How Do Damselflies Mate: Unraveling the Intriguing Mating Rituals

Damselflies are fascinating insects known for their slender bodies, elongated abdomens, and large compound eyes. They have two pairs of wings, which are membranous, elaborately veined, and typically held together over their bodies link.

Mating in damselflies is a unique and intriguing process. It involves a series of complex behaviors, including courtship rituals, rival male interactions, and the formation of a mating pair. The mating process for damselflies not only ensures successful reproduction, but it also provides a captivating display of their vibrant colors and agile movements.

Understanding Damselflies

Physical Characteristics

Damselflies belong to the order Odonata along with dragonflies. They are part of the suborder Zygoptera, while dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera. Damselflies have:

  • Slender, elongated abdomens
  • Delicate bodies
  • Two pairs of wings, typically held together over the body
  • Hindwing and forewing similar in size and shape
  • Compound eyes that usually do not touch
  • Short antennae

These traits differentiate damselflies from dragonflies, which have bulkier bodies, eyes that typically touch, and hindwings that are broader than their forewings.

Habitat and Distribution

Damselfly species can be found across various regions, but their distribution may be limited to specific islands or ridges. For instance, many damselfly species in the genus Megalagrion are endemic to single islands.

Damselfly larvae, or nymphs, are aquatic creatures, often found in freshwater habitats such as ponds, lakes, and streams.

Damselflies Dragonflies
Slender bodies Bulkier bodies
Wings held together over the body Wings held flat or slightly angled
Hindwing and forewing similar Hindwing broader than forewing
Eyes usually do not touch Eyes typically touch

In summary, damselflies are insects belonging to the order Odonata, suborder Zygoptera. Their physical characteristics differentiate them from dragonflies, which are also part of the Odonata order but belong to the suborder Anisoptera. Damselflies can be found in various habitats, with some species being endemic to specific locations.

Damselfly Mating and Reproduction

Mating Process

Male damselflies identify females for mating using different traits related to the 10th segment of their abdomen. During the courtship, the male clasps the female using his abdomen claspers. This clasping allows them to form a unique tandem position called the “wheel,” where they copulate to transfer sperm to the female.

Laying Eggs

In damselfly reproduction, females typically lay eggs on aquatic or semi-aquatic vegetation within their habitat. They deposit the eggs carefully by inserting their abdomen into plant tissues, sometimes even underwater.

  • Males may guard a female during oviposition or release her
  • Egg-laying can vary from a few minutes to several hours depending on species

Nymph Development

When damselfly nymphs hatch, they undergo a fascinating life cycle involving several instar stages, with each molt bringing them closer to adulthood. Below are key nymph characteristics:

  • Aquatic larvae with elongated and slender bodies
  • Visible wing pads develop as they grow
  • Predatory, feeding on small aquatic organisms

Damselfly nymph development involves significant growth:

Stage Time Description
Egg Several days to weeks Awaiting hatching in aquatic plants
Nymph (larva) Weeks to months Undergoes several molts, grows wing pads, and develops body
Emergence Hours to a day The final molt where a winged adult emerges

Taking the above information into account, the damselfly mating and reproductive process involves unique mating positions, precise egg-laying behavior, and developmental stages that depend on their specific habitat.

Damselfly Behavior and Adaptations

Damselflies are fascinating insects with unique features and behaviors. Adults possess slender bodies, large compound eyes, and two pairs of wings held together over their body.

They are usually found near ponds, lakes, and streams. During the day, they rest on plants near water, ready to hunt for small flying insects. Some notable features:

  • Eyes: Compound eyes provide a wide field of view for spotting prey.
  • Wings: Four wings enable precise maneuverability and control during flight.
  • Legs: Spiny legs assist in perching and capturing prey.

Damselflies begin their life cycle as larvae (nymphs), which are aquatic and live in water. They have unique gills to extract oxygen and are predatory, feeding on small aquatic animals.

As larvae, they are vulnerable to predators such as fish and frogs. However, their excellent camouflage and stealthy behavior increase their chances of survival. They eventually metamorphose into adults, leaving their aquatic habitat to become aerial predators.

Damselflies exhibit fascinating mating behaviors. Males guard territories near water, using their brightly colored bodies to attract a female. To mate, the male and female form a “heart” or “wheel” shape in mid-air, an uncommon sight in the insect world.

Here’s a comparison between damselfly larvae and adults:

Features Larva (Nymph) Adult Damselfly
Habitat Aquatic environments (ponds, lakes) Semi-aquatic environments (plants)
Respiration Gills to extract oxygen from water Through spiracles (air tubes)
Predation Small aquatic animals, including insects Small flying insects
Body Structure Stockier and thicker body Slender and elongated body
Eyes Smaller and less developed Large, compound eyes
Movement Swimming and crawling Flying

In conclusion, damselflies exhibit remarkable adaptations for survival in aquatic and aerial environments, crucial for their life cycle and mating behaviors. They are captivating insects with distinct features and behaviors that set them apart from other insects.

Ecological Significance of Damselflies

Role in the Ecosystem

Damselflies play a crucial part in freshwater ecosystems. Some key roles include:

  • Predators: Adult damselflies and their aquatic larvae feed on small insects and mosquito larvae, helping to control their populations.
  • Prey: Damselflies are an essential food source for fish, birds, and other insects.
  • Pollination: Some damselflies can also contribute to pollination as they feed on nectar from flowers.

Damselflies as Bio-Indicators

Damselflies are often considered bio-indicators due to their sensitivity to water quality and habitat changes:

  • Clean water: Damselflies prefer clean, fresh water, so a healthy population indicates good water quality in the area.
  • Habitat: Damselflies can be found in various freshwater habitats such as damp forests, wetlands, and streams.

Pros and Cons of Damselflies as Bio-Indicators

Pros Cons
Easily identified by scientists Some species have narrow preferences for specific habitats
Indicate ecosystem health Cannot indicate every type of pollution
Relatively short life cycle They may not be present in all freshwater habitats

In summary, damselflies’ ecological significance is centered around their predatory and pollination roles within their ecosystems and their function as bio-indicators, revealing the health of freshwater habitats.

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 – Mantidfly and Damselfly from Australia

 

Praying mantis and damselfly
Here is a couple of photos that you may like. The damsel fly was found indoors and is around 1 inch long and the mantis was found on my car and is about 3/4" long. This mantis is unlike any I have seen and when I first saw it I thought it was a wasp. cheers
Nick Bedelis
Sydney, Australia

Hi Nick,
This is not a Preying Mantis. It is an unrelated insect known as a Mantidfly, one of the Neuropterans. Your Damselfly image is terribly amusing. Guess the critter was thirsty.

Letter 2 – Mating Damselflies: Skimming Bluets

 

pics for site
Love the site. Here are some pics you might want to use. I have another batch that needs ID’s..
Robbie

Hi Robbie,
Your mating Damselflies are absolutely stunning. In the future, please just send one species per letter. Thanks for your great contribution.

Update: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 2:15 AM
Good morning,
If I may, these are a pair of Skimming Bluet (Enallagma geminatum).
I hope this helps.
Renaud, Switzerland


Letter 3 – Mating Bluet Damselflies

 

For your “Bug Love” page…(blue damselflies from Illinois)
February 7, 2010
Hello. I took this picture early this past July on Lake Shabbona in Illinois, near Chicago while on a fishing trip. There were mating pairs of these blue damselflies everywhere, and these two landed right in front of me. They didn’t flinch when I put the camera right up to them. I thought I’d submit it to see if you guys would like to post it on your Bug Love page. Thanks for your time.
Justin M. Fabre
Illinois

Mating Bluets

Hi Justin,
Thanks for sending us your wonderful photo of mating Bluets in the genus Enallagma.  BugGuide has numerous possible species, and we would defer an exact species identification to an expert.  This mating position is called a Wheel or Heart formation.  Are you by chance related to Jean Henri Fabre, the French entomologist who lived from 1823 to 1915 and who wrote one of the first popular culture books on insects?

Hi Daniel.
I was happy to submit my photo to WTB. Reading the submissions, responses and seeing the great photos is a lot of fun. I didn’t realize how many different species of Bluets there were until I googled “blue damselfly” just before I submitted it. I’m glad you guys will try to find out. As for a relation to Jean Henri, I’ve wondered myself as it’s possible, but I honestly don’t know. I was away longer than expected this week and finally dug out the external hard drive with the rest of the set that I’ll attach to the email. The top one is the “I (heart) U” shot I submitted. Feel free to use any or all that you wish on the site. Thanks again.
Justin

Mating Bluets

Thanks for sending additional photos Justin.

Mating Bluets

Letter 4 – Mating Damselflies: Dusky Dancers

 

Bug Love – Mating Damselflies
July 3, 2010
Got a nice photo of these mating Southern Spreadwings (Lestes australis) while floating down the Guadalupe River outside of Boerne, Texas, in early June. Just thought we’d share. Enjoy!
Melvis & Laugh
Kendall County, TX

Mating Dusky Dancers

Hi again Melvis & Laugh,
We are more than happy to post your photo of Southern Spreadwings embracing, but if we want to be totally accurate, they are not yet mating.  The male has grasped the female using his anal claspers, but the female has not yet assumed the mating wheel or heart position by curling her abdomen around to accept the male sperm.

Correction
August 16, 2010
We just received a comment identifying this pair as Dusky Dancers, and the images
on BugGuide support that correction.  This description on BugGuide also indicates the correction is accurate: “Very dark, male is black with blue rings on abdomen. Eyes violet

Letter 5 – Mating Damselflies

 

Subject: Dragonfly Love
Location: Taggery, North East Victoria, Australia
November 18, 2014 2:31 am
Just thought you might be interested in theres, i think they ate egg laying?
Signature: Cait O’Pray

Bluets Mating
Damselflies Mating

Dear Cait,
These are Damselflies, not Dragonflies, but your mistake is understandable because they are classified in the same insect order, Odonata.  When we have more time, we will try to identify the species on the Brisbane Insect website.  They are in fact mating and in the act of depositing eggs.

Thank you for the response, I’ll have to tell me parents what is living in their dam. They’ve let it go seminative so there are at least 5 types of frogs and so many more insects. I recently just bought the book advertised on the website and am starting to read it. It’s all very fascinating!

Letter 6 – Mating Damselflies

 

Subject: Mating Damselflies?
Location: Coryell County, Texas
May 14, 2015 6:26 pm
Hello again,
Are these are mating Damselflies? They were close to the front door, on a Japanese Boxwood shrub. I see that you have several examples of mating damselflies on your website, but I thought the heart was so fascinating.
Today was warm with scattered rain, around 83 degrees when the photo was taken.
Thank you so much!
Signature: Ellen

Mating Damselflies
Mating Damselflies

Hi Ellen,
You are correct.  These are mating Damselflies and your image is lovely.  We will attempt to identify the genus or species when we have more time.

Letter 7 – Mating Damselflies

 

Subject: Damselfly
Location: Mexico
January 11, 2016 3:08 pm
Damselflies mating on a man-made pond at the Botanical Gardens in Puerto Valalrta, Mexico. Blue in colour…so I’m guessing a Enallagma sp??
Signature: Graeme Davis

Mating Damselflies
Mating Damselflies

Hi Graeme,
We agree that these are most likely Bluets in the genus
Enallagma, a genus well documented on BugGuide.

Letter 8 – Mating Bluets

 

Subject: Any idea what this is?
Location: Flagstaff Az
September 29, 2012 11:08 am
took this picture by a small lake in Flagstaff Az in August 2012.
Signature: Jon G

Mating  Bluets

Hi Jon,
These are mating Damselflies, and they appear to be Tule Bluets based on photos posted to BugGuide.  They might also be some other species of Bluet in the genus
Enallagma, which according to BugGuide, contains at least 35 North American species which look very similar to one another.

Letter 9 – Mexican Damselflies

 

Subject: unidentified damselfly
Location: Mexico, see text
January 30, 2015 4:48 am
During a 5 week trip in southern Mexico in Dec-Jan 2014-15, I had the opportunity to photograph quite a large a number of insects. Among those that I haven’t been able to identify yet is this damselfly, probably an Argia species. The first two photos show the same individual, the 3th photo shows another individual but it could very well be the same species (identical shoulder striping).
Location image 1 and 2: Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo province, altitude: sea level.
Location image 3: Rio Lagartos, Yucatan province, altitude: sea level.
Any id suggestions would be highly appreciated.
Signature: David Kohl

Damselfly
Damselfly

Dear David,
We are afraid that the proper species identification of your Damselflies is beyond our ability.  We are posting your images in the hope that one of our readers can provide you with information.

Damselfly
Damselfly
Another Damselfly
Another Damselfly

Letter 10 – Northern Bluets: Damselflies Mating

 

Bug Love
Hi… I JUST this minute heard your website on a talk radio home improvement show…I just had to check it out. I love bugs……. And know little about many of them. But I had a blast the other day taking pictures of bugs ‘doin’ it’… amazing I actually have a place that someone will enjoy seeing them! I’m not sure where to attach the photo’s, so I will do so here. …. Looking forward to checking more of your site soon! If you could name them all for me, I’d appreciate it. I am guessing the red colored bugs are soldier beetles? And of course, dragon flies…the single big one is beautiful…what kind is it?
Sherrie Gerber

Hi Sherrie,
We must confess that we find identifying the species of Damselflies to be a daunting task that we are not very good at. We do love the photo though.

Update: (02/24/2007)
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel,
As Susan says, “I am no an expert but…” I think Sherrie had a pair of Northern Bluets (Enallagma annexum) there. They’ve got the right mix of blue and black on the abdomen, tapering black shoulder stripes and large eyespots. They’re also common in Washington. Of course, this is a bit late. The main characters died about eighteen months ago.
Jim
NYC

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.

9 thoughts on “How Do Damselflies Mate: Unraveling the Intriguing Mating Rituals”

  1. Good morning,

    If I may add a correction, this is not a Spreadwings (Lestidae)(body shape, attitude etc.. doesn’t fit), it is rather a Coenagrionidae, most likely the Dusky Dancer (Argia translata).

    Reply
  2. As it happens, Cait is correct: the female (the browner individual in the left of the photo) is probably egg-laying. Mating has already occurred, but the male is retaining a hold on the female until laying is complete so that he can prevent other males from mating with her.

    There are quite a number of damselflies with this blue and black colour pattern, making identification a bit of a challenge. Looking through my copy of the Field Guide to Dragonflies of Australia, I think a likely candidate for the individuals in the photo is the eastern billabongfly Austroagrion watsoni, which is found over a large part of Australia and New Caledonia.

    Reply
  3. As it happens, Cait is correct: the female (the browner individual in the left of the photo) is probably egg-laying. Mating has already occurred, but the male is retaining a hold on the female until laying is complete so that he can prevent other males from mating with her.

    There are quite a number of damselflies with this blue and black colour pattern, making identification a bit of a challenge. Looking through my copy of the Field Guide to Dragonflies of Australia, I think a likely candidate for the individuals in the photo is the eastern billabongfly Austroagrion watsoni, which is found over a large part of Australia and New Caledonia.

    Reply
  4. Thanks Christopher, that’s exactly what they look like.

    Doing a bit more research they have the bar across their eyes and black dots on the blue of the end of their tails making it more likely they are the billabongfly rather then the common bluetail and blue riverdamsel. I have a ton of photos of them now. Found out today that the damselfly nymph eat mosquito larvae so they are very very very welcome in the dam!

    Reply
  5. Thanks Christopher, that’s exactly what they look like.

    Doing a bit more research they have the bar across their eyes and black dots on the blue of the end of their tails making it more likely they are the billabongfly rather then the common bluetail and blue riverdamsel. I have a ton of photos of them now. Found out today that the damselfly nymph eat mosquito larvae so they are very very very welcome in the dam!

    Reply

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