Happy Friday, Insect Aficionados!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. This week we thought we would introduce you to two types of insects that are beneficial to us, but are commonly confused with each other. Today we’re going to discuss Dragonflies and Damselflies. First of all, neither of them are actually flies! They both belong to the insect order Odonata. Both Dragonflies and Damselflies are common and widespread, with distribution in all countries in the world. In general, they have wingspans in the 1 to 5 inch range. In the prehistoric past however, the fossil record confirms that there were Dragonfly relatives with wingspans of TWO FEET!!! That’s bigger than most model airplanes! We’ve included a number of photos today. All are species that you can see in Northern Illinois, sometimes even in your own backyard.
Dragonflies and Damselflies are close relatives, sharing their airplane like shapes and their bright metallic iridescent colors. But there are a few differences that will help you to immediately tell them apart. The easiest distinguishing characteristic is the resting position. Dragonflies rest with their wings horizontal, and Damselflies rest with their wings vertical. See, you’re already an expert!!! A closer examination shows another easily identifiable trait. The eyes of a Damselfly sort of bulge out from its head. The eyes of a Dragonfly wrap around its entire head. The eyes of both groups are extremely important for their survival. That’s because Dragonflies and Damselflies are hunters. They both eat small flying insects, primarily Mosquitoes, which is why they are beneficial to humans.
Dragonflies are by far the more agile flyers. They are capable of hovering, flying backwards, and abruptly changing directions. Dragonflies have very powerful wing muscles, which can propel them forward in short bursts at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour!!! Dragonflies also have 6 legs with spiked hairs that intertwine to create a small “net”. They essentially “scoop” a mosquito out of the air trapping it between their legs, and eat it “in flight”. Their wrap-around “compound eyes” are actually made up of thousands of individual eyes that somehow allow the Dragonfly to detect the movements of their tiny prey from a distance, and catch them. The Dragonfly’s great speed and agility coupled with its 360-degree eyesight, allows it to catch and eat its own weight in mosquitoes every day. Damselflies are much slower flyers. Some species actually beat their forewings in opposite directions from their hind wings. But they still manage to catch and eat tiny flying insects.
Both Dragonflies and Damselflies depend on water, mostly small ponds and slow moving streams. That’s because they lay their eggs in the water. The young larvae also eat insects, mostly mosquito larvae. So the mosquitoes they don’t eat as juveniles, they eat as adults. That’s very convenient since the mosquitoes they eat also spend their early life as aquatic larvae. Both Dragonflies and Damselflies have long segmented bodies which they can curl up when necessary. Because of this ability, they have developed a unique mating position. They connect at the forward end of the abdomen instead of the tail end. The males will hold on to the females with their legs, curl their tails forward, and fly in tandem, like the space shuttle attached to the airplane!!! It’s very interesting to watch them fly while connected because they are equally agile when flying together. Both Dragonflies and Damselflies are easy to photograph when they have landed. They will remain motionless on their favorite perch, sunning themselves, patiently waiting for their next meal to fly by. Next time you’re outdoors, especially near a pond, look for some of these amazing insects, and try to tell them apart. You can also have some lazy summer fun counting how many species you see. You’ll be surprised, because there are always at least 10.
Dragonflies have always been a popular subject for jewelry designers, many of our jewelry manufacturers make beautiful Dragonfly pins and pendants in gold or silver. And if you’d prefer the “real thing”, we always have several framed Dragonflies and Damselflies in our Wonders Of Nature department. Right now we have some beautiful species with bright iridescent wings. Stop in and see us next time you’re in our neighborhood. See you on the trail!
And don’t forget to visit the Friday Flyers archive on our website. You can now refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos, in a stable and permanent format. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out at:
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.