Paleontologists Find Fossils of Six New Dragonfly Species

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ypshna brownleei, an image reversed left/right so that wing apices are to the right for ease of comparison. Scale bar is 5 mm. Image credit: S. Archibald & R. Cannings, doi: 10.4039/tce.2019.61.

Six new species of dragonflies that lived about 50 million years ago (early Eocene epoch) have been identified from fossils found in the Okanagan Highlands, an elevated hilly plateau area in British Columbia, Canada, and the U.S. state of Washington.

Dr. Bruce Archibald, a paleontologist at Simon Fraser University, and Royal BC Museum dragonfly expert Robert Cannings examined nine rare dragonfly fossils from the site of McAbee in British Columbia and from the town of Republic in northern Washington.

They found the fossils represent eight previously unknown species, six of which were well-enough preserved to be given scientific names: Antiquiala snyderaeIdemlinea versatilisYpshna brownleeiYpshna latipennataEoshna thompsonensis, and Auroradraco eos.

“While some of the fossil insect groups from these beds lived alongside the dinosaurs before eventually becoming extinct, and would be strange to see today, these dragonflies belong to modern families, mostly to a diverse group called the darners,” the researchers explained.

“They would not look out of place today flying beside a modern pond. Other dragonfly groups that are familiar today appear to have begun their diversification to modern dominance shortly after,” Dr. Archibald said.

“This is rather intriguing as many of the closely related damselflies that we’re looking at in our next project don’t appear so modern at all. Why these two groups had such different evolutionary trajectories, we don’t know.”

The new Ypshna species appear closely related to Parabaissaeshna ejerslevense, a fossil species of the same age from Denmark.

“This is not surprising, because North America and Europe were then connected by continual land across Greenland, when mild climates predominated right to the Arctic Ocean,” Dr. Archibald said.

“You could probably have walked from Kamloops to Copenhagen without getting your feet wet, through forest all the way.”

“It was wonderful to see a dragonfly from the club-tail family show up in these fossils,” Dr. Cannings said.

“They were pretty common in the Early Cretaceous period, but weren’t seen again until tens of millions of years after the time of our new fossil species.”

“This begins to fill in about a 66-million-year gap in their evolutionary history.”

paper describing the findings was published in The Canadian Entomologist.


S. Archibald & R. Cannings. 2019. Fossil dragonflies (Odonata: Anisoptera) from the early Eocene Okanagan Highlands, western North America. The Canadian Entomologist 151 (6): 783-816; doi: 10.4039/tce.2019.61