Western Red Damselfly
Most people recognize damselflies (suborder Zygoptera) as the physically smaller insect group of the Odonata order.
Smaller size is not the only thing differentiating damselflies and dragonflies. A close inspection of damselfly wings reveals similar forewings and hind wings. Dragonflies, on the other hand have wider hindwings, along with the ability to fold them while resting.
Round numbers represent a useful way to organize 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)
Narrow-winged damselflies account for the bulk of both the world's and the native damselfly population. Scientists estimate that approximately 1,000 of the world's 2,500 damselfly species belong to the family Coenagrionidae.
In the United States, Coenagrionidae account for approximately 100 of the 125 identified species.
Sometimes called pond damselflies, they are typically found near ponds and other slow moving water bodies. As a group they tend to be weak flyers.
Most domestic species belong to one of three genera, American Bluets (Enallagma), Forktails (Ischnura) and Dancers (Argia).
Black and blue colored body patterns abound in species from all three genera, as shown in the top picture. While a few major between physical differences exist to aid with genus identification, within genus physical differences can be so slight as to make visual identification close to impossible without the aid of a magnifying glass.
Within genus identification is further compounded by the fact that many female species can have anywhere from two to four different forms, depending on age and location. A comparison of the Tule Bluet and Northern Bluet exemplifies the within genus identification problem.
Like dragonflies, damselflies do not bite. Because their diet consists of insects, primarily mosquitoes, they are considered beneficial insects.
The video provides some close-up views of damselflies. The links in the box point to a representative sample (approximately twenty percent) of native damselfly species from all three families. Most of the species differ enough to provide a decent beginner's identification guide.
© 2009-2011 Patricia A. Michaels