Damselflies mating, laying eggs in our pond – Life and behavior of the Damselfly

The female damselfly is laying her eggs.  Mating season for the Damselflies in our pond has begun. Just last week the nymphs emerged from the pond water to shed their skin and become colorless damselflies.  As the young damselfly matures it will gain a beautiful color. The adult damselfly only lives one to three months; its main job is to find a mate and continue the life cycle.

See the photo below of the damselflies mating.  It starts with the male damselfly grasping the female with his abdominal claspers.  The same species of damselfly with fit like a lock and key.

damselflies mating

Copulation can take from several minutes to several hours depending on the species.  The male damselfly stays in tandem with the female while she lays her eggs. I watched as the red damselfly gently carried his bride to an inviting lily-pad.

female looking for the water to lay eggs

This dedicated female damselfly, pictured above, was moving her abdomen every which way to try and find the water.

off they go to try again

If the female damselfly could not find water to lay her eggs she would straighten her abdomen as if to signal lift off to her partner.  The male Damselfly would gently lift her to another location.

double wedding for damselflies

Female damselflies normally use a bladelike ovipositor to place eggs inside plant tissue. From previous years I have seen the larva of the damselflies underneath the lily pads.  When you turn the lily pad over you will see lines and markings with the damselfly eggs.

injecting eggs under the lily pad

After about three weeks the young damselfly nymphs emerge and live underwater, insatiably feeding on small aquatic animals like tadpoles, mosquito larvae and just about anything it can get a hold of.

The damselfly and dragonfly nymphs are completely predatory, and not vegetarians at all.

As the female damselfly lays her eggs she is also supplying a healthy meal for our fish.  We have three large goldfish, some say Koi, that will feast on the nymphs all year.  During this mating season I do not have to add any fish food to the pond.

damselfly nymph

Many successive molts take place over a period of eleven months before the final nymphal stage is reached.  The mature dragonfly nymph crawls out of the water onto a rock or plant stem during the night or early morning hours.

The nymphal skin splits dorsally and the winged damselfly adult pulls itself out to become fully expanded.  It will take several days before it reaches top flight capacity.

Damselflies have been used as indicator species for assessing habitat and water quality in a variety of wetlands, natural water in forests, and lakeshore habitats around the world.  Studies indicate they are one of our most beneficial insects.

Do Damselflies sting?  No damselflies are not capable of stinging and are harmless to man.


Damselflies are smaller than Dragonflies-damselfly nymphs are the best fish food for our small Arizona pond

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.

Blue slender Damselfly image

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.

light purple and blue damselfly

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.

chunky dragonfly picture

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.

damselflies compete

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.

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.

damselfly nymph in our pond

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.

molting skins of nymphs in our pond

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.

damselfly life cycle

(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.