Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

March 5, 2015
The physical and behavioral differences between damselflies and dragonflies

Both belonging to the order of Odonata, damselflies and dragonflies possess many similarities, including appearance, choices of habitat and some behaviors. Although, despite what they have in common, they are of two separate subfamilies that are often mistaken for the same species.

Damselflies and dragonflies are both fascinating and very likable insects, for neither of them sting or bite, but also they do not feed on vegetation, making them safe and visibly pleasant for humans. In fact, both these insects help keep mosquitoes from overpopulating by devouring the adults and larvae.

Damselflies are noticeably different by their slender and weaker figures, for they are not bulky like dragonflies. Damselflies also fold their wings together like a butterfly when they perch. Dragonflies, on the other hand, keep their wings exposed and outwardly spread. The eyes are also a helpful way to separate the two, as dragonflies possess much larger eyes that cover more than half their heads.

As for their life cycle, nymph damselflies are aquatic. As they progress through their metamorphic stages, they feed on small fish, tadpoles and small aquatic insects. Depending on the species, they may molt (shed skin) five to 15 times before they fully mature into adults. As adults, damselflies will hunt for aphids, flies, mosquitoes, fish and sometimes other small aquatic creatures. They pursue prey either with their lower jaw, known as a labium, which swiftly shoots out and grasps their victim, or by grabbing flying insects by using their hind legs.

For hunting and mating purposes, damselflies live near lakes, rivers, ponds and other water-inhabited areas. During the time they’re seeking mates, male damselflies will scour the shore for females in their territory while chasing off other males. Once a mate is spotted, he then grasps the female’s thorax with his claspers, known as cerci, and if she accepts him he will transfer his sperm to her as they form a wheel-like position. Sometimes the male will remain attached to the female while she lays eggs, making sure that no other males are able to mate with her.

Dragonflies, like damselflies, inhabit similar watery areas for their aquatic larvae and breeding sites. Dragonfly larvae feed on much of the same things as damselfly larvae do, and both experience a metamorphic development process, though the length of time and number of molts depend on the species.

Being more aggressive and sturdier than damselflies, dragonflies as adults pursue larger and more challenging insects. In midair, dragonflies are capable of catching bees, ants, wasps, mosquitoes, flies and sometimes even butterflies. They are capable of this due to their speed, which varies from 25 to 36 mph, and their flying capabilities, which include hovering, flying forward, backwards, downward and sideways. When hunting, dragonflies will clutch their prey using their legs, which are strong and useful for hunting but are useless and disabled for walking.

Dragonflies are also good hunters and able to avoid predators because of their keen eyesight, which is extremely sensitive to movement. With their large compound eyes, they are almost capable of seeing 360 degrees around them. Their eyes also contain up to 30,000 facets per eye, and unlike humans that can see up to 50 images per second, dragonflies are capable of seeing up to 300 images per second. Dragonflies can also see colors, such as ultraviolet light, that the human eye cannot see.


Taylor Lindsay is a writer and photographer of wildlife creatures big and small. She can be reached at

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