You may find yourself saying, ¨Damselfly? What the heck is a damselfly? ¨ Well, that´s what I thought, too! But, one morning several years ago, they captivated me or should I say captured me while walking through a shaded area at WillowDale that was overflowing with hydrangeas and ferns. Suddenly, many dark blue, iridescent flying insects flew from the plants and surrounded me like little dancing fairies. Maybe, that´s why some of their common names are Bog Dancers, along with Damsels, Devil´s Darning Needles or Narrow Wings. Anyway, this was early spring and the ritual continued throughout the spring and early summer. I just had to find out more about these creatures!
Many people who see a damselfly think it is just a little dragonfly but this is not true. The two are related both belonging to the order Odonata, meaning ¨toothed-ones¨, referring to the chewing mandibles. The order Odonata is comprised of two suborders the Zygoptera or damsels and the Anisoptera or dragonfly. In this order there are 5000+ different species found around the world except for Antarctica with roughly one third of them being damselflies. These cute little critters have been around for about 300 million years long before the dinosaurs making them two of the oldest insect groups. Of course, just like everything else during prehistoric times, they were much bigger! In fact fossils have been found with wing spans of 30 inches or more…as big as hawks are today!
Damselflies are delicate, weak flying insects compared to the dragonfly. The adult damsel has a long slender body with vivid colorful shades of green, red, yellow, black, brown or blue. In our area most are black with bright blue highlights that seem to sparkle at the light of day or fade in cooler temperatures. Males are brighter-colored than females and both have broad, oblong heads with large, widely separated bulging eyes and very short antennae. When resting, the damselflies hold its two pairs of membranous wings vertically rather than horizontally like the dragonflies. The adults are fabulous hunters and use their hairy covered legs to capture prey as they fly past. Once caught, they will hold the prey in their legs and devour it by chewing…they can eat close to a hundred mosquitoes a day. And by the way, their legs are not made for walking only for grasping prey!
Adults are usually seen during the daytime and live and breed near freshwater habitats. The female will land near-by and the male hovers in front of her while displaying his brightly colored wings to impress her. But like humans if she is not interested she simply flies away! But if he captures her fancy, they fly off in tandem during mating in a pattern that is quite unusual that looks like a wheel or heart. Then the female actually goes under water up to 30 minutes to lay her eggs. She crawls down the stem of some submerged vegetation and will cut small holes in the plant stem to deposit her eggs. All the while, the male remains above to protect and help her fly from the water after she surfaces.
There are three stages in the damselfly life cycle: eggs, nymphs and adults. After about 2 to 5 weeks the eggs become nymphs and live and feed underwater for 2 months up to three years. They then surface where their exoskeleton cracks and their abdomen expands, wings harden and they fly off as adults. Unfortunately, in this stage they only live a few weeks up to about two months. During the adult stage you will see them on leaves waiting for a yummy insect to catch eating flies, mosquitoes and other small insects.
They only feed by day and hide by night to protect themselves from night feeders such bats, frogs, lizards, etc. and to rest. Apparently, my shaded ramp of hydrangeas is a cool and protected area that invites adult damselflies each year to this location. But whatever it is you should know that these beautiful, beneficial insects are harmless and do not sting or bite. And, now as fall quickly approaches and I see less of these bog dancers, I know that spring will return and so will my little blue, dancing fairies!♦