What Do Damselflies Eat: A Quick Guide to Their Diet

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Damselflies are fascinating creatures that are known for their captivating appearance and intriguing behaviors. As members of the order Odonata, they share many similarities with their close relatives, the dragonflies. Both have large, striking eyes and slender bodies, but when it comes to their diet, are they so alike?

As a curious individual, you might be wondering about what damselflies eat. Well, they primarily feed on smaller insects, playing the crucial role of predator in the ecosystem. This makes them beneficial to have around, as they can help keep the population of less welcome insects, like mosquitoes, under control.

To sustain their agile flying abilities and high metabolisms, damselflies consume insects such as flies, midges, and even smaller relatives of their own – other damselflies. Their sophisticated eyesight enables them to spot potential prey items with ease and pursue them in flight, making them highly efficient hunters.

Understanding Damselflies

Damselflies are fascinating creatures that belong to the order Odonata, within the suborder Zygoptera. They are known for their striking colors and delicate body structure. Here’s what you should know about these amazing insects:

Physical Attributes

  • Damselflies have long, slender bodies which display an array of bright colors like green, blue, and red.
  • They possess large compound eyes that fill most of their head, but they don’t touch.
  • Their elongate antennae are quite short compared to other insects.
  • Damselflies have two pairs of transparent membranous wings that are quite similar in size and shape.
  • A characteristic long slender abdomen is typical among these species.

Life Cycle

  • Damselflies undergo an aquatic larval stage known as a nymph before becoming adults.
  • Nymphs possess elongate bodies, long legs, and three leaf-like appendages or gills at the end of their body.
  • As predators, both adult damselflies and their nymphs feed on a variety of smaller insects.
  • Adult damselflies are often found near small ponds, wetlands, and slow weedy streams.

Comparing Damselflies with Dragonflies:

Feature Damselflies Dragonflies
Eyes Large, but usually do not touch Large and usually touching on the top
Wings Similar size and shape Hindwings are broader than forewings
Resting position Wings held together over the body Wings held horizontally away from the body
Body structure Slender, delicate bodies Sturdy, robust bodies

Now that you have learned more about damselflies and their unique attributes, you can better appreciate these remarkable creatures and their important role in our ecosystem.

Habitats of Damselflies

Damselflies can be found in various freshwater habitats, where they thrive thanks to the abundance of food and ideal living conditions. Some common habitats include:

  • Ponds: These calm bodies of water are perfect for damselflies. The surrounding vegetation offers a place for the insects to perch and find prey, while the water provides a home for their larvae. Pond habitats are especially suitable for narrow-winged damselflies.

  • Streams: Damselflies can also be found near streams, where they benefit from the flowing water and ample vegetation. Some species prefer these habitats for their larvae to grow and develop.

  • Lakes: The margins of lakes, surrounded by wetlands and vegetation, provide the perfect environment for damselflies to nest and hunt.

  • Wetlands: Found in areas with abundant vegetation and water, wetlands create the ideal conditions for damselflies to thrive. They can typically be found in well-established wetland ecosystems.

  • Rivers: Damselflies can be found in both slow and fast-moving river ecosystems. They make use of aquatic and terrestrial vegetation to feed, lay their eggs, and offer protection to their larvae.

  • Gardens: Damselflies can also be found in your backyard, where they tend to be attracted to water features and specific types of plants. Adding a pond or water feature to your garden can help attract these beneficial insects.

All in all, damselflies prefer habitats with access to clean, freshwater ecosystems where they can find food and shelter. You can often spot them near vegetation and aquatic habitats, making a valuable contribution to the ecosystem by consuming various kinds of prey and controlling insect populations.

Life Cycle of Damselflies

Egg Stage

The life cycle of damselflies begins with the egg stage. Female damselflies lay their eggs on or near the water, often attaching them to aquatic plants. The eggs hatch after three to five weeks into nymphs called naiads.

During the egg stage, factors like temperature and humidity can affect the development of the damselfly eggs. The survival and success of their population depend on the right environmental conditions.

As a damselfly enthusiast, understanding the stages of their life cycle can enrich your observations and appreciation for these delicate insects. Let’s take a closer look at the other stages that shape their lives.

Nymph Stage (Naiads)

The damselfly nymphs, or naiads, live in water and are predators of small aquatic organisms. They have elongate bodies, long legs, and three leaf-like appendages or gills on their tail, which they use for oxygen transport (source). As they grow, they go through a process called molting, shedding their outer exoskeleton to reveal a larger one.

Be cautious when observing naiads in their natural habitat, as their color and shape can make them difficult to spot among aquatic plants.

Metamorphosis and Adult Stage

After several weeks or months, depending on the species, damselfly nymphs undergo metamorphosis. They climb out of the water onto plants, where their exoskeleton splits to expose the adult form.

Adult damselflies are weak fliers and have slim, elongated abdomens with large, compound eyes (source). They are often seen perching near water bodies, waiting for their prey – small insects like flies or mosquitoes.

Mating and Courtship

The courtship and mating process of damselflies is fascinating. Males use their colorful bodies to attract females, engaging in aerial displays and dances. When a female is interested, she and the male form a “mating wheel” as they lock together in flight. The male then passes his sperm to the female, ensuring the continuation of their population.

Be respectful and keep a safe distance when observing damselflies during their mating rituals, as human interference can disrupt this delicate process.

By understanding the life cycle of damselflies, you’ll become a better observer and steward of these beautiful insects and their ever-changing environments.

Diet of Damselflies

Larval Diet

When damselflies are in their larval stage, they reside in freshwater habitats. Here, they feed primarily on small aquatic insects such as mosquito larvae and other insect nymphs. For example, they may consume:

  • Mosquito larvae
  • Midge larvae
  • Mayfly nymphs
  • Small beetles

Damselfly larvae, also referred to as nymphs, use their specialized mouthparts to capture their prey, making them effective predators in their aquatic environment.

Adult Diet

As adults, damselflies continue to be carnivorous, with their diet consisting mainly of flying insects. When hunting, they use their hovering and agile flying abilities to capture their prey, which may include:

  • Flies
  • Mosquitoes
  • Small beetles
  • Caterpillars

Damselflies are known for their skill in plucking flying insects right out of the air, making them valuable predators of pests like mosquitoes.

Comparison Table:

Stage Diet Prey Examples
Larval Small aquatic insects Mosquito larvae, midge larvae, mayfly nymphs, small beetles
Adult Flying insects Flies, mosquitoes, small beetles, caterpillars

To summarize, both larval and adult damselflies have a diet consisting mainly of various types of insects. In the larval stage, they feed on small aquatic insects, while as adults, they focus on capturing flying insects. This feeding behavior makes damselflies beneficial predators in controlling populations of pests such as mosquitoes.

Predators and Challenges

Damselflies face numerous challenges in their ecosystem, predominantly in the form of predators. Birds, fish, frogs, and spiders are among their most common predators, always on the lookout for a damselfly meal.

Birds, in particular, are quick and agile hunters. They can effortlessly snatch damselflies out of the air or grab them from resting places. Fish, on the other hand, lay in wait for damselfly nymphs in water bodies, utilizing their speed and stealth to capture them before they can escape.

Frogs and spiders have different hunting strategies. You’ll often find frogs sitting patiently by the water’s edge, waiting for the perfect moment to snatch a passing damselfly with their sticky tongues. Spiders, meanwhile, use their webs to trap these insects, relying on their involuntary flight into the sticky traps.

  • Common damselfly predators:
    • Birds
    • Fish
    • Frogs
    • Spiders

Alongside predators, damselflies also encounter environmental challenges. They are vulnerable to pollution, which affects the quality of their food source and the water where their nymphs develop. Poor water quality can lead to a decrease in their populations and, ultimately, disrupt the delicate balance of their ecosystem.

Conservation is vital in maintaining the damselfly population. This involves protecting their habitats, monitoring water quality, and controlling pollution. By addressing these challenges, you can make a conscious effort to ensure the survival and success of these fascinating insects.

Difference Between Damselflies and Dragonflies

Damselflies and dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, but they have some differences. Here, we will briefly explore those differences.

Wings: Damselflies have slender and elongated wings, held together over their body when at rest, while dragonflies have broader wings held horizontally when at rest. The hind wings of damselflies are similar in size and shape to the forewings. The wings of both insects are membranous and elaborately veined, with damselflies having a more delicate structure.

Eyes: Dragonflies have large compound eyes that touch or nearly touch each other, whereas damselflies have large compound eyes that are usually separate, not touching.

Abdomen and Legs: Damselflies have a slender and elongated abdomen, giving them a delicate appearance. However, their six legs are mostly used for perching, not being suited for walking.

Comparing these characteristics in a table:

Feature Damselflies Dragonflies
Wings Slender, elongated, held together over the body Broader, held horizontally
Eyes Large, not touching Large, touching or nearly touching
Abdomen Slender, elongated Less slender, comparatively sturdier
Legs Six legs, good for perching, not for walking Six legs, better suited for walking

Flight: Damselflies are weak fliers compared to dragonflies. Dragonflies have agile and sturdy flight, making it easier for them to catch prey.

In conclusion, understanding the differences between damselflies and dragonflies can help you better appreciate their unique features as you observe them in nature.

Interesting Facts about Damselflies

Damselflies belong to the insect order Odonata. They are fascinating creatures with unique characteristics. Let’s explore some interesting facts about these delicate insects.

Appearance and Behavior: Damselflies look similar to dragonflies, but they are usually smaller and have slender bodies. They have beautifully colored wings that set them apart from other insects. These wings play an important role in the mating rituals of some species, like the Calopterygidae, which display their colored wings to attract female partners. Damselflies are skilled predators, catching insects mid-flight for a meal.

Species Diversity: There are over 3,000 known species of damselflies worldwide. They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, making them a diverse group of insects. Some common types you might encounter include pond damselflies and stream damselflies.

Mating Behavior: Males and females have unique mating behaviors. Males use their colored wings to attract females, and during mating, the male and female bodies form a heart shape. This heart formation ensures the transfer of sperm from the male to the female.

Fossils and Evolution: Damselflies have a long history on Earth, dating back to the Permian period over 250 million years ago. Their fossils are evidence of their ancient lineage, a testament to their ability to adapt and survive through various environmental challenges.

In summary, damselflies are essential members of the insect world with notable features such as:

  • Diverse species with vibrant-colored wings
  • Skillful predatory habits
  • Unique mating rituals involving colorful wing displays
  • An ancient presence, dating back to the Permian period

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 – Occisa Rubyspot Damselfly from Belize

 

Occisa Rubyspot (Hetaerina – Part 2)
Mon, Nov 17, 2008 at 6:14 PM
To follow-up my previous post of the American Rubyspot (Hetaerina americana), I am submitting these photos of a male and female Occisa Rubyspot (H. occisa). There are at least 37 Hetaerina species in the Americas, all but 3 of which are limited to Central and South America.  These photos were taken in 2007 while canoeing on the Macal River in western Belize. Cheers.
Karl

Occisa Rubyspot Damselfly Male
Occisa Rubyspot Damselfly Male

Hi Karl,
Once again, thanks for a wonderful decription and photos of a Central American relative of the American Rubyspot Damselfly.

Occisa Rubyspot Damselfly Female
Occisa Rubyspot Damselfly Female

Letter 2 – Orange Eyed Damselflies Mating in Nicaragua

 

damselflies?
I love your site and just had to share this great shot I took in a stream in the mountains of Nicaragua (outside Esteli). I think it is two pairs of damselflies with fabulous orange eyes. I have some other shots I will send another time. Thanks to everyone who contributes to this great effort, and to those who do the actual identification. Living things need all the admirers and supporters they can get these days!
Catherine Carr
DeLand Florida

Hi Catherine,
The feeling of movement in your photograph is not ideal for insect identification, but it is artistically stunning nonetheless.

Letter 3 – Possibly Damsel Bug

 

Specimen ID
Location: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area Visitor Center, Las Vegas NV
March 20, 2012 3:09 pm
This was caught a number of times in a Malaise Trap. About 20 mm. I think it is one of the Damsel bugs (Nabidae) and perhaps the genus Nabis.
What do you think?
Signature: Bruce Lund

Damsel Bug perhaps

Hi Bruce,
It does look predatory to us.  Small Hemipterans can be very difficult for us to identify.  We are content to classify this as a Damsel Bug on our site until a real expert can provide us with other information.  See BugGuide for additional information.

Possibly Damsel Bug

Thanks Daniel!

I’m leading a high school club doing an insect survey in the Red Rock
Canyon National Conservation Area (RRCNCA) here in Las Vegas.  It’s a neat
collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management (manages RRCNCA) is
enthusiastically allowing me and my students to survey for insects with
nets, traps, etc. as our ‘field laboratory’.  The West Career and
Technical Academy high school is also excited to have this experience for
their students and has provided us with a biology classroom/lab as our
home base with equipment like microscopes, computer, printer, etc.  The
non-profit Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association is providing funding
for purchase of nets and other collecting equipment, books, and more.
This survey should run for at least 2 full school years and so the
students will become quite accomplished young entomologists and RRCNCA
will get valuable biological survey work on a major wildlife group as well
as interpretive materials from the students.

This is a long way of letting you know you will be getting ID requests
from my students over time. Be assured that we will only be sending
requests AFTER we have done all we can to ID specimens through references,
keys, Bugguide, local experts (very few). Let me know if you have thoughts
about all this, even if you’d rather not have my students send images.

Bruce Lund

Thanks for the Head’s Up Bruce.  We will have to find a way for our staff to single out your future submissions for attention as our requests for identification are beginning to increase.  This project sounds like a wonderful opportunity.

I’m not surprised at your lack of NV submissions because there are hardly
any insect field workers in the state.  For years, I’ve been virtually the
only one working on dragonflies and damselflies and just in my small work
area (basically the three southern counties), I found 6 new county records
and a state record.  It’s not because I’m so good, rather because so few
people are or have been looking.  In case it might be of interest,
attached is an ARGIA article on local odonates done by me and Alan Myrup.
I’m not putting Alan down, but 98% of the article was my work -it’s a long
story.

And now I’ve started expanding into all insects – a huge personal
challenge, but fun and rewarding.

 

Letter 4 – Possibly Damsel Bug from Ireland

 

Subject: Biting insect
Location: Tipperary, Ireland
July 12, 2017 9:48 am
Hi
I was bitten by an insect last week that left a red itchy mark that seemed to get infected. I was outside at the time in Ireland (July). I killed the insect when brushing it off me. The only way to stop the itching and make the spit go away is to apply iodine. Luckily today I saw one of the bugs crawling on my table outside. Im almost sure its the same thing.
Signature: Any help would be appreciated

Possibly Damsel Bug

Your image does not have the critical detail we would like to get for identification purposes, but this is definitely a True Bug in the suborder Heteroptera.  They have mouths designed to pierce and suck fluids, but we don’t believe this is a blood-sucker.  It might be a predatory Damsel Bug, and there are some images on the British Bugs site that look similar, but not similar enough for us to make an identification.

Letter 5 – Prince Baskettail with eggs and mating Orange Bluets

 

3 pics
Hi! I’m in Florida and I have 3 pictures I have questions about. One is of a large dragonfly with something near the end of its tail. What is it?… And last, but not least…..I think you know what I’m going to ask :0) Thanks!
Jaime

So Jaime,
Your big dragonfly is a Twelve-Spot Skimmer, Libellula pulchella, but the object on its abdomen is not clear enough to identify. Dragonflies are often plagued by mites, but this looks a little large for that. Sometimes Psuedoscorpions hitch rides on flying insects, a phenomenon known as phoresy. Sadly, we just can’t be sure. You want to know how Damselflies Do It. The male grasps the female around the neck with pincers he possesses on the tip of his abdomen. She then twists around with her abdomen to accept the sperm. Many species of Damselflies stay in this position while the eggs are laid, with the female depositing the eggs underwater. I’m sure the extra pairs of wings help to lift her back into the air after an egg has been laid. This is such a wonderful addition to our brand new Bug Love page.

Correction: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 3:11 AM
Good morning,
If I may, the first pics shows a female of Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) and the things at the end of the abdmen are eggs. It is a distinctive behavior of the genus Epitheca, the female expluse eggs, with the abdomen croooked, that accumulate outside the abdomen. When there is enough eggs the female take flight and tip the mass of eggs into the water.
The second pic show what are Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum), in this case the little things on the abdomen are indeed Acarian bugs.
Renaud, Switzerland

Authors

  • 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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts
Tags: Damselfly

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Good morning,

    If I may, the first pics shows a female of Prince Baskettail (Epitheca princeps) and the things at the end of the abdmen are eggs. It is a distinctive behavior of the genus Epitheca, the female expluse eggs, with the abdomen croooked, that accumulate outside the abdomen. When there is enough eggs the female take flight and tip the mass of eggs into the water.

    The second pic show what are Orange Bluets (Enallagma signatum), in this case the little things on the abdomen are indeed Acarian bugs.

    Renaud, Switzerland

    Reply
  • An easy way to sort would be to have any students that send in an ID request put a certain phrase in the email subject line. From there, in most email programs, it’s easy to create a filter based on that. (The hard part will be to get the students to remember to do that!)

    Reply

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