available at: