The damselfly’s scientific name is Zygoptera, it is Greek for paired wings. Our pond with fish is visited by a dragonfly now and then; but we receive daily stopovers from red and blue damselflies resting on the lily pads. Even though a damselfly is similar to a dragonfly, it is a weaker flier, but still very fast and agile. Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata which is one of the most popular insect groups.
Having approximately 5,000 species, the Odonata order, (a subgroup of insects), is very diverse and it is easy to spot the insect members. Odonata insects have very large eyes, thin transparent wings, tiny antennae, slender abdomens and an aquatic larval stage called a NYMPH.
An easy way to tell if an insect is a part of the Odonata Order – if the insect’s eyes are a large portion of the head and if the abdomen is thin and long.
Damselflies have long thin bodies that are often brightly colored with green, yellow, red, blue, brown or black. In the above photo the damselfly has a unique light purple color. The color glistened almost pearl-like as she elegantly flew from lily-pad to lily-pad.
What is the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? Dragonflies are more stout and when perched their wings extend out sideways. The damselfly is a bit slender and when resting damselflies hold their wings above the body. Compare the images of the thin damselfly above and the stout dragonfly below.
Damselflies are found mainly near shallow, freshwater habitats and are graceful fliers with long net veined wings. We have a small pond with three goldfish/Koi that are grateful to the Damselflies for the abundant fish food they provide. Dragonflies and damselflies begin their lives as nymphs, living underwater for a year of more.
To attract damselflies and not mosquitoes to your pond simple use a powerful pond pump, filter system. Mosquitoes do not like moving water and will not lay eggs in your pond if you have a good pump. The damselflies like to perch on vegetation, so include tall plants in or around your pond area along with lily pads.
Damselflies are cousins of the dragonfly. Their colours can be stunningly vivid. The adults capture prey while flying; by using their hair covered hind legs. Damselflies hold the prey in their legs and consume it by chewing.
Both dragonflies and damselflies begin their lives as nymphs, living underwater for a year of more. The nymphs make the best food for your fish. The presence of dragonflies and damselflies, at your pond, is an indication of a good quality ecosystem.
In the above photo the damselflies are competing for the water lilies in our small pond. Zygoptera, Damselflies, copulate while perched, sometimes flying to a new perch. Mating for the damselfly while perched can last from five to ten minutes. Competition amongst males for females is fierce. The picture below is the position for copulating/mating damselflies.
The damselfly mates/partners fit together like a lock and key, in this way they can recognize the correct species when mating. The female damselfly’s thorax and the male abdomen vary slightly for each species of Zygoptera. The males have four appendages at the tip of the abdomen. Two of them are claspers, used to hold onto the female damselfly during mating.
Each male damselfly has his own territory and will defend it. When it is time to mate the female damselfly will enter the male’s territory.
When finished copulating, the female flies away, and finds herself a pond or other water body, where she will lay her eggs. Female damselflies normally use a bladelike ovipositor to place eggs inside plant tissue. Currently in our pond we have the last molting of the nymphs taking place. The damselfly mating and egg laying should start in the next week or so. It is a banquet for the fish in our pond that is repeated over and over. The larva or nymph will spend an average of 1-3 years in the water and feed on other larva or tiny insects.
Most damselfly nymphs have three leaflike gills at the tip of the abdomen, whereas dragonflies have internal gills. A damselfly had its last molting and pictured above is the skin that was left. The damselfly nymph photo was taken today. After emerging from the larval stage, the damselfly takes to the air to feed and mate. Today I noticed the lily pads in our small pond are chock-full of these damselfly molting skins. A large, colorful population of damselflies are frolicking about the irises, lilies, philodendron and other potted plants.
If you see these nymph skins in your pond it is a good thing. Actually a great thing! This means your pond is healthy and should be visited by many damsel or dragonflies that will mate, lay eggs and start the process all over again.
The female damselfly deposits her eggs in emergent plants, floating vegetation or directly in the water. Naiads or nymphs hatch from eggs and live in water. The damselfly nymphs or naiads develop through stages with the last stage crawling out of the pond, water and emerging from the last molting skin. The two pictures above are molted skins left on the lily pads of our pond. The adult damselfly only lives one to three months, while the nymphs can live up to three years in the water depending on the species.
(Photo above courtesy of http://www.britannica.com/ )
The photo above shows the Life Cycle of the damselfly
The greatest numbers of the Odonata Order species, dragonflies and damselflies, are found at sites that offer a wide variety of microhabitats, though dragonflies tend to be much more sensitive to pollution than damselflies.