Types of Dragonflies

Dragonflies and damselflies, insects in the scientific order Odonata, inhabit water areas throughout the United States. In fact, the presence of Odonata species in an area provides an indicator of water quality.

Size differentiates damselflies and dragonflies, with dragonflies (suborder Anisoptera), the larger group of the two. Healthy populations mean healthy water.

Dragonfly identification, while not as popular as butterfly identification, continues to draw a crowd of enthusiasts. Odonata identification starts by noting that in addition to size, wing position also helps differentiate dragonflies and damselflies. Usually dragonflies rest with their flat, like an airplane. Most damselflies at rest keep their wings closed against their body or a bit above the body. Spreadwing Damselflies represent the exception to the general wing position rule. The video clip, for example, shows a spreadwing damselfly in its usual perching position, with the wings open.

North American dragonfly identification history extends back to the nineteenth century, the time when most species were documented.

Nonetheless, new dragonfly species continue to be recorded, and a changing climate means that some southern species will continue to migrate north to the United States.

Given the potential change in numbers, recent research, documents three hundred and forty two (342) different North American dragonfly species. They fit into seven different families, each containing a variety of genera and species.

Over one-third of native dragonfly species, approximately one hundred and ten (110) belong to the family Libellulidae, or skimmers, the ever present dragonflies at local ponds.

Round numbers represent a useful way to organize one's thinking about groups of insects, and world wide, approximately 2,500 damselfly species have been identified, fitting into twenty different genera.

With the exception of a couple of species in the Protoneuridae family called threadtails, all of the damselflies in the United States fit into one of three different families, based primarily on wing patterns.

  • Broad-winged Damselflies (Calopterygidae)
  • Narrow-winged Damselflies (Coenagrionidae)
  • Spreadwing Damselflies (Lestidae)

The slide show presents pictures and information covering all seven dragonfly families and the three common damselfly families that provides an identification starting point.

© 2006-2014 Patricia A. Michaels.

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