Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

July 23, 2009

Un-distressed Damsels

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:04 pm

Dragonflies get all the attention these days. Because they are robust, colorful, and somewhat “in your face”, they command the attention of the average stream-side visitor. As folk entities they elicit mixed human reactions as sinister “snake doctors” or beneficial “mosquito hawks.” Damselflies, on the other hand, are generally viewed as gentle stream-side sprites – if they are viewed at all. These lesser beings, although exhibiting all the traits of their larger cousins, are often overlooked altogether. Damselflies don’t appear to mind, however. They are not in distress about living in the shadows.

The very name “damsel-fly” conjures images of grace, beauty, and delicacy. In appearance, they live up to that description when compared to their dragon-like cousins. While dragonflies have large compound eyes that touch along their top margins, damsels have small round eyes placed about as far apart as eyes can be (and still be located on the same head). Dragons tend to perch with their wings flat out while damsels perch with their wings carefully folded back. Finally, even though dragons have long slender bodies, their form is more like a pretzel rod when compared to the exceedingly thin pretzel stick bodies of the damsels.

They, like the dragonflies, are a colorful group of creatures as well. Take a look at these Damselflies as an example (see above). I recently spotted these creatures cavorting along the banks of the rain swollen Huron River. The American Rubyspot, located at the top of the photo,  is easily “spotted” due to the bright red wing and body markings. Below it, and facing in the opposite direction, the Stream Bluet lives up to its name. Both species are common river/stream species.

The Bluet represents a whole host of tiny blue damselflies which all look pretty much alike but this species happens to have clear equal-sized black and blue stripes on its thorax.  The most distinctive thing about them is their color – although I’m sure they have nice personalities – and their tiny slender form.  Of the two, the boldly patterned Rubyspot is the definite eye catcher. The male bears bright ruby colors on its thorax and inner wings (see below). Golden wing veins and body sutures add to the overall beauty of the beast. The true damsels of the lot, the females, have a subtle beauty all their own with stained glass wings accented by muted emerald body tones (see here).

On close inspection all these damsels begin to reveal their slightly uglier and practical side (see here). Of particular note are the long stiff hairs that line each leg. These un-ladylike features interlock to form a basket to scoop up unsuspecting prey. Make no mistake about it, Damselflies are predators equipped with powerful jaws. They intercept insects on the wing and voraciously chew them up into little pulpy bits before swallowing them. As aquatic nymphs they are equally voracious – possessing an extendible second jaw to reach out and snatch prey.

These damsels may be pretty on the surface, but they are built to cause distress.


  1. I really enjoyed this post. It is cold and rainy here in western NY or I would be out looking for damsel and I got to live via your post. Great photos and information….Michelle

    Comment by ramblingwoods — July 23, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

  2. Michelle:
    Thanks for the complement. Good luck chasing dragons and damsels this summer.

    Comment by Gerry Wykes — July 26, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

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