Damsel fly or dragonfly?

It is easiest to tell the difference between the two when they are at rest; then a damselfly’s wings are folded along its body while a dragonfly’s wings are outspread, held at right angles to its body.

So when the common blue damsel fly in Ian Bushell’s header picture finally stops fluttering away from the camera and settles to rest, it will fold its wings back against its abdomen.

Dragonflies and damselflies are both in the order Odonata, very closely related, and at first glance seem to be confusingly similar, but there are differences. Dragonflies, for instance, have much larger eyes than damselflies; a dragonfly has wrap-around-eyes that almost meet in the middle on the top of its head. The eyes of a damselfly are placed on the side of its head; they are large but there is always space between them.

A dragonfly on the left, with yellow wrap-around eyes and outspread wings, and a damselfly on the right with widespread eyes and folded wings.

Dragonflies are also bulkier than damselflies; they have shorter, thicker bodies and look entirely more substantial. Damselflies are slender and fragile looking.

They have different shaped wings. Each has two sets of wings but dragonflies’ hind wings broaden at the base so that they are larger than the front set of wings. Damselflies’ wings are the same size and shape, front and back, and they taper down nearest to the body. Damselfly flight is weak and fluttering while dragonflies’ flight patterns are reflected in their common names: chasers, darters, hawkers.

Odonata in 2018

Last year four species of dragonfly and four of damselfly were seen in the park. The dragonflies were: scarce chaser, southern hawker, broad bodied chaser and common darter. The damselflies were: beautiful demoiselle, banded demoiselle, common blue damselfly and large red damselfly.

The numbers this year have been smaller: only one species of dragonfly and two damselflies so far. There is a variety of possible reasons for this including the effects of last year’s drought, the leak of chlorinated and silt-laden mains water into the Lambrok at the end of May, or the continuing wider environmental changes. The Odonata season has really only just begun and there are a couple of months to run yet so we are hoping for more sightings.

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