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Dragonflies and Damselflies

Hunters on the Wing (and in the water)

On warm, sunny days you can see both dragonflies and damselflies zooming around the Jewel Box ponds.  These beneficial predators use good vision and speed to catch and eat large quantities of mosquitos and other insects.  Big dragonflies can reach speeds of 20-30 miles per hour and consume nearly their body weight in insects every day.


dragonfly resting on a flower

You might not be able to tell the difference between these two pond insects in flight. At rest, however, look for two, key characteristics: Dragonflies usually have larger, thicker bodies than damselflies. They also hold their wings horizontally when resting.

damselfly resting on a leaf

Damselflies are thin and delicate. They hold their wings over their back when resting. Like dragonflies, some species can show off bright colors.

So Why are they near the water?

Remember, these impressive fliers help keep mosquito populations in check. That food source is often near standing water. Plus, both of these hunters need water to lay their eggs.  Here a female damselfly is laying her eggs below a waterlily leaf.

The young insects (nymphs) don’t look much like the adults. Once they hatch, they grow into fierce underwater predators that feed on aquatic animals like tadpoles and even fish! It takes a year for most nymphs to mature, but the process can take up to five years in some species. In this photo of a dragonfly nymph, you can see immature wing “buds” that will eventually develop.

close up of a dragonfly nymph (larva)
close up of dragonfly larva wing buds
exoskeleton of a dragonfly on a leaf

When the nymph is fully grown, it crawls out of the water. Like grasshoppers and cicada, the dragonfly or damselfly sheds its exoskeleton (nymph skin) and expands to full size – wings and all. With a sharp eye you might see shed skins on waterlily buds, flowers and leaves near the water.

For more information on dragonflies and damselflies:  Dragonfly and Damselfly Link

For information on giant, ancient dragonflies:   Perhistoric Dragonfly Link