Vivid dancer damselfly (Argia vivida), Mayberry Park. August 2016. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.
- Adults often brightly colored.
- Translucent wings held close to body when resting.
- Long, thin abdomen.
- Larvae live underwater.
Damselflies and Dragonflies are both members of the order Odonata, with 407 species in North America. Both are often brightly-colored with large heads, compound eyes, two pairs of translucent wings with many veins, and long abdomens. To tell a damselfly from a dragonfly, look at the way they hold their wings: When resting, a damselfly holds its wings together, close to its body or slightly above its body (an I-shaped silhouette). A dragonfly holds its wings outstretched, away from its body (a T-shaped silhouette).
Damselflies go through three life phases: egg, larvae and adult. Adult damselflies lay eggs in the tissues of plants growing in the water, using a sword-like egg-laying structure to cut slits in the plants. The eggs hatch into damselfly larvae, which live underwater and feed on other small organisms such as zooplankton and mayfly larvae. Damselfly larvae look nothing like adult damselflies (see photographs), with long slender bodies, no wings, and three tail-like gills projecting off their hind end.
When ready to transition to the adult phase, damselfly larvae climb out of the water onto rocks or tree roots and shed their skin. Adult damselflies live for about a month on average, mating and laying eggs before they die. Sometimes males hold on to the female while she is laying eggs, to prevent other males from mating with her. The complete life cycle of the damselfly takes about one year, on average — but every species is different.
References & Links
Kondratieff, Boris C. (coordinator). 2000. Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata) of the United States. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. Version 12DEC2003.
Voshell, J.R. 2002. A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America. Blacksburg, VA: McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.