Damsels and dragons

No, it’s not a fairy tale of a brave knight fighting off the fire-breathing dragon to save the damsel in distress. Rather, it is a true story about damselflies and dragonflies.

Damselflies and dragonflies are closely related, but quite easy to tell apart. Damselflies are generally more slender than dragonflies and hold their wings closed above the body when at rest. Dragonflies are stout and hold their wings out to the sides when not flying.

Their larvae have differences, too. Damselfly larvae have external gills at the end of their abdomen while dragonflies have internal gills.

The larvae need gills because damselflies and dragonflies spend the first part of their life under water. The adults lay their eggs in water and the developing larvae use their gills to obtain oxygen. The larvae are predators and eat other aquatic invertebrates.

When the larvae is ready to turn into an adult it moves to the edge of the water body and crawls out onto a rock, log or plant. Its skin then splits open and an adult damselfly or dragonfly emerges.

The adults are also predators and eat things like flies and moths. Their big eyes give them 360 degree vision and they catch their prey on the wing.

Adults will return to water to breed. Some lay their eggs in permanent water while others lay in temporary pools. Those in temporary pools usually have a short larval period – around 8 weeks. Those in permanent water can take over 10 years to develop into adults.

When you next see a damselfly or dragonfly think about the life that it may have lived and all of the things that it can do – breathing water then air, able to see everything, catching insects while flying – and marvel in nature.