Image: Dragonfly

Dragonfly

Dragonfly, line drawing.

Creator:
Andrew Howells
Rights:
© Australian Museum

Notes

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Order Odonata.

What do dragonflies and damselflies look like?

Size:
  • 20 mm - 150 mm in length.
Body:
  • Widest at wing attachment (wide shoulders), abdomen column-like.
  • Appears soft and fragile.
Antennae:
  • Short and hair-like.
Eyes:
  • Large and bulging.
  • Well separated (damselflies) or nearly touching (dragonflies).
  • Mouthparts: for chewing or munching; held slightly forward at rest.
Wings:
  • Two pairs.
  • Both pairs are membranous, clear and similar in length. In dragonflies the hindwing is generally wider.
  • Both pairs have numerous cross-veins forming many cells.At rest dragonflies hold their wings outstretched with all four wings visible. In contrast, damselflies hold their wings upright, above their body and usually pressed flat together.
Limbs:
  • Six legs, short with strong bristles.
  • Fore- and midlegs held out from body and bent at elbows.
Abdomen tip:
  • Two short cerci (tails).
  • Sometimes modified as claspers in males which are used to hold onto the female during mating.

Where are dragonflies and damselflies found?

  • Males often found near water perched on vegetation, rocks or in the air.
  • Females may be found away from water.

What do dragonflies and damselflies do?

  • They are solitary, though it is not uncommon to see large numbers perched on structures like fences.
  • When disturbed they fly away.
  • Dragonflies are extremely strong fliers; capable of high speeds and flight in all directions. Damselflies are not so active.
  • Some are perchers that tend to make short flights and return to a preferred perch, others are fliers that tend to spend the majority of their active periods on the wing.
  • Males tend to be territorial.
  • They are all predators that prey primarily on flying insects, taken from the air or as they land on vegetation.
  • They are mostly active during the day, though some are primarily active around twilight and few are active at night.

What looks similar?

  • Alderflies and dobsonflies can be distinguished by wings with fewer cells, which they hold tent-like over their body. They also have well-developed antennae and their abdomen is very soft. Alderflies or dobsonflies also tend to be weak fliers and active during the night.
  • Lacewings can be distinguished by the forked veins along their wing margin. Lacewings also hold their wings tent-like over their body. Lacewings also have well-developed antennae and tend to be weak fliers.

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Tags dragonflies, insects, invertebrates, identification, Bugwise,