Phylogenetic Systematics of Odonata

© Günter Bechly, Böblingen, 2008

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The phylogenetic system of fossil and extant odonates presented on this website (see below) was exclusively based on a traditional Hennigian study of morphological characters, which was mainly performed in the years 1993 - 2002. I strongly emphasize that it must be considered as outdated and largely obsolete due to new results.

My most recent views on odonate phylogeny are presented in this interactive hyperbolic tree (you can search the tree, and you can manipulate the tree with your mouse) made with Inxight StarTree Studio.

A comprehensive cladistic study of 122 morphological characters in 85 genera of fossil and extant odonates by REHN (2003) basically confirmed many points of my system (except the position of "amphipterygid" and "megapodagrionid" damselflies), but nevertheless I consider it as vitiated by general problems of numerical parsimony analyses of numerous equally weighted characters.

Substantial changes in my phylogenetic system are implied by the morphological studies on aeshnid dragonflies by ELLENRIEDER (2002) and PETERS & THEISCHINGER (2007), and by several papers on fossil odonates, mainly published by ANDRÉ NEL and co-authors (including myself) since 2001, which not only described several new family group taxa but also introduced new hypotheses on phylogenetic relationships of fossil taxa (e.g. the attribution of Mesozoic Aeschnidiidae to Cavilabiata).

However, the most important changes are necessary on the basis the recent publication of several very important and well-supported molecular studies (CARLE & KJER, 2002; DUMONT et al., 2005; BYBEE et al., 2008; CARLE et al., 2008; FLECK et al., 2008; PESSACQ, 2008; WARE et al., 2007; WARE et al., 2008), that basically solved the phylogeny of odonates and furthermore demonstrated that morphological characters (expecially wing-venation) are often notoriuosly unreliable and misleading for the reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships. Contrary to earlier parsimony-based molecular studies, which did not lead to stable results at all, these new studies are mostly based on the very successful Bayesian approach, which proved to be a breakthrough for molecular systematics in general.

The same lessons had to be learned by morphologists in other groups of organisms after the molecular "revolution" leading to the discovery of taxa like Ecdysozoa (instead Articulata), Tetraconata / Pancrustacea (instead Tracheata) and Afrotheria / Laurasiatheria (instead Epitheria and Pantomesaxonia).

The mentioned new findings include the position of Petaluridae as sistergroup to Cavilabiata, an unexpected clade of Gomphomacromiidae and Synthemistidae and several basal "corduliids", the sistergroup relationship of Calopterygoidea and Coenagrionoidea with a very basal position of Platystictidae (sister group of all other Zygoptera except Lestomorpha) and Isostictidae (status as family restored), a position of Megapodagrionidae (incl. Pseudolestes mirabilis) at the base of Calopterygoidea, a position of Pseudostigmatidae (incl. Coryphagrion grandis) and neotropical Protoneurinae nested within Coenagrionidae, and a position of Old World "Protoneuridae" nested within Platycnemididae (implying the polyphyly of Protoneuridae), and a position of Polythoridae closer to Calopterygidae than to Euphaeidae, as well as numerous other interesting results.

I strongly endorse these recent molecular discoveries and will present a revised tree of fossil and extant odonates on this website soon (realized as interactive hyperbolic tree). The higher taxonomy will be reverted to a more traditional approach, on which consensus might be reached more easily by fellow odonatologists. The old webpages will be kept as online-archive for "historical" reasons only.


ARDILA-GARCIA, A.M. & GREGORY, T.R. (2009): An exploration of genome size diversity in dragonflies and damselflies (Insecta: Odonata). - Journal of Zoology, 278: 163–173.

BYBEE, SETH M. & OGDEN, T. HEATH & BRANHAM, MARC A. & WHITING, MICHAEL F. (2008): Molecules, morphology and fossils: a comprehensive approach to odonate phylogeny and the evolution of the odonate wing. - Cladistics, 23: 1-38.

CARLE, FRANK LOUIS & KJER, KARL M. (2002): Phylogeny of Libelulla Linnaeus (Odonata: Insecta). - Zootaxa, 87: 1-18.

CARLE, FRANK LOUIS & KJER, KARL M. & MAY, MICHAEL L. (2008): Evolution of Odonata, with Special Reference to Coenagrionoidea (Zygoptera). - Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny, 66(1): 37-44.

DIJKSTRA, KLAAS-DOUWE B. & KALKMAN, VINCENT & DOW, RORY A. & STOKVIS, FRANK R. & TOL, JAN VAN (2013): Redefining the damselfly families: a comprehensive molecular phylogeny of Zygoptera (Odonata). - Systematic Entomology, DOI: 10.1111/syen.12035: 1-29.

DUMONT, HENRI J. & VANFLETEREN, JACQUES R. & DE JONCKHEERE, JOHAN F. & WEEKERS, PETER H.H. (2005): Phylogenetic relationships, divergence time estimation, and global biogeographic patterns of calopterygoid damselflies (odonata, zygoptera) inferred from ribosomal DNA sequences. - Systematic Biology, 54(3): 347-362.

DUMONT, HENRI J. & VIERSTRAETE, ANDY & VANFLETEREN, JACQUES R. (2010): A molecular phylogeny of the Odonata (Insecta). - Systematic Entomology, 35: 6-18.

ELLENRIEDER, NATALIA VON (2002): A phylogenetic analysis of the extant Aeshnidae (Odonata: Odonatoptera). - Systematic Entomology, 27: 437-467.

FLECK, GÜNTHER & BRENK, MANUELA & MISOF, BERNHARD (2008): Larval and molecular characters help to solve phylogenetic puzzles in the highly diverse dragonfly family Libellulidae (Insecta: Odonata: Anisoptera): The Tetrathemistinae are a polyphyletic group. - Organisms Diversity and Evolution, 8(1): 1-16.

FLECK, G., ULLRICH, B., BRENK, M., WALLNISCH, C., ORLAND, M., BLEIDISSEL, S. & MISOF, B. (2008): A phylogeny of anisopterous dragonflies (Insecta, Odonata) using mtRNA genes and mixed nucleotide / doublet models. - J. Zool. Syst. Evol. Res., 46(4): 310–322.

PESSACQ, PABLO (2008): Phylogeny of Neotropical Protoneuridae (Odonata: Zygoptera) and a preliminary study of their relationship with related families. - Systematic Entomology, 33(3): 511-528.

PETERS, GÜNTHER & THEISCHINGER, GÜNTHER (2007): Die gondwanischen Aeshniden Australiens (Odonata: Telephlebiidae und Brachytronidae). - Denisia 20 (zugl. Katalog der oberösterreichischen Landesmuseen, Neue Serie, 66): 517-574.

REHN, ANDREW C. (2003): Phylogenetic analysis of higher-level relationships of Odonata. - Systematic Entomology, 28: 181-239.

SIMON, S. & STRAUSS, S. & HAESELER, A.v. & HADRYS, H. (2009): A Phylogenomic Approach to Resolve the Basal Pterygote Divergence. - Mol. Biol. Evol., 26(12): 2719–2730.

WARE, JESSICA L. & HO, SIMON Y.W. & KJER, KARL (2008): Divergence dates of libelluloid dragonflies (Odonata: Anisoptera) estimated from rRNA using paired-site substitution models. - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 47(1): 426-432.

WARE, JESSICA & MAY, MICHAEL & KJER, KARL (2007): Phylogeny of the higher Libelluloidea (Anisoptera: Odonata): An exploration of the most speciose superfamily of dragonflies. - Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 45(1): 289–310.



phylogenetic classification with lists of all synapomorphies and complete synonymy

alphabetical index of "higher" taxa

literature cited

cladogram of extant Odonata

wing venation of Zygoptera (35 KB)

wing venation of Anisoptera (64 KB)

photos of fossil and recent dragonflies

odonatological bibliography (about 1.300 references) (3 files a 100 KB)

synoptic time table of earth history (148 KB)

glossary of Phylogenetic Systematics (106 KB)


MIKKO's Phylogeny Archive

PALAEOS: The Trace of Life on Earth

Essai de Classification phylogénétique des Odonates



Tree of Life - Odonata

Worldwide Dragonfly Association - W.D.A.

S.I.O. - Odonatologica

SGSPO (factually defunct) - with online-journal PETALURA (discontinued)

International Odonata Research Institute - IORI

Odonata Central - Directory of Odonatists

Odonata Central - Odonata Links

Ode News - Dragonfly and Damselfly Links, by Blair Nikula

Odonata Links on the WWW, by Steve Valley


A very up-to-date list of all extant genera and species
(with authors and synonyms) of damselflies and dragonflies
Also available as PDF

Last Update: September 12th 2013

© Günter Bechly, Böblingen, 2007