Damselfly Life Cycle: Discover the Intriguing Stages of These Insects

The fascinating world of damselflies offers a captivating insight into their life cycle. These delicate creatures begin their lives as larvae or nymphs, living in the water and developing until they reach adulthood. Damselfly larvae are generally slender, with six thin legs, large eyes, and small wing buds on their thorax.

Throughout their development, damselfly nymphs undergo a series of molts before emerging into aerial-adapted adults. These winged wonders can then be seen gracefully patrolling territories, mating, and creating the next generation of damselflies. Mating pairs often exhibit fascinating displays, engaging in tandem flights to secure their continuation.

In their adult form, damselflies not only bring beauty to our world but they also play a vital role as predators in aquatic ecosystems, helping to maintain a healthy balance. Their captivating life cycle, from larvae to aerial masters, serves as a rich subject for the exploration of nature’s intricacies and wonders.

Overview of Damselfly Life Cycle

Damselflies vs Dragonflies

Damselflies and dragonflies both belong to the order Odonata, but they have a few differences that set them apart. Let’s take a look at some of their distinguishing features:

  • Wings: Damselflies have slender wings, while dragonflies have broader wings.
  • Eyes: Damselflies possess large, separated eyes, unlike dragonflies, which have prominent, touching eyes.
  • Resting posture: When at rest, damselflies hold their wings together above their bodies, while dragonflies hold their wings out to the sides.

Suborder Zygoptera

Damselflies belong to the suborder Zygoptera within the order Odonata. The life cycle of damselflies is hemimetabolous, which means they undergo incomplete metamorphosis. This life cycle consists of three main stages:

  1. Egg: Adult damselflies lay eggs in or near water, often in aquatic plants.
  2. Nymph: The eggs hatch into aquatic nymphs (also known as larvae), which are equipped with gills for underwater respiration. Damselfly nymphs are slender, with 6 thin legs and large eyes. They usually have a drab coloration to blend in with their surroundings. Some damselfly species can spend up to 5 years underwater before becoming adults.
  3. Adult: Once fully developed, the nymph emerges from the water and completes its metamorphosis into an adult damselfly. Adults have short lives, typically lasting only a few weeks. They are known for their territorial behavior, with males often patrolling and driving away rival males while trying to mate with females. Mating pairs usually fly in tandem.

In conclusion, the life cycle of damselflies is a fascinating process characterized by different stages. Their unique features and behaviors make them an interesting subject for those studying the natural world.

Life Cycle Stages

Egg Laying and Incubation

  • Female damselflies lay their eggs in or near aquatic environments, such as plants or water bodies.
  • The incubation period varies among species, typically lasting a few days to several weeks.

Larval and Nymph Development

  • Damselfly larvae, also known as nymphs, are aquatic and have an elongated, slender body.
  • Nymphs develop through a series of instars, shedding their exoskeleton as they grow.
  • The time taken for nymphs to develop depends on factors like species, temperature, and food availability.
  • Nymphs are predatory, feeding on other aquatic invertebrates and even small fish.
  • Some nymph adaptations include the ability to breathe underwater using gills and an extendable lower jaw for catching prey.

Metamorphosis and Emergence

  • Damselflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis; the transition from nymph to adult is called emergence.
  • Nymphs leave the water and climb onto a suitable surface, such as a plant stem, where they shed their last exoskeleton.
  • The newly emerged adult, known as a teneral, pumps fluids into its wings and abdomen before hardening its exoskeleton.
  • The process of emergence is a vulnerable period; tenerals face threats, such as predation, during this time.

Adult Stage

  • Damselfly adults typically live a few weeks to several months, with lifespans affected by factors like climate and predation.
  • Adults are generally found near water, having a unique wing pattern and structure compared to their dragonfly counterparts.
  • They are essential for controlling mosquito populations due to their predatory nature.

Comparison table: Damselfly nymphs vs adults

Characteristic Nymph Adult
Habitat Aquatic environment Terrestrial & aquatic
Food Aquatic invertebrates Smaller insects
Respiration Gills Spiracles & tracheae
Size Smaller than adults Larger than nymphs
Wing structure Absent Two pairs, held closed

Pros of damselfly life cycle:

  • Effective at controlling mosquito populations
  • Indicate a healthy aquatic ecosystem
  • Attractive insects with vibrant colors and patterns

Cons of damselfly life cycle:

  • Vulnerable to environmental changes, such as pollution and habitat destruction
  • Nymphs may become prey for fish, affecting their population

Habitats and Distribution

Freshwater Environments

Damselflies are commonly found near various freshwater environments. They thrive in proximity to habitats like ponds, streams, and lakes. These insects depend on aquatic plants for their early life stages.

  • Examples: Ponds, streams, lakes

Submerged plants provide suitable places for damselflies to lay their eggs. These aquatic plants also act as a food source and shelter for the damselfly nymphs.

  • Features: Aquatic plants, food, shelter

Damselflies also inhabit wetlands where they can find diverse plant life that supports their life cycle.

Terrestrial Habitats

After emerging from their nymph stage, damselflies enter into their terrestrial phase. These adult insects prefer to inhabit areas close to the freshwater environments where they spent their early lives.

  • Characteristics: Close to freshwater environments, adult damselflies

Adult damselflies feed on other small insects, playing a crucial role in the ecosystem by controlling the populations of these insects.

Freshwater Environments Terrestrial Habitats
Ponds, streams, lakes Near aquatic habitats
Aquatic plants Adult damselflies
Nymph stage Predator role

Overall, damselflies are closely linked to freshwater environments throughout their life cycle. They rely on various water sources to provide the necessary conditions for reproduction and survival. With habitats ranging from ponds to wetlands, their distribution across these environments is an essential aspect of their existence.

Anatomy and Adaptations

The damselfly is a fascinating insect with unique anatomy and adaptations that enhance its survival. One key feature is its abdomen, a long and slender part of its body that houses essential organs and reproductive structures. The abdomen also contains the damselfly’s respiratory system, which consists of gills that help in oxygen exchange.

A crucial component of the damselfly’s arsenal is its powerful legs. These six limbs provide stability and facilitate efficient hunting of prey. Equipped with tiny spines, they enable the damselfly to efficiently grasp and hold onto its meal.

Damselflies possess large compound eyes, providing them with a vast field of vision. Their eyes allow them to effectively detect and track their prey. Additionally, they have two pairs of wings that give them exceptional agility in flight. Damselflies are also known for their ability to hover, which asserts their excellent control and coordination in the air.

The predatory nature of damselflies can be attributed to their various anatomical adaptations. Some features include:

  • Slender abdomen that aids in agile movements
  • Gills for effective respiration
  • Six legs for stability and capturing prey
  • Large compound eyes for enhanced vision

Damselflies vary in size, with some species being larger and more robust than others. Their diverse sizes directly impact their hunting capabilities and flight patterns.

Here’s a comparison table focusing on some key differences between damselflies and their close relatives, dragonflies:

Feature Damselfly Dragonfly
Eyes Large compound eyes, spaced apart Large compound eyes, touching or almost touching
Wings Wings held vertically when at rest Wings held horizontally at rest
Flight Slower, more delicate flight Faster, more powerful flight
Abdomen Slender, needle-like Stout, thicker

In conclusion, the damselfly exhibits a range of anatomical features and adaptations that enable it to thrive in its environment and efficiently hunt its prey. Its slender abdomen, gills, legs, compound eyes, and wings all contribute to its success as a predator and its remarkable capabilities in flight.

Ecology and Behavior

Adult damselflies are fascinating insects with a unique life cycle. They go through a process called metamorphosis, transforming from aquatic nymphs to aerial adults. Their habitat usually consists of rivers, streams, and ponds, where they rely on plants both for shelter and breeding grounds1.

Adult damselflies are predators, feeding on small insects like mosquitoes. They’re also prey for larger animals such as birds, frogs, and turtles2. This predator-prey relationship helps maintain balance in the ecosystem.

Mating in damselflies is an intricate display of courtship behaviors. Reproduction typically involves tandem flights, where the male and female join together and fly in unison3. After successful mating, the female deposits her eggs in water or on aquatic plants4.

Here are some key features of damselfly life cycle:

  • Metamorphosis: Transformation from aquatic nymphs to aerial adults
  • Habitat: Rivers, streams, and ponds
  • Diet: Predatory insects, primarily feeding on small insects

And some characteristics of damselflies:

  • Wing pads: Developing adult wings in nymph stage
  • Prey: Vulnerable to birds, frogs, and turtles
  • Mating: Involves tandem flights and complex courtship behaviors

Below is a comparison table of damselflies and their close relatives, dragonflies:

Damselflies Dragonflies
Wings Folded when at rest Held out to sides when at rest
Eyes Separated Touching or almost touching
Body Slender Robust

In conclusion, damselflies are fascinating insects with unique behaviors and an intricate life cycle. Their presence in an ecosystem is important, both as predators and as prey, contributing to overall ecological balance.

Human Impact and Conservation

Human activities, such as pollution, can negatively affect damselfly populations. Pollutants often lead to a decline in water quality, harming their aquatic larval stage. Conservation efforts play a crucial role in maintaining damselfly populations.

Damselflies face several predators, including:

  • Birds
  • Frogs
  • Fish
  • Beetles

Predator and prey relationships are essential for a balanced ecosystem. However, overexploitation of resources can disrupt the balance, putting damselflies at risk.

Damselflies are sometimes confused with mosquitoes, but they are different species. Here, we can see notable differences between damselflies and mosquitoes:

Feature Damselfly Mosquito
Aquatic Larval Stage Yes Yes
Adults are Predatory Yes No (blood-feeding)
Threat to Human Health No Yes
Main Food in Adult Stage Insects Blood (for females)

Damselflies provide essential benefits to ecosystems, contributing to biological controls by preying on mosquitoes and other insects. In turn, they serve as a food source for other wildlife such as birds, fish, and frogs. Science and conservation efforts can help protect damselflies from threats, like habitat destruction and pollution.

Remember to:

  • Keep waterways clean
  • Preserve wetland habitats
  • Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides near water sources

Other Interesting Facts

Damselfly nymphs are crucial predators of mosquitoes, midges, and other small insects source. Their color ranges from drab to vibrant, depending on the species.

These nymphs have an impressive life cycle:

  • They overwinter as larvae.
  • Some species live for 5 years underwater before emerging as adults source.
  • As they grow, they molt several times.

Here are some more interesting facts about damselflies:

  • Damselflies originated in the Permian period, making them some of the oldest known insects.
  • The visual arts often feature damselflies, including Japanese paintings and modern photography.
  • In world history, damselflies have played a role in mythology and folklore as symbols of change and transformation.

One good fact to remember:

  • Damselfly nymphs are important food for fish and other aquatic animals, which rely on them as a vital part of their diets source.

Here’s a brief comparison table of Damselfly Nymphs and Dragonfly Nymphs:

Feature Damselfly Nymphs Dragonfly Nymphs
Gills External and leaf-like Internal and hidden
Position of Gills Tripod configuration at tip of abdomen Within the tip of the abdomen
Lower Jaw Scoop-like and covers most of face Smaller and doesn’t cover face

In science, the study of damselflies contributes to our understanding of ecosystems, development, and insect evolution.

Overall, damselflies are fascinating creatures that have inspired artists, scientists, and historians alike. They play a significant role in ecosystems and are excellent examples of the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

Resources and Further Exploration

If you’re interested in learning more about damselfly life cycles, there are several resources available. Some websites offer image galleries showcasing the stunning beauty of these insects at different life stages. For fascinating tidbits, keep an eye out for damselfly-related #wtfact posts on social media.

Demystified articles can provide more in-depth insight into damselfly biology and the unique aspects of their life cycles. Additionally, infographics can offer visual aids to better understand these intricate processes.

Features of damselflies include:

  • Slender body
  • Wings held parallel to the body when at rest
  • Typically found near water sources

Characteristic differences between damselflies and dragonflies are:

Damselflies Dragonflies
Slender body Robust body
Wings held parallel to the body Wings held perpendicular
Generally weaker fliers Strong fliers

When photographing damselflies, consider the pros and cons of different methods:

Macro photography

  • Pros: Detailed close-up shots
  • Cons: Requires special equipment; may disturb the subject

Telephoto lens

  • Pros: Can capture subjects from a distance; less disturbance
  • Cons: Less detailed images; may be expensive

In summary, there are various resources and approaches for learning about and exploring damselflies. Take advantage of these resources and enjoy the captivating world of these delicate insects.

Footnotes

  1. Organismal Biology – Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

  2. Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior – Department of Biology | University

  3. Adult damselfly Mating – Damselfly Mating Guide

  4. Damselfly Reproduction – Encyclopedia of Life

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Damselfly

 


Dear Bugman,
I am trying to id this insect. I first thought it was a mayfly but now have my doubt. My specialty used to be Coleoptera during my Ecology degree but I am a bit useless on flies. Your help would be greatly appreciated. It was found in England on some reeds next the stream on a hot summers day.
Any ideas?
Mark

Hi Mark,
This is a Damselfly. They are related to Dragonflies.

Letter 2 – Damselfly

 

How does a dragonfly nymph fly?
Hi,
I was pottering around in the backyard, when I noticed a dragonfly nymph flitting about. A long time ago, I read that the dragonfly is one of only two insects (the other is the hawk moth ) that can’t close its wings once they open out. So the natural question is how does the nymph fly without the wings opened out? I’ve uploaded a photo of the dragonfly nymph, or what I think is a dragonfly nymph.
Thanks,
Shastri

Hi Shastri
First I will answer your question. Dragonfly nymphs do not fly. They are immature, wingless and live under the water. Adult Dragonflies cannot fold their wings. Your photo is of a close relative known as a Damselfly. Damselflies can be distinguised from Dragonflies by the fact that they can fold their wings. Thanks for the photo.

Letter 3 – Damselfly

 

desperately seeking damselfly
Sun, Nov 23, 2008 at 8:50 PM
Hello again Bugman. I realize that damselflies are murder but can you help us get close on this one? This is another shot from Sam,11, taken near a pond by our house. Is this some variation of female Eastern Forktail? Hope you have a great Thanksgiving. We give thanks, among other things, that you are here! Jimmy
Sam and Daddy Jim
Pond, wetlands, 35 miles west of Chicago

Probably Eastern Forktail Damselfly, female
Probably Eastern Forktail Damselfly, female

Hi Sam and Daddy Jim,
Male Damselflies are difficult enough for us to distinguish from one another, but the drabber females are really a challenge.  We hope that by posting your image, a reader can comment.  A female Eastern Forktail, Ischnura verticalis, seems like a very good bet based on imagery posted to BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Damselfly

 

Subject: Is this a type of dragonfly?
Location: Putnam County, NY
July 1, 2014 12:43 pm
Hello,
I found this little guy on my porch. I live in upstate NY. Is he a dragonfly? My children and I googled different types of dragonflies but none looked just like him.
Any info will be appreciated!
Signature: CJ

Damselfly
Damselfly

Dear CJ,
You are astute to observe the similarities between this Damselfly and a Dragonfly, as both are in the insect order Odonata.

Thank you so much for identifying it for us!!
Best,
CJ

Letter 5 – Damselfly

 

Subject: dragonfly
Location: Dewey Lake Prestonsburg, Kentucky
September 6, 2014 7:49 am
I recently camped at Dewey lake in eastern Kentucky and got this picture you might like.
Signature: Paul Morris

Damselfly
Damselfly

Hi Paul,
This is actually a Damselfly, and not a Dragonfly.  Both are in the same insect order Odonata, but the wings of Dragonflies lie flat while resting and the wings of Damselflies are held folded over the body.

Letter 6 – Damselfly

 

Subject:  Insect found inside my house
Geographic location of the bug:  NW Washington. Seattle /Tacoma area.
Date: 11/06/2017
Time: 10:15 AM EDT
Good morning!
I found this insect several days ago on  my indoor ,north facing,window sill.  Not sure how long it had been there. Only one specimen observed, have not seen it live outdoors.  I did notice the black triangle markings on the wings.
Many thanks for your help, much appreciated!
I will share the findings with others.
How you want your letter signed:  John Finkas. Master Gardener.

Damselfly

Dear John,
Is there a pond or other water feature in your garden, or is there a natural pond or body of water in the vicinity of your home?  This is a Damselfly, a member of the suborder Zygoptera, that are classified together in the same insect order as Dragonflies.  They differ from Dragonflies in that they are usually smaller, have a more feeble flight, and frequently rest with wings folded together.  Like Dragonflies, they are predators that have aquatic nymphs known as naiads.

Daniel hi.,
Was found near the kitchen sink.  Yes ,several outdoor water features, many thanks for your prompt reply!
John

Letter 7 – Damselfly from Canada

 

Re-sending the damselfly
Location: Parksville, Vancouver Island
November 28, 2011 5:26 pm
Hi Bugman,
I will do. All subjects were taken mid-to-late spring 2009, all some time in the afternoon to evening, around the 3-6 time frame. Naturally, all were taken on bright, clear days; mild climate, light breezes. All were on the same rocky beach.
So far as unusual conditions/behaviours go, the most remarkable thing was the lack of it. I mentioned before that the skipper posed for me; in fact, it alighted in the middle of a path of overgrown grass and bramble (almost to my chest), and even amidst much crashing on my part, stayed almost perfectly still. All photos were taken with barely any zooming in; they were very amiable towards my getting the camera inches from their faces. The spiderlings I found under a flat stone on a large log lying horizontally on the beach; I found the jumper on the same log.
The photo I’m attaching is of the same damselfly I sent earlier. Here it was on its first perch. It flew off once and relocated on a log before deciding that I wasn’t a threat.
Signature: Geoff

Damselfly

Hi again Geoff,
Thanks for providing all of that additional information regarding the Arctic Skipper and the Zebra Jumper.

Damselfly eats Sand Flea

 

Letter 8 – Damselfly from Costa Rica

 

Subject:  Damselfly Id
Geographic location of the bug:  Tortuguero Costa Rica
Date: 07/18/2022
Time: 12:00 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Saw this when visiting Costa Rica, looking for an id.
How you want your letter signed:  Charlie

Probably American Bluet Damselfly

Dear Charlie,
Your Damselfly images are quite lovely but we are uncertain of the species.  We suspect it is an American Bluet in the genus Enallagma which is pictured on BugGuide.

 

Letter 9 – Damselfly Mating ends in Tragedy: Spousal Abuse or Involuntary Insecticide????

 

posted (09/01/2007) Male damselfly drowning female
I came across your website tonight, and thought you’d be interested in the attached sequence of photos I took this afternoon:

A male holding a female underwater until it drowned. Interesting alternative to dragonfly cannibalism.
Ken Carlson
Sanborn, Iowa

Hi Ken,
Your photo sequence is quite dramatic. In the insect and spider world, there is a documented phenomenon where the mating activity ends with the death of one of the participants. That phenomenon often ends with a cannibalized male, as in Black Widow Spiders and Preying Mantids. The unfortunate incident in your documentation is, we hope, accidental insecticide due to poor technique. Thanks for sending these images our way.

Update: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 1:57 AM
Comment:
If I may, these scenes show nothing to worry about.  Actualy it is the female that command the pair, the male stay attached to her to guard the mating pair against dangers and to make sure no other male would mate with the female. Female laying eggs under water is a common treat on many damselflies species, with or without the male, in some species the female can stay up to an hour under water, taking air that is ‘attached’ to the body, thanks to tinny hair on it, that what gives that nice silver glow visible in the last of the picture.
I hope this helps,
Renaud, Switzerland

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

3 thoughts on “Damselfly Life Cycle: Discover the Intriguing Stages of These Insects”

  1. If I may, these scenes show nothing to worry about. Actualy it is the female that command the pair, the male stay attached to her to guard the mating pair against dangers and to make sure no other male would mate with the female. Female laying eggs under water is a common treat on many damselflies species, with or without the male, in some species the female can stay up to an hour under water, taking air that is ‘attached’ to the body, thanks to tinny hair on it, that what gives that nice silver glow visible in the last of the picture.

    I hope this helps,
    Renaud, Switzerland

    Reply
  2. Female Ischnura verticalis doesn’t seem very likely. Immatures are a distinct orange with black markings. The dorsum of the abdomen is orange with no black. When mature they become covered with a blueish-grey pruinosity.
    As the post ocular spots are connected with a bar this is probably an Enallagma. Positive id would be the mesostigmal plates, but magnification is needed. Not visible in the photo.

    Reply
  3. Hey Paul! Hi from another Eastern Kentuckian! I’m from Wheelwright! My husband is Air Force and we are stationed in Alaska, I just found this site looking up a bug from up here and this was the first post….so cool to see something from back home! Had to comment and say howdy!

    Reply

Leave a Comment