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

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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.
Compared with other species:
  • Unmistakable due to size and markings.
  • The largest Emperor in South Africa.
Distribution and habitat:

Anax tristis Black Emperor Distribution Map May 2020Black Emperor Anax tristis Swartkeiser is found in the warm northern and eastern areas of South Africa.
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.
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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