Damselflies and dragonflies difference

Contents

How to tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly

Dragonflies and damselflies are closely related and may seem at first glance to be like twins. But once you know what to look for, telling the two members of the order Odonata apart is a piece of cake.

There are four details that even the most inexperienced bug watcher can use to identify if the insect is a dragonfly or a damselfly. They are the eyes, body shape, wing shape and position of the wings at rest.

Dragonflies have much larger eyes than damselflies, with the eyes taking up most of the head as they wrap around from the side to the front of the face. The eyes of a damselfly are large, but there is always a gap of space between them.

Dragonflies have bulkier bodies than damselflies, with a shorter, thicker appearance. Damselflies have a body made like the narrowest of twigs, whereas dragonflies have a bit of heft.

Both dragonflies and damselflies have two sets of wings, but they have different shapes. Dragonflies have hind wings that broaden at the base, which makes them larger than the front set of wings. Damselflies have wings that are the same size and shape for both sets, and they also taper down as they join the body, becoming quite narrow as they connect.

Finally, you can spot the difference when the insect is at rest. Dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their bodies when resting, like an airplane. Damselflies fold their wings up and hold them together across the top of their backs.

Now that you know the differences, you can put your knowledge to the test with the image above: dragonfly or damselfly?

The tropical king skimmer shown here is a type of dragonfly. You can tell by its thick body, the wings held out horizontally while at rest, the eyes that wrap around to the front of the head, and the broad wings that get thicker from tip to base.

For a quick comparison, here’s a damselfly at rest, where you can see the much thinner body, the eyes that sit at the side of the head, and narrower wings that taper at the base and which are held together above the body:

A dainty red damselfly rests on a green leaf. (Photo: Mark Carthy/)

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Damselfly Insects – Are Damselflies And Dragonflies The Same Thing

Gardeners can hardly avoid insects, and while you may view most of them as pests, many are either beneficial or just fun to watch and enjoy. Damselflies and dragonflies fall into the latter categories, and you are especially likely to see them if you have water features in your garden. Read on to learn more about damselfly vs. dragonfly insects.

What are Damselflies?

Most people know a dragonfly when they see one, but did you know that you may also be looking at a damselfly. Damselfly insects belong to the Odonata order of winged insects. Damselfly species are diverse in appearance, but they all have a few characteristics in common:

  • A large space between their eyes
  • Wings that are shorter than the abdomen
  • A very skinny body
  • A simple, fluttering style of flying

Damselfly in gardens is a good sign, as these flying hunters will eat smaller pest insects, including a lot of mosquitoes. They are also known for their spectacular colors, which are just fun to see. The ebony jewelwing, for instance, has an iridescent, bright green body, and deep black wings.

Are Damselflies and Dragonflies the Same?

These are not the same insects, but they are related. Both belong to the Odonata order, but dragonflies fall into the Anisoptera suborder, while damselflies belong to the Zygoptera suborder. Within these suborders there are more species of dragonfly than damselfly.

When it comes to damselfly vs. dragonfly, the most obvious difference is that dragonflies are bigger and more robust. Damselflies are smaller and appear more delicate. The eyes on the dragonfly are much larger and close together; they have large, broad wings; their bodies are large and muscular; and the flight of the dragonfly is more deliberate and agile. You are likely to see them swooping and dipping through the air as they hunt their prey.

There are other differences between these two types of insects, including behaviors. Damselflies will hunt in cold temperatures, while dragonflies will not, for example. When resting, damselflies fold their wings in, over their bodies, while dragonflies leave their wings outspread.

If you’re lucky, you’ll observe both damselflies and dragonflies in your garden. An abundance of these insects is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They are also fun to watch and will help you control pest insects.

Dragonflies and Damselflies

OVERVIEW
One of the most recognizable orders of insect is the Odonata which encompasses both Dragonflies and Damselflies. There are some 5,500 identified North American species in the order and over 450 of these are found throughout the United States and Canada alone. Dragonflies are the more common of the two and both share many of the same physical characteristics and behaviors.
Odonates are found near fresh water sources and are active on pleasant sunny days. Color patterns vary as do wing designs and lengths can run as long as 5 inches (as with the “Giant Darner”). Bulging eyes are set to the sides of the head and each contains thousands of honeycomb-shaped lenses providing excellent vision with moving targets. Six legs are utilized for grabbing pray or clasping onto reeds and plants. Wings are noticeably veined and appear as two pairs of straight appendages emanating from the spine.
When at rest, Dragonflies will generally lay their wing pairs flat while Damselflies will typically hold their more elegant tear drop-shaped wings close together and away or above the body. Odonates are quick fliers that can seem to hover at times and they will even mate in mid-air (the male and female flying about in tandem). A single female can lay one egg or several and these deposits are generally found in or near water sources. Life cycles of Odonates are variable – some completing them in a single month while others cover years.
There are a total of 30 Dragonflies and Damselflies in the Insect Identification database. Entries are listed below in alphabetical order (A-to-Z).

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Scroll Over Images and Click to Enlarge

FIGURE 1. Damselflies have long thin bodies that are often brightly colored with green, blue, red, yellow, black or brown.

FIGURE 2. Damselfly adults use their hind legs which are covered with hairs to capture prey as they fly. They hold the prey in their legs and devour it by chewing. Adults are commonly found near water.

FIGURE 3. Dragonfly adults use their spine-covered legs to capture prey in flight. Once caught, they will hold the prey in their legs and devour it by chewing.

FIGURE 4. Damselflies have oblong heads with bulging eyes and very short antennae. (Photo of preserved specimen in insect collection maintained at Galveston County Extension Office.)

Quick Facts

Common Name:

Damselflies

Other Common Names:

Bog dancers, damsels, devil’s darning needles & narrow wings

Genus / Species:: Varies. Several genera occur in the Galveston-Houston region

Type of Beneficial:

Insect predator

Type of Metamorphosis:

Immature stages appear different from adults (i.e., complete metamorphosis)

Beneficial Stage(s): Immature stages and adult stage are insect predators

Prey:

Immature stages are aquatic and prey on freshwater organisms including mosquito larvae and other small aquatic insects. Adults prey on flies, mosquitoes and moths; some species prey on beetles and caterpillars.

Distribution:

Occur across the Galveston-Houston region

Mounted Specimen?

Yes (mounted specimen for viewing available in insect collection at County Extension Office)

The order Odonata is comprised of two suborders–the Zygoptera or damselflies and the Anisoptera or dragonflies. Odonata means “toothed,” referring to the chewing mandibles of these beneficial insects.

Dragonflies and damselflies, like cockroaches, are two of the oldest insect groups. During prehistoric times, they were as big as hawks. You can find Odonate fossils from Kansas to Siberia. These fascinating creatures had wingspans of almost 30 inches and were the largest insects to ever live. Currently, there are estimated to be more than 4,700 species of Odonata worldwide and Zygoptera accounts for one-third of them. Zygoptera is native to all regions of the world, except Antarctica.

The term “Zygoptera” means “paired wings.” Damselflies are also commonly known as bog dancers, damsels, devil’s darning needles and narrow wings. There are four families of damselflies. Calyopterygidae are black winged (some have half black wings) with a red spot at the base. The Coeangrionidae have many body colors but always have clear wings. Lestidae, also known as ‘Spreadwings’, are unlike other damselflies because they perch vertically with their wings open when at rest (similar to a dragonfly). Lestidae usually have a yellow, bronze or metallic green sheen to them. The Protoneuridae are small thread-tailed damselflies inhabiting streams in far south Texas. Interestingly, the largest species in Texas is Archilestes grandis in the family Lestidae. The smallest known damselfly is the Southeast Asian species, Agriocnemis femina.

Damselflies are delicate, weak-flying insects. An adult damselfly has a long slender body, which is green, blue, red, yellow, black, or brown and often brightly colored. The color of some species will change with a variety of environments, fading from bright blue to dull purple responding to cool temperatures or light.

Males of most damselfly species are brighter-colored than females. Both genders have broad, oblong heads with large, widely separated bulging eyes and very short antennae. When resting, damselflies hold its two pairs of four magnificent membranous wings vertically rather than horizontally. Damselfly adults use their hairy covered hind legs to capture prey as they fly. Once caught, they will hold the prey in their legs and devour it by chewing.

Adults are usually seen during the daytime throughout the year. Damselflies are carnivorous insects that live and breed near freshwater habitats. They commonly fly in tandem during mating, as the damselfly’s mating pattern is quite unusual.

There are three stages in the damselfly life cycle: egg, naiad (the nymph of a damselfly) and adult. Eggs are either laid in water, on underwater vegetation, or other water-filled cavities such as in bromeliads. Eggs usually hatch within 1-to-3 weeks. Once hatched, the naiad has an elongated body, long legs and three leaf-like appendages or gills on its tail.

Damselflies live for 2 months to 3 years as nymphs, undergoing five to 15 molts as they grow. At this stage, naiads like the adults, are fierce predators. They prey on freshwater organisms, mosquito larvae, various small aquatic insects and other arthropods within their reach. At the last stage, a naiad crawls out of the water and clings to a plant, drying its skin.

After a few minutes sunbathing, the outer skin splits open at the head and the adult damselfly struggles, pulling itself out of its old skin. Its new legs harden, holding onto the plant, its wings slowly expand and then the damselfly flies away from the water. At this time, it is extraordinarily hungry, ravenously eating flies, mosquitoes and other small insects. Once the adult is sexually mature, it returns to an area near water to breed.

The life span of damselflies varies by species. The amount of time that the nymphs spend in the aquatic stage depends on temperature, light and food availability. As an adult, they may survive for a few weeks or for several months. In general though, tropical species spend less time in the aquatic stage and more time in the adult stage than temperate species.

Damselflies are extremely beautiful, beneficial predators because they help control populations of harmful insects. Adults consume large quantities of other insects such as flies, mosquitoes and moths and some eat beetles and caterpillars.

One way to conserve them is by avoiding indiscriminate use of pesticides. Damselflies are also a very important group of insects in stream and pond ecosystems. They are often used as an indicator of whether water is clean or polluted. The quality of the environment can be monitored by damselflies as their presence is strongly affected by different factors such as water flow, pollution and vegetation.

The destruction and alteration of freshwater habitats are the greatest threats to damselfly species worldwide. Without clean water damselflies are unable to breed. An alteration of habitats through climate change may also pose a threat to damselfly populations in the future.

Lastly, contrary to popular belief, adult damselflies do not bite or sting.

Beneficials in the Garden & Landscape is an Earth-KindTM program coordinated through Extension Horticulture at Texas A&M University. Earth-Kind uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum gardening and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting our environment.

The fantastic weather is bringing out all kinds of wildlife, and this past week we have been inundated with damselflies and dragonflies around the loch. But how can you tell the difference between the two? We have a few handy tips to help you out!

Damselflies © Doris McLean

  1. Look at their wings when they are resting. Are they spread like an aeroplane, or closed together? Damselflies rest with their wings closed, and dragonflies the opposite, so this is a big give away!
  2. How close together are their eyes? If you are fortunate enough to get an up close view of dragons and damsels, then you will notice that dragonflies have very large eyes that are close together, whereas damselflies have, though still large, smaller eyes with a gap in between.
  3. Are they chunky or are they twig-like? Dragonflies have much chunkier and short bodies, and damsels are the opposite with and extremely long and narrow body.
  4. What shape are their wings? This is probably the most difficult feature to observe, as sometimes they have disappeared before you get a chance to look. Damselflies have wings that are both the same size and shape, which taper where they attach to the body. Dragonflies, however, have different shaped fore and hind wings. Their hind wings are much broader and don’t taper so much where they attach to the body, giving them more of a plane look.

I hope you can now spot the difference between the two. Don’t forget to see how many species you can spot here at Loch of the Lowes over the summer.

Thanks for reading,

Olivia Cooper

Visitor Centre Assistant

With thanks to and for more information from:

common name: ebony jewelwing, black-winged damselfly (suggested common names)
scientific name: Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois, 1807) (Insecta: Odonata: Calopterygidae)

Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), the ebony jewelwing, is a large damselfly in the family Calopterygidae that is endemic to eastern North America. The ebony jewelwing has an iridescent green body with dark wings (Figure 1-3). Wings of the male ebony jewelwing are completely black, while wings of the female are smoky bronze with a distinct white spot (pterostigma) at the outer edge of the forewing (Figure 4). The combination of iridescent green body and dark wings distinguish this species from all other damselflies in the family Calopterygidae, and from other damselflies in North America. The ebony jewelwing is not listed as a species of concern.

Figure 1. Male ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), resting on a leaf (lateral view). Photograph by Alfred Runkel, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida.

Figure 2. Male ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), resting on a leaf (lateral view). Photograph by Nathan Burkett-Cadena, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida.

Figure 3. Pinned male ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx. maculata (Beauvois). Photograph by Alfred Runkel, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida.

Figure 4. Pinned female ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois) (dorsal view). Photograph by Alfred Runkel, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida.

Synonymy (Back to Top)

Agrion maculatum Beauvois, 1805
Agrion virginica Westwood, 1837
Calopteryx virginica Westwood, 1837
Calopteryx holosericea Burmeister, 1839
Calopteryx opaca Say, 1839
Calopteryx materna Say, 1839
Calopteryx papilionacea Rambur, 1842
Calopteryx floridana Huggins, 1927

Distribution (Back to Top)

The ebony jewelwing is found throughout most of eastern North America. Its range extends from Canada in the north to Florida in the south and as far west as Wisconsin and Texas (Hassall 2015). In Florida, this damselfly occurs further south on the Gulf Coast (DeSoto County) than the Atlantic Coast (Brevard County) (Figure 5). Adults are typically encountered around shaded freshwater streams with dense vegetation; however, males may occasionally leave these areas to seek new territory (Waage 1972). The ebony jewelwing can often be found resting on leaves or branches in sunny spots of the forest.

Figure 5. Geographic range of the ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), in the United States. Map by d-maps.com, range from odonatacentral.org and Hassall (2015), edited by Alfred Runkel, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, University of Florida.

Description (Back to Top)

Adult male ebony jewelwings are fairly large, with a body length of 39-57 mm (approximately 2.25-3 inches) and a wingspan of 58-76 mm (approximately 1.5-2.25 inches). The body is iridescent dark green, but depending on the light may appear blue, blue-green, or even black. The wings are dark throughout, as a result of the dense network of thick, dark veins and the smoky color of the membrane itself. This species, along with Argia fumipennis Burmeister and Hetaerina titia Drury, are the only damselflies in North America with all-black wings. Recently eclosed adults (emerged from the final molt) tend to have wings that are more brown than black (Waage 1972).

Adult female ebony jewelwings are bluish-green, but lack the brilliant iridescence of the male body (Figure 1-3). Wings are more translucent, appearing light to dark brown rather than black. The wings of the female have a distinct white spot near the wingtip (the pterostigma, Figure 6), which makes it easy to distinguish females from males (Ballou 1984).

Figure 6. The wing of a female ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois). The pterostigma is seen on the top left tip of the wing. Photograph by Eric Blosser, Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

While at rest, the ebony jewelwing holds its wings pressed together, vertically, above the thorax, a resting posture shared by most damselflies (Bick and Bick 1977).

Life Cycle (Back to Top)

The cylindrical eggs of the ebony jewelwing are laid in slow moving streams and rivers where the aquatic and predaceous immatures, known as naiads (juveniles), hatch and then hunt for small aquatic prey, including aquatic insects, worms, and small fish. Naiads are olive green to brown in color. Three caudal gills that project from the base of the abdomen regulate oxygen exchange as well as aid in directional swimming (Capinera 2016) (Figure 7). As with the adults, naiads of ebony jewelwings are diurnal and obligate carnivores. To capture prey, they rapidly extend their long, prehensile lower lip (labium) and seize their prey (Capinera 2016).

Damselfly naiads are important prey for many animals, such as fish, birds, and frogs, as well as a variety of aquatic invertebrates (Hussain and Ahmed 2003). Adults are preyed upon by dragonflies, birds, fish, spiders, and frogs (Waage 1972). Naiads undergo 11-12 molts in a single year (Martin 1939), then crawl out of the water onto nearby vegetation to molt a final time into a winged adult, with sexual maturity developing a few days later (Nevin 1929).

Figure 7. Ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), naiad (dorsal view). Photograph by John and Kendra Abbott, Abbott Nature.

The recently eclosed adult expands its wings by forcing hemolymph (insect blood) into the wing veins using an organ (the pulsatile organ) near the base of the wings. Once the wings are fully extended, the teneral (still soft) body of the recently eclosed adult damselfly must sclerotize (harden) before flight is possible (Silsby 2001). Both adult males and adult females are relatively short-lived, with an average lifespan of just 15-17 days in the wild (Waage 1972). Adult ebony jewelwings hunt for resting arthropods but can also catch prey in midflight (Capinera 2010), such as gnats, mosquitoes, and crane flies, using densely spined legs to trap their prey.

Mating Behavior: Adult males are territorial and compete with one another for high-quality breeding sites around slow moving vegetated streams and rivers. Males attempt to attract females by performing a “cross” display (Figure 8). This display is performed by facing the female and turning the hindwings downward while keeping them perpendicular to the body, then raising the forewings and abdomen, revealing a pale area on the underside of the abdomen.

Figure 8. Male ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), performing the “cross” display. Photograph by Clay Bolt, Clay Bolt Nature Photography.

Having successfully attracted a female, the male begins his fluttering courtship, which involves whirling his wings and hovering in front of her, followed by walking down her wings to assume his position for copulation (Alcock 1979). When the female accepts the male, the male grasps her prothorax with the copulatory appendages at the end of his abdomen and she responds by raising the tip of her abdomen to the underside of his abdomen (Capinera 2016) (Figure 9 A-E). This heart-shaped arrangement during copulation is known as a mating wheel. The male is equipped with a specialized secondary penis on the underside of his abdomen, which accepts sperm from the primary penis on the tip of the abdomen and is then used to transfer his sperm to the female’s spermatheca (sperm storage organ). The penis also contains small, brush-like structures, which are used by the male to remove sperm in the spermatheca deposited by previous mates, thereby reducing competition with other males (Waage 1979). On average, ebony jewelwings copulate for three hours, although this time can range from one to six hours (Roughgarden 2004).

Figure 9. A) Male ebony jewelwing, Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois), resting; B) Female ebony jewelwing resting; C) Male ebony jewelwing performing his fluttering courtship for a female; D) Male and female ebony jewelwings during copulation; E) Female ebony jewelwing laying eggs. Photographs by Matthew Bolek, Oklahoma State University.

Female ebony jewelwings tend to lay eggs in dams or rafts of plant debris in slow moving streams and rivers (Burcher and Smock 2002). During this time, the male will stay in the area to guard her and ensure that other males do not mate with her, but he refrains from contacting her directly (Alcock 1979).

Selected References (Back to Top)

  • Alcock J. 1979. Multiple mating in Calopteryx maculata (Odonata: Calopterygidae) and the advantage of non-contact guarding by males. The Journal of Natural History 13: 439-446.
  • Ballou J. 1984. Visual recognition of females by male Calopteryx maculata (Odonata: Calopterygidae). The Great Lakes Entomologist 17: 201-204.
  • Bick GH, Bick JC. 1977. The significance of wing clapping in Zygoptera. Odonatologica 7: 5-9.
  • Burcher CL, Smock LA. 2002. Habitat distribution, dietary composition and life history characteristics of Odonate nymphs in a blackwater coastal plain stream. The American Midland Naturalist 148: 75-89.
  • Capinera JL. 2010. Insects and Wildlife: Arthropods and Their Relationships With Wild Vertebrate Animals. Chichster: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Hassall C. 2015. Strong geographical variation in wing aspect ratio of a damselfly, Calopteryx maculata (Odonata: Zygoptera). PeerJ 3: 1-17.
  • Hussain R, Ahmed KB. 2003. Damselfly naiads (Odonata: Zygoptera) of Sindh-Pakistan. International Journal of Agriculture & Biology 5: 53-55.
  • Martin RDC. 1939. Life histories of Agrion aequabile and Agrion maculatum (Agriidae: Odonata). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 32: 601-619.
  • Nevin RF. 1929. A study of the larva of Calopteryx (Agrion) maculata (Odonata: Agrionidae). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 55: 425-448.
  • Roughgarden J. 2004. Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. California: University of California Press.
  • Silsby J. 2001. Dragonflies of the World. Australia: CSIRO Publishing.
  • Waage JK. 1972. Longevity and mobility of adult Calopteryx maculata (Beauvois, 1805) (Zygoptera: Calopterygidae). Odonatologica 3: 155-162.
  • Waage JK. 1979. Dual function of the damselfly penis: Sperm removal and transfer. Science 203: 916-918.

Eye on Nature

You first catch a glimpse of black wings that flit and flutter in the vegetation on the banks of a tranquil woodland stream. You go for a closer look and see a creature alight softly on a leaf, black wings poised sail-like above a long, slender, iridescent green or blue body. There, it remains mostly motionless except for its head, with two enormous black eyes, that follows you as you move about. You’ve just found a male Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata), a common damselfly of eastern North America.

Ebony Jewelwing male

Wings held sail-like above slender body

Male keeps an eye on intruders

Damselflies versus dragonflies

Damselflies, along with dragonflies, belong to the insect order Odonata. Damselflies are in the suborder Zygoptera and have two pairs of similar-shaped wings. When perched, they hold their wings, either closed or slightly spread, above their abdomens. Dragonflies are in the suborder Anisoptera—their forewings and hindwings are of different shapes and, when perched, they hold their wings out flat or somewhat downward. Dragonflies are generally larger and are strong, fast fliers. Damselflies are dainty looking and are weak fliers.

Ebony Jewelwing identification

Ebony Jewelwings are the only damselflies in my area that have entirely dark wings, nearly opaque black in males and translucent brown in females. This makes them easy to spot from a distance. Closer observation reveals the iridescent bodies—vivid green or blue in males and a dull greenish bronze in females. You also can tell females by a white spot, called a pseudostigma, on their wing tips—the males lack white wing spots.

Females have white spots on wing tips

Habitat

Field guides tell us that Ebony Jewelwings are most often found along shallow forested streams or occasionally near small ponds. My wooded property, with its small garden pond, attracts Ebony Jewelwings every spring, giving me an opportunity to observe them closely. The males stay in leafy vegetation near the pond, usually perched 2 to 5 feet above the ground. They tend to avoid the pond itself, possibly because it’s patrolled by dragonflies that might view a diminutive Jewelwing as a tasty meal. The female Ebony Jewelwings stay deeper in the woods until it’s time to mate.

Wing clapping

Behavior

Most of the time, Ebony Jewelwings remain still while perched but, occasionally, they “clap” their wings—opening them slowly and then snapping them shut. Clapping may be a form of communication or it may help improve oxygen intake.

Male chases another from his territory

A male Ebony Jewelwing usually defends a small territory near water. If a female approaches, he puts on a courtship display of fluttering wings and flaunting abdomen. If she’s receptive, the male first lands on the white pseudostigma area of her wings. He then walks down her wings to get into the tandem position, where he holds her head with claspers on the tip of his abdomen. She then swings up her abdomen to get into the mating wheel position. The tandem and mating wheel positions are sequences followed by all species of dragonflies and damselflies when mating. The couple remains in the mating wheel for several minutes, and then the female flies off to lay her eggs on vegetation in the water while the male stands guard nearby.

Dragonfly and Damselfly Resources

Dragonflies by Cynthia Berger. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2004. ISBN 0-8117-2971-0. This 124-page book has excellent information on the life cycles and behaviors of both dragonflies and damselflies and includes detailed descriptions and color illustrations for 26 common species. The illustrations are large and are on the same page as the descriptions. I think this is a great book for a novice to learn about dragonflies and damselflies. The book is no longer in print but used copies are usually available on Amazon for a reasonable price.

A Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Massachusetts by Blair Nikula, Jennifer L. Loose, and Matthew R. Burne. Westborough, MA: Massachusetts Natural Heritage Program, 2003. This is a 197-page field guide to the dragonflies and damselflies of Massachusetts, but it is useful for all of northeastern North America. It has an easy to use key and includes descriptions and photographs for 166 species. The photographs are large and are on the same page as the descriptions. The book is spiral bound making it exceptionally easy to use. I highly recommend this book. It’s available for $20 postage paid from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

Dragonflies through Binoculars by Sidney W. Dunkle. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-511268-7. This 266-page field guide includes descriptions of all 307 species of dragonflies that are native to North America, but has no coverage of damselflies. Annoyingly, species descriptions are at the front of the book and photographs, which are small, are at the back—so you’re constantly flipping back and forth. I don’t recommend this book for novices.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-691-12283-0. This 538-page field guide covers all 336 dragonfly and damselfly species of eastern North America. Unfortunately, to cram all that information into one volume required the use of very small text that is difficult to read. The photographs are a good size, though, and appear alongside the text. The book is heavy to carry in the field.

Dragonflies and Damselflies by Stephen Cresswell on the American Insects website. This is a well-researched, informative site with excellent photos.

Most damselflies and dragonflies seen near a creek or river in Ontario move too quickly to be easily identified by someone out on a leisurely walk. These Jewelwings, though, are very noticeable with their shiny black wings and turquoise blue or emerald green bodies. As if they are interested in helping passersby to see and identify them, Jewelwings often fly slowly and perch frequently–encouraging people to take out their phones and snap a photo.

Which Jewelwing Damselfly Has Four Entirely Black Wings and an Emerald Green or Electric Turquoise Blue Body?

Around the Greater Toronto Area, the most commonly seen black-winged damselfly is the Ebony Jewelwing. Mature males have solid black wings with no white spots. Their bodies, like a hummingbird’s, glitter in the sun. Usually they look brilliantly green or electric blue.

If you see one whose wings have a small white bar near the ends, it is probably a female Ebony Jewelwing. Their bodies are usually more bronzy than green and their wings are usually more smoky that truly black.

(I’m not sure what immature male Ebony Jewelwings look like. Most dragonfly immature males look a bit like the females.)

Where Do Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies Lay Their Eggs?

If I walk down a path at the Riverwood Conservancy, 16-Mile Creek, or Bronte Creek Provincial Park in late June or the summer, I often see Ebony Jewelwing damselflies along the paths resting on the lower branches or shrubs or on top of the Jewelweed or Nettles. These damselflies are no where near the streams or rivers in these parks.


This Jewelwing is laying an egg in this vegetation in Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville, Ontario.

When the paths lead me near the creeks and river, though, I see even more Ebony Jewelwings. Those moving-water streams, creeks and rivers are where the females will deposit their eggs. Although they seem to enjoy hunting and basking further inland, they return to the water to breed. The eggs are laid in “floating or submerged vegetation” according to Stokes.

According to Stokes Beginners Guide to Dragonflies, their preferred habitats are “shallow, shaded streams” and rivers with plants growing along the edges. I certainly do see them in those settings. And when I think about it, I don’t usually see them very near places that only have still water ponds and lakes.

These Jewelwing Damselflies Wings are Only One Third Black and the Rest Is Clear


A male River Jewelwing

Much less common in the Greater Toronto Area, GTA, is another Jewelwing Damselfly. At first glance, especially in flight, it may be mistaken for an Ebony Jewelwing because part of the wing is solid black but the rest is clear. The body is the same vivid metallic green or electric turquoise blue as the Ebony Jewelwing’s. The females look like Ebony Jewelwing females except that only the outer last third of the wing is black and the first two thirds are smoky brown.

These are River Jewelwings. I saw my first ones in the middle of June. A fellow nature enthusiast had reported seeing them along Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville, south of Dundas. It took me two visits exploring along the creek edges wherever the paths came in close to parallel the water to find some.

How Common Are River Jewelwing and Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies?

Ebony Jewelwings are quite common in the GTA. During mid to late June, I may see dozens on a single walk.


This River Jewelwing has caught a snack.

River Jewelwings are not as commonly seen here. Even where I found them at Sixteen Mile Creek, there were nine Ebony Jewelwings and only three River Jewelwings. I had to look closely at each damselfly to find the Rivers.

In the Stokes guide, it says that River Jewelwings prefer “swift and somewhat rocky streams.” That may be why I see fewer of them as my local paths tend to be along fast stretches of river or lazy muddy sections of streams.

Are Ebony Jewelwings Territorial?

Some dragonflies I meet along my walks are very territorial. You’ll see the resident defender swiftly chasing any intruder out of its range. Whenever I read in the newspaper that an air force scrambled its jets to escort a plane out of important air space, I always see an image of a Common Whitetail or other territorial dragonfly zooming up to intercept a potential rival.

Ebony Jewelwings don’t seem territorial to me. I often see a group of several males and several females perched within inches of each other.

A male Ebony Jewelwing tries to impress the ladies.

When I found the River Jewelwings along the creek, I also found an active group of Ebony Jewelwings. The Ebony males were putting on a bit of an airshow. They were flying and fluttering at the edge of the creek where the plants hang out over the water. Often they would be making black Xs in the sky with their four wings spread widely apart.

Two lady Ebony Jewelwings watch the air show.

According to the Stokes guide, this was probably their “fluttering courtship display” being put on for the perched females.

This group of male Ebony Jewelwings tried to get all the other males up into flight, including this lone River Jewelwing.

I did notice that the males would occasionally zip straight at other perched males forcing them up and into flight. Even more rarely, they would zoom at the male River Jewelwing.

I started watching to see if the males would deliberately antagonize the male River Jewelwing. The two species look so similar, I wondered if they recognized it as a different species.

Once a male Ebony did try to force the River Jewelwing into flight: then it stole its perch!

During the ten minutes or so that I watched, only once did the male Ebonies seem to deliberately antagonize the male River. That compared fairly significantly with the repeated bullying of the other perched male Ebonies. So it seemed likely that they realized it wasn’t a rival and ignored it.

The Careful Selection of the Perfect Basking and Hunting Perch By Jewelwings and Other Damselflies

Not being an ectothermic species, most humans aren’t too worried about maximizing our heat absorption potential. I may prefer to stand in a patch of full sun in winter, wearing my dark splash pants, to try to keep warmer but I don’t spend much time trying to optimize my location.

After chasing the River Jewelwing up into flight (shown above), the Ebony Jewelwing settled immediately on the same leaf.

I noticed, however, that the Jewelwings did. There was one leaf that the River Jewelwing was perched on that everyone else seemed to also want to bask on. Despite having the leaves of a whole huge Riverbank Grape Vine to choose from, everyone seemed to want this one leaf.

The River Jewelwing just circled around and landed again beside the Ebony.

At various times, there were two Ebony Jewelwings, one River Jewelwing and one smaller duller damselfly all perched on the same leaf. While all of the damsels periodically took off or were forced into flight, the River and the others eventually all came back to this particular leaf, not the ones beside it or above or below it.

This damselfly also repeatedly landed on the same leaf beside the River Jewelwing.

(Of course you know that was the leaf which I could not get a good angle on to take photos of the perched occupants, right? But I sincerely doubt it was my intrusive behavior that made that leaf so desirable.)

I wonder whether they can glance at a perch and decide unconsciously that it is an optimum location or if it actually takes some deliberate analysis?

Are There Any Other Black Winged Damselflies in Ontario?

Having found the Ebony and River Jewelwings, I felt a bit smug. Then I discovered there is another dark winged damsel found in Ontario—the Smoky Rubyspot.

The Smoky Rubyspot has a black abdomen, not electric blue or green. The males have a reddish patch at the base of the wings. The wings can be smoky black or nearly clear.
It barely comes into southern Ontario compared to the Jewelwings which come fairly far north and into Quebec and the Maritimes. So I may have a difficult time finding some of these. Still, it’s good to know there’ll be another day in the future when I see a type of dark-winged damsel for the first time!

Related Reading

  • What Bronze and Green Damselfly Has Wings that Are Partly Red and Partly Clear?
  • Painted Skimmer Dragonflies
  • Dragons in My Back Yard

Join In
Have you seen Ebony or River Jewelwings on a stroll near your local stream? Please share your sighting with a comment.

Dragonflies and Damselflies (Order: Odonata)

A male Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

The Order Odonata, or dragonflies and damselflies, contains some of the most beautiful and conspicuous insects in Britain. During the summertime, the swift flight of our larger species and their exquisite colouration are bound to attract our attention. Many stretches of water, such as lakes, rivers, ponds and marshes, will attract some of these large insects which can be seen on the wing during the warm sunny days of summer. As such, they are amongst our most well known invertebrates.

Many of our native species are large, whilst even the smaller more fragile species are still large enough for us to appreciate their beauty without the need for magnification.

Nymphs of most species are reasonably easy to rear in their later stages, and the nymphs are fascinating to observe. The equipment needed for the study of these insects is simple and usually inexpensive.

The number of British species is sufficiently small, totalling just 45, to also be of interest to those who study other larger groups of insect.

The Odonata are amongst the oldest groups of insects known, and are not closely related to any other existing Order. The largest known insect is the fossil dragonfly Meganeura monyi, which had a wingspan of approximately 30cm.

Main characteristics of Dragonflies and Damselflies

  • Two pairs of wings of similar size and have a dark mark, or pterostigma, near the tip of each.
  • Long and slender abdomens
  • Large heads
  • Very large compound eyes
  • Small, hair-like antennae

A photograph of an adult male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa)

Life-cycle

  1. The small yellowish eggs are laid directly in to the water or inserted in to water plants, floating debris or mud. The males of many species help by holding on to the females and then pulling them up in to the air again.
  2. The aquatic nymphs take from one to five years to complete their development, according to species. Like the adults, they are carnivorous, preying upon many forms of aquatic fauna. Prey is caught in large pincer-like extensions of their lower lip, known as the ‘mask’.
  3. When fully grown, the nymph becomes restless, ceases feeding and eventually selects a suitable plant stem and crawls out of the water, settling down well clear of the surface. Eventually, the skin splits along the back and the adult insect struggles out, usually at night or very early morning. Soon the wings begin to expand, once dried, the adult is ready for flight. Full colouration usually does not take place until a few days has elapsed. Adult Odonata can be found from April until November, with the life span of an individual lasting no more than a few weeks.
  4. Adult Odonata are exclusively entomophagous (they eat insects), catching their prey on the wing, and will seize anything small enough for them to tackle.
  5. Mating takes place either on the ground or amongst foliage, according to the species. The male seizes the female by the back of the neck or hear with special anal appendages, whilst the female curves her abdomen round so that her pairing apparatus can make contact with his, under his second abdominal segment.

There are 2 sub-orders found in the British Isles:

  • The Anisoptera, or dragonflies, are characterised by having the hindwing noticeably broader at the base than the forewing. In addition, the eyes meet on top of the head with the exception of one species and they rest with their wings stretched out flat.
  • The Zygoptera, or damselflies, are smaller more fragile insects with similar fore and hindwings, have widely separated eyes, and rest with their wings folded over their abdomens.

Collecting adults is best undertaken with the use of a large net on a long handle. Being very able flyers, this will need skill and agility, or considerable luck. Capture is best affected from above and behind. They are usually pinned and set in the same way as Lepidoptera if a collection of set specimens is needed – excellent identification guides have been published and this means that collection is usually unnecessary.

Nymphs are collected by a specific water or pond net, sweeping through submerged vegetation and debris and then searching through the contents of the net. Unwanted items and debris should be returned to the water, and the nymphs taken home in water tight containers. Another way to obtain nymphs, for a dried collection, is to collect the empty nymphal skins left after the adult has emerged. These can be found by searching suitable bankside vegetation.

Even some eminent scientists can be surprised by the size of some adult dragonflies as this quote from Richard Feynman, physicist and Nobel laureate, shows:

So one day I was on the beach, and I’d just read this book that said dragonflies don’t sting. A darning needle (dragonfly) came along, and everybody was screaming and running around, and I just sat there.

“Don’t worry!” I said. “Darning needles don’t sting!”

The thing landed on my foot. Everybody was yelling and it was a big mess, because this darning needle was sitting on my foot. And there I was, this scientific wonder, saying it wasn’t going to sting me. You’re sure this is a story that’s going to come out that it stings me – but it didn’t. The book was right. But I did sweat a bit.

Related links: Dragonflies and Damselflies (Order: Odonata)

Back to Insect Orders.

One species that lived around 250 million years ago was the largest insect known to exist and had a wingspan of over 70 cm. Their success as a group is largely because of their fantastic flying abilities and their well-developed eyes. They are excellent hunters of other flying insects and can hover, move in zigzags, and even fly backwards. And they are fast – some of the larger dragonflies can reach flying speeds of 70 km per hour – possibly the fastest flying insects on Earth. Many people find their size and speed intimidating but, despite their powerful jaws, they are harmless. In fact, they do us a favour by eating many insects that bite us.

Dragonfly and damselfly facts

  • There are over 6,000 species worldwide.
  • There are 320 species known from Australia and about 100 of these occur around Sydney.
  • The larvae are aquatic or semi-aquatic and are known as mud-eyes.
  • Both adults and larvae are predatory.
  • Adults are often found close to water, where they hunt flying insects.
  • Adults’ legs point forward, forming a basket to capture prey in mid-flight.
  • Dragonflies are generally more powerful fliers than damselflies and most dragonflies have large eyes that almost meet at the top of their head.
  • Damselflies often rest with their wings folded along their backs. Dragonflies usually rest with their wings held straight out from their body.

Classification

Dragonflies and damselflies are large, conspicuous insects often found close to fresh water. The Order Odonata is divided into two suborders, the Anisoptera containing the dragonflies, and the Zygoptera containing the damselflies. Odonata closely resemble the oldest flying insects known from fossils. These fossil ‘dragonflies’ were very large, with one species reaching 71 cm in wingspan.

Identification

Adult dragonflies are generally stout bodied and when at rest spread their wings out to the sides. Damselflies are generally more delicate and hold their wings along their body when at rest.

The larval stages of the two suborders can be distinguished by the placement of the gills. Dragonfly larvae suck water into their abdomen and move it over their internal gills. Damselfly larvae have gills at the end of the body as three appendages.

Virtual Commons – Bridgewater State University

Odonates (the collective term for dragonflies and damselflies) represent some of the most recognizable insects found in nature. Biologically, the dragonflies (Anisoptera) and damselflies (Zygoptera) represent the two suborders that make up the order “odonata’: meaning “toothed ones” in Latin.

Both groups have similar life cycles and behaviors and differ mainly in their appearance (morphology). Dragonflies are generally larger and hold their wings outstretched when perched. Damselflies have smaller thoraxes (“bodies”) and slender abdomens “tails” compared to dragonflies. Damselflies also fold their wings together behind them when at rest.

Their large size and distinctive shapes and coloration make odonates hard to miss as they fly about near many bodies of water hunting and/or defending territories. However, it takes careful observation over weeks or months to observe their complete life cycle.

The odonate life cycle begins with eggs deposited in water; lakes, ponds, streams, rivers, bogs and woodland seeps all support populations of different species of odonates. Eggs develop into nymphs which typically spend about a year (sometimes more) living and developing as aquatic insects before being ready to emerge as adults. Rising water temperatures in the spring and early summer serve as the trigger for emergence (eclosure). Once the water reaches the proper temperature for a particular species, the nymphs climb from the water onto nearby vegetation or rocks and the adult emerges from the final naiad skin. Teneral (newly emerged) adults spend a brief period (hours) during which their wings dry out and their exoskeleton hardens before taking flight as the commonly seen insects.

The details (the length of their adult life, the environments they prefer, etc.) of the lives of adult odonates are quite varied. But basically, like all other living creatures, they must eat, reproduce and eventually die.

Since they live in and near sensitive aquatic environments, healthy (in terms of numbers and variety of species) populations of dragonflies and damselflies are an indication of healthy environments. Degradation of the environment in terms of quality or extent is often seen as a decline in the odonate population. Such a decline can often directly affect humans. For example, odonates eat large numbers of mosquitoes, black flies and other flying insects each day.

The activities shown in these photos are not rare events. With limited equipment (a pair of binoculars is often useful) and careful observation along the shore of any body of fresh water, anyone can find dragonflies and damselflies “doing their thing”: Indeed, ode watching, like bird watching, is a great way to get outdoors and experience the natural world.

Difference between a Dragonfly and a Damselfly

By: Editorial Staff | Updated: Dec-18, 2017

Some flying insects may be considered menacing or frightening but others are also regarded as beautiful and interesting. Take, for example, certain flying insects such as the dragonfly and the damselfly. There is something attractive about them. It may be because of their eye-catching colors or radiant wings. Although these are physical traits the dragonfly and damselfly have in common, they still have a lot of differences. Read on and we’ll tell you all about them and identify the specific attributes that set them apart.

Summary Table

Dragonfly Damselfly
Eyes almost touch at the top of their head Eyes are clearly separated, appearing at the sides of the head
Body is stocky Body is long and slender
Wings are not the same; hind wings broader at the base compared to front wings Wing shapes are similar
When at rest, wings are held open horizontally or pointed downwards When at rest, wings are held close above its abdomen

Descriptions

A dragonfly

A dragonfly belongs to the order Odonata, which means “toothed jaws.” It has three suborders and the dragonfly belongs to the suborder Anisoptera. There are more than 5,000 species of dragonflies and most of these live in tropical areas. The word “dragonfly” came from the Greek word anisos meaning “uneven” and pteron, meaning “wing.” The dragonfly has uneven wings, having a broader base on its hind wings compared to its front wings.

Physical traits

When you look closely at a dragonfly, you’ll notice that it has three segments: the head, the thorax (middle part), and the abdomen (segmented tail-like section). Dragonflies have a large head with short antennae and large eyes that almost touch each other and cover most of the head surface. Another interesting thing about the dragonfly it that it has compound eyes which are efficient in scanning its surroundings. Each eye contains 28,000 lenses, enabling the insect to target its prey from 49 feet (15 meters) away. They also have razor sharp jaws that slice their prey.

Dragonflies have bright, metallic colors which make them easy to spot when in flight. They are noted to have powerful wing muscles and are regarded as strong, expert fliers. These insects can reach speeds of up to 35 mph (56 kph) and are often found flying near the water. They also have the ability to hover, fly off vertically, and even fly backwards – much like a helicopter. Their wings are either open horizontally or pointing downwards when at rest.

Dragonflies have a unique style of reproduction, often forming the “heart” posture. When mating, the male takes a grip of the back side of the female’s head (prothorax). Then the female curls her abdomen to get sperm from the male at the front side of his abdomen. Most dragonflies, especially the males, are very territorial and tend to defend their domain not only from other insects but also from their own species. Even at their larval stage (known as nymphs or naiads), dragonflies are known to be active predators. Since they eat mosquitoes, dragonflies are considered very helpful in controlling the population of the pests.

A damselfly

Damselflies also belong to the order Odonata but a different suborder, which is Zygoptera, which means “yoke-winged.” The damselfly’s front and hind wings are similar in shape and are usually placed together and are aligned with its abdomen when at rest.

The general body structure of a damselfly is similar to that of the dragonfly, with a head, thorax, and abdomen. However, the damselfly has a smaller body and more slender abdomen. Damselflies have large eyes, but they aren’t as big as dragonfly eyes. Its eyes are separated, located at the sides of the head. The forehead is located above the eyes, and below it is the clypeus, which is a trapezoidal plate at the front of the head. On its upper lip you’ll find the labrum, which is an extendable organ used by the damselfly to capture its prey. The damselfly also has a tiny pair of antennae.

Damselflies are not super strong at flying. They often hover over grass and low vegetation. Their spiny legs come in handy when picking prey off the stems and leaves. For the most part, they use their keen vision to locate their prey but may also use olfactory cues. Their diet usually consists of flies, mosquitoes, and other small insects.

Compared to females, male damselflies have more distinct, bright colors. They often have complex courtship behaviors. They reproduce by indirect insemination, forming the “heart” or “wheel” shape when they mate. The insects remain together with the male still holding on to the female as she lays her eggs among plants that are in or near the water.

Dragonfly vs Damselfly

So what is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly?

Though mostly similar in behavior and other characteristics, the dragonfly and damselfly differ in a lot of physical traits. The dragonfly has large eyes which almost touch each other at the top of its head while the damselfly has smaller eyes which are clearly separated, located at the sides of the head. The body of the dragonfly is stocky compared to the long and slender body of the damselfly. A dragonfly’s wings are not the same shape, with the base of the hind wings being broader than the front wings. The damselfly’s wings, on the other hand, are similar in shape and size. When at rest, the dragonfly has its wings wide open horizontally or open and pointed downwards whereas the damselfly has its wings closed and placed above the abdomen.

The main difference between dragonfly and damselfly is that dragonflies have sturdier and thicker bodies whereas damselflies have longer and thinner bodies. Dragonfly keeps its wings horizontally at rest while damselfly closes its wings at rest.

Dragonfly and damselfly are two predatory insects that belong to the order Odonata. They are the colorful and fascinating insects found in late summer gardens. Generally, it is difficult to identify the difference between dragonfly and damselfly. However, several distinct characteristics such as slender bodies, membranous wings, and large eyes can be used to identify them from each other.

Key Areas Covered

1. Dragonfly
– Definition, Characteristics
2. Damselfly
– Definition, Characteristics
3. What are the Similarities Between Dragonfly and Damselfly
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Dragonfly and Damselfly
– Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Body, Damselfly, Dragonfly, Eyes, Membranous Wings

Dragonfly – Definition, Characteristics

Dragonfly refers to a fast-flying, long-bodied, predatory insect with two pairs of transparent wings, which are spread out sideways at rest. It belongs to the suborder Anisoptera. The flight of dragonfly is strong and purposeful. It can fly at about 100 body-lengths per second in the forward direction while at about 3 body-lengths per second in the reverse direction.

Figure 1: Dragonfly

Dragonflies spend most of their lifetime in the larval stage. Some of the commonly seen dragonflies are broad-bodied chaser, brown, hawker, Southern hawker, migrant hawker, common darter, etc.

Damselfly – Definition, Characteristics

Damselfly refers to a slender insect that rests with wings folded back along the body. It belongs to the suborder Zygoptera. All the four wings of damselfly are similar in size and shape. Damselfly has a weak flight with fluttering.

Figure 2: Damselfly

Generally, damselfly loves water; therefore, it often stays on the water surfaces. Some common damselfly species include large red damselfly, common blue damselfly, azure damselfly, emerald damselfly, and blue-tailed damselfly.

Similarities Between Dragonfly and Damselfly

  • Dragonfly and damselfly are predatory insects.
  • They are invertebrate arthropods.
  • They belong to the order Odonata.
  • Both can be found during the late summer.
  • Both have four membranous wings with many small veins.
  • The wings are attached to the thorax.
  • The abdomen is elongated in both types of insects.
  • Both have extremely large eyes, minute antennae, a long, slender abdomen, aquatic larvae with posterior tracheal gills, and extendible jaws underneath the head (prehensile labium).
  • Both undergo complete metamorphosis.

Difference Between Dragonfly and Damselfly

Definition

Dragonfly: A fast-flying, long-bodied, predatory insect with two pairs of transparent wings, which are spread out sideways at rest

Damselfly: A slender insect, resting with the wings folded back along the body

Suborder

Dragonfly: Anisoptera (unequal winged)

Damselfly: Zygoptera (yoke-winged)

Eye Shape

Dragonfly: Broadly rounded eyes

Damselfly: Spherical eyes

Eye Position

Dragonfly: Eyes touch or nearly touch the top of the head

Damselfly: Eyes are clearly separated at each side of the head

Body Size

Dragonfly: Large (3 inches long)

Damselfly: Comparatively small

Body Shape

Dragonfly: Stocky

Damselfly: Long and slender

Thorax

Dragonfly: Thorax is broader than abdomen

Damselfly: Thorax is narrow and has the same width as the abdomen

Wing Shape

Dragonfly: Dissimilar wing pairs; hindwing is broader at the base

Damselfly: Similar wing pairs in both size and shape

Flight

Dragonfly: Known as fliers; covers a long distance

Damselfly: Known as perchers; only covers a short distance

Water Sources

Dragonfly: Does not prefer water

Damselfly: Likes water and tend to fly to water sources

Position of the Wings at Rest

Dragonfly: Wings held open either horizontally or downwards

Damselfly: Wings held closed over the abdomen

Discal Cell

Dragonfly: Discal cell is divided into triangles

Damselfly: Discal cell is undivided and quadrilateral

Male Appendages

Dragonfly: Pair of superior anal appendages and a single inferior appendage

Damselfly: Two pairs of anal appendages

Female Appendages

Dragonfly: Have vestigial ovipositors

Damselfly: Have functional ovipositors

Eggs

Dragonfly: Large and round (0.5 mm long)

Damselfly: Cylindrical and longer (1 mm long)

Larvae

Dragonfly: Breathe through rectal tracheal gills; stocky bodies

Damselfly: Breathe through caudal gills; slender bodies

Conclusion

Dragonfly is large and stockier while damselfly is small and has a slender body. Both have a narrow and long abdomen. But, the abdomen of the dragonfly is broader compared to the abdomen of the damselfly. Also, dragonfly keeps their wings horizontally at rest while damselfly closes their wings at rest. The main difference between dragonfly and damselfly is the size and the shape of the body and the wings.

Reference:
Image Courtesy:

1. “Sympetrum flaveolum – side (aka)” By André Karwath aka Aka – Own work (CC BY-SA 2.5) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Damselfly October 2007 Osaka Japan” By LaitcheLink to My Website. – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

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