Beautiful, beneficial insects. They belong to the order Odonata, from the Greek word odonto or tooth in reference to their strong mandibles.
The order Odonata is further divided in suborders to distinguish between Dragonflies and Damselflies. Dragonflies belong to suborder Anisoptera and Damselflies to the suborder Zygoptera. Dragonflies are typically larger in size, with wings that are broader towards the base and eyes that are close together. Damselflies on the other hand are more delicate in appearance, with wings that are similar in size and narrow at the base which are held together when at rest and eyes that are separated.
Each suborder is further divided into families. Dragonflies have common names such as Darners, Skimmers and Clubtails, whereas Damselflies are distinguished by their wing shape; Broadwinged, Narrowwinged, and Spreadwinged. Each family is further divided into genus and species with common names such as Bluets and Dancer Damselflies and Meadowhawk, Pennant and Amberwing Dragonflies to name a few.
The Darners named after the shape of the female’s abdomen resembling a needle are dark brown in color with bluish and greenish markings. They prefer to breed in calm water and the female has been observed inserting her needlelike oviposter into the stems of aquatic plants to lay her eggs.
Skimmers, as the name implies, fly low over water. Many of the species have patterned wings and are very colorful, although the female and male skimmers are different in appearance. Texas native, Neon Skimmer or Red Dragonfly has a vivid red color and can be found in Central Texas.
Clubtails, have an expanded segment at the tip of their abdomen, although not all species have this. They are often dark with yellow or green markings and eyes that are widely separated.
Broadwinged Damselflies have a beautiful metallic coloration with broader wings than the other species.
Narrowwinged Damselflies are small and slender with a long abdomen. They have clear wings but bodies in many colors; purple, red, green, blue, yellow and orange.
Spreadwinged Damselflies, so called because they typically land with outstretched wings, whereas other damselflies fold their wings together. Their color is either brown, metallic blue or green with clear wings
The life cycle of Dragonflies and Damselflies is incomplete, meaning they go from egg to larvae (nymph or naiad) to adult. Larvae are aquatic and have gills and don’t resemble adults. Wings are tiny buds on larvae and gradually grow to resemble adults. Both larvae and adults are carnivorous. Larvae feed on mosquito larvae and small vertebrates such as frogs and fish. Adults feed on mosquitos and gnats and other flying insects which they catch while flying.
Both Dragonfly and Damselfly adults live for a few weeks to a few months and fly mostly during the day. Larvae develop in the water and depending on the species can take two to six years years to develop into adults.
Their mating technique is quite unique where the male will clasp the female behind the head and fly in tandem until she deposits her eggs. In some species the male stays close to the female until she desposits the eggs to ward off any other males.
Texas has at least 224 species according to John Abbott, former entomology curator at the University of Texas, in his book “Dragonflies and Damselflies of Texas Volume 3”.