Bug of the Week

Damselflies (Suborder Zygoptera)


Hi, again, BugFans,

A stunning Ebony-winged damselfly.
A stunning Ebony-winged damselfly.

Like dragonflies, damselflies are in the order Odonata. Despite the fact that the immature insect looks very different than the adult, like dragonflies they practice simple/incomplete metamorphosis, growing through egg – naiad – adult stages. Like dragonflies, their nurseries are aquatic, often in the quiet waters of the pond’s edge.

A female American rubyspot.
(Probably) a Slender Spreadwing; the Lestes tend to perch with their bodies at an angle and their wings are only partially folded at rest.
A female American rubyspot. (Probably) a Slender Spreadwing; the Lestes tend to perch with their bodies at an angle and their wings are only partially folded at rest.

Damselflies tend to be smaller and slimmer than dragonflies, their eyes bulge out to each side, making them look “bug-eyed,” and they can fold their wings over their bodies when they land. Dragonflies’ wings stay outstretched at rest, and they have “wrap-around” compound eyes that face forward. The immatures/naiads/nymphs are carnivores and will eat anything they can stuff into their mouths (and they prey on mosquito larvae, which develop along side them in the water). Adults fly around and snag small insects out of the air and eat them. The combs along the sides of their legs help them hold onto their prey.

The bug-eyed aquatic damselfly nymph does show a surprising resemblance to the bug-eyed future adult, confirming that pesky Simple metamorphosis.
The bug-eyed aquatic damselfly nymph does show a surprising resemblance to the bug-eyed future adult, confirming that pesky Simple metamorphosis.

Eggs are laid in or on the water. The nymph may spend a few months to over-the-winter under water. Although they can locomote by undulating, the nymphs are not considered swimmers, but are sprawlers - walking around on plant stems and on the pond bottom, looking for prey. The three, leaf-like appendages on 3 their tails are gills. They emerge as adults by crawling up a plant stem, crawling out of their skin, and pumping up their wings. They never go in the water again, and they are sometimes found quite a distance from water. They are harmless to humans and are beneficial because of what they eat. Once, as the BugLady was about to photograph it, a damselfly, flew off of its perch, flew around the back of her neck, and landed again with a mosquito.

Bluets are a large and common group of often-confusing damselflies.
A pair of damselflies preparing to exchange bodily fluids.
Bluets are a large and common group of often-confusing damselflies.
A pair of damselflies preparing to “exchange bodily fluids.”

Both the spectacular black and emerald Ebony Jewelwing and the American Rubyspot damselflies grace the edges of streams and rivers, the Jewelwing in early summer and the rubyspot in mid-to-late summer. The male Jewelwing has black wings and an emerald abdomen; the female is, overall, less colorful and has sooty wings. The male Rubyspot has a classy red spot on its wings near the thorax. Both are in the Broad-winged damselfly group.

The BugLady