Columbia clubtail (dragonfly) (Gomphus lynnae)

Close up of an adult Columbia clubtail dragonfly on light-colored sandy soil
An adult Columbia clubtail  (Dan Nelson - )
Category: Arthropods
Ecosystems: Shrubsteppe Riparian areas
State status: Candidate
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)


If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form. Providing detailed information such as a photo and exact coordinates will improve the confidence and value of this observation to WDFW species conservation and management.

The population size of the Columbia clubtail in Washington is low and its population trend is unknown. Only one population is known in the state. The species is of concern due to this and continued threats to its habitat.

Description and Range

Physical description

Columbia clubtail is a dragonfly in the family Gomphidae.

Ecology and life history

Over its range, Columbia clubtail use slower-moving, open sandy to muddy rivers with gravelly rapids in sagebrush-riparian woodland.

Clubtail dragonflies complete a life cycle composed of two main phases: a flightless aquatic larva (nymph stage), which may be continuous for one to two winters, and the adult flight (reproductive stage). They inhabit sites year-round as egg, larval nymph, and adult, typically moving within only a few to several hundred meters of their natal locations. Adults do not seasonally migrate and die soon after their reproductive summer.

Both life stages are predatory; the majority of life cycle is spent as aquatic larvae. Nymphs feed on aquatic invertebrates and possibly small vertebrates (fish, frog and salamander larva). After multiple aquatic instars (gradual metamorphosis) over one or two winters, mature nymphs crawl onto rocks or vegetation and shed their exoskeleton to become a new adult (teneral) in late spring and summer.

Adults are aerial predators of smaller insects and similar sized butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), as well as smaller Odonates.

Water temperature influences the timing of emergence from within a year or over two years. Weather influences flight period duration, with wet or cold conditions potentially shortening the flight period and warm, dry conditions promoting the duration and later occurrence dates of the flight period.

Male clubtails seek mates by patrolling a territory that coincides with optimal aquatic habitat for female egg-laying, and hence for larvae. There is usually no courtship behavior. After copulation, females usually hover just above the water of slow moving or gentle current stretches and close to shore while periodically dipping the tail to deposit multiple eggs.

Geographic range

The overall range of Columbia clubtail is highly disjunct: eastern Washington and John Day, Owyhee, and Malheur rivers in Oregon. There is only a single population of the species known in Washington, but the species may be more widespread in the state.

For a range-wide map and conservation status of this species, check out NatureServe Explorer.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change


Columbia clubtail sensitivity is driven by increased water and air temperatures, and altered flow regimes (summer low flows and winter flooding and sediment or nutrient loading from upstream flooding and erosion). CC phenology is highly sensitive to changes in water and air temperature: affecting the timing of and duration of adult emergence. CC is vulnerable due to its use of a narrow range of substrate conditions within restricted and hydrologically sensitive habitat (i.e. slow-moving, open sandy to muddy, rivers with gravelly rapids located within xeric sagebrush-riparian woodland), and low-dispersal. Eggs are laid in water, and after hatching, larvae burrow and overwinter in river mud. Water temperature influences emergence timing, while warmer air temperatures influence adult flight times, affecting foraging and energy demands. Reduced summer streamflow can exacerbate increasing water temperatures and effects on clubtail aquatic eggs and larvae. In addition, lower streamflows may strand eggs or larvae, causing mortality via desiccation. Increased winter flooding that enhances scour and/or that causes significant sedimentation may reduce larval survival. Sediment loading from upstream flooding may inundate and smother eggs and larvae.

Confidence: High

Exposure to climate change


  • Increased air and water temperatures
  • Altered flow regimes (low summer flows and increased winter flooding) >Drought
  • Sediment or nutrient loading from upstream flooding and erosion
Confidence: Moderate


This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.

Research is needed to quantify specific habitat requirements for this species, including aquatic larval substrates, river and stream, or lake and pond characteristics, and other key habitat features.

Conservation Threats and Actions Needed

  • Agriculture and aquaculture side effects
    • Threat: Pesticide and fertilizer runoff and streams
    • Action Needed: Monitor occurrence waters for chemical contaminates
    • Threat: Siltation and degradation of stream and bottom habitat used by developing larvae by unsustainable grazing, commercial or recreational uses.
    • Action Needed: Work to improve unsustainable grazing and commercial use practices in waters of known occurrence
  • Fish and wildlife habitat loss or degradation
    • Threat: Vulnerable mostly because of extreme rarity of any known populations
    • Action Needed: Efforts that protect water quality most important to larval development. Use land acquisitions, conservation easements and landowner agreements to protect significant shoreline areas from degradation.
    • Threat: Loss of riparian vegetation that provide shade and perch sites; ameliorates stream temperatures
    • Action Needed: Monitor vegetation around known occurrence sites
  • Invasive and other problematic species
    • Threat: Introduced predatory fish species that may not have co-evolved with these species.
    • Action Needed: Monitor streams in context of non-native aquatic species.
  • Climate change and severe weather
    • Threat: Increased environmental temperatures may affect life history with unknown consequences
    • Action Needed: Monitor streams in context of climate changes

See the Climate vulnerability section for more information about the threats posed by climate change to this species.



Hassall C. and D.J. Thompson. 2008. The effects of environmental warming on Odonata: a review. International journal of Odontology 11:131-153.

Paulson, D.R. 2014. Washington Odonata. Slater Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma. Sept 2014.[1]resources/dragonflies/washington-odonata/ [old link]

Paulson, D.R. 2009. Dragonflies and damselflies of the West. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (USFS-BLM). 2008a. Species fact sheet: Columbia Clubtail (Gomphus lynnae). Prepared by S. Foltz. Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Portland, Oregon.

Other resources