New Zealand Species

For the duration of November 2017, we finally made a long overdue trip to New Zealand. It was largely a general tourism/landscape photography trip but we took every opportunity to seek out odonata en route.

Prior to our trip I did what research I could and that led to the development of this New Zealand odonata species list. Information seems to be scant – almost as scant as New Zealand odonata species. My source for this initial list was entirely the Guide to NZ Dragonflies website. [There is a book, The Dragonflies of New Zealand by Richard J. Rowe, but it is sadly currently out of print.]

There is a woeful paucity of Odonata in New Zealand. In 2017 whilst planning for our trip, there appeared to be just 17 recorded species. These comprised 6 Zygoptera (Damselflies) and 11 Anisoptera (Dragonflies). Two of those Anisoptera are rare migrants, though, with very few records so in reality there seemed to be just 15 resident species.  However, of those, 50% are endemic so it was definitely worth a look.

My hit list of species likely to be encountered on a general tourist visit needed to be moderated both by geographic limitations, as noted below, and by seasonal considerations. November is New Zealand’s early spring and several species would not emerge until later in the season giving us no chance of seeing them. On our trip, therefore, I thought I had just 7 or 8 potential targets.

As it happened, we saw 6 of the targets in New Zealand and encountered two others in Australia, which we had visited prior to New Zealand.

2018 update
In August 2018 I discovered a 2016 paper which, together with an earlier 2014 paper, had effectively merged three Zygoptera species into one. [8] Thus, poor old New Zealand lost two damselfly species and the total non-vagrant species count had dropped to just 13.

2019 update
In 2019 R. J. Rowe published a paper [9] describing a new Anisoptera species, Hemicordulia armstrongi, as being distinct from H. australiae, both of which may be in New Zealand so my count of resident species is now 14.

2020 update
I have now discovered another article by R. J. Rowe et al published in 2011, “Tramea loewii (Odonata: Libellulidae), a dragonfly newly arrived in New Zealand“. T. loewii appears to be breeding and resident so, I now increase NZ’s species count to 15.

[In the following list, the species in bold type are endemics.]

Zygoptera (Damselflies)


Formerly, now synonyms of X. zealandica:

  • Xanthocnemis sinclairi (Alpine Redcoat) [2] [8]
  • Xanthocnemis sobrina (Kauri Redcoat) [3] [8]


Anisoptera (Dragonflies)

Rare Migrants/Vagrants

[1] – limited to North Island.

[2] – limited to the mountainous headwaters of the Rakaia River.

[3] – limited to Northland and Corumandel.

[4] – limited to Chatham Island.

[5] – confusingly/frustratingly, this species is known as Adversaeshna brevistyla (Australian Emerald) in Australia, though the IUCN Red List says Adversaeshna is a sub-genus. Dr. Dennis Paulson lists both as synonyms.

[6] – mainly/only South Island [recorded on NI but questionable].

[7] – another source of debate and confusion, the preferred Antipodean binomial name for this species seems to be Hemianax papuensis but the World Odonata List maintained by Dr. Dennis Paulson lists it as Anax papuensis. Indeed, the World Odonata List contains absolutely no reference to a Hemianax genus at all. Therefore I prefer Anax papuensis.

[8] – In the paper “Geometric morphometrics and molecular systematics of Xanthocnemis sobrina (McLachlan, 1873) (Odonata: Coenagrionidae) and comparison to its congeners“, 9th Feb 2016, two formerly distinct Xanthocnemis species were rolled together with X. zealandica.

I should point out that the author of the book The Dragonflies of New Zealand, R. J. Rowe, disagrees with this conclusion, so watch this space.

[9] – In a 2019 paper in the Australian Entomologist, R. J. Rowe described significant differences between two Hemicordulia species in essence splitting what has been thought of as one species into two, the new species being H. armstrongi. Both may exist in New Zealand.

The above is now documented as being the accepted position in the World Odonata List maintained by Dr. Dennis Paulson, so the resident New Zealand species count went down to 13 as a result of “losing” X. sinclairi and X. sobrina as distinct species, and has now risen to 14 with the apparent acceptance of H. armstrongi.

[10] – Northland, North Island. If, as suspected, this has bred, NZ may be back up to 15 species.
[Rowe, Richard & Davies, C & Davies, D & Pohe, Stephen & Simpson, E.. (2011). Tramea loewii (Odonata: Libellulidae), a dragonfly newly arrived in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 38. 189-193. 10.1080/03014223.2011.558516.]

[11] – Raoul Island only, I believe (about 1000km northeast of North Island).