Don’t Overlook a Dazzling Damselfly
Get to know these fast-flying, jewel-colored wonders! Plus, find out what makes a damselfly different from a dragonfly.
Damselfly vs Dragonfly
Blink and you might miss ’em! Less than 3 inches long with thin, delicate bodies, damselﬂies glide through gardens in search of small ﬂying insects.
Damselﬂies and dragonﬂies both come from the same Odonata order (referred to collectively as odonates), but damselﬂies have noticeably thinner bodies. They typically hold their wings straight back and above their bodies, while dragonflies hold their wings open and out to the sides.
Dragonflies have large eyes on the top of their heads; damselfly eyes are wide-set and located on the sides of their head. Damselﬂies and dragonflies choose from the same general menu, but damselflies focus on the smallest items, eating tiny insects like gnats, mosquitoes and midges.
- Thin body
- Wings usually held straight back and above body
- Wide-set eyes on top of head
- Thick body
- Open wings, spread out from the sides of the body
- Large eyes nearly touch on top of head
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The diversity of colors damselﬂies display is impressive. Blues and greens are most common, but some species are red, orange or yellow. Coloration often differs between males and females. For example, male bluet damselflies are blue, while females may be blue, green or brown.
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Damselfly Diet and Habitat
A backyard water feature, especially a shallow pond, helps attract damselﬂies to your landscape, because it lures the types of insects they eat. Otherwise, ﬁnd these odonates near wetlands and other fresh water.
Look for perched damselﬂies soaking up the morning sun, holding their wings close to their bodies. After they’re warmed up, they take to the air in search of a meal of fresh insects.
Mating damselﬂies connect in wheel- or heart-shaped postures. They lay their eggs in shallow water; once hatched, the aquatic nymphs feed on small bugs.
In its larval stage, a damselﬂy molts many times under water before moving on to land, where it transforms into a winged adult. More than 5,000 species of odonates are spread across six continents; Antarctica is too cold for them.
In the eastern United States, a widespread and easily recognizable species is the brilliant jade-bodied ebony jewelwing damselﬂy. The females lack the luster of the males but sport a white spot on each of their solid black wings.
Dancers, another common damselﬂy group, sometimes are found near slow-moving streams. Keep an eye out for blue-fronted dancers in the East and vivid dancers in the West.
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How to Spot Damselflies
The best way to examine odonates is to watch them through binoculars when they are perched. If you don’t have a pair handy, you can still see them easily if you ﬁnd a place where they’re active and simply wait. (Damselﬂies don’t sting or bite.) You’ll get a true sense of the amazing world of damselﬂies as they cruise the vegetation for their next meal.
Next, meet more beneficial insects that keep your garden growing.