Dragonflies and Damselflies

From Ohio History Central

Many people, at one time or another, have watched and admired the beauty of the dragon and damselflies. Dashing and darting in search of prey, they provide an awesome display of speed, the ability to hover and overall amazing aerial acrobatics.

Worldwide there are more than 5,000 species of Odonata, with 450 species in North America, and 162 recorded from Ohio. Dragonflies and damselflies come in a rainbow of colors including blues, greens, yellows and reds, various metallic colors, and with some stripes or spots thrown in for good measure.

So how can you tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? Damselflies are more slender and delicate than dragonflies and, when sitting still, fold their four wings together over their abdomen. Dragonflies, on the other hand, are strong flyers who rarely sit for long but when they do, hold their wings straight out, like an airplane. Both have large compound eyes that take up most of the head.

One of the smallest dragonflies in Ohio is the elfin skimmer which is less than an inch long. The largest rarely exceed five inches. This was not always the case. Fossilized remains of dragonflies, dating back 250 million years, show wingspans of twenty-seven inches.

The adult dragon and damsel flies are true carnivores, eating huge amounts of insects, especially mosquitoes and gnats. They catch their food while flying, scooping the prey out of the air in a “basket” that they form with their legs and thorax. They either eat while they are flying or will sit on a stem and chew.

In the summer females of many species will lay their eggs in the water. The larvae that hatch will feed underwater on water fleas, mosquito larvae, worms, tadpoles, and very small fish. While underwater, the larvae will molt, or shed their skin, ten to fifteen times, getting larger every time. The final molt occurs out of the water on a rock or plant stem, usually at night. At this time, the nymph's exoskeleton opens up and the adult emerges. After about an hour, the wings unfold and the dragon or damsel fly is ready to make its first flight.

Some species fly for only a few weeks, but some fly throughout the summer or for several months.

Ohio has a wide variety of dragonflies and damselflies - some, like the common green darner are widespread and easily seen, while others, like the seepage dancer are found only in one spot in the state. The Ohio Odonata Society has been<a id="_Hlt459079997" name="_Hlt459079997"> </a> very successful in tracking, recording and protecting these delicate insects.

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