Last Updated: 6/22/20
Dragonflies and Damselflies and Telling Them Apart
My Dragonfly Photos
Photos of Other People's Dragonflies
Dragonflies and Damselflies:
Odonata is the order containing the very visible dragonflies and damselflies which frequent ponds. About 307-550 species of dragonflies and damselflies live in North America depending on which source you believe.
Telling Adults Apart:
Damselflies differ from dragonflies in that they are smaller and very slender. Also, when resting, dragonflies keep their wings open and damselflies keep theirs along their backs. Adults, aside from females laying eggs, pose no threat and bring the pond area alive.
Telling Nymphs (Larvae) Apart:
Damselfly nymphs are more slender than dragonflies and have three gills on their rear, unlike dragonfly nymphs. Both dragonfly and damselfly nymphs are often covered in a growth of algae for camouflage. Dragonfly larvae are short and fat while damselfly larvae are smaller and skinny (long). Often, ponders only realize that they had nymphs in their pond when they discover the cast off outer skins that nymphs leave behind when they leave the water as adults.
A link on telling dragonflies from damselflies can be found at this Defender's of Wildlife site.
Adult Behavior and Breeding:
Adult dragonflies and damselflies fly around and hang out around ponds. A male and female often fly around and sit together end to end while attached during mating. Females lay eggs in the stems of water plants (they cut holes in the stems) throughout summer.
Here is a photo of an empty exoskeleton of a dragonfly after it has left. They crawl out of the water at that time. Judi sent this photo on 7/4/06 for identification.
Because they eat lots of mosquitoes as adults, dragonflies are also called Mosquito Hawks. Dragonflies are large insects, growing 2 to 3 inches with 2 to 4 inch wingspans. The 1 to 2.5 inch dragonfly nymphs are camouflaged and look like adults except they are brown, have massive jaws, lack wings, and usually are less slender in the rear.
After hatching, the nymphs stay in the water for three months to five years, depending on the species. While there, they eat whatever they can catch and are thus known to some as menaces to ponds (whereas adults are a blessing, eating mosquitoes). Nymphs whole heartedly consume insects, worms, mollusks, fry, small fish, tadpoles, frogs, and more. Hiding in mud, among rocks, and other places; they wait for prey to come near and then pounce. Ponds with lots of nymphs rarely have fry that survive to adulthood. I saw one two-inch nymph with a three-inch frog clasped in its fierce jaws. I freed the frog who otherwise (and may still have) would have been eaten. If you wish to control these predators, you have to hand pick them out of the water. Also, large fish will eat nymphs (but large fish may eat small fish too). Adults eat most flying insects including mosquitoes.
The green darner (Anax junius, 3 inches long) is the most common species of dragonfly with belted skimmers (Macromia) also being common. When a green darner shows up at my pond, it really stands out because it is one of the biggest and fastest dragonflies. It is somewhat scary! The widow (Libellula luctuosa, 2 inches) is easy to identify by its wings being half black and half clear (on the end). The twelve-spot skimmer (Libellula pulchella, 2 inches) is also black and white but with black and white alternating to give three white spots (two on the front wings) and three black spots. These dragonfly species are all visitors to my ponds but by far, most dragonflies I see are swift long- winged skimmers, also called blue dashers (Pachydiplax longipennis, 1.5 inches). They are smaller and have short, wide, blue bodies.
There is a really good book on dragonflies and photos for identifying them: Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America by Sidney W. Dunkle, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Photos are listed from oldest to newest.
Blue Dasher sitting by my big pond on 7/18/00, Pachydiplax longipennis.
Dragonfly - it had just left the water with its wings still folded around it. Its former larval exoskeleton is at the bottom of the photo by my 1800 gallon pond waterfall on 9/8/01.
Here is a photo of a female common whitetail or Libellula lydia which is similar to the female 12-spotted skimmer, Libellula pulchella, except the whitetail has diagonal white dashes on her abdomen. This female was sunning by my 1800 gallon pond on 7/7/02.
On 5/29/04, I found three dead dragonflies and photographed them:
All three dragonflies - the order of them left to right is below in the close-ups
Male twelve-spotted skimmer - Libellula pulchella; he was sucked dry, probably by a spider (the other two were intact); he has white spots on his wings but they do not show up to well in this photo
Male blue dasher - Pachydiplax longipennis, with a live cicada; the dasher was blue but the photo makes him seem almost black
Female twelve-spotted skimmer - Libellula pulchella, with a live cicada; she has no white spots but the photo makes it look like she might
Dragonfly - this dragonfly had just
come out of its empty exoskeleton which is also in the photo. I think it is some sort of darner
am not sure because it is kind of plain. This was taken 8/31/06.
Dragonfly - similar to the last photo, 8/31/06.
Dragonfly - similar to the last photo, 8/31/06.
On 4/1/08, I cleaned out my 153 gallon pond and found
dragonfly larvae. Here is a photo of the largest one.
Dragonfly nymph waiting in one of the kiddie pools.
Dragonfly nymph found during the 153 gallon cleaning on 4/1/09.
Twelve-spotted skimmer - Libellula pulchella on 5/16/10, sitting on the sandstone bridge across my 153 gallon pond, probably female.
Male common whitetail dragonfly
6/26/11 on my pond stone.
Male common whitetail dragonfly - close-up of the previous photo.
Dragonfly nymphs - sent to me by Leej in May of 2003 for identification.
On 5/21/10, Betsy in North Carolina sent this photo.
Tadpole and dragonfly larvae
Arey in New Jersey took these great dragonfly photos and posted them on my forum on
Male Eastern Pondhawk
Female Eastern Pondhawk
Val sent this photo of a dragonfly nymph on 8/29/10:
Adults are 1 to 2 inches long and very slender. You almost cannot tell they are there. Common bluets are a common species of damselfly. The short-stalked damselfly, Argia species, grows to 1.5 inches. Damselflies are also called dancers because they do not sit still for long.
Damselfly nymphs are slender and have three gills on their rear. They are only about 0.8 inches long. They eat the same foods as dragonfly nymphs but smaller in size. They are less likely to go for fish and frogs, sticking instead to small insects and crustaceans. Adults eat small insects.
There is a site with drawings of larval and adult damselflies at this water bug site.
Here is a photo of one of the damselflies that visited by my 153 gallon pond on 7/7/02. The photo is too fuzzy to identify the species.
Here is a damselfly that I found in the basement next to my 20 gallon indoor tub pond on 1/1/05.
These photos are from 5/4/11 when I removed the woodfrog tadpoles from the 50 gallon
basement pond and found a damselfly larvae. I thought it was a mayfly larvae but Robert corrected me on
11/7/14. The caudal gills had fallen off the larvae.
Damselfly larvae, another view.
I took this photo when I was doing chores on 7/24/11. I had the camera out for some other
by chance. Here is a newly-emerged damselfly adult next to its exoskeleton. The damsefly was
still white and soft and would stiffen up and change color soon after.
I got photos of a rare damselfly that had been hanging around our driveway on 7/20/13.
He was a male Ebony Jewelwing, Calopteryx maculala.
I saw another male Ebony Jewelwing on my path on 6/21/20.
Dragonfly page based in Texas which shows real photos of the species present in that area.
Site with drawings of larval and adult dragonflies at this water bug site.
A Guide to the Adult Damselflies & Dragonflies of the Ottawa District - provides some interesting dragonfly information. This is an archived version as the site no longer exists.
British Dragonfly Society - information including an article on digging a pond for dragonflies.
The Odonata Information Network - more information on dragonflies and damselflies.
California Dragonflies & Damselflies - information on those in CA.
The North American Dragonfly Migrator Project - this is an archived page as the site no longer exists.
Texas Odonata Central
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