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Whitehouse’s emerald

Somatochlora whitehousei
Whitehouse's emerald dragonfly (Dorsal view of Somatochlora whitehousei). (Photo: [digital scan in life] Dennis Paulson.)
U.S. State
Canadian Province
British Columbia
Newfoundland and Labrador

(Odonata: Anisoptera: Corduliidae)

Somatochlora whitehousei is widely distributed across Canada and known in the US from two sites (one in Washington and one in Montana). Although generally uncommon, it is found in small to moderate-sized ponds and bogs with abundant vegetation (mosses, sedges, buckbean, and algae). Like other members of its genus, habitat disturbance and alteration are the greatest immediate threats to this species. Specific activities that alter fen habitat include peat mining, wetland grazing, manipulation of water levels, and recreation. Continued protection and management of bog/fen habitat is essential to the preservation of this ecologically unique species.



Adult: Characteristic of the Corduliidae, the eyes are contiguous and emerald green, and the anal loop of the hindwing is distinctive (somewhat foot-shaped, but with little development of the toe). Somatochlora is distinguished from the other genera in this family by the metallic, dark-green abdomen and the pointed (as opposed to forked) inferior anal appendage at the tip of the male abdomen. Somatochlora whitehousei is a small, dark species with a dark-brown triangular patch at the base of the hindwing, and a black face with yellow on the sides. The brassy green thorax has a single pale lateral stripe (Bryan 2008). Only two other striped emeralds have a moderately visible brown spot at the hindwing base: S. franklini and S. septentrionalis. Somatochlora franklini has a longer and much more slender abdomen than S. whitehousei, while S. septentrionalis is nearly identical, but differs in male appendages and female subgenital plate. Other similar striped emeralds have a longer abdomen and/or brighter yellow spots on the thorax. The total body length of this species is 46-48 mm (1.8-1.9 in.) (Paulson 2008, pers. comm.).

Immature: Larvae in this family are generally stout and hairy. Somatochlora in the Pacific Northwest can be identified to genus as follows: prementum and palpal lobes cup-shaped (as opposed to flat), palpal lobe with small, regular teeth (as opposed to large, irregular teeth), head without erect, frontal horn, ventral surface of prementum with a basal, median groove, dorsal hook absent on abdominal segment 2, and sides of thorax uniformly colored without dark longitudinal stripe (Tennessen 2007). Species identification is difficult for a non-expert.


Adult dragonfly emerges from it's larval skin, which is attached to a reed.
Congeneric Somatochlora kennedyi emerging. (Photo: Denis Doucet, Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre.)


Side view of a Whitehouse's emerald dragonfly adult

Lateral view of Somatochlora whitehousei male. (Photo: [digital scan in life] Dennis Paulson.)


Looking down upon the back of a Whitehouse's emerald dragonfly
Dorsal view of Somatochlora whitehousei male. (Photo: [digital scan in life] Dennis Paulson.) 


Illustration of a dragonfly nymph
Congeneric Somatochlora hineana larva. Photograph of S. franklini larva not available at this time. (Illustration: Susan Fawcett.)


Life History

Adult flight period in Washington is 29 Jul – 12 Aug (Paulson 2007). The males of this species patrol with an arched abdomen for females, moving back and forth in relatively short beats over puddles, at about knee height or below. (Bryan 2008, Paulson 2008, pers. comm.). They drop to the water surface occasionally, presumably looking for females, and often wander across ridges and into the woods to perch (Paulson 2008, pers. comm.). The females also fly low and slowly, ovipositing inconspicuously in small bog puddles or shallow vegetated zones of nearshore emergent vegetation. Oviposition involves a single tap of the abdomen on water or wet mossy edges (Paulson 2008, pers. comm.). Adults perch by hanging, either vertically or obliquely, from vegetation. Like all odonates, the majority of the life cycle is spent as an aquatic larva. The larvae of this species are sprawlers, living on the surface of floating leaves or fine sediment (Merritt et al. 2008), where they “sit-and-wait” to ambush and engulf their prey (Packauskas 2007).



Global Range: Widely distributed but uncommon across Canada (Abbott 2007, Bryan 2008). Recorded in the West from only one site in Washington, and (quite recently) one site in Montana (Beaverhead Co.) (Paulson 2008).

Washington: Known from one site in Pend Oreille Co.: a patterned sedge fen in Bunchgrass Meadows at 1524 m (5000 ft.) elevation (Paulson 2007).

Oregon: This species has not been found and is not expected in Oregon.

Federal land: Documented from Bunchgrass Meadows on the Colville National Forest (Sullivan Lake Ranger District). Bunchgrass Meadows is now an official Research Natural Area.

Abundance estimations are not known for this species.


Habitat Associations

Found in small to moderate-sized open ponds and bogs with abundant vegetation (mosses, sedges, buckbean, and algae). Prefers “clean water, but soft mud bottom and quaking substrate” (Paulson 2008). Adults of both sexes most readily found flying through open stands of low vegetation.

Bunchgrass Meadows, the only known habitat for this species in Washington, is a high elevation patterned sedge fen. Other highly specific habitat types have been documented in this genus. For example, the endangered S. hineana (Hine’s Emerald), currently known only from the midwestern United States, favors small seeps draining calcareous escarpments through heavily vegetated wetlands (Bright 2005).


Conservation Status

Global Status (2004): G5

Rounded Global Status: G5 – Secure

National Status (United States): N2N4

National Status (Canada): N5

State Statuses: (Washington): S1, (Montana): NO STATUS

Province Statuses: Alberta (S2S4), British Columbia (S5), Labrador (SNR), Manitoba (SU), Newfoundland Island (SNR), Nunavut (SNR), Ontario (S2S3), Quebec (S3), Saskatchewan (SNR), Yukon Territory (S3)

(NatureServe 2008)



Although this species is widely distributed, it is uncommon across Canada, and known in the US from only two sites (one in Washington and one in Montana). Bunchgrass Meadows, the one known site for this species in Washington, is a unique and interesting site for Odonata. It is also the only known Washington site for another Somatochlora species (S. franklini), and home to a population of Coenagrion interrogatum, a narrow-wing damselfly which is quite rare and local in the state (Paulson 2008, pers. comm.). This site contains no non-native vascular plant species and is noticeably unique in terms of both animal and plant diversity (Ahlenslager 2008). It requires serious conservation efforts, and has recently gained federal protection as an official Research Natural Area (RNA) (USDA Forest Service 2008, Ahlenslager 2008, pers. comm.). The main goal of an RNA is to provide opportunities for non-manipulative and non-destructive research in ecosystems that are free from human impact and influenced only by natural processes. Current management of the Bunchgrass RNA includes prohibiting grazing, logging and mining, discouraging recreational use (horseback riding and berry picking are permitted), and reducing travel throughout the site.

Like other members of its genus, habitat disturbance and alteration are the greatest immediate threats to this species (Packauskas 2007). Specific activities that alter fen-habitat in Washington include peat mining, wetland grazing, manipulation of water levels, recreation, recreational development, and management of aquatic vegetation (Fleckenstein 2006). Although the population at Bunchgrass Meadows is now largely shielded from these threats (USDA Forest Service 2008), other potential populations in the area may not be. Insect and disease control (still allowed in Bunchgrass Meadows) may also threaten this species. Livestock grazing is not permitted within the Bunchgrass Meadows, although the LeClerc grazing allotment is adjacent to the RNA, and could potentially impact the hydrology of the site.

Climate-related changes in habitat suitability may threaten southernmost populations and shift the species’ distribution northward. Projected changes in this region include increased frequency and severity of seasonal droughts and flooding, reduced snowpack to feed river flow, increased siltation, and increased air and water temperatures (Field et al. 2007), all of which could impact this species and its habitat unfavorably. Moreover, since many aspects of odonate survival (e.g. development, phenology, immune function, pigmentation, and behavior) are sensitive to changes in temperature, global climate change is predicted to have serious consequences on this taxon (Hassall and Thompson 2008).

It is not known if disease and predation are serious threats to this species, but small populations are generally at greater risk of extirpation as a result of normal population fluctuations due to predation, disease, natural disasters, and other stochastic events.


Conservation Needs

Inventory: Survey for new sites near the known site at Bunchgrass Meadows, and elsewhere in northeast Washington. The species may occur in upland bog/fen habitat along the northern Washington border, a region that has not yet been surveyed for odonates (Paulson 2008, pers. comm.), and is in critical need of inventory. The Washington record is one of the southernmost extensions of this species’ global distribution. Since global climate change is expected to threaten southern populations, continued surveys and abundance estimations at Bunchgrass Meadows and surrounding areas would be valuable in evaluating distribution shifts, population declines, and other climate-driven effects.

Management: Manage habitat-disturbing activities to minimize impacts to sedge meadow, fen, and bog-habitat. The following should be considered for management of bog/fen habitat (Sargent and Carter 1999):

–Protect mineral-rich ground-water sources from pollution.
–Avoid destruction of existing hydrology (e.g. diverting, damming, or altering water flow).
–Avoid disturbance of plant community (e.g. grazing or harvesting peat or sphagnum).
–Do not use fertilizers in or near wetland area, since such pollution can drastically change plant communities, often in favor of invasive species.
–Create a buffer zone at least 91 m (100 yards) around the wetland (This can be done by planting shrubs/grasses, or by keeping the area free of disturbance, including roads and trails).

As wetlands throughout Washington are being increasingly impacted by human activities, continued preservation of Bunchgrass Meadows and its ecologically valuable species is critical. However, insecticides and herbicides intended to protect the uniqueness of the native biota should not be used without serious consideration of their sublethal and lethal effects on other sensitive taxa in the community.



Abbott, J.C. 2007. “Somatochlora franklini” OdonataCentral: An online resource for the distribution and identification of Odonata. 2007. Texas Natural Science Center, The University of Texas at Austin 3 Oct. 2008 <>.

Ahlenslager, K. 2008. Email exchange with Sarah Foltz Jordan regarding the establishment of Bunchgrass Meadows as a Research Natural Area.

Bright, E. 2005. “Notes on the Michigan species of Somatochlora.” Odonata Larvae of Michigan. 7 July 2005. University of Michigan- Museum of Zoology. 7 Oct. 2008 <>.

Bryan, N. 2008. “Delicate Emerald, Somatochlora franklini” Talk About Wildlife. 24 Oct. 2008 <>.

Field, C.B., Mortsch, L.D., Brklacich, M., Forbes, D.L., Kovacs, P., Patz, J.A., Running, S.W. and M.J. Scott. 2007. Chapter 14: North America. In Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., van der Linden, P.J. and Hanson, C.E., eds.). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Available at:

Fleckenstein, J. 2006. “Coenagrion interrogatum Species Fact Sheet.” Interagency Special Status /Sensitive Species Program (ISSSSP). Jan. 2006. OR-WA Forest Service / Bureau of Land Management. 15 Oct. 2008 <>.

Hassall, C. and D.J. Thompson. 2008. The effects of environmental warming on Odonata: a review. International Journal of Odonatology 11(2):131-153.

NatureServe. 2008. “Somatochlora franklini.” NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Feb. 2008. Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. 6 Oct. 2008 <>

Packauskas, R.J. “Hudsonian Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hudsonica): a technical conservation assessment.” 24 Aug. 2007. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. 16 Oct. 2008 < >

Paulson, D. 2008. E-mail exchange with Sarah Foltz, including content from his upcoming book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West, to be published by Princeton University Press, Spring 2009.

Paulson, D. 2007. “Washington Odonata.” Slater Museum of Natural History. Oct. 2007. University of Pugut Sound. 6 Oct. 2008 <>.

Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. 297pp.

Tennessen, K. 2007. Odonata Larvae of the Pacific Northwest: An Identification Manual. Created for use in a taxonomic workshop sponsored by the Xerces Society and held at Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, March 16-18, 2007.

USDA Forest Service 2008. Environmental Assessment. Bunchgrass Meadows Research Natural Area Establishment and Forest Plan Amendment. 27 Oct. 2008 .


Prepared By

Profile prepared by Sarah Foltz Jordan, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation