Dragonfly, line drawing.
- Andrew Howells
- © Australian Museum
Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the Order Odonata.
What do dragonflies and damselflies look like?
- 20 mm - 150 mm in length.
- Widest at wing attachment (wide shoulders), abdomen column-like.
- Appears soft and fragile.
- Short and hair-like.
- Large and bulging.
- Well separated (damselflies) or nearly touching (dragonflies).
- Mouthparts: for chewing or munching; held slightly forward at rest.
- 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.
- Six legs, short with strong bristles.
- Fore- and midlegs held out from body and bent at elbows.
- 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.