Monday, August 25, 2008

Damsels Can Be Difficult

As I have previously posted it is fairly easy to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly based either on the placement of the eyes and shape of the head or the way they hold their wings when at rest. To me dragonflies look very similar to one another except for their size, patterns, and colors. Damselflies are a bit different and I think perhaps this confuses some casual observers.

You can generally identify a damselfly by the hammer head shaped appearance produced by its widely separated eyes. A dragonfly's eyes are close together or touching and give the head a round appearance.

Damselflies typically have long, tubular bodies compared to dragonflies and most other insects. Plus, both the front and back wings of a particular damselfly are normally of the same size and shape unlike dragonflies. Typically they fold their wings together when perched. That's where part of the problem comes in. Not all damselflies follow the exact same pattern.

Most damselflies have long, thin wings that they fold together and hold more or less parallel to the body like the one above. Some damsels have larger, more paddle-shaped wings. These wings are generally folded together, but due to their size and shape the major portion of the wing extends away from the body.
Some wings are so large they actually stand straight up similar to a butterfly with its wings closed. In these species the wings are often very dark and can even appear black. And, at times some of those species might actually open and close their wings while at rest much like the butterfly.

To further complicate matters there is a group of damselflies called 'spreadwings'. Their wings may not be the same size with the rear wings sometimes being much smaller than the front wings. And they are held extended, not folded together. Often they will be at an angle to the body somewhat like a swept-wing fighter with two sets of wings .

Spreadwings are not a large segment of the damselflies. I believe there are 10 or fewer species recorded in our state and some are extremely hard to identify. I believe this is possibly either a Southern Spreadwing or a Carolina Spreadwing.
Now, if you add to all of this that some of the damselflies are extremely small you can see why identifying them by species can be difficult for the observer.

Nevertheless, they are extremely interesting to watch. They are quite different from dragonflies in their flight characteristics. Most do not zoom along like the dragons, but are more like butterflies flitting from one perch to another. Some of the smaller, lighter colored damselflies appear to float through the air like tiny ghosts of insects, rising and falling on the smallest breeze.


  1. wonderful damsel post, Baker! I loved reading the info and your inner poet came out at the end!
    Damsels have def been a challenge for me to capture and they are hard to see but so neat to watch and I have found that they allow you to get right on top of them!
    again - excellent post!

  2. Thank you for the info especially on the spreadwings as I think I might have one mislabeled. Here in NYS, they are wrapping up a three year program to identify dragon and damselflies as we don't know all that are here...Great Post Baker!!

  3. Wonderful article and photo's Baker!

  4. portals - Thanks - Yes, it is sometimes easy to approach them, especially the smaller ones, but trying to focus on them up close can be a pain, lol

    Michelle - I see that there are several states that have on going programs to document their dragons and damsels. I read a quote somewhere that on the average an entirely new dragon/damsel is discovered in the USA every year. There has been an obvious shift toward more attention being paid to the odonates over the past few years.

    Avril - Thanks. It's always a pleasure to have you drop by.

  5. I love that post Baker...there was so much in there that I did not are helping me in so many ways with the dragons and damsels in my garden....thank you....lovely photographs again....

    Also I must say thank you so much for your comment yesterday.......leaving written words for my family is something I had not thought are a very special person.....thank you for helping me see things from another angle, I am very grateful to you.....

  6. It is always a pleasure to have you visit, cheryl. I'm glad you liked the info and the photo's. I think some people may be confused by damselflies as they come in such different sizes and wing patterns. And perhaps the biggest problem is that some are so incredibly small and dainty.

    Thanks so much for the kind words.


  7. wow! those are very beautiful shots! we used to chase those damsels when we were kids:) it was really fun when you can hold one as they are very quick...
    Thanks for dropping by my blog and for recommending such a good read:) hope you have a great week! Take care!

  8. Hey there shawie - thanks for dropping by - come back and visit anytime - And YW about the book recommendation - I hope you like it



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