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 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, I noted that there were 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 were just 15 resident species. Then, 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 damselflies and the total non-vagrant species count dropped to just 13. Of those, 50% are endemic, though, so it’s 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.

[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] – mainly/only 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:

X. sobrina is proposed as a synonym of X. zealandica. Recently Amaya-Perilla et al. (2014) synonymised X. sinclairi with X. zealandica and confirmed the status of the Chatham Island X. tuanuii as a distinct species. It is therefore proposed that the genus Xanthocnemis consists of two species only: zealandica occurring all over the North, South and Stewart Islands, and tuanuii, endemic to Chatham and Pitt islands.

This 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 is now down to 13, having “lost” X. sinclairi and X. sobrina as distinct species.

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