Black Emperor    Anax tristis     Swartkeiser  

119 039 Black Emporer female I5A3156

Anax tristis Black Emperor Male

 Anax tristis Black Emperor

Short description:

Black Emperor Anax tristis Swartkeiser is very large sized, green thorax and mostly black abdomen with cream spots on the side and a distinctive cream ring at the base of abdomen.

Family Aeshnidae Leach, 1815

Also known as Magnificent Emperor

More Images:

119 046 IAnax tristis Black Emperor SwakopmundImage Album










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Key identification features:


  • Face all light to greenish blue with blackish basal triangle on top of frons.
  • Eyes bright blue above, greenish blue below.
  • Thorax green with two turquoise green patches between wings.
  • Wings clear becoming  slightly smoky particularly in central areas, dark brown spot beside membranule. Pterostigmas long (5 mm), reddish brown.
  • Abdomen and appendages mostly black. Segment 1 with cream dorsal patch, segment 2 with wide cream ring running all the way around. Segments 4 to 9 with small cream spots above. Segment 10 black.


  • Similar to male but stouter, shorter, appendages shorter and leaf-like, wings generally fairly smoky
  • Face with yellow and green with black dot on upper surface of nose
  • Eyes olive, thorax light to mid green
  • Wings slightly smoky becoming smoky with age, pterostigmas long (5 mm) and reddish brown, segment 1 yellowish green, segment 2 mostly pale blue, segment 3 pale blue below, majority of rest of abdomen dark brown with some light greenish to blue patches on sides.
  • Frequents pools, small dams and waterholes in open or savanna areas. Such pools and swamps may be without water weed or fringing vegetation.
  • From 0 to 2100 m above sea level, but mostly below 1600.
  • Flies low at great speed or unhurried, drifting low and slowly across and around pools. Sometimes cruises at tree top level.
Compared with other species:
  • Unmistakable due to size and markings.
  • The largest Emperor in South Africa.
Anax tristis Black Emperor Distribution Map May 2020










South Africa:

  •  Black Emperor Anax tristis Swartkeiser is found in the warm northern and eastern areas of South Africa.


  • Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burundi; Côte d'Ivoire; Cameroon; Cape Verde; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo-Brazzaville; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Equatorial Guinea; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Nigeria; Republic of South Africa; Rwanda; Sudan;Tanzania; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe;
Further reading:

A Visual Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies of South Africa
Odonata Atlas of Africa VMU Number 664180
African Dragonflies & Damselflies Online
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species    Least Concern


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