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Damselfly or Dragonfly?

6-16-16  damselfy & dragonfly 178A visit to a pond will usually include sightings of dragonflies and the more delicate damselflies.  Both of these types of insects are in the order Odonata (Greek for “tooth,” referring to the serrated jaws of the adults).  They are separated into two suborders, due to their wing shapes and sizes. The wings of dragonflies differ in shape and size (hind wings are broader than forewings), whereas damselfly fore and hind wings are similar in shape, with the hind wings sometimes being smaller.

In addition to wing differences, damselflies have eyes that are separated by more than an eye’s width, whereas dragonfly eyes either touch or are separated by less than an eye’s width.  Damselflies are smaller and more slender than dragonflies and perch with their wings closed over their abdomens or held slightly spread.  Dragonflies at rest hold their wings out flat or downward.  In addition, dragonflies are more powerful and acrobatic in flight than damselflies.

Although these differences distinguish them, damselflies and dragonflies do have many similarities. Both are carnivorous, both spend most of their lives as aquatic larvae, and both lay their eggs in or near water.

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8 responses

  1. We have had groups of thirty to almost a hundred damselflies in our small garden lately. A wonderful sight. The iridescence of their bodies is amazing.

    June 16, 2016 at 6:34 am

    • Am pretty sure they’re ebony jewelwings….

      June 16, 2016 at 6:38 am

  2. One of my very favorites!

    June 16, 2016 at 7:01 am

  3. Judy Badot

    The next time we’re paddling……

    June 16, 2016 at 7:50 am


    Thank you, Mary. This is very timely because of the number of dragonflies I saw today, not near a pond, but at an elevation of 2000 ft. They were in large numbers just circling around. Is this a particular kind? A particular need? I was with a group of hikers and we were all curious.

    Many thanks, Fran


    June 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    • Hi Francine, It’s most likely a feeding swarm of dragonflies that you observed:

      “These swarms contain far fewer individuals than migratory swarms (20-1000 instead of tens of hundreds of thousands) and are highly localized. Individuals in the swarm will remain restricted to a very small area (like one field or yard or hill) and fly in a circular or figure-8 pattern about 1-20 feet off the ground, usually over a grassy area. These swarms are likely feeding swarms and may contain one to several species of dragonflies in about equal proportions. “

      June 17, 2016 at 8:27 am

  5. My favorites! Love these dazzling, delightful creatures. One of the many wonders of summer. Even the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson was inspired:
    “The Dragon-fly”
    Today I saw the dragon-fly
    Come from the wells where he did lie.
    An inner impulse rent the veil
    Of his old husk: from head to tail
    Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
    He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
    Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
    A living flash of light he flew.

    June 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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